Silouttes of a man walking toward a woman who seems upset with sunset behind them

What Is Going on in a Controlling Person’s Head?

Most of us have experienced having someone try to control our lives and decisions for us. Unless we are extremely emotionally and spiritually unhealthy, we did not enjoy the experience.

Some of us have tried to control other people’s lives and decisions, too. (Cough, cough. Like me. For over 14 years of our marriage.)

In marriage, what one spouse does affects the other. And we can certainly have discussions, collaboration, and input into each other’s lives.

But we don’t have the authority to try to control another person’s thoughts, words, or actions. If we try to do this, we will repel our spouse and hurt our marriage.

Even if I am in a position of God-given spiritual leadership (like a mother, a boss, or a Sunday School teacher) I don’t get to control others and govern their free-will. I can lead them. I can set a godly example. I can teach. As a mom, I can discipline wisely.

But I don’t get to exert mind-control. I don’t get to make other people’s decisions for them.

Why do we try to control others?

Why do some of us not understand that each adult has free-will from God to decide things like their spiritual beliefs, priorities, attitude, dietary choices, hobbies, career choices, parenting style, personality type, and other personal decisions?

Often, we developed warped views of God, self, and others in childhood that have never been corrected. Sometimes, this happens because the adults who should have taken care of us were irresponsible, absent, or addicts. Other times, we thought we had to be overly responsible for our siblings or other people because of something traumatic that happened or we misunderstood theology.

We are often blind to our control. All we can see is our woundedness, anxiety, exhaustion, and pain. We think if we have control, we can avoid more pain.

We feel responsible for others and we expect them to be responsible for us, too.

We expect others to make us happy and whole, to fill us up and meet the deepest needs of our souls that really only Jesus can meet. We can’t see any other perspective.

A Peek into a Controller’s Mind

It is terrifying for a controlling person to think of giving up control. They don’t realize their control is only an illusion. They think they are seriously holding everything in place by their efforts, wisdom, and strength.

They think if they stop trying to manage everyone and everything, their world and everything they love will collapse into a ruinous heap of rubble.

The problem with trying to get a controlling person to give up control is that those who try to control others are generally deceived.

You can’t just address the problem on the surface and say things like:

  • You shouldn’t try to control people.
  • You worry too much.
  • You are exhausting yourself trying to carry all this emotional weight.

They usually believe that it is their God-given responsibility and duty to try to make other people’s decisions for them to love and protect them. I believed this! There are deep-rooted core beliefs in error here that need to be addressed.

They have taken on some of God’s authority or other people’s authority that doesn’t rightly belong to them but they probably don’t see where the boundary lines are. It is actually exhausting and miserable to live this way. We weren’t designed to carry that kind of weight.

When other people tell them to stop controlling or stop worrying, they hear, “You need to stop loving me,” and that doesn’t make any sense. They hear, “You need to give up your God-given responsibilities,” and they know that can’t be right. They know they are supposed to love other people and that they are supposed to take care of their responsibilities.

The people who confront them are clearly wrong, in their minds. The controllers are still thinking with the old sinful nature with self on the throne and pride at the helm, not the new nature available to them in Christ.

Controllers have a skewed understanding of love and which responsibilities belong to each person and to God.

A Controller Expects to Be Idolized

Unfortunately, controlling spouses believe (consciously or unconsciously) they should be idolized and others should submit to their will, rather than to God’s. They have self on the throne of their hearts and idolize themselves and they expect others to do the same.

They probably wouldn’t say this or admit it even to themselves. But this is what they actually believe deep down. I did this. I would never have consciously admitted it. But I did expect everyone to do what I wanted all the time. I thought I was always right. I thought people should defer to me. Whew! It was a lot of pride!

For their spouse not to bow to them the way they desire, it is a serious “offense” in the controller’s mind. It is practically tantamount to “blasphemy.”

For a controller to give up control creates a LOT of anxiety and fear, maybe also anger. They believe their world will fall apart if they are not orchestrating and overseeing everything. They believe their loved ones will be unprotected and in danger. It is as if someone is asking them to stop being God and to step down from the throne.

Who will sustain the universe if they resign their position of control and sovereignty?

They don’t yet understand God’s sovereignty and have a small picture of God’s power and a huge picture of themselves and their responsibilities.

They don’t understand that God gave each person free-will and that God, Himself, honors our free-will. They can’t see yet that people don’t have the right to try to commandeer other people’s responsibilities before God.

There Is Hope! Controllers Can Find Freedom and Healing in Christ!

Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can open our blind eyes to these important truths.

  • God alone is God.
  • I am not God. Not even close.
  • All people have God-given free-will. Each person is responsible for his/her own choices in life.
  • Things won’t fall apart if I step down off of the throne and exalt the Lord as God. In fact, this is the first step toward my healing.

