Five Controlling Behaviors You Should Learn to Spot

controlling behaviors

We all know people who exhibit controlling behaviors. In fact, when you mention control freaks in a group, it often elicits groans. Stories of crazy exes and former bosses start to come out. It turns afternoon special really quick. But controlling behaviors are often exhibited in everyday communications.

Manipulation seems to come easier to some than others. Knowing how to spot it in yourself as well as others help us to self-correct. If we understand a behavior, we can develop a strategy to prevent it. If we spot one in ourselves, we can choose to stop and enter into a relationship with more authenticity. If we learn to see it in others, then we are less likely to be pushed into doing something we don’t want to do.

Either way, understanding controlling behaviors is essential in our caveat emptor world. The world at large, and our friends, family, and coworkers, in particular, have their own agendas. If we hope to navigate a universe of extremely complex relationships, then every tool of discernment is helpful in determining what is healthy and life-giving versus unhealthy and draining.


  1. Ingratiating Behavior: When someone is overly nice, it can create a sense of obligation where there should be none. Psalm 5:9 is a little drastic when it says For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulcher; they flatter with their tongue. But it has a point. Being nice isn’t the problem.  Being overly nice is.


controlling behaviorsHere is how it works: Miss Nancy meets you for the first time and praises you to the skies. The way you dress, how you look, or the stories she has heard about you. As she waxes eloquent about you, you feel self-conscious but she is being so nice. Pretty soon she is asking you to attend an event or donate money or whatever. If you refuse, you look like a jerk. She has talked you into a corner by praising you in front of others and then asking for something in front of them.


It is a set-up. Knowing this should help you say no.


  1. You just don’t get it! This is a tactic used when the goal is not communication but continued confusion. Good listening skills include reflecting back what someone has said to make sure you are both on the same page. With this type of controller, however, you never get where they are coming from. Even if you repeat word for word their own words back to controlling behaviorsthem, they will never admit that you understand.


Here’s why they do it. The point of the conversation is not to arrive at a place of mutual understanding or even to resolve an issue. The point is to make you feel stupid or for them to have the pleasure of rejecting your overtures of peace. Opt out. The conversation is a one-way ticket to frustration.


  1.  Truisms: Whenever anyone responds with a truism, they are attempting to end the conversation. A truism is a cliché that is generally felt to be so true, that it cannot be called into question. It is a controlling measure meant to hijack the point of the conversation.  If someone spouts a truism like we are all just human, they are invalidating everything you just said or intend to say. For instance, if you are the victim of sexual harassment, you might hear boys will be boys.  This is intended to shut you up with your uncomfortable story. It is a distraction ploy.


If you try to steer the conversation back to its original subject, an offense is then taken because you did not understand the controlling behaviorsweightiness of their ‘truth’. And it is always spoken as if their tidy truism was so very deep. Even the Bible can be used as a verbal weapon to shut people up. Here is a list of truisms to help you identify these conversation stoppers.  Your only real option is to call them out on it. That is if this particular communication is important to you. Otherwise, you should recognize that you have hit the maximum depth level with this person and mark it for future reference.


  1. Overcorrection: This one drives me up the wall, as it is fully intended to. The basic goal of a controlling person is… drum roll, please… control. When someone constantly corrects you on minor points, particularly ones not central to the discussion at hand, you are engaged in verbal one on one combat. It doesn’t matter if they are a 99 lb weakling in the academic arena. All they have to do is keep arguing.


The purpose of this kind of constant critique is an all-out struggle for mastery. I have said in previous posts that the real purpose of communication is to create understanding between people. Not so with this kind of controller. They just want to win, and they will pull out all stops in order to do it. Your best option is to opt out if you can. These people were tragically born without ears so expecting them to listen is unrealistic.


  1. The Disappointment. People pleasers fall prey to this one all the time. By which I mean I have fallen prey to this so many times. In this little power play, help is asked for by the control freak. People Pleaser comes to the rescue and does it. The controller then complains so bitterly about the job the People Pleaser did, that the P.P. volunteers to help more and more, trying desperately to please the unpleasable.


The beauty of this is that the controller never has to exert him or herself at all. P.P. is there to save the day, only to disappoint yet again and show up to try even harder. The only way to deal with this is to face this situation for what it is. Captain People Pleaser is being used and it is up to him or her to draw a clear boundary. And if he or she is smart, avoid working with this person. It is a no-win situation.


Controlling behaviors can be so subtle. When Jesus said Let your yes be yes and your no be no, He was addressing these kinds of behaviors. Passive aggressive and controlling behaviors stifle relationship. They erode trust and cause emotional pain. The motivation behind moral law is love. That is, all morality stems from love. If your communication with others lacks love, it is immoral.  Does that seem harsh? We are to tell the truth in love, not with a desire for gain or power.

Genuine communication precludes control. Why? Because in order for people to express the truth about themselves, they need tocontrolling behavior have the freedom to do so. The attempt to control the conversation keeps relationships shallow and lacking in intimacy. So quit casting your pearls before swine, at least insofar as life allows you. And watch your mouth.

Some worthy reads on the topic:

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Is Your ‘No’ Broken? Reinforcing Healthy New Boundaries


10 Replies to “Five Controlling Behaviors You Should Learn to Spot”

  1. #4 over-correction is the hardest one for me to handle. All of the others I am able to stop, redirect, or avoid. The over-correction however hits me in the core of self-consciousness if I am not ready for it. This is a great list for people to acknowledge both in others and in themselves. (Themselves is much harder). God Bless!

  2. “We are to tell the truth in love, not with a desire for gain or power” … an amazing eye opener … Have met truism people and been in the often phase of disappointment… God bless you!

  3. The Message translates Matthew 5:33, “When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” That’s what this post made me think of.

  4. keisharussell84 says: Reply

    What an amazing post full of truth. I am trying my best to get out of the “people pleasing” role that I have fallen prey to for many years. So number 5, The Disappointment, spoke to me so clearly. I have been in several situations as to which I would wear my self out trying to please the control freak and it is just an impossible task.

  5. I have definitely been on the receiving end of these, but I must confess, this was actually very convicting. I can see how some of my behaviors are controlling others, especially my family. Lord, forgive me.

  6. So much truth here! I pray that God helps me offer grace and kindness to all and to give me patience and thicker skin when I’m in conversation with others!

  7. I have never looked at control with so many varying points. Thank you for the insights. I know that there have been times that I have been on both the receiving or giving of those behaviors.

  8. Very insightful post! The truism one always gets me! Especially when said with such confidence… how you could argue with that! Urrr

  9. My mom and my husband are so good at spotting manipulators. It takes me much longer to catch on. I really appreciated your examples…it definitely will make it more easily to spot not only in others but like you said to check within our hearts as well.

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