Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy

If someone is “controlling,” we experience him/her as a person who applies pressure on us (psychologically, emotionally, physically) to conform to their notions of what we should do, think, feel, want, etc.
We experience others as controlling when we feel cut off from our own options for freely and comfortably thinking, feeling, or acting according to our personal values, beliefs, needs and feelings. 
Controllers rarely, or reluctantly, seek the input of others on projects and plans, and often openly oppose them.  They’re so attached to their own ideas of what is “right” they may risk relationships rather than back down.
Frequently, controlling people are well-intended, and have others’ best interests at heart. They are often people who love, and are loved, by us. They would deny or feel mystified to think they are controlling. 
For example, parents sometimes have difficulty setting reasonable limits for their teens, or recognizing when the teens become more capable of planning their own lives. So they continue to try to control their teens, in ways that are no longer appropriate, and thus, tensions often build up between parents and their adolescent kids.
Sometimes a partner (or even a boss) genuinely believes s/he has a superior understanding of how the other should handle situations, and upon shutting out the input of the other, cannot understand why hurt or anger is the response.
Hurtful control can enter relationships unnoticed—such as when a couple is establishing their needs and wants together—and one person takes charge of making most decisions for both.  The other may think it would upset the relationship to object, and it is only later that resentment and resistance set in.
Wishing for particular outcomes in situations is normal.  People usually have ideas about what would be “best” in life situations (their own and often other people’s).  But to be so solidly attached to them that they cause mental, emotional –sometimes even physical-- suffering to self or other(s), is to be so invested in a viewpoint that it results in resistance, arguments, ill-will, fear, avoidance, and sometimes, sadly, physical attacks.  
Controlling people often demand as much of themselves as others, sometimes resulting in rigid lifestyles. Life becomes a constant imposition of their will—whether on self or other.  There’s rarely any awareness that things could always be otherwise.
If you are a controlling person (and most of us are at times), learning to let go of insisting on particular outcomes can be very freeing and improve relationships. But it may be difficult to self-identify this role, because people who feel controlled often try not to let their hurt and negative feelings show, to avoid upsetting a delicate relationship balance, especially if it’s very important to them. 
 Whether you are the one feeling chronically controlled, or are the person who cannot rest easily unless others always do as you think best, it would be easy to assume that your relationship(s) do not satisfy or bring the happiness you seek. Seeking professional assistance to deal with this condition is often very effective. Consider making a confidential appointment to discuss your concerns. Psychotherapy can help.

Copyright Kathi Whitten 2010