Adapted from Carol Rogne: We think of emotional and mental abuse as being overt and recognizable, but it is often subtle, manipulative, and difficult to describe.  In any case, emotional and mental control within relationships adversely affects people that we claim to love, sabotages healthy communication and problem solving processes, and slowly destroys emotional bonding and intimacy.  Very often, neither the controller nor the person controlled realizes that power used to control others is corroding the relationship.

The following material taken directly from Who’s Controlling you? Who Are You Controlling?
Taking a one-up position is sometimes called capping.  Being critical, taking over conversations, or ordering, directing, and commanding are ways of taking a one-up position.  Sometimes one-up comments are about trivial things, for example, “You eat weird.”  But more often, controllers establish a one-up, superior position by more serious personal attacks such as, “You can’t think your way out of a paper bag!”  or, “You wouldn’t last a day without me!”  or, “It’s always better to do it myself because you always mess things up!” In contrast, a controller might be taking a one-down position, especially when a one-up position is not successful at getting compliance.  This is posturing as being helpless or victimized and using guilt or other one-down strategies to control another person.  An example of a one-down statement is, “You have time for everyone else, but not for me.”  The unspoken message is that the person being manipulated is unkind and inconsiderate.  Or, “I can’t possibly pay you because I have so many other bills.”  The unspoken message is that the person is insensitive because they expect to be paid by someone who is financially overburdened.  By taking a one-down position, the other person will often agree or comply because they feel obligated or guilty.  When this happens, the controller claims more power in the relationship, playing on the guilt and “good intentions” of the person being controlled.

The competitive paradigm [that is commonly found in work environments] has certain requirements:

1)     We must be the best, the person who has the most knowledge, the right answers, and is skilled in problem-solving.

2)     We must listen for the most important points to assess the problem and fix it.  Paychecks depend on this skill.

3)     Expressing feelings is a sign of weakness and unwelcome in the work setting.  Self-control is important.

4)     Admitting mistakes and ignorance shows weakness.

Opposite skills are required in personal relationships where affiliation and cooperation are necessary.

1)     Listening to conversations respectfully, providing solutions only when invited to do so.

2)     Functioning as a team with a partner who is viewed and treated as having equal power.

3)     Sharing personal thoughts and feelings.  Realizing that one does not have to be always right.

4)     Solving problems together.

5)     Admitting mistakes and making amends.

6)     Affirming others.

This is Toni’s:  Controlling behaviors are designed to get compliance.  Compliance in what is the less obvious, but more fascinating question at hand.  What does the controller really want?

Compliance is what a baby legitimately needs, when he or she is completely dependent on an adult caretaker.  Little by little, the infant (the baby, and the child), gains the ability to take care of his or herself.  But at the beginning, attunement and compliance to the baby’s needs are nothing short of crucial to survival.  At its very core, the compliance that the controller seeks is the attunement (and the immediate satisfaction of needs) that was missing in the infant-caretaker relationship.  Any person will attempt to control another to the degree that there were serious un-repaired breaches in attunement during childhood.  As adults, we continue to have trouble bonding with anyone for long because we haven’t figured out how to get the controlling behaviors under control.  And they are a serious threat to real and lasting intimacy.

What needs to happen with an adult that recognizes controlling behaviors, is healthy individuation.  This is the important stage in a normal child’s development that can only come after healthy bonding.  As adults, we need to get the individuation piece in place before we can achieve significant and lasting bonds with others.  I cannot stress this piece strongly enough.


  • You and I don’t think the same
  • You and I aren’t the same person
  • You and I have two separate brains
  • And that’s okay.

The character flaw I have recently discovered in myself was having Unrealistic Expectations.  This is a natural symptom of developmental trauma.  As an adult, it leads me to be disappointed when things “go wrong in the relationship” when I find “I can’t trust you,” when I learn that “you don’t have my back” like I thought you did, and I have the arduous task of advocating for myself.  Crap.  The good news is that I have just realized it.  The bad news is that prior to realizing it, I was resentful and didn’t understand why.

When I become aware, I realize that you are not my mother (or my higher power); you are not that adequately attentive, unconditionally loving, abundantly available, selfless being that I require to satisfy my needs; who assures me that I am safe through her words and her actions.  You are not that being I can rely on for virtually everything because all I can really do is be charming, cuddle, exude personality, cry, excrete, and vomit.

