13 Signs You're Dealing With A Controlling Person + What To Do (2023)



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Expert reviewer:

September 22, 2021

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

By Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.

Expert review by

Rachel Wright, LMFT


Rachel Wright, LMFT, is a psychotherapist recognized as one of the freshest voices on modern relationships, mental health, and sex. She has a master's degree in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and has worked with thousands of humans worldwide.

(Video) 13 Signs of a Controlling Man (Be Careful!)

DefinitionWhy people do itExamples

How to respond

September 22, 2021

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Controlling behavior isn't always physical aggression and outright demands. In fact, if someone doesn't know what to watch out for, it's possible they won't even realize they're being controlled. Here's why some people are controlling, behaviors to look out for, and how to deal with any controlling people in your life.

What does it mean to be controlling?

A controlling person is someone who attempts to maintain control, authority, and/or decision-making power over other people and situations. Controlling behavior can include everything from directly telling someone what they can or cannot do to more discreet methods like guilt-tripping, gaslighting, possessiveness. Oftentimes the wants and needs of the person being controlled are completely dismissed or even disrespected.

Anyone can have controlling tendencies and behaviors, including friends, family members, co-workers, and romantic partners. A person doesn't necessarily need to be a "bad" person to have controlling tendencies.


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(Video) 13 SIGNS YOU'RE BEING MANIPULATED: How to Identify Manipulation

Where this behavior comes from.

Usually, controlling another person comes from not feeling secure enough in yourself, so you have to exercise your control over another person.

As somatic psychologist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure,Holly Richmond, Ph.D., tells mbg, controlling behavior often looks like insecure anxious attachment. For example, "If you're not with me, I can't soothe myself, so I have to know where you are every second."

In other words, controlling behavior is a product of anxiety and fear of the unknown, Richmond explains. "Sometimes it can be fear of what's going to happen, and there's this bad movie playing in our head—but sometimes it's the not knowing."

For someone who has "control issues" or a fear of the unknown, they often don't trust themselves or feel secure enough to meet any challenge or tolerate an unknown situation. So, in order to regain some sense of security, they exercise their will in any way they can.

Common examples of controlling behavior:


Calling all the shots

Simply put, controlling behavior can look very basically like controlling all the decision-making in the relationship (romantic or non). Richmond says this can include everything from trying to decide where the other person can travel, where they go out to eat, what to order, or who their friends are.

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13 Signs You're Dealing With A Controlling Person + What To Do (4)


Disrespecting privacy and boundaries

Whether a parent, a friend, or a partner, disrespecting someone else's boundaries and privacy is controlling behavior, Richmond says. You see it in parents who take the doors off their child's room, for example, or a partner who repeatedly denies your need for space and alone time.


Constant checking in

There's nothing wrong with checking in with someone while they're out from time to time, but as Richmond notes, if it's incessant or seems increasingly agitated, that's a sign they're coming from a controlling place. For example, she says, if you're out to dinner with your friends and your partner keeps texting "Where are you? Who are you with? Send me a picture so I can see where you are," that's definitely controlling.


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Picking unnecessary fights

Picking fights—seemingly out of nowhere—can also be a control tactic because to a controlling person, "negative attention is better than no attention," Richmond says. This is especially true if they pick fights while you're out without them.

"It's because of their abandonment issues and insecure attachment," she adds. "This fear that you'll choose someone else, and you being out in the world makes that more of a possibility than if you were home with them."

(Video) 13 Signs You're Dealing With a Narcissist


Controlling spending

Financial control is very real, and one of the quickest ways a controlling person can make someone dependent on them. Richmond says this can look like dictating what's purchased, dictating a budget, and/or being overly critical about another person's purchases.


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Isolating you

If someone is actively seeking to isolate you from friends and family, that's a surefire sign they want to control you, Richmond notes. Not only does this limit your support system, but it reinforces your dependence on the controlling person, similar to when they control spending. It comes down to limiting the resources you have so you have to rely on them.



Guilt-tripping can look like a lot of things, such as making you feel guilty for not having sex, for not spending enough time with them, or for wanting more alone time, Richmond says: "'You don't find me sexy anymore' turns into 'I guess you don't love me'—which is sexual coercion."

Over time, this can lead someone to doubt (or at least deprioritize) their own needs. And as therapistMariel Buquè, Ph.D., previously told mbg, if the thought of sharing your true feelings makes you feel guilty, that's a sign "there is control at the center of your relationship."


