If you’ve been following my series on love styles, then you have a clear idea of what a secure connector, avoider, pleaser, and vacillator are. Today, we’re going to begin the first in the series of the controller love style. This post is directed toward those who think they might have a controller love style. If you love a controller, you will find helpful information throughout and a note to you at the end. You can also read I’m a Controller: Now What? for more information about how to be in control of your control.
Note to the Controller Taking Charge of Life
If you are here because you have identified yourself as a controller, you have just done something huge toward your personal and professional success. It is clear you want to take control of your own life for the better.
Looking for answers and admitting you might need some help to find them is a critical step. It shows you desire the best for yourself and those around you. It also shows that you are able to attain it. Only by humbling yourself can you take control of your life. You can’t control others, but you can show yourself strong and competent in taking control of yourself.
Not everything written will apply to you. Every person is different. Some find themselves to be mild controllers with some application and disregard the rest. Others are stronger controllers. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You are in control of your self, so find what applies, apply it practically in your life with lasting results, and disregard the rest.
Am I a Controller?
Read the following statements and consider, do these resonate with me? Are a good amount of them true of me most of the time? If so, you might be a controller. You can take the quiz to be sure.
- Someone close to me threatened, intimidated, or was violent with me when I was a kid.
- As a kid, I relied on myself. No one protected me.
- I know how to take charge and get things done.
- As I grew up, people learned not to mess with me. Some family members were afraid of me.
- I left home early.
- I’ve had my share of problems in life, and I carry around more stress than most.
- I dislike authority. When people tell me what to do, I either ignore it or feel angry.
- My spouse and kids don’t listen when I ask them to do things.
- My spouse and kids do things behind my back, and that makes me angry.
- My spouse does things to make me jealous.
- I know my family doesn’t like it when I lose my temper, but they shouldn’t make me so angry.
- I’ve changed jobs frequently.
- I can’t stand when people interrupt me or invalidate me.
- I have yelled at my spouse and/or kids, and believe sometimes that is necessary to get my point across.
- I have hit, slapped, or pushed my spouse or kids, or I have come close to it.
- I tend to escape through playing video games, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, doing pornography, gambling, or overspending. These help me feel better at least for a little bit, especially when I’m really stressed out.
(Information adapted from How We Love Workbook p.56 and other resources from Milan and Kay Yerkovich)
What does it mean to be a Controller?
You likely have no desire to talk about your childhood. You’ve spent most of your life (perhaps subconsciously) keeping yourself from thinking about what happened as a child. You are able to feel anger, but not the sadness and grief that would logically proceed from what you had to face growing up. While it may seem like a waste of time to you, unless you can see yourself as a child and have compassion for what you went through, you will not make much progress toward being a secure connector. The more you grieve, the less angry you will feel.
Controllers as Children
If you are a controller, you likely grew up in a chaotic, unsafe, and often downright dangerous environment. This may have developed from:
- Having a parent or other close relative that was a controller themselves.
- Possibly having another parent who was not able to protect themselves, let alone you.
- Being abused mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, sexually, and/or verbally.
- Growing up in a stressful, unsafe environment.
- Having your feelings, perspectives, and needs devalued, rejected, and/or attacked.
- Feeling humiliation, shame, rejection, and fear in your family home.
- Being left alone as a child to deal with something or someone that made your life miserable.
Childhood was a Prison
Controllers were never given the chance or help to grow up emotionally and relationally. Your childhood was a prison. You decided to break free of that prison by gaining the upper hand. As long as you are in control, you can ward off the feelings and situations from your childhood that haunted you. You create order and structure and maintain it in relationships through control. Unearthing those buried feelings of fear, hurt, sadness, and desperation would feel as if you were “one down” from whoever you are talking to, thus putting you in a potentially dangerous situation (like from those awful childhood experiences you try so hard to bury). Allowing that would be terrifying and would allow you to be forced back into that place of humiliation, horror, and desperation at the mercy of another person. At least that is what it may feel like.
Control or be controlled.
Continuum in Perspective
Ability to navigate vulnerability and sensitivity is underdeveloped. These may only leak out when feeling regret. The desire to control is on a continuum. Lesser childhood pain means a more mild anger and desire to control as an adult. Greater childhood pain means a more severe anger and desire to control as an adult.
By taking charge of yourself and others, you’ve managed to survive and feel as though you are thriving in different facets of your life. However, you will never experience the best in your relationships until you are able to be a completely trustworthy, safe person for those you are in relationship with- especially your spouse and kids (though this significantly affects business and other personal relationships as well).
So, what’s the problem? “Just don’t mention ‘Mommy/Daddy issues.’ I don’t have time for that,” you may say. That’s exactly the issue. You have a tremendous amount of hurt, powerlessness, pain, fear, grief, and shame that you have never processed or resolved. Stuffing it may have been a way to cope as a child that got you through to adulthood. Now its time to get serious about dealing with your stuff so you can be there for those who matter to you.
Why? Well for one, since you are out of touch with your own pain, you are completely oblivious to the many aspects of pain your spouse and children are experiencing because of you. You cannot imagine all they are feeling, be there for them, help them process, or give them any helpful advice or comfort, because you are completely out of touch.