You are neither my mother, nor my higher power.  This is not the function of any adult relationship.  So in the aftermath of that initial cyclone of “in-love” feelings that brings two people together (where this kind of merging love reminds us of the potential of a life-sustaining, unconditionally loving moment with Mother), there is a body of work that needs to be done.  The honeymoon is over.  Don’t despair.  There are always things that can be done.  It is our job:

1) to figure out what can be learned

2) to re-establish connection with the Self and the needs that were compromised when the object of love became decreasingly focused on us and decreasingly tuned in to our needs.

3) to bring a self to the relationship that is well cared for, healthy, and whole.

4) to reconnect in authentic ways with our partner so that a conscious, adult relationship occurs

5) to build a new kind of relationship from the conscious, adult self

We Don’t Think The Same (and it’s okay)

We don’t have the same perception of what’s going on.  I can’t expect you to know what I need, like, or don’t like.  It’s my responsibility to communicate this.  First to myself, then, when necessary, to you.  It is likely that we each have a different set of assumptions about the relationship and the roles we are playing.  In a safe place, these assumptions need to be examined, so that 1) we understand the assumptions that we and our partners carry, 2) we can adjust assumptions of our own if they don’t fit with our true purpose and values, 3) we can recognize and seek to understand the assumptions of our partner, which are different than ours, 4) we can work together to meet somewhere in the middle.  Sometimes this last step (#4) is not even necessary, once we’ve worked through points #1-#3.

Oh Yeah, And Then There’s That Part I don’t like to look at…Resentment.

Resentment is what happens when I have Unrealistic Expectations and I don’t do anything about it.  I fail to shift my thinking from that of an infant to that of an adult.  It’s going to happen when I don’t spend the time and energy necessary to bring conscious awareness to my likes and dislikes, wants, needs, and limits; and take the steps I need to take to honor them.

Today I’m taking stock of my resentments:

1)     List resentments here (no matter how petty or problematic they may seem to you).

After I’ve identified these areas of dissatisfaction, I realize that they don’t just represent anger and resentment, but also sadness, loss, and some level of acceptance.  My sadness comes from a number of places, but a lot of it comes from the realization that I have slowly lowered my expectations on my partner regarding wanting an emotional connection.  I’m not sure in this moment what is realistic to expect in relationship, but I do know that I choose authenticity over repressing, denial, and trying to squeeze myself into some kind of traditional role.  I commit myself to authenticity, and consciousness, one day at a time, knowing that I am worthy of unconditional love, peace, and connection.

Adapted from Carol Rogne: I still catch myself engaging in controlling behaviors, though I do my best to correct them when I become conscious of them.  I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that I am not completely conscious about all my controlling tendencies.  What I am learning is that it is okay to not be perfect, and that if two people are willing, they can safely and lovingly help each other become aware of their controlling behaviors.  There are several things that make controlling behaviors so hard to recognize, so you need to be gentle with yourself and the ones you love when dealing with this issue.  First, controlling behaviors are so prevalent in our society, that they are often viewed as normal.  Also, quite often, recipients of control blame themselves for the problems in their relationships.  Next, there is the sense of loss and disappointment involved in admitting that we are, once again, in a troubled relationship.  We are engaging in less-than-satisfactory ways with someone who we thought was right for us.  It is difficult to emerge from the denial and admit that our primary partner is “harming us.”  Besides, this is not the way he/she acted when we were courting.  During courtship we did not experience being controlled.  We should not blame ourselves for this phenomenon.  It is common for controlling behaviors to escalate as the relationship progresses.

Things that you might want to keep in mind while beginning to take steps to correct your situation would be to understand that it is difficult to think clearly when being badgered with control tactics.  Energies are spent emotionally dodging arrows rather than stepping back, assessing the situation, and developing proactive strategies for coping or dealing with the control.

And in this muddled state of frustration and loss, we may not share our experiences of being controlled with other people because we don’t want to be responsible for “gossiping or complaining.”  This ultimately results in isolation, not just for the person being controlled, but for the couple as well.

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