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Insecurity in the bedroom

Richmond says the insecurity that drives controlling behavior can cross over into the bedroom. One example, she says, can be if a partner doesn't want to use sex toys as a couple. "Let's say a female partner didn't get off and grabs her vibrator," she explains. "A controlling partner may feel threatened or diminished by that and say no sex toys in the bedroom."



Gaslighting, or making someone question their own experience by denying or deflecting, is another way a controlling person will try to manipulate another. As therapistAki Rosenberg, LMFT, previously told mbg, "Gaslighting at its core is always about self-preservation and the maintenance of power/control—namely, the power/control to construct a narrative that keeps the gaslighter in the 'right' and their partner in the 'wrong.'"


Doing things only so you're indebted to them

Another control tactic some people will use is doing nice things for others but only so those people are indebted to them, Richmond notes. This is common in one-sided friendships, where the friend only does things for their own gain, but it can certainly happen in romantic relationships, too. Once the good deed is done, this person may repeatedly bring it up, remind you that you "owe them," and let it hang over your head.



Jealous behavior can range from harmless to extreme, but according to Richmond, when you approach the extreme end, that's when things begin to get controlling. Perhaps your partner doesn't like you hanging out with friends of a specific gender or posting pictures of yourself online.

(Video) 8 Signs of a Controlling Partner To Watch Out For (when you get a partner)

This lack of trust triggers their insecurities and makes their need to control you even greater. Research has also shown excessive jealousy is often linked to narcissism1—which brings us to our next point.



"Trying to grab control of everything is archetypal narcissist behavior,"licensed therapist Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT, previously wrote for mbg. She explains that because narcissists are continually disappointed with the imperfect way life unfolds, they try to control it as much as possible. "They want and demand to be in control, and their sense of entitlement makes it seem logical to them that they should be in control—of everything," she adds. (Check out our guide to spotting a narcissist for more information.)


Conditional love

As licensed therapistWeena Cullins, LMFT, previously explained to mbg, conditional love is a controlling behavior. For example, a controlling parent may withhold love as a control tactic. "Withholding love, affection, or approval when a child fails to meet their standard," she says, is a sign of a controlling parent—but that same principle applies in relationships, too.

How to respond to a controlling person.

How you deal with a controlling person depends on the relationship dynamic.Here's how to handle controlling behavior from a few of the most common perpetrators:


A romantic partner

In a controlling relationship, the big question is whether to stay or leave. If you've realized you're in a controlling relationship that's abusive, reach out for help immediately. You can call, chat, or text this hotline for support.

If there isn't abuse and you believe your partner is open to adjusting their behavior, Richmond says the first step is to open up a conversation about what's going on. First, you'll want to establish a time you can both sit down and talk about what's been bothering you.

For example, she says, you could say something along the lines of When you text me constantly while I'm out with my friends, I feel like you don't trust me. When I don't feel trusted, I feel diminished and like you don't think I can take care of myself. That really makes me feel like the underdog in this relationship, and like you have more power—and I don't like feeling powerless.

Licensed therapist Rachel Wright, LMFT, adds that you can also use her AEO framework for structuring the conversation: Acknowledge the issue, explain the emotions, and then offer a solution or request, such as, What I'd really like is that when we're out with our friends, there isn't an expectation that we respond to each other super quickly. What do you think?

From there, how they respond will be telling. Do they take accountability and change their behavior? If not, and they continue to disrespect your boundaries, it's probably best to walk away.


A friend

In the case of a controlling friend, Richmond says, many of the aforementioned principles apply: finding a time to talk and expressing your honest concerns. If they respond well and actually change their behavior, that's a sign the relationship can be salvaged.

If not, you can create some space or choose to end the friendship entirely. As therapist Tiana Leeds, M.A., LMFT, previously explained to mbg,"Ending the friendship may be as simple as no longer initiating contact or plans as frequently and allowing the connection to naturally fade."


A parent

According to clinical psychologistShefali Tsabary, Ph.D., if you know you're dealing with a controlling parent, "the best way to deal with them is through the establishment ofstrong, firm, and consistent boundaries." She adds that it can be scary, but it's "exactly what the child needs to do in order to break free from this dysfunctional pattern."

As Cullins adds, you can respectfully choose to make a different choice when a parent is being controlling, whether "declining a parent's offer, or not interacting if it creates an uncomfortable situation for the child." And of course, if setting those boundaries doesn't work, Tsabary notes, "then it is important to create emotional space and distance in another way."

