Characteristics of a Controlling Personality

We have all dealt with controlling people in the past and few of us will remember this experience fondly. Controlling people are people who like to be in control, and who in particular like to control other people. These people have codependency issues meaning that they rely on their ability to control you in order to feel safe confident and secure, but in doing so they unfortunately end up often making you feel like you have lost your autonomy, making you lose your independence, making you feel under the thumb and ruining your self esteem.

Controlling behavior comes from their own insecurities, that is little comfort when they are in the process of controlling you and making your life difficult, and it is important that you get out of that relationship as soon as possible. If you have romantic ties to a controlling person then this is even more important, and sometimes a controlling relationship can end up progressing into an abusive one and certainly an unhealthy one.

But in order to escape a controlling personality, you need to be able to first spot one and to identify the warning signs that the person you are with might be a controlling type. Here are some possible signs.

1. They start overly doting and then taper off

If you think you have found your dream relationship and that the person you are with is the ideal partner, then remember that if something is too good to be true then in many cases that’s because it’s not true. If you have met a man for instance who buys you flowers every day and never looks at another woman – then chances are that he’s not being entirely honest with you. Likewise a woman who is constantly giving in the bedroom without seeming to ever want you to repay the favor is also probably laying ground work.

A relationship should be give and take, and if the relationship is just give to start with then warning signs should be flagging up, because often this is a subtle form of manipulation. It’s designed to make you fall desperately in love quickly so that when things slowly start to change you are then too far down the rabbit hole to escape. You’ll notice then that suddenly the flowers stop and it is you who is expected to buy dinner and gifts. Or that the sex stops and you are now made to feel guilty unless you provide daily massages.

Of course this is a difficult one to spot as you’re not going to leave someone for being ‘too perfect’ and you can’t know what’s around the corner. But keep an eye out for it in conjunction with other signs.

2. They try to isolate you

If someone wants to control you then they will want to control you right down to your very thoughts. In other words then, the last thing they are going to want is your friends talking in your ear and potentially persuading you that this person is bad news. For that reason you might then find that they subtly try to isolate you from your friends. They might do this by offering you better alternatives at first such as luxurious dates, but timing them so that they coincide with when you would otherwise have been doing something with your friends (if they knew you had prior arrangements already then question their motives). Likewise if they hear anything bad about your friends then they will be quick to jump on it and make your friends out to be worse as a result. Saying ‘I never liked her/him’ or ‘You don’t need friends like that’, as opposed to the normal response which would be ‘I’m sure they didn’t mean it’ or ‘Give them time, they’ll come around’. You may also find that they answer the phone and make it difficult for you to speak to your friends, and this can even be scary in extreme cases. If ever they say that the only person you need is them, then start to question things rapidly. Emphasize to them the importance of independence and of being your own people as well.

3. They put your confidence down

By trying to squash your self esteem the controlling personality hopes to prevent you from ever leaving or questioning them. They want you to think ‘I can’t leave because I’d never find anyone else’. At the same time they want to bring your self esteem down so that you don’t trust your own opinion and so that you turn to your partner instead for advice. This might be as simple as them avoiding giving you compliments, or as blatant as them actually saying ‘no one else would find you attractive’. Regardless of whether the motives here are that the person is controlling, if anyone tries to take your confidence away from you then this is a bad and destructive relationship and you should end it.

4. They get frustrated with questions

Controlling personalities are often easily frustrated or angered and particularly by what they perceive to be inane questions. If they tell you something, then they want you to take it at face value or to adhere to what they’ve said. If you ask ‘why’ then, or point out a flaw, then this is going to cause them to get frustrated quickly. Likewise this might anger them as it demonstrated that they don’t know how you think, which means you aren’t conforming to the way they want you to behave.

5. They lie

Often you will find that controlling personalities make lying a habit. They don’t only want to control the bigger decisions or the things that affect them, they want to be in a complete position of authority and power so that you defer to them on all topics and so that you idolize them. Often then, if you ask them a question that they don’t know the answer to, they will simply lie rather than admit they don’t know the answer. Test this out by asking them questions that you know they don’t know the answer to, but that you do and see if you can get them to say ‘I don’t know’.

6. They try to change you

Is this person trying to change you to make you more like them or more like their ideal partner? Are they trying to control what you wear, or are they trying to get you to change religion? Everyone does this to some extent, but if your partner is actively and constantly trying to change your core personality and behavior then this is a warning sign. A partner should admire you for who you are and appreciate your differences – after all that’s what makes relationships interesting. If they can’t accept you for who you are, then you shouldn’t have to change.

7. They criticize others

Meanwhile as part of their attempt to make themselves more impressive and ideal in your eyes they will also often put down other people. If they criticize others a lot then this usually comes from low self esteem and this will often end up affecting you negatively in the long run.

8. They don’t take no for an answer

Of course ‘no’ isn’t something a controlling person wants to hear, whether it’s sex, an invitation or an order. If they keep pestering you and won’t let the subject lie, and particularly if they threaten or try to scare you, then this is a serious red flag that you should get out of the relationship. Set boundaries and make sure your partner respects them.

