Power and Control In Relationships
Are you being controlled by your partner or the person that you are dating?
This loaded question can be difficult for most to comprehend, and sometimes this form of abuse can be inconspicuous, but being able to answer can help lift a weight off your shoulders. Power imbalances are very common in relationships, after all, especially when either partner struggles with emotional intimacy, attachment issues, trauma and/or mental health conditions.
Just because it’s common doesn’t make it right though. Relationships that have these issues can become incredibly unhealthy and toxic if left to fester for a long period of time. If you are the type of person who exerts control over your partner, are on the receiving end of this control, or are a couple who both struggle with these issues – then it is wise to look for some support and guidance.
I will help guide you through the complexities of power dynamics, the nuances between power and control, when it is classed as abuse, and how to navigate these situations in the safest way.
What is the difference between power and control?
Power and control often go hand in hand. However, there are nuances and complexities to these elements that work to set them apart. Many believe that whoever holds the power is in control, but this isn’t necessarily true. People who fight for external control often do so because they feel internally out of control. Those who feel powerless will often try to exert control over their environment and the people around them to compensate for their powerlessness. If you are well-balanced, confident, and happy in your life, you are far less likely to feel the urge to control everything and everyone. On the other hand, those who are strongly compelled to control people all the time are the ones who tend to feel insecure, unhappy and dissatisfied in some capacity.
How are power and control in relationships harmful?
In healthy relationships, both partners must have mutual respect and acknowledge their separate identities. Although relationships are all about working together, you are still your own people independent of one another, and neither should exert too much control over the other – your partner is a being, not a possession. So, treating them with respect is key to a long and healthy relationship.
To a degree, it’s normal to want to have control over your own life – in your routine or at work – but when you try to control and manipulate others, it can be a damaging form of abuse. Controlling relationships can have a devastating, long-term impact psychologically and even erode self-esteem or mental wellbeing. Initially, a person on the receiving end may experience:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Aches and pains
In terms of long-term effects, studies have shown that emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse because it helps cause low self-esteem and even depression.
It’s possible to also develop:
- Social withdrawal or loneliness
- Chronic pain
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Identifying signs and behaviours of abuse and control
If you are in a long-term relationship, you may have become desensitised to your partner’s controlling or abusive tendencies, making them harder to identify. It may have gone on for so long that you may even think it’s normal. Also, if you are dating someone new, you may be so infatuated with them and enjoying the ‘honeymoon phase’ that you brush off all their ‘red flags.’
In relationships, a controlling or abusive partner may:
- Demand to know where you are and what you are doing at all times
- Monitor your devices, email accounts and social media
- Dictate what you do, where you go and when
- Tell you what you can and can’t wear, drink, eat, or say
- Control your finances (also known as coercive control)
- Make threats to either leave or hurt you and your loved ones (intimidation)
- Insult and/or belittle you to erode your self-esteem
- Purposely humiliate you in public or online
- Stop you from seeing friends or family members
What causes someone to be controlling?
As stated before, controlling people often behave in this way due to low self-esteem, insecurity, and feelings of powerlessness. Although this is the most common reason, controlling people may often suffer from mental health issues. While having mental health issues doesn’t fully excuse abusive behaviour, it does offer a good insight into the root causes of control.
Those with control issues may suffer from:
- Anxiety – People who suffer from anxiety or anxiety-based disorders tend to worry and agonise over the unknown. To combat this, they may try to take back control by controlling the environments and people around them without truly meaning to.
- Personality disorders – Personality disorders often make sufferers more susceptible to controlling tendencies. For example, someone who suffers from BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) may be hypersensitive to abandonment and rejection, so they may try to prevent this from happening via controlling methods. Personality disorders are serious, long-term conditions, and some of those who suffer from them may need up to 10+ years of treatment in order to help them create and maintain healthy relationships.
- Learned behaviour – If your partner doesn’t suffer from mental health issues, it’s very likely that this behaviour has been learned. They may have been abused or grown up in an abusive household where they have been conditioned to think abuse/control is normal. This behaviour may take years to unlearn as it goes against that long-term conditioning.
- Trauma – People with past trauma may struggle with feelings of despair, anxiety and hopelessness. Controlling behaviour may be their way of coping and ‘taking power back’.
Ultimately, the dynamics of a controlling relationship or controlling partner are incredibly complex. One partner may hold the power, the power may shift between partners at different times, or both partners may have some toxic behaviours that cause them to constantly battle for control.
There are many things that can contribute to controlling or abusive personalities, but they are never an excuse – no one ever deserves to feel unsafe, belittled, controlled, or even abused. Whether you are on the receiving end of this, or you are the person perpetuating abusive and controlling behaviours, it is crucial you seek help before things escalate further than they have.
Visit my website today; I offer Zoom or in-person appointments to best suit your needs. Together, we can put an end to controlling relationships and make way for much healthier ones.