(For more tips on dealing with controlling parents, check out our guide.)

The bottom line.

When someone seeks to control you, it's not coming from a place of love but, in fact, quite the opposite: fear. Controlling behavior and manipulation are toxic and don't align with what open and honest communication is all about—which is necessary for a healthy relationship.

If you ever feel unsafe due to someone else's behavior, trust your gut and remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.

(Video) 13 Signs You’re in a Relationship With a Narcissist


How do you outsmart a controlling person? ›

How to Handle Controlling People
  1. Identify the type of controlling behavior. There are many ways a person can be unscrupulous. ...
  2. Dont believe the lie. Controlling behavior is not about the victim, it is about them. ...
  3. Recognize the triggers and patterns. ...
  4. Carefully choose a response. ...
  5. Try, try again until done.
Jan 29, 2016

How do you outsmart a control freak? ›

Don't try to control a control freak.

Judith Orloff advises, "Be healthily assertive rather than controlling. Stay confident and refuse to play the victim. Most important, always take a consistent, targeted approach." Control freaks love a good power struggle; playing into it never ends well.

What upsets a control freak? ›

Deep down, control freaks are terrified of being vulnerable; they're anxious, insecure and angry. They believe they can protect themselves by staying in control of every aspect of their lives. They're very critical of their colleagues and their friends, but underneath their criticism is a mountain of unhappiness.

What triggers controlling behavior? ›

Causes of Controlling Behavior

The most common are anxiety disorders and personality disorders. People with anxiety disorders feel a need to control everything around them in order to feel at peace. They may not trust anyone else to handle things the way they will.

How do you break controlling behavior? ›

  1. Identify what causes your need for control. To learn how to be less controlling, you must figure out the deeper reasons that are driving it. ...
  2. Build your self-awareness. ...
  3. Reprogram your mind. ...
  4. Ban control-oriented language from your vocabulary. ...
  5. Develop your communication skills. ...
  6. Adopt healthier habits. ...
  7. Get an outside perspective.

What type of personality is controlling? ›

Histrionic personality disorder (HPD): A person with HPD may be demanding of attention, which leads to manipulation and control-seeking behavior. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD): A person with NPD exhibits controlling behaviors due to needing excessive admiration and lacking empathy for others.

How do you set boundaries with a controlling person? ›

Essential ingredients of effective boundary setting:
  1. Tell the other person what you are going to do, not what they should do. ...
  2. Be firm but dispassionate, clear and concise both when boundaries are established and when enforcing. ...
  3. Make it about you and your limits — NOT about them or what's best for them.
Nov 16, 2019

What does controlling behavior look like? ›

Isolating you from friends and family.

It may start subtly, but this is often a first step for a controlling person. Maybe they complain about how often you talk to your brother on the phone, or say they don't like your best friend and don't think you should hang out with her anymore.

How can you tell if someone is manipulative or controlling? ›

How to Recognize Manipulative Behavior
  1. They Don't Respect Boundaries. Manipulators tirelessly go after what they want, without worrying about who they might hurt along the way. ...
  2. They Make You Question Your Reality. ...
  3. They Always Deflect Blame. ...
  4. They Justify Their Behavior.
Jul 10, 2020

How do you talk to a controlling person? ›

Set boundaries

You don't always have to say “no” to a controlling person; after all, there may be times when his or her opinion is helpful and sound. But constantly agreeing just to keep the peace will only reinforce the controlling behavior and establish it as the norm.

How does a control freak behave? ›

Control freaks believe with enough effort and skill they can accomplish anything. They don't believe in timing or luck. They often say things like, “Failure isn't an option,” and they are overly critical of themselves when things don't go as planned.

What do you call a person who tries to control everything? ›

adjective. someone who is bossy keeps telling other people what to do, in a way that annoys them.

Do control freaks have anger issues? ›

Control seekers are often obsessive-compulsive, angry (either overt or passive-aggressive), phobic, or even mood-disordered. These people need control because, without it, they fear things would spiral out of control and their lives would fall apart.

