Controlling behaviour is surely one of the more common ‘negative’ behaviours in the world today. And if one was to reflect upon human history they would find that this kind of behaviour is neither new nor different to the behaviour of the past.
The severity of this behaviour varies - from what might be portrayed on the news; to something that might go unnoticed in our individual lives.
What Is Controlling Behaviour?
So the question is: what is controlling behaviour? How can it be defined? I would loosely describe controlling behaviour as that which causes another to go against their individual wishes or wants.
Where Does It Come From?
As I reflect upon controlling behaviour my attention is taken to the ego mind. With the very nature of the ego mind being control.
How the ego mind functions will depend on how developed it is or should I say the conditioning it has received. With the more undeveloped it is the more control it will want to exert and the less it will want to trust and let go.
The ego mind also creates our sense of individuality and as a result of this; it causes us to feel separate from everything else. This is another big clue when it comes to our understanding of controlling behaviour.
What influences the ego mind or should I say what drives the mind; is the need to be safe. And what is classed as safe to the ego mind is what is perceived as familiar. This causes it to micro manage our life so that everything is familiar to us and this of course creates control.
So How Is The Ego Mind Conditioned?
The ego mind is conditioned by the messages and stimulus it received during our younger years. It is influenced as much by what we did receive as it is it by what we didn’t receive.
After these experiences become familiar to us, we then begin to form an association of it being what is safe for us. At that age we had not yet developed our critical abilities so that we could question whether something is a functional or dysfunctional perception to have and to hold onto.
We were also dependent on our parents or caregivers for everything, so it wasn’t exactly safe for us to question them either.
When we are children we are dependent on our parents/caregivers to take care of our needs. The problems arise when those needs are not met. And this creates conflict, not only in our childhood but also in our later life.
The needs could be to do with being loved, accepted, approved or validated and many others. This creates a sense of emptiness inside when these needs are not met, and we feel as if something is missing; that there is a hole within us. This will naturally create feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.
These become lost parts of our true self that need to be integrated. They are parts of who we are, that can’t really be lost or gained externally. However, due to not being mirrored during these moments we can’t accept these parts and then look to have these needs met externally.
This is what I believe causes the controlling behaviour. The parts of ourselves that we have not yet realised or acknowledged become parts we then believe we can only gain through another.
Our egos sense of separation can also cause one to perceive these needs as being external.
So What Does This All Mean?
What this reveals to us is that through not having one’s own needs met, we then come to believe that we need others to fill these needs.
Now, as I have mentioned above there are different extremes when it comes to controlling behaviour. Having these needs met in a functional way by others allows us to integrate these needs and leads to our growth and evolution as human beings.
What I am talking about here is a relationship or relationships that are based on mutual consent; trust, appreciation and acceptance, these are values that support functional relationship/s. This is fundamental to our wellbeing to not only survive, but also to thrive.
So what if these needs are taken care of in a dysfunctional way? This is where controlling behaviour comes into it. If one hasn’t had these met as a child, the perception is that why would they get them fulfilled as an adult?
This then leads to the conclusion: either go without or use others for these means. This goes on unconsciously and is formed out of what the ego mind knows. And the ego mind knows only what has happened in the past or a rearrangement of what has happened in the past.
As the main drive of the ego mind is to be safe and to survive, if it means controlling others for its own existence then it will do so. This is all based on its history and what it ‘knows’. Unless one starts to observe their mind there won’t ever be the possibility of moving beyond these old ways of being, as to the mind that is the only option.
It is highly likely that if our needs were not met as children it was because the needs of our parents or caregivers were not met during their younger years.
And if this was the case they will then typically use us to take care of these needs; meaning we will have very little chance of getting our own needs met.
So if ones parents/caregivers controlled them for the fulfilment of their own needs, it won’t be much of a surprise if they then go on to control others for the fulfilment of their own needs.
So How Does This Play Out?
The big area it plays out is in the relational sphere. This must be because relationships are the primary ways we get our needs met.
So depending on what these needs are and how lacking these needs are will ultimately determine the kind of behaviour that is acted out. This leads to the victim/perpetrator or master/slave relationships.
Perhaps, during an individual’s younger years they were made to feel powerless through the process of their parent/s or caregiver/s using them to compensate for their own sense of powerlessness. Not only have their own boundaries been violated; their own need to feel a sense of power has also being denied.
This might have been an occurrence that has been passed on from one generation to the other.
And as I have mentioned above about ’learned behaviour’; unless one becomes conscious they might then become controlling as a way to make up for what they don’t currently feel internally or what has not yet been realised. This then leads to one controlling another, as this is the only way they know how to feel power. Power over others is the only kind of power they can comprehend.
Being Comfortable With Controlling Behaviour
If one experienced control during their younger years it has likely become what is ‘familiar’ to them. This is why people end up in one controlling relationship after another. I don’t believe anyone would consciously want to be in a relationship that is based on control, but to their unconscious mind there is an association of safety.
So what we can see is that; we all have an ego and as a result, we are all controlling to some degree or another. The choice we have to make is whether that control will be used in a way that is functional or dysfunctional and empowering or disempowering to us and to others.
The more we have integrated our own needs and questioned the associations we formed as children, the more self reliant and less controlling and controllable we will be.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 26 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.