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If you’ve ever been in a controlling relationship, you know how easy it is to get caught in its web. It usually starts out with a simple suggestion like, “Do you think that outfit is the best you can do for the banquet tonight?” or “I think you’re better off ordering the salad,” or “You should get a real job and stop all that nonsense about making it as an artist.”
At first, you take their suggestions as a reflection of their love and concern for you. After all, their comments are not that far off base, and you certainly don’t want to appear unappreciative or defensive. At this stage of the relationship, you want to please your mate, not alienate him or her. It’s more important to appear receptive and understanding of your partner’s opinions than to challenge them.
Some time goes by. You now notice that your significant other’s opinions of you continue to be critical. Only now, there is an emotional undertone that suggests if you don’t abide by his opinion, he will be angry, punitive and emotionally manipulative.
The scariest times come when you believe the threats of rejection and abandonment.
The cycle has repeated itself in such a way that somehow, you’ve become sucked in and are believing the rhetoric. Or, at the very least, you’ve been trying to manage the critical outbursts. You’re now so consumed with keeping your partner’s emotional judgments at bay that you have trouble considering if his demands have crossed over into an abusive and inappropriate arena. Your judgment is clouded.1
You continue to ask yourself, Is it me or him? You feel anxious around him, believing that somehow you can make things right again; you want to feel the love you did when the two of you first got together. Deep down, your biggest fear is that his opinions of you are right … that there really is something wrong with you, and you just may not be lovable the way you are.
The bad news? You are now caught in the web. The good news? There is a way out. It is so important to understand what control is really all about. Let me show you the way.
Why Do People Want to Control Others?
- Their own sense of helplessness and powerlessness
- Getting someone else (like you) to make them feel okay
- Wanting to hand-off their own anxieties so they don’t have to deal with them themselves
- Ensuring that you will never abandon or reject them
- Projecting their deepest fears of being inadequate and unlovable
A person’s controlling behaviors are virtually never about you.
Take Control Back
Here are five steps to getting out from under a person’s control:
1. Get your power back.
The quickest way to do this is to be willing to walk away from the relationship if need be. This enables you to move forward with the next steps from a place of power, not a place of fear.
2. Set limits on his criticism and emotional outbursts.
Let your partner know that you are open to hearing his concerns about your actions and how they impact him, but will no longer engage in conversations that attack who you are as a person.
3. Consider your partner’s concerns.
What are you willing to do for him? What is completely off the table? Make sure you align these requests with your personal well-being and integrity. Don’t agree to do things simply in order to keep the peace or save the relationship, especially if deep down you know it isn’t right for you.
4. Be clear and honest with yourself first, then your partner.
Consider your values, goals and needs. Make sure your decisions are in alignment with your highest self, needs and all. Let him know what you can and can’t do for him. Whatever you do, do not be intimidated. Have a powerful “no” and make it clear that he will need to accept the “no.” If he can’t, then it may be best for the two of you to part ways.
5. Find people and experiences that celebrate who you are.
Find ways to reconnect with the powerful person you truly are, i.e. someone that would never tolerate being treated in such a manner. Engage and connect with other people that support and love you for exactly who you are.
At the end of the day, only you can decide if his controlling behavior is something you are willing to live with or not. Relationships should be something that supports your growth, not something that diminishes it. Love celebrates who you are; it does not put you down. You deserve to have a powerful and loving relationship. So start with yourself. Love yourself enough to take the first step in reclaiming you.
Most couples deal with issues of control; it is a common tension that arises from time to time. However, if you and a loved one are struggling with how to deal with control issues constructively, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m here to help. I want you to have the best possible outcome when it comes to strengthening your relationships.
In the years I’ve been counseling and coaching, many people say, “I know I’ve been in sick relationships, but I don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like.”
There are many long and complicated answers to this, but there is also a simple one: healthy relationships make your life larger and happier; unhealthy relationships narrow your life and make you crazy.
Healthy relationships do not include mind games, mixed messages, or control. There is not a back and forth or continual makeup and breakup, or “I’m sorry, please forgive me” every week or so.
In healthy relationships, there is a partnership and a nurturing by both parties of that partnership. At the same time, each person recognizes the need to have interests and time away from their partner to nurture themselves. They don’t need to have the same interests, but rather the same view of life. Healthy love is about taking care of yourself and taking care of your mate… and those things are in balance to the point where they seldom collide.
What is Real Love?
Healthy people lead to healthy relationships and healthy relationships lead to real love.
Real love does not seek another person to fill up what we are lacking. It takes a complete, whole person to really love and overly needy people cannot do it. Real love is balanced. Both partners love in fairly equal amounts. While the balance may shift back and forth, it is not lopsided. If you love someone who is not loving your back, or not loving you the way you love them, then it’s not real.
When you place expectations on people to fill your empty places, that is not healthy. It’s nice to have a partner, a companion, someone to help you weather life’s storms, but it is not okay to look for someone to complete you or fix your broken places. That is not real love; that is dependence, co-dependence, and unhealthy neediness.
Real love does not play games, cause us to lose sleep, friends, jobs, money, time and value in our lives. Real love is an enlarging and not a narrowing experience. And finally, real love does exist. But it is true that in order to find the right person, you need to be the right person.
To be the right person you have to do your work, examine your failed relationships and, find the patterns. Go to counseling if you have historical issues. Find out why you are attracted to a certain type that is not good for you. And, at the same time, build your life so that you are an independent, interesting, and attractive person. You will attract other independent, interesting, and attractive people who are capable of good and loving relationships.
As I say over and over again, water seeks its own level. If you are attracting and attracted to unhealthy and dysfunctional, you are unhealthy and dysfunctional. Do your work so that real love and lasting love has a chance to walk in.