I'm a Controller: What Now?

I’m a Controller. What Now?

If you’ve been following my series on love styles, then you have a clear idea of what a secure connector, avoider, pleaser, vacillator, and controller are.

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.

You can do this.

You have already done the first, difficult step. 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. 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.

What’s at the Core?

The first step to becoming a secure connector is learning to recognize and notice what lies at your core. You may not have realized it, but at your core, you feel you must live by the mantra:

Control or be controlled.

And why wouldn’t you? The close relationships in your life have never proved anything different to you.

Childhood was a Prison

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.

But I Have No Desire to talk about Mommy Daddy Issues

You likely have no desire to talk about Mommy/Daddy issues. 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.

What happened to you in your developmental years was not okay. Someone did you wrong. Perhaps many someones. Your pride may tell you that it made you stronger. Unfortunately, your emotional and relational growth pretty much stopped right there in your childhood. To truly get control of yourself and be the strongest, best person you can be, you will have to take control of your emotional and relational growth.

The first step to doing this is to be strong enough to go to a place you don’t want to go. 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.

Consider How You Got Here

It started with your imprint from growing up in an environment in which the love you so desperately needed from your parents was just not there the way it should have been. Perhaps it was even replaced with hate.

If you are a controller, you likely grew up in a chaotic, unsafe, and often downright dangerous environment.

Determine for yourself what situation might have impacted you in childhood to get you to this place.

  • Did you have a parent that was a controller themselves?
  • Were you abused mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, sexually, and/or verbally?
  • Did you grow up in a stressful, unsafe environment?
  • Were your feelings, perspectives, and needs devalued, rejected, and/or attacked?
  • Did you feel humiliation, shame, rejection, and fear in your family home?
  • Were you left alone as a child to deal with something or someone that made your life miserable?

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.

You don’t want to go back there, and you may not see any need to. Milan and Kay tell of one man who felt that way, too. He hit a breakthrough in his own growth the day he was asked during a session to go out of the office and talk for a few minutes to a boy playing with cars. He talked and played cars with him and then came back into the office. He was led to realize that he was just that age when he watched his father beat up his mother. He couldn’t imagine that little, happy boy going home to experience that. His heart finally broke for himself when he was able to better picture himself as a child experiencing what he did.

Time to Grow

If you struggle with a gnawing need inside to control, 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.

Focus on Relationship

Up until now, you may have viewed people as machines. If you do X, they will do X, Y, Z. Perhaps you expect, if I bring home a paycheck, my wife will keep the house immaculate, have hot, tasty meals on the table whenever I decide to come home, treat me with respect, and initiate and respond to me sexually in ways I like. If I bring home a paycheck, my kids will respect and obey me the first time, and they will be quiet when I want to rest so that I can de-stress in a quiet home after work and on weekends.

But this isn’t the way it works. Henry Cloud explains that all parenting advice can be summarized into to things:

  • High Warmth: Empathetic relationship with them, in which you care about thier feelings and speak kindly, gently, and warmly to them offering genuine affection.
  • High Expectation: gently but firmly enforcing boundaries that help them to not be exposed to things they aren’t ready for and keep them growing into responsibility that they are ready for. These are based on age-specific abilities of each child.

Without the high warmth, you have no genuine relationship with your children. Relationship involves playing outside with your kids, reading to them, doing things with them they enjoy, listening to their feelings and thoughts and affirming them.

With your spouse, you must talk with your spouse, offering love and respect to them. You have to listen to the things important to him/her. You will likely have to spend time asking sincere questions to draw this out of them, since he/she has likely shut down their hearts toward you. You may have broken their trust by using things against them in the past that they shared with you, so they may be hesitant to trust you again. Be sure to never use something they shared to give them a verbal or emotional jab or to joke about them to others. Be sure to never laugh at your spouse’s or kids’ expense, or they will have a hard time opening up to you again.

In short, you have to develop warm, loving relationships with those that matter to you. You have to be a safe person for them to do that. If you realize you’ve failed in the past, you must offer a sincere apology. (Don’t ever give a blanket “I’m sorry.” Sincere apologies always include detailing what you are sorry for and how that has affected the other person.)

Without this, it’s like thinking of your family as machines- giving them no fuel and kicking them when they don’t perform (due to lack of gas). You must focus on relationship. You must treat them with honor and honesty. Find out how you’ve torn them down in the past and stop. Seriously. Your control will be at it’s peak when you have control over yourself to treat those around you with the honor and respect they deserve as children of God.

“Freedom” that Enslaves You

To have a chance at relationship and at getting control of yourself, you will have to get out from under the thumb of the things controlling you. 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.

Manage Your Stress

Since you never had the chance as a child to gain control of your emotions, strong emotions of stress, such as anger and frustration can leave you lashing out. What you need, though, is not to lash out to control exterior situations and people to get your stress under control. You need to learn to manage your own emotions and responses. To do this, you must first recognize they are yours. You and no one else are responsible for your strong emotions and responses. Blaming others for your responses will only cripple your progress.

God longs to help you process your thoughts and feelings about work, life, relationships, stresses, everything. He says He wants to guard your heart and mind with His peace that surpasses all understanding. What is the road to this?

Pray. Casting all your anxiety on Him with gratitude. Read more about this in God Longs To Do This For You.

Have an outlet– something fun to do- something you enjoy doing, even if you have to do it alone. There’s real, solid science behind it.

Exercise. During season’s I’d stopped exercising, when I’d restart, I’d realize just how depressed I had been by the contrasting feeling after I restarted. Exercising regularly can really help. And sometimes you just need to Give Yourself a Break.

Breathe deeply. I’ve be fascinated by Stig Severinsen’s ability to hold his breath for over 22 minutes. Breathing deeply turns off your stress system, and turns on the system in your body that calms you. In a breathing training I recently saw, Stig recommended breathing and out in a 1:2 ration (for example, in 2 seconds out 4). Another option is to breath in, hold, breath out in a 1:4:2 ration (for example, in 3 seconds, hold 12, out 6).

To Sum It Up

You can get control of your life. To do this, you have to:

  • Recognize and grieve over the hurt and trauma that happened to you in your developmental years.
  • Decide you are going to get control of your emotions and responses.
  • Get help- from a counselor, accountability partners, celebrate recovery, and other people that already care about you and have been praying for you.
  • Learn that vulnerability is strength and learn to be vulnerable and sincere.
  • Treat others with warmth, respect, honesty, and honor. Focus hard on building relationship with those that matter to you. Apologize when you hurt them, seek to know them for who they are, and never, ever use what you learn to hurt them.
  • Learn Milan and Kay’s strategy of the comfort circle, and practice it regularly.
  • Learn tools to get control over your stress in ways that don’t involve addictions that control you instead.

Check out Transformational Parenting for the Controller to find out how your love style affects your approach as a parent and what you can do to have lasting, healthy relationships with your kids.

You may be reading this because someone dear to you is a controller. If this is you, check out: Help! I’m Married to A Controller

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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 addressing the controller love sty le further and the victim love style in future posts.

If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.

Photo Credit: Photo adapted from Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash.


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.


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