In my recent blog about the 5 most frustrating things in life, I started with the frustration of our inability to control others. The fact is you can not make people love or respect you; but we spend too much time trying to do this very thing. In what ways do we attempt to control others? Are any of these avenues healthy?

“Control and manipulation are not love; the outcome is a life of imprisonment ultimately leading to deep-rooted feelings of resentment.”  ― Ken Poirot

The truth is the only person you can control is yourself. Why do so many people put SO MUCH effort into trying to orchestrate the behaviors of others? This tedious task of manipulating others can drain us from what is important in life. Do you get caught up in others’ lives because you are losing control and out of touch with the values in your own life?

With any action there is a reaction

Conversely, our actions can influence others. For example, if a kid is bullied at school to get their lunch money the bully is trying to control them. Does the kid at school have to give me their lunch money? No, but depending on what tactics the bully takes to exploit their weaknesses, the chances of pulling it off are high. Often people will go into intimidation mode for personal gain. You do not connect to people when you are using intimidation because people are responding in fear to you rather than love or respect.

Forms of intimation using power and control can be outlined in this link.  Some other common intimidation tactics are listed below: 

  • Withholding love
  • Invoking fear
  • Emotional manipulation 
  • Bullying
  • Guilt slinging 

One reason people want to control others is fear. They fear that they will be hurt or not have the upper hand in a relationship. This can be exacerbated by obsessing over worst-case scenarios. Try examining situations from new perspectives. 

Follow these steps to reduce the fear and worry that contribute to trying to control relationships

  1. Instead of looking for evidence of what is going wrong, list all the things in the relationship that are going right. If you can’t find any evidence of the good, it may be time to end the relationship. 
  2. Take a deep breath and realize that people can be unpredictable at times and sometimes you are pleasantly surprised. Obsessive worrying will do more harm than good. 
  3. Ask yourself: Can my fear and worry become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
  4. Break the cycle. Every time fear happens, let yourself feel it. Let it out by writing it in a journal or talking  to a trusted person. Feel it, try to understand it, but don’t get stuck in it.
  5. If you find negative fearful emotions remaining, do something that makes you feel good, and you’ll soon feel more like the real you. Good at biking? Go for a bike ride. If you sing like a songbird, then sing! Like to laugh? Watch a funny video. 

Fear-based Control

If you are always thinking about what can go wrong, you are more likely to manifest your worst-case scenario. This might cause you to inadvertently act in ways that support negative thoughts. For example, you may worry a partner will cheat on you even though you’ve found no signs of disloyalty. The more you stress about this potential outcome, the more your anxiety affects the relationship, until one day, he/she feels so disconnected that the relationship is beyond repair.  When you repeat negative thoughts in your mind, you run the risk of manifesting them in your life.

The bottom line is a relationship with fear can prompt the desire to control others.  We use energy to prevent something that has not gone wrong from going wrong. This is an act of selfishly forcing our will onto another person. To stop trying to control people, ask yourself “What is my worst fear about this situation?” and is there any evidence proving it? 

Carrot & Stick

Are there positive ways to influence others in attempting to control them? If you think about parent/child relationships, this is a good example of the fundamentals of trying to control a child with praise, reinforcement, and/or punishment. If you want praise from someone (giving love), then you can reinforce the behavior of the child. Rewards like stickers given to children when they are good rewards them for positive behavior. They learn that they only get stickers when they do what we request. This can also be known as the stick and carrot method but it’s more positive than fear-based manipulation, right? 

Punishment

Similarly, in the parent/child relationship we try to control our children with punishment, which places fear in the child. For example, we put them in time out when they don’t share. We may say things like “Santa will not come and bring you presents if you are not good,” threatening punishment even if you are most likely going to give the kids presents no matter what. As parents we have to use punishment sometimes to keep our kids safe or to teach them valuable life lessons. It helps to question why you are using the tactic, and if there is an alternative way?

Four healthy ways to influence others:

You can influence others if they are willing to participate, but what is the most positive way of doing this? Below are four healthy ways to influence others.

  1. Model what you want. For example, do you want your child to be nice to others? Show them. Be polite to the person checking you out at the grocery store, practice acceptance of others’ differences, in other words, model the behaviors you want. 
  2. Be available to others and listen to their points of view. Practice active listening and share your reasons for trying and influence and broaden their perspectives. Maybe you can understand why your child does not want to try broccoli; share your point of view about why it would be worth trying. Hey, it’s worth a shot! 
  3. Encourage others by sharing uplifting and motivating thoughts. For example, share a time you got through a hard situation.  They may take your advice to heart or be inspired!
  4. Send them love and prayers.  This is the lightest form of control and involves faith and good vibes. You can simply wish someone well and pray for them to find their way in this world. 

If we are truly honest with ourselves we are are all guilty of trying to control others in some way or another. Even if your way is to be a role model, your actions have influence over others. We can’t make others love us but we can influence them. The important thing to do is to consider your intentions and fear-based reactions. Ask yourself these four things when you feel the need to control a relationship and try to get in touch with the intentions of your actions.

  1. What is my fear?
  2. Is there evidence for my fear?
  3. What relationship patterns have I seen with this person?
  4. What need am I not getting from this relationship that is causing me to react? For example, does this person bring out my best self? Do I feel valued in the relationship?