It takes lots of courage, solid teaching, the power of the Holy Spirit, and humility for someone to be able to see their error and to allow God to help them tear out all their old toxic thinking and rebuild their lives completely on God’s wisdom and His Word.

We recognize the insane amount of pride we have in our hearts that we demand to be treated as equal to or above God. We recognize that this was Satan’s sin and it was his temptation to Eve, as well. That same old playbook still works on us.

We humble ourselves before God and admit that we are wretched sinners and that in us, there is nothing good. Only God is good. Our wisdom is worthless. Our efforts are destructive. Our attempts to love are toxic. We need God’s help desperately!

We need a Savior and Lord who can cleanse us and make us right with God.

We put our old self to death on the cross with Jesus daily. We receive our position in Him as dead to self and dead to this world and sin. We choose to deny ourselves, our pride, our wisdom, and our will. We yield completely to the Lordship of Jesus.

We allow Him to shine the blazing light and truth of His Word into the darkest corners of our hearts and minds and we allow Him to get rid of all the poison and replace it all with His abundant Life.

We allow His Spirit to flow into us so that no matter what anyone else may do, we respond with His Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)

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Related

The Cure for My Compulsion to Control

Baby Steps to “Taking Your Thoughts Captive for Christ”

How to Have a Saving Relationship with Jesus Christ

Healthy VS Unhealthy Relationships

A Critical Spirit VS a Godly Rebuke

8 Powerful Keys to Peace

Spiritual Authority Class Notes – by a minister at my church, Harold Weaver

HELP WITH PORN ADDICTION

Covenant Eyes (affiliate link)—resources and tools to help men, women, and children overcome or prevent porn use

The ABC’s of Salvation

A = Admit you are a sinner and you can’t be perfect and holy enough in God’s eyes to be right with Him on your own. Turn away from your sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23

B = Believe that Jesus died on your behalf to pay the price for your sin and to give you a way to be right with God – to be forgiven. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Rom. 6:23

C = Confess with your mouth that Jesus is your Lord – this means, Jesus is now your Master and you live your life for Him and His glory rather than for yourself from this moment on. You say it out loud to others and you live it every day. “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with your heart you believe and are justified, and with your mouth you confess and are saved.” Rom. 10:9-10

Lordship Salvation – by Got Questions

40 thoughts to “What Is Going on in a Controlling Person’s Head?”

  1. Hi April,
    Thanks for sharing this. It gives very valuable insight into how controlling people think.

    Being around a controlling person is just awful. I have a relative who is (or at least tries to be) extremely domineering towards everyone in her life. She has tried to dictate my religious beliefs, my thoughts, my feelings, my opinions, my ideas, how I dress, where I live, what I enjoy, etc. It was absolutely infuriating and frustrating. She’s not a Christian and has a weird hatred towards anything Christian. When I came to Christ, she fought tooth and nail to pull me away from him and get me to focus on new age eastern beliefs instead.

    It took me a long time to learn how to distance myself from her and her controlling ways. When I did that, I was able to flourish as a person and find out who I really am.

    I distanced myself by
    1. Not confiding in her anymore. I would just stare at her blankly when she asked me questions about my personal life. I figured that if she didn’t know much about my personal life, she wouldn’t be able to try to control me.
    2. Not spending time with her alone. I would only agree to be around her when other people were around so she couldn’t focus on laser-like control on me.

    I basically had to cut her off to get out of her control. Can you give us some guidance on effective ways to deal with a controlling person….besides basically cutting them out of your life?
    I would really appreciate it.

    1. Nikki,

      I think it is important for those of us who struggle with control and those of us who love people who struggle with this to understand some of the root issues. I know people would try to tell me surface kinds of things for years, and I just couldn’t receive what they were saying because of the skewed understanding and how I truly believed I was responsible before God to make sure people did what I thought they were supposed to do. For me to just stop trying to control would mean, in my subconscious mind, that I hated them and was being irresponsible before the Lord.

      You have to go REALLY deep down to get to the deepest core beliefs about ourselves, others, and God to see these things. And it is SCARY when you begin to address them and tear out the lies and replace it with truth. I remember vividly feeling like I was about to jump off of a spiritual cliff when I decided to stop trying to control God and Greg and other people. I was terrified. I did think everything would collapse into chaos.

      Of course, it didn’t! But these were skewed beliefs I had held since I was five years old.

      So it took some time and practice and a whole lot of God’s Spirit’s power to help me replace that toxic thinking with truth and to begin to walk it out in every day life.

      As far as relating to controlling people, there are some things you can do. But you can’t control them or force their eyes open. You also can’t afford to put yourself in a dangerous position spiritually with a divisive person or someone who wants to drag you away from God.

