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Question
Posted by: sunny | 2003/03/03

RE: DO YOU TRY TO CONTROL PEOPLE?

Dear Prof.

Thank you for your reply. My boyfriend's control problem have made me aware of another dimension of human behaviour. I am amazed that people with this problem all have these common traits. I never understood why he behaved the way he did, and was shocked at how accurately the questionnaire summarised his behavioural characteristics. Some questions:

1. Why do you think it is that people feel the need to be in control?
2. What is the root cause of this problem?
3. Can it be treated through psycological therapy?

I do not know whether there is hope for us. In a way I understood him and have sympathy with him, because he always apologised afterwards, but then the emotional damage was done. It is very hard for me to accept that we have to part, apart from the emotional abuse we also shared many happy times, and we were very good friends but I do not think I could switch from being lovers to just being friends. He is very sad and feels that there is nothing he can do about himself and that he is better off living his life alone because he could not keep me and cannot have successful relationships with people. More manipulation perhaps?? I am very confused, I can't see the wood from the trees anymore. I told him that I am only prepared to carry on seeing him if he sees a psycologist, I would even attend with him, but he does not want to and he won't say why. He went twice about 8 months ago and never again. Why does he feel that he cannot do anything about changing himself, I would have thought that if a guy really wanted a girl he would do whatever it took! Maybe I must just let go and move on with my life.

Kind regards


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Our expert says:
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Dear Sunny,
"Why?" questions are often suprisingly difficult to answer. For instance, he tries to control you, to a degree. Some people, who don't have much of a sense of being in charge of their own lives, or don't want to take responsibility for being in charge, might find that delightful ! You, like most of us, value your autonomy and prefer to be in charge of your own major decisions. Why ? That's not too easy for you ( or we ) to answer, is it ?
Perhaps earlier in life some of us are encouraged to take charge of and accept responsibility for our own decisions ( learning to value such autonomy / responsibility ) but perhaps where this happens among other rationally autonomous adults, we get used to accepting this not only as a pattern but as one that works well and has good results, and we are used to others making their own decisions, and not encouraging us to take charge of them.
Maybe others, grow up differently. In some families, people are pushed, from a young age to take responsibility for others, too. Maybe an alcoholic mother or an inadequate father, anyway adults who are bad at being adult, and require their children to take charge for them. Perhaps in some chaotic households, children discover how frightening and damaging it can be where nobody takes charge effectively ; learning both to feel driven to take this role themselves, and to fear whatever they can't control themselves.
Anyhow, it can certainly be dealt with usefully in psychological therapy, though it would need a skilled and experienced psychologist to handle it well. Such people can be difficult to manage in psychotherapy, because they may greatly fear that this is a situation which they can't effectively control, and that the therapist is seeking to take charge of them. This is not, of course, what a wise therapist would seek to do ; but it could feel like that, to such a person.
Perhaps his encounter with a psychologist 8 months ago went badly. Maybe it was a younger, less experienced therapist, who got out of their depth ( and the suspicion that the therapist may be OUT of control of the situation may be especially disturbing for such a person.
Perhaps he can talk a little to you about what happened on this previous attempt at therapy, maybe in the light of your thinking over whether therapy could help you, in this situation, and what his experience was like.
It sounds as if he has a very negative attitude towards his prospects for success in therapy, maybe also a bad attitude towards himself ( "I am an awful person, and I need to keep maximal control over the situation and over anyone I allow to get close to me, for fear that they'll find out how awful I am". )
realise hat, though he might love you very much, we are speaking of rather profound and deep-seated feelings here ; automatic conclusions people draw from a situation, not strictly related to objective facts, but far more convincing. So if he hesitates to engage in therapy for the sake of your relationship, it may be because he fears it for deeper reasons he can't explain, to you or himself ; and not that it's simply refusing something pleasant and easy, for your sake.

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