When the Jig is Up for Controllers: Time for Caution

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When a domineering and aggressive personality is confronted with “No” there’s a great risk of intensified verbal and physical intimidation and abuse. Before you decide to move out from under a controller’s thumb, be sure to have a safe plan and a solid support system in place.

Over the years of clinical practice, I became familiar with many situations in which a spouse or partner living with a domineering and controlling type finally had enough and wanted out of the relationship. What these folks often didn’t anticipate was the fight that often breaks out when someone hell-bent on control gets told: “No.”

One relatively recent case stands out in my memory as an archetypal instance of a controller for whom the jig was finally up. Having a personality like I describe in my book, In Sheep’s Clothing, a father’s outward-appearing meticulous, conscientious, and somewhat obsessive-compulsive nature was really a pretext for waging a covert war of total domination and control over his family. The children had to account for almost every move they made. And if a misstep should occur, the punishment he carefully crafted “for their own good” and to “protect them” from the possible harm of future mistakes was always one for the books.

As I have written about in some prior posts (see “Understanding the Aggressive Personalities”, “Understanding the Aggressive Personalities, Part 2” and “Beware the Covert-Aggressive Personality”) there are people in this world whose preferred style of relating to the world is an aggressive one. As I’ve stated in countless workshops, much like the old adage for real estate agents (i.e., only three things matter: location, location, location), there are only three things that matter at any point in time to an aggressive personality: position, position, and position. As long as they’re in the position of dominance and control, and as long as they have their way, all’s right with the world as far as they’re concerned. But attempt to level the playing field, or worse yet, to put them in a position of relative disadvantage, and all hell is likely to break loose.

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By far, covertly aggressive personalities are the most difficult to deal with. That’s because when a person so adeptly conceals their aggressive intentions under the guise that they’re doing just about anything except trying to control you (e.g., just trying to help, just trying to do the right thing, just showing care and concern) you often don’t trust your gut feelings that what they really want is to have their way and have everyone else follow in lockstep. That’s why so many people end up being successfully manipulated by them and are usually well-entrenched in their relationships before realizing the true nature of things. Most of the personalities I’m talking about rarely show open signs of their aggressive nature. But when their spouse or partner finally figures things out and the jig is finally up, it can be a whole other story. It also can be a highly risky time.

If there’s one thing that’s anathema to any aggressive personality, it’s being told: “No.” So when, for example, a spouse has finally seen things for what they are, has had enough, and wants out, things can get really dicey. In the case to which I referred above, that’s exactly what happened. The minute his wife announced that she’d had enough of her husband’s ways, enough of his excuses for not getting help, and was separating from him, the facade of conscientiousness and caring he had been wearing for years was dropped almost instantly. He then launched an all-out war: a war of verbal berating and abuse; and a war with regard to the children. Finally, when it appeared certain that his intimidation tactics weren’t going to work and that control would be lost for good, his aggression became physical.

Because the riskiest times for folks in relationships with dominating and controlling types is when the jig is up, it’s important for those trying to embark on a new life to have a solid support system and a viable plan to help ensure their own safety as well as the safety of their loved ones. Fortunately, in the case that prompted this article, ample, adequate support was readily available. Sometimes, however, it is not. And that’s one big reason why some folks who have come to realize the true nature of an abusive situation choose what they understandably believe might actually be the safer course and remain in the relationship. They intuitively sense the risk involved in declaring independence and their fear gets the better of them. But by far the better course is to shore up the defenses, craft the safest plan, and proceed with due caution toward a better life out from under the controller’s thumb.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Pat Orner Oliver on .

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