Do you have a chance? The person in your shoes with the best chance to become safe and healthy relationally is the one who is convinced of the need to compassionately face your past.
Many controllers are hiding deep shame at being incompetent or inadequate under their anger and rage. Anger and rage may feel like acceptable emotions to you, while shame or inadequacy is not. However, if you don’t acknowledge and deal with your fears of not being good enough or not being enough, you will never be able to quell the rage and have real relationships with those that matter to you.
Note on Addictions
You may tend to escape through playing video games, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, doing pornography, gambling, or overspending. These help me feel better at least for a little bit, especially when I’m really stressed out. In a way, these can hit a reset button that you know no other way to hit. Milan and Kay put it this way:
“Addictions are the most common method of finding relief. The constant torment they once endured on the outside has traveled inside to become their closest “friend”: a familiar place of pain with no apparent escape.”
The problem is that these are controlling you. You cannot get free of them, but need them to make it through the week, day, or hour. As these control your behavior, they strongly affect how you treat those you care about. Many controllers who wait to seek help realize they’ve done it too late, having had those they care about leave them due to the effects of both the addictive and controlling behavior on their lives. Don’t let this be you. Groups like Celebrate Recovery can help you get on a team of compassionate people working together and supporting one another toward growth. Focus on the Family offers a free counseling session to help you get the support you need. Your default coping mechanism is to just handle it on your own, but to get control of this, you will need the compassionate help of others.
How Does This Look in Relationship?
A controller often:
- seeks compliance and respect (and may not know the difference).
- desires others to fall in line with an out-of-line approach.
- frustrates easily and has poor coping skills.
- exhibits rage, outbursts of anger, and violent behavior towards spouse and children.
- is under-structured or overly rigid in relational rules and discipline of kids.
- is addiction prone and preoccupied with “more important” things.
- draws wrong conclusions about or attributes negative traits to their baby or children from people in the past and says things like, “The baby hates me,” or ,’She’s a little manipulator.
- has a trance-like response or frightening reaction triggered by a child’s crying, helplessness, or need.
- makes poor choices and neglects children and others when overwhelmed or preoccupied
- lacks awareness of age-appropriate expectations for children
- yells, disrespects, and mocks, and threatens violence
- is moody and unpredictable; nonchalant about things that matter
- teases or bullies and then says, “I’m just kidding”
- expects others to conform on their timetable with little concern for the other person’s feelings, capabilities, or needs.
If you are a controller desiring to give your children a different childhood than your parents gave you, be sure to read Transformational Parenting for the Controller (will be posted soon).
The Key to Freedom
Growing up, you were never able to grieve or feel sad. Your feelings and needs were given no place and shown no respect. The only vulnerable emotions you felt were dread, fear, humiliation, and shame. Trying to avoid vulnerable emotions at all cost, you have not grieved and may be unaware of the wrong done to you in your childhood. This has locked you into a cage of emotional immaturity. While you have tried to take charge to overcome what happened, you have to own your hurt and grieve it to get free of this cage.
You need the courage, time, and a compassionate listening ear to help you acknowledge and validate your feelings and childhood pain. Taking the time and having the courage to face this and truly grieve is the key to healing and growth.
Time to Grow
If this is you, there is no need to continue to be controlled by your anger and hurt. No time is like the present to seek God with your whole heart for growth. No time is like the present to grieve your hurt and get true control of your anger, relationships, and life. Your brain can be rewired, and your life and relationships can be transformed as you grow into a secure connector. Future blogs will address other areas, such as what you can practically do to grow and how this affects your parenting.
Married to a Controller?
If these behaviors are all too familiar for you, you will need the courage to seek help and support. Only you can take a stand for your needs and the needs of your children. And you can do it. Much of the behavior of a controller is destructive. Another word for this is abuse. Perhaps it has torn you down so much that you no longer recognize yourself. Perhaps you were torn down from your own childhood and have a hard time feeling worth standing up for (let alone safe). One of the most pointed realizations is, “If I don’t protect my children, no one else will.” Support is available. Not everyone is capable of offering the support you need, but persevere until you’ve found godly support to help you. Check out Focus on the Family’s hope line for free counseling to help you locate support in your area. Be sure to read the posts coming up, Help! I’m Married to a Controller, and the posts on your own love style (possibly the pleaser and/or the victim love styles). These will help you be able to care for your safety, your children, as well as to come alongside your controller in their journey toward being a secure connector.
Be sure to follow so you don’t miss these.
Want To Know More?
Milan and Kay Yerkovich wrote a great book called How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage. The workbook quoted and drawn from in this post is very helpful and practical for taking steps toward growth. They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate or anything. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share).
I’ll be going through the other love styles in the upcoming posts.
More Posts In the Series:
If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.
- I’m A Controller: What Now?
- Transformational Parenting for the Controller
- Help! I’m Married to A Controller
The key teachings of this post are consolidated from Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s excellent resources. I highly encourage you to find out more from them directly:
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Discover Your Love Style Enhance Your Marriage. Christian Audio.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage. Waterbrook: 2017.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting. How to End the Struggles and Tension. The Crown Publishing Group: 2011.
Copyright © 2020 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.