      It is terrible to be around a controlling person. It feels smothering, frustrating, and icky!

      I think you were very wise to stop confiding in this woman. You are exactly right, the more details you gave her, the more authority she would feel she had in your life. You were also wise to not spend time alone with her. Being alone with a controlling person is the time you will get the worst of their behavior.

      I know you are familiar with the post about when we do need to cut people out of our lives.

      I’ll be praying about a post on this topic. It is a great idea!

      1. Nikki,

        Here is a post about how a couple handled a controlling mother as a team.

        Ladies can also search my site for things like:
        – conflict
        – people pleasing
        – critical husband
        – harsh husband
        – resources for wives with angry husbands
        – command man

        Also, Leslie Vernick’s site has free resources for dealing with emotionally toxic people. I like her resources especially for non-marriage relationships. Like extended family, coworkers, friends, etc…

        How to Interact with a Destructive Person
        How to Handle Toxic and Critical People

  2. Excellent April. Your grasp of the subject and the way you unpack it is a real gift. It’s a good balance between understanding the human condition – the darkness in our hearts – and then bringing that into the light of God’s Word and to God Himself – gently and without shaming and condemning the sinner – who feels bad enough as it is! Neither sanctimonious nor pop psychology! Well done sister – keep up the good work🙏💐

    1. Martha M,

      I have been the one in such darkness, misery, and a terrible spiritual prison. No one really knew how to reach me. And I didn’t have a clue that anything was wrong in my life. I was so very blinded. I pray that God might use my messy story to shine His love, light, truth, and healing into other’s lives. We don’t have to live like this. We don’t have to try to carry these heavy loads.

      What peace is ours when we allow Jesus to reign on the throne of our lives instead of thinking we have to do everything and carry our weight, other people’s weight, and even God’s responsibilities, ourselves.

      I want to see everyone get to experience Jesus and be transformed and healed by His power!

      Thanks for the encouragement.

      Much love!

  3. Hi April, I have never responded to these discussions before.

    (Comment censored by Peaceful Wife for privacy)

    1. Wally Kokavec,

      I am so very sorry for the extremely difficult challenges and painful situations you and your family have been experiencing. It is heartbreaking.

      My calling is Titus 2:3-5, and I seek to honor Scripture and not put myself in a position of authority over, counseling, or teaching men. So I do not believe it is best for me to place myself in a position of counseling a husband.

      What I do know is only God can open spiritually blinded eyes. He opened my eyes. And many hundreds or thousands of women around the world that I have been able to witness.

      I have seen the power of a husband’s godly love, Christlike example, fervent prayer, godly leadership, speaking the truth in love, gentleness, humility, and perseverance.

      If you have Jesus, you are not alone in this family. As you seek Him, I know He can give you the wisdom you need and the power of His Spirit you need to lead and love as He calls you to.

      I have some resources for husbands here.

      I have seen some husbands use some of my posts to “reverse engineer” approaches for their wives. Sometimes, they seem to better understand their wives after reading.

      If you believe your wife may be open to reading some things with you, you may be able to invite her to do that. If you are able to guide her through the really scary stuff and show her that you understand her fear and anxiety, and that you know the way out and can help her see the baby steps, she may be able to hear you.

      Some posts that may be a blessing:

      https://peacefulwife.com/2016/11/03/a-husband-experiences-gods-power-in-the-face-of-a-fierce-storm/

      The Cure for My Compulsion to Control

      The Pain That Pushes Us to Try to Control

      https://www.gotquestions.org/controlling-people.html

      https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/confronting-emotional-and-verbal-abuse-in-the-home

      https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-should-a-husband-treat-his-quarrelsome-wife

      https://www.gotquestions.org/contentious-quarrelsome-woman.html

      Lord,
      We pray Your healing over this marriage and these daughters. We pray for Your wisdom for Wally and that he might act in the love, power, and Spirit of Christ. We pray against the enemy’s plans to destroy this family and invite the victory of Christ alone and the authority of Christ alone into this home. Empower this husband to be the godly man and servant-leader You have called him to be. Help him to honor You in everything and protect his wife and daughters well. Give him the courage to do what is right in Your eyes. Let Your love and peace reign in this home.

      Amen!

        1. Sounds good. I respect your stance on not counselling another man, husband. That is biblical yes. Enjoy some of your insights!
          God bless

          1. Wally Kokavec,

            You are not alone. I’m trusting God’s promises for you and your girls. The enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy. But Jesus is ready to help you.

            Praying you will be greatly encouraged and strengthened for the spiritual battle. The real enemy is not a person, but the enemy of our souls.
            Thankfully, your family has a man who is willing to pray and seek Christ first and stand in the gap.