9. Jealousy

The combination of wanting to control you, mixed with low self esteem, will often result in jealousy which can border on paranoia. This might mean they don’t want you to go out and socialize with others, that they try to get you to cover up, or that they go through your messages and other contacts. Again, regardless of the reasons for this behavior it is never a good sign and something you need to solve before you move forward with your relationship.

If you notice any of these signs and symptoms then this is a good sign that your partner is controlling. Likewise though you should also look to yourself and ask yourself whether you’ve lost contact with any of your friends because of this person, whether you’ve made any serious changes or sacrifices and whether you’re still the same person you used to be. If you find you are constantly changing to meet their demands and to make them happy, or that you are afraid to raise issues with your partner – then something is wrong. It is not normal to make sacrifices to such an extent that you lose your identity, and there are plenty of relationships out there for you where you could be happy without having to change so much. Freedom is the most important thing that any of us has and you should never let it go – even for love.

Most important is to be honest with yourself and to assess the situation in a logical manner. If you suspect your partner might be controlling then try speaking to someone you know who has been in a controlling relationship and they will likely be able to help you identify the signs. If you speak openly with your friends in general you will often find that they are suspicious of your partner and their actions and you will need their help to get out of this negative relationship.

Comments 17
  1. OMG I think I meet the worst. He is exactly the person what this statement say… am scared now!

  2. I'm trying to get the courage to leave, this means losing my home, my husband is controlling our teen daughter with money… I have left and come back 10 times he has moved me back while at wk at least half the times… these people are messed up and unchangeable and really only care about themselves. Truly!

  3. This article was very helpful and was able to help me put a lot of things into perspective. Thank you and if there's any more reading on the topic I would appreciate the read!

  4. These are definitely tell-tale signs and I have enough experience to know that this is possibly true. Thank you for this excellent article!

  5. WOW, you really hit it on the head. I am sharing this article with my 12 year old daughter who is also having issues with her relationship with dad. I want her to recognize the she is not crazy (often says "he thinks I'm crazy" or asks "does dad hate me?"), and can't understand why he treats our son with consideration and respect but not us.

    After reading this very informative article, my eyes are now VERY OPEN to why I feel the way I do and now, I have the power to do something about it.

    Thank you again,

    One Frustrated Wife

  6. I found the article very enlightening and it has confirmed what I was already thinking about my relationship over the last 12 months. It has also helped me decide what I'm going to do about it. Thank you!

  7. Too many issues touched on that are a part of a normal relationship. And where in here is one told that having one, or even 2 of these does not give anyone a right to diagnose you.

    1. Thank you. I was thinking while reading this that it’s too vague. There are sacrifices that are made in relationships, it’s not all “If this then that…” This article is add useful as a zero tolerance policy. Seek professional help if you think this is a problem for you. There’s no broad brush that is able to paint over this topic. Variables need to be taken into account, past trauma, and whether a person is willing to admit they have a problem and seek legitimate help. Say if one is married, and they have strong beliefs around that… Now include a child that both of you adore, finally, throw in the fact that this person has dealt with abandonment issues from an early age (Abandonment is one of, if not the most traumatizing issues a person can deal with, by a neglectful parent, for example), though no fault of their own, they have built defense mechanisms and coping mechanisms without even realizing it. People are too quick to give up and cut and run rather than put in the work required to build and maintain healthy relationships. Articles like this are garbage. If you’re being beaten or don’t have much at stake, then follow your instincts and cut ties… Otherwise, it would be advisable to seek help before making any drastic decisions that can affect others, particularly those who are innocent, like children for example.

  8. One size does not fit all. E.g. Anxiety ridden worrywarts demand to be taken seriously, demand that one listens and drops everything to pay attention to their imagined "danger" or exaggerated important issue. Such an irritating personality can be overbearing and come across as controlling and utterly self-centered, lacking empathy and self-control. Add to that a loss of hearing, and a refusal to get a hearing aid, knowing better than the experts, wanting perfection from others and being super critical and analytical about everything, than you have a complex situation, that can give seniors an unpleasant name.

    I agree that the inner insecurity, perhaps going back to childhood/school days is often the underlying cause for such aberrant behavior which makes it hard for the entire family to deal with.

  9. This is a good article.

    Controlling personalities is not limited to personal relationships but also work/professional relationships where a co-worker or even a boss has a controlling personality.

    It would be good to read how to handle situations of this nature in the work environment and/or relationship. It would also be good to read how to address this issue with the controlling person and assist with helping them.

  10. I read this and just began to cry. I’ve been in a relationship for 13 years and I think for the past 10 years I’ve been losing myself and I feel like I am going in circles every day looking for “me”. I have two kids and no voice. I feel like this relationship is over I’ve felt it for years I need to leave. Thank you for the insight website I needed to see something to tell me I’m not wrong.

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