The Illusion Of Control
That is all that it is...
This post is largely inspired by this idea that psychopaths fanatically desire control. It is a common theme that I find among people that have a very poor understanding of psychopathy. I believe that this tends to be because psychopathy has been incorrectly tied to “abuser” in many people’s minds. Otherwise, the thinking that psychopathy has to do with an obsession with being in control is nonsensical.
I looked into the reasons that people are controlling. They all, of course, have to do with emotional aspects that don’t apply to psychopathy.
The need to control others may not make a lot of sense to you. If you’re a live-and-let-live person, you’d never want to control someone else. Even if you’re a perfectionist, you stay on your own case all day, not necessarily someone else’s.
But controllers are out there. They want to micromanage what you say, how you act, even what you think quietly in your own mind. It could be your boss, your spouse, or even your parent. You can’t be yourself around them. They insist on being your top priority and want undue influence over your life. They might push your buttons to get an emotional reaction out of you because they want to exploit it as weakness. They have no respect for you or your boundaries.
There are plenty of theories why someone would want to control you. One is that people who can’t control themselves turn to controlling others. This happens on an emotional level. A person full of insecurities has to exact a positive sense of self from other people because their self esteem is too low to do it for themselves.
Maybe people control because they are afraid of being abandoned. They don’t feel secure in their relationships and are often testing to see if they’re about to be betrayed. The paradox is that their behavior creates exactly what they fear the most.
Perhaps controlling people are narcissists looking to control their environment by any means necessary. This would mean other people are pawns. They’re useful tools in the narcissist’s world to be used as he or she pleases. It’s nothing personal — you’re just a good pawn. The problem with this perspective is that controlling bullies often make us wonder, “Why me?” If it’s really nothing personal, “Why do I feel like a target?”
However, as much as they don’t apply to psychopathy, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t interesting when in fact they are. I have known controlling people. They tend to meet and exceed their frustration threshold with me, because I don’t care what they want. I care what I want, and if their ideas of control will benefit me in getting it, I will play along. Otherwise, they are in for a very rude awakening as I ignore them and go about my business.
A great deal of this has to do with my overall attitude toward life. Unless you can demonstrate to me that I am in some way contributing to your problems, they do not otherwise concern me. Show me where I am actually making things worse, or causing you a problem. If you can, all right, then I will look at it and see if a change is necessary. Without that, however, it is exclusively a ‘them’ problem, and not a ‘me’ problem.
This has always been the case with me. When I was younger it would baffle my parents how unconcerned I was about things that they thought I should be upset about. Apparently, I had some teacher that was simply awful to me. My mother witnessed this, and was furious. I have no memory of him being awful because to me any of his tantrums were his problem. He could do whatever he needed to, and get back to me when he had something constructive.
People who want to be in control are exhausting when you actually have to deal with their nonsense, but I can assure you if you can arrive at the decision not to care about their tanties, you will be far better off. I understand that many of you will work for individuals like this and have to deal with their nonsense. My suggestion in dealing with that is to strip down whatever it is that they are ranting about to the bare-bones basics. What is it that they want done? Once you deduce this, the rest is just someone needing to hear themselves talk. It has nothing to do with you at all.
If you want to cut these interactions down and get back to life, you can try what I do, but don’t recommend this if you are worried about losing your job. What I would do in this situation is cut them off, repeat what it is that they are telling me they want done in the most long-form method imaginable, and go do it. If they say, “I WSAS TALKING TO YOU!!!” I reply with, "I can see how you might think that to be the case, but you are incorrect. Now, do you want this done, or not? Not is fine with me, but if it is urgent, I suggest letting me do my job.”
If I get fired, I won’t care. So far, I have not been fired. Perhaps that is because I do enough good work that they don’t want to go down that path, maybe it’s because I am blunt and called them out on their crap, or maybe it’s because they get some sense off of me that they aren’t interested in continuing our interaction. I can say this though, every single time I have had to do this with someone, that was the end of it. I never had to deal with them like that again.
Keep in mind, this only works because I don’t care if it doesn’t. Fire me. What do I care? I would have a new job before lunch, and you are going to be up a nasty creek, and I took the paddles.
I think part of the reason that people are like this is because they can be. They have gotten away with it for so long that they are not ready to have someone not care. Control and intimidation work because people allow them to. If I have a vested interest in getting one of these people to do what I want I become their friend. Everyone has a currency, and I can be anyone I need to be. Once I get what I need from them I will wait for them to have one of their moments, and tell them exactly what I think of it. That tends to end things quickly.
There are some caveats to this, and one of them I would guess is domestic violence situations. In these cases, you are dealing with a different beast. It isn’t always true that the abuser is the one that is more physically powerful, but it is often the case. When someone can and will have no problem throwing their victim down some stairs, this is a different kind of control. You can’t snark your way out of that situation. Instead, you will want to employ some intervening help.
In these cases it isn’t just that they have determined that their prey cannot stand up to them emotionally, they have also arrived at the conclusion that even if they do stand up, they will be cut down physically. That is not a situation to play with fire in. In the scenario above you might lose your job. In this one, you may lose your life. Remember what cards you have on the table, and always keep some in your hand that can protect you.
Now let’s talk about the idea of control. Not in the abusive sense, but in the sense that it can definitely be something that people get fixated on in their own lives. This might come in the form of hypervigilance to a decided upon life path, or their environment being just so, or thinking that if you can achieve X, everything else will fall into place.
It’s bullocks All of it. You have some directional influence over your life, that’s true, but you have no real control over it. That is a very uncomfortable truth for many people, but it is the truth however much you would prefer not to see it. I have known people that planned their entire lives out and when some large hiccup came along and blew up their perfectly manicured pathway, they flounder. They have no sense of direction. They can’t roll with the waves, so they sink.
Having an idea of what you want is very different than having a rigid path that you are unwilling to waver from. There are a lot of things out there that you cannot see coming, and thinking that there isn’t going to be something waiting to knock all your game pieces off the table is hubristic.
Control is a myth. You will never have it. You are less the captain of your life, you are much more the crew of it. Your job is to navigate the crests and valleys without plunging into the deep. There are lots of things that you can do to prevent this from happening, but likely the most important to know is to not get hyperfocused on one thing.
Above when I described not caring about being fired, that is because it wouldn’t matter if I was. I have a lot of different skill sets, and finding something that I can do is easy. Not to mention everyone wants me to work at their front desk because I am a great mix of being the kind sweet face of a company, and also someone that can handle people that are difficult. I can gentle solutions, and kick people out with authority. It’s a great combination.
I got that combination by not narrowing my field and only following one course because I thought it would be the end all be all of whatever I did with my life. The best piece of advice when it comes to the myth of control is this. You aren’t in control of life, you are a participant. When life decides to shake things up, so long as you have left many different pathways open, you have options. Keep options available to you. That is the best control you will ever possess.
Edit: Apologies if there are strange formatting issues with posts. Substack did an update, and since then there are strange issues. I edit them out when I see them.