What causes control issues? ›

What Can Cause Control Issues?
  • Traumatic or abusive life experiences.
  • A lack of trust.
  • Anxiety. Find a Therapist. Advanced Search.
  • Fears of abandonment.
  • Low or damaged self-esteem.
  • A person's beliefs, values, and faith.
  • Perfectionism and the fear of failure.
  • Emotional sensitivity and the fear of experiencing painful emotions.
Aug 26, 2019

What are the personality traits of a control freak? ›

If you are not sure whether you are too controlling, here are some signs that someone might be a control freak.
  • You refuse to delegate. ...
  • Everything must be to your schedule or timeline. ...
  • You are a perfectionist. ...
  • You can be grumpy. ...
  • Your expectations might at times feel threatened. ...
  • You micromanage others.
Dec 4, 2019

What are the five activities in controlling? ›

The control function can be viewed as a five-step process: (1) establish standards, (2) measure performance, (3) compare actual performance with standards and identify any deviations, (4) determine the reason for deviations, and (5) take corrective action if needed.

What are controlling tactics? ›

Manipulation is when a person uses controlling and harmful behaviors to avoid responsibility, conceal their true intentions, or cause doubt and confusion. Manipulation tactics, such as gaslighting, lying, blaming, criticizing, and shaming, can be incredibly damaging to a person's psychological well-being.

What are the three types of controlling? ›

Three basic types of control systems are available to executives: (1) output control, (2) behavioral control, and (3) clan control. Different organizations emphasize different types of control, but most organizations use a mix of all three types.

Can a controlling person change? ›

It may be possible for a controlling person to change their behavior over time with psychotherapy if a relationship is unhealthy and not abusive. However, if a relationship involves abuse, a person's behavior could escalate to physical violence.

What is psychology behind controlling behavior? ›

Some potential causes of controlling behavior are: low self-esteem; being micromanaged or controlled by someone else; traumatic past experiences; a need to feel in-control; or a need to feel 'above' someone else.. None of these have to do with you, the victim of inappropriate control.

What mental illness makes you controlling? ›

The obsessive-compulsive personality is characterized by a preoccupation with orderliness, perfection, and control of relationships. The individual controls her or his anxiety by shifting it into her or his thinking (obsessive) and then acting it out (compulsion).

Is a controlling person a psychopath? ›

Controlling, or manipulative behaviour is one of the key traits of a personality disorder called psychopathy. Thomas Erikson: Psychopaths, they are drawn to control, they are drawn to power, they are drawn to attention as a part of their narcissistic behaviour.

Is a controlling person a narcissist? ›

Another common trait of narcissism is manipulative or controlling behavior. A narcissist will at first try to please you and impress you, but eventually, their own needs will always come first. When relating to other people, narcissists will try to keep people at a certain distance in order to maintain control.

How do you deal with overpowering personality? ›

5 Ways to Deal with Strong Personalities
  1. Focus on the “what” and not the “how.” More dominant personality types are task-driven people – they want outcomes and don't really care about how to get there. ...
  2. Cut the chit-chat. ...
  3. Give them ownership. ...
  4. Fill the gaps. ...
  5. Don't take it personally.
Nov 8, 2021

What are 3 ways to set personal boundaries? ›

5 Effective Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries
  • Visualize and Name Your Limits.
  • Openly Communicate Your Boundaries.
  • Reiterate and Uphold Your Boundaries.
  • Don't Be Afraid to Say No.
  • Take Time for Yourself.
  • How Much Time You Spend Together.
  • Setting Physical and Sexual Boundaries.
  • Respecting Emotional Boundaries.

What kind of trauma causes control issues? ›

Particularly in chronic trauma—continued exposure to domestic violence, abuse of any form, war, poverty, and others—victims usually reported that they felt powerless to stop or change their circumstances. Victims of chronic trauma may lose the ability to make decisions in their lives.

What do people with control issues do? ›

A person who exhibits controlling behavior may meddle in the lives of others, exert dominance or try to remain in charge of all decision-making. This may look like depriving an acquaintance of their independence by deciding who they can be friends with, or one partner regulating their other half's weekend plans.

What are the three characteristics of controlling? ›

What is control and its characteristics? Control is a management process to aim at achieving defined goals within an established timetable, and comprises of three components: (1) setting standards, (2) measuring actual performance, and (3) taking corrective action.

What are some examples of controlling? ›

Examples of controlling functions

Schedule and deadline management, employee training, performance evaluations, adjustments to budgets or staffing assignments, and resource allocation are all included within the controlling function.

