What is a controlling person?
Here’s my definition:
A controlling person is someone who has self on the throne of his/her heart. This person expects others, and even God, to submit to them in everything. They believe that it is their God-given right and responsibility to make other people do what they believe is best. Sometimes out of fear for their loved ones’ safety. Other times out of pride. Often both.
A controlling person does not submit to the Lordship of Christ, seek God’s will first, or humbly embrace dying to self.
A controlling person tries to take over other people’s God-given free-will and decision-making. This is way beyond leading or influencing or sharing ideas, advice, or encouragement. A controlling person tries to coerce, manipulate, and force others to do their will and gets very upset or anxious if others do not cooperate.
A controlling person may believe that they are holding up the universe, in many ways. They think they know best. They think their efforts are keeping everything from collapsing into chaos. They think they possess some of the sovereignty that only God truly owns.
They believe that their responsibilities extend far beyond where they actually do into other people’s lives and God’s responsibilities. They are unwittingly deceived, causing them to act in dysfunctional ways.
Of course, the key to a healthy, godly marriage, is for both spouses to completely yield themselves individually to the Lordship of Jesus and to seek His will far above their own.
How Can You Know If Someone Is Controlling?
It’s important to discern rightly if your spouse (or anyone else) is controlling or if you have skewed thinking. Or you could have both situations going on at the same time.
14 TYPES OF CONTROL
These are all just ways we relate to others dysfunctionally when the old sinful nature is in control.
- Guilt trips
- Playing the martyr
- Idolatry of self or happiness/narcissism
- Bribes/gifts with strings attached
- Silent treatment
- Isolating someone from everyone else and every outside influence in their life
There are a lot of possible scenarios where we may feel like someone is controlling
Some of these situations really are about another person controlling and others aren’t.
We may feel like someone is trying to control us…
- And they are. A person is trying to make a decision for us that belongs to us. They don’t understand where their responsibilities end. Or they are trying to take over as our Holy Spirit and take on God’s authority that does not belong to them. They may believe they are loving, protecting, or helping us. They may not see that what they are doing is offensive. But they have overstepped.
- But they aren’t. Maybe someone is simply trying to give us love, counsel, and sound advice. That is not necessarily controlling. We may not want or appreciate their advice, but other people telling us their ideas or suggestions is not necessarily controlling behavior. It is when they try to force us to do what they think is best that it becomes a problem. If we don’t ever want to hear anyone else’s thoughts or ideas that differ from our own, we may have a heart issue on our end and need to learn to receive counsel, constructive criticism, and godly rebukes. We may be dealing with a spirit of offense.
- But our flesh is just weak at that time. Sometimes our feelings tell us someone is trying to control us, but we are misjudging the situation. Our emotions are not always accurate. If we are exhausted, hormonal, really hungry, etc… sometimes normal interactions with others can feel oppressive when they aren’t. Or we may be in a negative thought spiral that is based on assumptions, not facts.
- But someone with legitimate God-given authority is trying to lead us in proper ways. Maybe we are unwilling to honor their leadership or the Lord. If my boss gives me an assignment, asks me to change something about my approach with customers, or tells me I have some area where I need to improve, that is not controlling. That is appropriate leadership. If my mentor lovingly, respectfully confronts me about sin in my life, that is a blessing. If I, as a mom, ask my elementary school-age children to get ready for bed by 9 pm (without yelling or insulting them), that is not controlling.
God-given leaders (according to Scripture) include:
- Parents for underage children (Eph. 6:1-2)
- Husbands (Col. 3:18-19, Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Cor. 11:3, I Pet. 3:1-7)
- Bosses (Eph. 6:6-9)
- Pastors/church leaders (Heb 13:7, Acts 20:28, 1 Tim 3, James 3:1)
- Government leaders/military/police officers (Rom. 13:1-7)
These people are responsible before God to protect those in their care, to lead them to Christ, to do what is best for them, to set godly examples, and to honor the Lord in their decisions.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Matt. 20:25-28
Of course, some people in leadership positions act like selfish tyrants and truly are controlling or abusive, harming others. This is completely unacceptable in God’s eyes.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.”Jeremiah 23:1
It can get confusing to sort things out.
We need the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit to see ourselves and others rightly according to Scripture.
If Someone Is a God-Given Leader in Our Lives
We need to be sure that if we feel someone is trying to control us who does have a legitimate position of authority that we respect the position, the person, and God’s design. We treat them with honor. We seek to have a generally cooperative spirit whenever possible. Ultimately, we do this to honor Christ, and because we trust Him and submit ourselves to Him above all else not because the person deserves it.
