Everyone wants some level of control in their life. It makes us feel safe, solid, and independent. However, problems can arise when we force that control onto those around us.

Have you ever been told that you’re controlling? Have you ever taken time to reflect on how your communication style may be unconsciously communicating something you’re not aware of? The words we use—how we “talk”—can communicate things we don’t mean or show others a side of us we don’t want them to see. We call this “control talk.”  

Control talk can be useful at times; when you want to direct, advise, or persuade. A lot of times, it comes naturally. Most selling, supervising, teaching, and preaching activities all utilize this style of talking, so it’s not always negative. Emergencies, positional responsibilities, and moral dilemmas often call for take-charge conversations. Think of a General in the armed forces as having a positional responsibility that uses control talk in a legitimate way.

We may not like it, but controlling tendencies are natural to all of us. It can be understood as part of the fundamental ‘makeup’ of the human heart. Early in life, we learn ways to avoid the discomforts of daily interaction with others. When a child has their first temper tantrum, and it gets results, a pattern of behavior is set in motion for adulthood. We learn that the power of attention, whether positive or negative, gets us what we want. We learn control.

Author Tim Kimmel wrote, “Control is when you leverage the strength of your position or personality against the weakness of someone else’s in order to get that person to meet your (selfish) agenda.” (Powerful Personalities, p.13)

(Powerful Personalities, p.13) by Tim Kimmel

People attempt to control others through various means and for a variety of reasons. While they may be motivated by good intentions, their attempts to control cross boundaries, display disrespect for self and others, create chaos, and wreak havoc on relationships.

You could place “controllers” into four larger categories: aggressive, passive, passive/aggressive and aggressive/passive. Being willing to recognize your tendency to control is the first step to gaining self-control—the only real control we have. When a person thinks they’ve lost some control, they tend to try regaining what was lost, typically through control talk tactics.

Some ways in which people behave in a controlling manner include the following:

Aggressive Controllers:

  • The Mother/Manager: Someone who uses lists, planning and perfectionist tendencies to take control of their internal anxiety by controlling events and family functions. They make sure everything is just ‘so,’ all the while stressing themselves out and putting pressure on others to do it their way.
  • The Monarch/Dictator: Someone who uses their personal ‘power’ or ‘position’ to get those around them to achieve an intended result. They use whatever means possible to accomplish their desired result without concern for the impact on others. 
  • The Master/Lord: An ego-centric person who has a need to be recognized and admired. Uses behavior, money, position, and other means to manipulate people into thinking they are loving individuals, but really are looking for absolute loyalty and devotion.
  • The Mugger/Bully: Someone who uses emotion, tone of voice, and non-verbal expressions to intimidate and scare people into getting what they want without caring about the results of their behavior.
  • The Moralist/Saint: Someone who uses the scripture as a weapon to manipulate others into desired behavior. Uses a ‘holier than you’ attitude. Who can argue against ‘God’?

Passive controllers: 

  • The Masked Marauder: Someone who hides, exaggerates, and distorts the truth to fit what they want others to see or believe. These ‘masked marauders’ hide to protect their own fears, vulnerabilities, and insecurities.
  • The Mirage Maker: Someone who manipulate others by creating mirages: distortions of reality to appear to others that everything is fine. Appearances are everything. It becomes an essential way of creating a distorted view of reality to feel more secure.
  • The Monastic Stonewaller: Someone who uses monastic silence or withdrawal as a tool to manipulate and control the environment and others.  These tactics coerce loved ones into complying, with the hope they gain the approval and engagement that’s desired.
  • The Money Miser: Someone who uses finances and money to manipulate or control others through the appearance of taking care of everyone. They seem generous, but if you look closely there are strings attached. The ‘interest’ (strings) demanded take the form of loyalty, devotion, and obedience.

Passive/Aggressive controllers:

  • The Moaner/Complainer: Someone who uses moaning and complaining as a tool to manipulate others into pleasing or taking care of the problem for them. Moaners and complainers aren’t problem solvers, they are problem identifiers.
  • The Moody Blues: Someone who uses depression or the ‘blahs’ to manipulate others into getting sucked into their negative mood. Their mood holds everyone around them hostage and they become the focus of everyone’s attention. “If momma/papa ain’t happy, nobody will be happy!”
  • The Martyr/Martha: Someone who plays on the sympathies and emotions of others.  The person who gives sacrificially, with or without permission, but always with some future cost.

Aggressive/Passive controllers:

  • The Mafia/Family Warrior: Someone who subtly develops a network of people (“family”) giving generously yet selectively. Giving blind loyalty, support and protection, expecting others to maintain the same blind loyalty regardless of the circumstances or behavior. Often giving others a ‘deal’ they can’t refuse.
  • The Monopolizer/Storyteller: Someone who has a bigger and better story to tell— monopolizing people and resources around them. They deflect attention from others back to themselves.
  • The Microphone Warbler: Someone who uses superior verbal skills to keep others from expressing any thoughts or opinions of their own. An excellent debater.
  • The Master Jokester: Someone who uses humor to keep people from getting too close or deflecting from dealing with anything too emotionally uncomfortable. Quick witted communicator that keeps things light and funny.

Did you find yourself identifying with any of the above behaviors? Most people can. That’s OK! The first step to improving how we communicate is being mindful of our tendencies.

Through therapy, each of these behaviors can be identified, tweaked, and changed. We want you to maintain quality, mutually-respectful relationships with those around you, and the first step is ensuring you’re playing a positive role.

Ready to dive deeper into control talk and uncover your individual tendencies? Give us a call or set up an appointment today—peaceful, empowering relationships are right around the corner.


Powerful Personalities by Tim Kimmel