What are the 4 stages of manipulation? ›

The 4 stages of manipulation
  • Flattery. The first stage is when the person who manipulates puts on a facade of being kind, caring, and helpful. ...
  • Isolation. This is when the person who manipulates may start to isolate you from your friends and family. ...
  • Devaluing and gaslighting. ...
  • Fear or violence.

How do I know if I'm being manipulated? ›

You feel fear, obligation and guilt

“When you are being manipulated by someone you are being psychologically coerced into doing something you probably don't really want to do,” she says. You might feel scared to do it, obligated to do it, or guilty about not doing it.

How do you act when someone is manipulating you? ›

8 Ways To Deal With Manipulators
  1. Ignore everything they do and say. ...
  2. Hit their center of gravity. ...
  3. Trust your judgment. ...
  4. Try not to fit in. ...
  5. Stop compromising. ...
  6. Never ask for permission. ...
  7. Create a greater sense of purpose. ...
  8. Take responsibility for yourself.
Mar 15, 2015

What happens when a control freak loses control? ›

And often, being out-of-control or losing control often translates to losing “comfort” (e.g., feeling sad, disappointed, angry); these eight unpleasant emotions move you away from comfort and into an emotional state that feels painful or uncomfortable.

What is the word for someone who thinks they are superior? ›

One of the most common words to describe someone who thinks they are better than someone else is arrogant. Another very common word to describe such a person is proud.

Are control freaks narcissists? ›

Yes, narcissists are very controlling. In fact, the clinical definition of narcissism lists controlling as one of the ways narcissists gain control over others. Narcissists are driven by self-obsession. They care only about their own needs, image, desires, goals, and experiences.

What do you call a person who thinks they are always right? ›

narcissistic Add to list Share.

What are the behaviors of a controlling person? ›

If someone tries to control situations or other people to an unhealthy extent, others may describe them as a controlling person. They may try to control a situation by taking charge and doing everything themselves or control others through manipulation, coercion, threats, and intimidation.

What type of personality disorder is controlling? ›

Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)

need to keep everything in order and under control. set unrealistically high standards for yourself and others. think yours is the best way of doing things.

What do you call a person who wants to control everything? ›

domineering. adjective. trying to control other people and make them obey you.

Who is the controlling person in a trust? ›

Controlling Persons of a Trust — the settlor(s), the trustee(s), the protector(s) (if any), the beneficiary(ies) or class(es) of beneficiaries, and any other natural person(s) exercising ultimate effective control over the trust (including through a chain of control or ownership).

What does a controlling person want? ›

Controlling people want to have control or assert power over another person. They can be intimidating, overbearing, and domineering in their efforts to get their way by manipulating others. Controlling people can include partners, family members, friends, and colleagues.

What mental illness is associated with control issues? ›

As for personality disorders, control issues are common. Controlling behaviors are symptoms of several personality disorders, including histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.

Do controlling people know they are controlling? ›

Control freaks rarely know that they are one. They believe that they are helping people with their "constructive criticism" or taking over a project because "no one else will do it right." They don't see their controlling behaviors as symptoms of what's really going on--their own anxiety has run amuck.

What mental illness causes manipulation? ›

Individuals with the following mental health issues are often prone to manipulative behavior:
  • Antisocial personality disorder,
  • Borderline personality disorder,
  • Conduct disorder,
  • Factitious disorder,
  • Histrionic personality disorder,
  • Narcissistic personality disorder.

What are the signs of a control freak? ›

If you are not sure whether you are too controlling, here are some signs that someone might be a control freak.
  • You refuse to delegate. ...
  • Everything must be to your schedule or timeline. ...
  • You are a perfectionist. ...
  • You can be grumpy. ...
  • Your expectations might at times feel threatened. ...
  • You micromanage others.
Dec 4, 2019

Do controlling people have trust issues? ›

"Controlling people usually have issues with trust, and so they want to control whoever is in their lives as a way to protect themselves but they actually set themselves up for people to betray and/or leave them because the pressures of being with them are too demanding and/or demeaning.

Are people with trust issues controlling? ›

People with trust issues often feel a need for control. This can sometimes manifest as mistrusting behavior. You might feel like you are being betrayed or taken advantage of if you don't have complete control over every situation. However, this will only hurt your relationships in the long run.

What is the difference between a controlling person and a beneficial owner? ›

Beneficial owners are: any natural person having an equity ownership interest of 25% or more in a legal entity customer; and. any control person (defined as an individual having significant responsibility for controlling, managing, or directing the legal entity customer).


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