Our willingness to cooperate with people in positions of leadership isn’t about them being perfect or infallible. They are not deity. They are supposed to be God’s agents to bring order and blessing. They are supposed to serve others humbly with love.
But they don’t get to demand to control our thoughts, our faith, our decisions, etc… We also can’t follow them into anything God calls, “sin” or false teaching. There are times we can’t submit to a person in a position of leadership.
“We must obey God rather than men.”Acts 5:28
If someone oversteps their God-given position as a leader, spouse, friend, or family member, we may need to respectfully address it. (If we are being abused or are not safe, we can to reach out for help from other authorities ASAP.)
Ultimately, we each answer to God, alone. All people in leadership positions answer to Him, too. No one has authority from God to coerce us into sinning or to abuse others. And no human has equal authority to God and His Word.
Abuse of Leadership Is Not Okay
If a husband says, “I am Christ to you. You have to do anything I say, whether it is sin or not. You have to go through me to get to God. You must bow to me!” That is not godly leadership. It is inappropriate and outrageous. A person who demands to be treated as a deity is not following God or listening to Him. He is following the enemy. Satan demanded to be equal to God.
See what God did when Herod allowed people to honor him as deity. Or what God did to Nebuchadnezzar to humble him from his pride.
There is only one God and He alone is worthy of our worship and full submission.
No one has a right to ask someone to violate the Greatest Commandment. Or any of God’s commandments.
Or if a husband said, “We’re going to have a threesome with this woman. You have to obey me.” Or, “You have to watch porn with me.” That is not appropriate leadership. He has no authority to tell you to commit sexual immorality against the Lord.
If a husband says, “You have to respect me so that means I can cuss you out and hit you and you have to stand there and take it and say nothing.” That is not remotely what God had in mind for leadership. God hates violence and abuse. God provides other authorities (pastors, counselors, thehotline.org, doctors, and the police) so that we can reach out for help if someone abuses us.
If you feel like your husband is controlling because he won’t let you have any contact with anyone else, he threatens your safety, he often has an uncontrollable temper, he emotionally/verbally continually insults and berates you, he gaslights you, he tries to force you to do things by coercion or violence, he makes extremely unreasonable demands, etc… the main issue is probably on his end and you may need additional help. This is not okay.
Sometimes these situations are very black and white. Other times, they are more gray and difficult to discern. That’s why we need the Spirit and the Bible to help us every day so we can make the right choices in His sight.
Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, a light on my path.Psalm 119:105
Godly Leadership Is Not Controlling or Abusive
If you have your own skewed thinking about God, yourself, and others, it is possible for you to feel controlled when someone in a position of leadership is just trying to lead in a godly way.
For example, if your husband says, “We are spending way too much. My hours have been cut at work. Let’s try to keep our spending to $150 per week on groceries for the time being.” That is wise leadership. Not control. A wife would honor the Lord by having a cooperative spirit with her husband’s leadership. There is only so much money so both spouses will have to cooperate to avoid going into debt. We are all to be godly stewards.
Or if your husband says, “I think you have too many commitments on your plate. You’ve been exhausted and stressed so much lately. I think it would be a good idea for you to give up your ministry at church for a while so you can have more energy and get more rest.” That is wise, God-honoring leadership. He is looking out for your best interests and trying to take care of you.
Maybe your husband notices that your best friend is encouraging you to go against the Lord or against your marriage and loves to complain, argue, and cause drama. If he says, “I‘d like you to limit your time with her,” that is wise. You can look at Scripture and see that we are not to surround ourselves with divisive people who gossip, tear others down, and lead us astray.
If you feel like your husband is controlling when he offers loving advice, guidance, protection, wisdom, or a perspective that is different from yours, the issue may be on your end.
Of course, sometimes there are problems on both sides. Interestingly, as we allow God to change us and make us more like Jesus, amazing things can happen. And He can give us the discernment and wisdom we need in our situation.
Next week, I plan to share posts about unhealthy and healthy ways spouses and others respond to controlling people.
Has God shown you wisdom about recognizing control in others that you’d like to share?
How do you recognize control or skewed thinking in your own life?
We’d love to hear how the Lord set you free. <3
Spiritual Authority Class Notes (from Rev. Harold Weaver at my church)
What Does the Bible Say About How to Deal with Controlling People? by www.gotquestions.org