Dealing with controlling behaviour

In dealing with controlling behaviour, we have to manage our response. Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Humans are social animals, and we do not exist in isolation.  We exist within networks of relationships.  In a world of limited resources, behaviour is bound to exist in which some people seek to control others. 

If we felt entirely free of others’ influence, then we wouldn’t mind attempts to control.  We would simply bat people away like flies, and let them fly away somewhere else.  But, in practice, we feel vulnerable, and this vulnerability upsets us.

When we get upset, we become less skilful at dealing with other people.  Fight-or-flight kicks in, and we can become either aggressive or avoidant.  Both of these reactions involve anxiety, and both take energy away from us.

Dealing with controlling behaviour must therefore involve dealing with our own reaction, and managing our own process.  We can ask ourselves  five key questions:

  1. Why are they behaving that way?
  2. Why am I upset?
  3. How can I set a good example?
  4. How can I invite them to behave differently?
  5. How can I best care for myself?

The first two questions help generate understanding.  The second two questions are more action-oriented.  And the final question, about self-care, reminds us to protect ourselves.


If anyone upsets me today with their behaviour, particularly if they seem to be trying to tell me what to think or do, then I will ask myself:

  1. Why is that person behaving that way?  What’s their story?
  2. Why am I upset?  What’s my story?
  3. How can I set an example of good behaviour to that person?
  4. How can I invite them to behave differently towards me?
  5. What can I do to take care of myself, and retain my peace?

Using these questions, we can become more empathic towards others and ourselves, more in control of our own behaviour, more subtle in our handling of others, and better at protecting ourselves.

There is a lot of mental processing involved in answering the five questions, and we may wish to use counselling or psychotherapy to develop our ability to process them safely.  If we can successfully do it, it may improve our relationships.