            You are a son of the Most High God. You have access to all of the riches and blessings of Christ. You are dearly beloved.
            God has given you to be the leader and protector of your home. With Jesus, you can do this. He will prepare and equip you. He will give you the wisdom and words and approach to use. He will flood your heart, mind, and soul with His love and His perspective for His beloved daughters. He will help you not grow weary. And He can open blinded eyes. We will trust Him together to do this for His glory.

            “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

            “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
            they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
            they shall run and not be weary;
            they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

            I am cheering for you! Don’t let the enemy’s lies discourage you. Stand firm in God’s Word and who He says you are in Jesus.

            1. Thankyou for your encouragement and prayers. Our pastors are visiting us today to set some ground rules as the negativity has become a habit so trust, healing and unity can occur again and most of all love. Sometimes we get into a knot and rut because of stress and pressures even change. However, I do not believe in dropping our standards and values in the seasons of life.

              1. Wally Kokavec,
                That sounds like a good plan. Sometimes we need some outside assistance. Praying for God’s wisdom and Spirit to be at work in each of you today that the marriage relationship might be healed and honoring to the Lord and that you might work together as a team with the Lord to love and reach your daughters His way.

          1. I decided I needed to lay a bit more foundation about how to recognize control then next week I plan to share a post about unhealthy ways people can respond to a controlling spouse or person and a post about healthy ways. ❤️

  4. This is JUST what I needed to read. Thank you SO much for posting. I shared this article with some of my sisters in Christ.

    1. Christina Touchstone,

      I couldn’t see all of this was going on in my thinking for decades. What a blessing to see it clearly now and to see that Jesus provides a way out and healing!

  5. It is hard to live with a controlling person specially your spouse. After I repented of controlling my husband, now he tells me that I am not respecting him even once ( because he believes that submit is I have to obey him) and he thinks that he is God to me so if I break one of his “commandments” I break all his law… It is hard to hear that I am not respecting him AT ALL but the peace of God shall pass any understanding if I lean on God. And when I extending the grace, it is so much easier to forgive….

    Thank you April ❤️

    1. Shirley,

      It is very hard to live with a controlling person, and the hardest situation is probably with a spouse. 🙁 I would love for wives in situations like this to reach out for trusted help, if possible. I also encourage wives to take Nina Roesner’s eCourse Becoming a Woman of Strength and Dignity.

      Do you believe you are safe?

      Praying for healing and wisdom for you both, dear sister. I know God can give you the power and discernment you need as you seek Him wholeheartedly. <3

  6. I am dealing with my mother who is having to live with us temporarily and is a control freak. I have tried to set boundaries and how silly was that of me to expect that she would respect them. She actually can’t, until she’s a new creature in Christ and lets go of control.

    I have explained to her kindly the way my husband and I live and that we need peace and quiet. She is constantly talking, and things that have nothing to do with building a relationship because it’s all about her. Also, they are always fear based and negative. It is a very disturbing situation and I am exhausted.

    My rebukes fall unto deaf ears because there is no sorrow for her behaviors that are completely toxic. I am however so grateful that my husband and I have worked together in our marriage to have peace and harmony, and the only way that I can get through this is knowing that our example may provide an environment that will help her to understand what a healthy relationship really is one day. 🌷

    1. jeannieremyministries,

      I wonder if your husband may have some sanity-saving suggestions to share about how best to approach her that may bring you a lot of peace?

      Some people aren’t in a healthy enough place to be able to respect boundaries.

      I’ll be sharing some healthy ways to relate that may be a blessing in my next post.

      For MIL and extended family relationships, I also like Leslie Vernick’s resources.

      Praying for the Lord’s wisdom for you and your husband and for His healing for this dear woman who is bound.

      1. It is my mother btw. ❤️ My husband has been having just as hard of a time with this and we have both been in agreement that spending limited time with her is the only way to survive and knowing in our spirit when we’ve had enough time together with her is key not to become drained. Also, removing ourselves from her and going into a private room with the door locked as a safety net. Sounds crazy, but if I don’t shut the door and lock it, she will just keep looking for attention. Her incessant talking is a way for her to stay in control of everyone. My husband and I decided that to love her, is not to support her bad habits. It is a hard call because most everything out of her mouth is from the wrong spirit. So we need not pick this battle with her. Through all of this, however, my husband and I have been there for one another when we are feeling overwhelmed or just outright annoyed, which is not a godly trait, but we are doing our best. I am so grateful for my husband’s patience and tolerance for my mother. Most husbands would never go for this disruption in their house, so it is a blessing to be able to help her. ❤️

        1. jeannieremyministries,

          Yikes! How did I miss that? I think I need new computer glasses. 🙂

          It is extra challenging in a situation like that, for sure. Praying for wisdom for you both.

          Here is a post that may be a blessing from one of my readers a few years ago about this issue.

          <3

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