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Why Some People Have Control Issues In Relationships, From A Psychologist

Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
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Has anyone ever accused you of being controlling? Or perhaps you've noticed you tend to have "control issues" in your intimate relationships, wherein you feel like you need everything to happen a certain way. Whatever the case, if you've ever wondered where that behavior comes from, we asked the experts.

What exactly is controlling behavior?

Just as a refresher, controlling behavior can include a number of different behaviors, including always needing to be the one who makes all the decisions and plans, using passive-aggression to make people do what you want, or just outright dictating what another person can do, say, or even wear.

No matter what is specifically being controlled, controlling behavior is always about maintaining authority or power over people and situations, often to the point that the person being controlled is treated as unimportant or disregarded completely.

While controlling behavior is definitely not a healthy relationship dynamic, controlling people are not necessarily "bad" people (though they certainly can be). So, where does it come from?

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Where control issues come from.

According to somatic psychologist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure Holly Richmond, Ph.D., controlling behavior that rears its head in romantic relationships often comes from not feeling secure enough in yourself. Because of your insecurities, you try to control whatever you can—including other people.

For that reason, controlling behavior often looks like insecure anxious attachment, according to Richmond. Maybe you get anxious when your partner is out and about without you, for example, so you constantly ask where they are and what they're doing to keep tabs on them.

"Sometimes it can be fear of what's going to happen, and there's this bad movie playing in our head," Richmond previously explained to mbg, "but sometimes it's the not knowing."

So, "control issues" could also be thought of as fear of the unknown. A controlling person may not trust themselves enough or feel secure enough to handle what comes their way, so they grip tightly on the things they can control.

It's also worth mentioning that, while a controlling person may not necessarily fit the bill for narcissistic personality disorder, licensed marriage and family therapist Shane Birkel, LMFT, previously told mbg that controlling behavior and other forms of manipulation can also be indicative of narcissism.

The bottom line.

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If you think you have controlling tendencies, it's worth doing some self-exploration to get to the root of the issue. Considering things like your attachment style, your own sense of inner security, and how those things affect your relationships is a good place to start. And if you want to go even deeper, working with a therapist can help you further address attachment issues—and overcome them.

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