Escaping a controller

Elise T. Chisolm

August 27, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

ARE YOU being controlled? And if so, are you tired of it, at the end of your rope?

Well, you're not alone. I've always thought that in most relationships there is one person who controls the other, and that sometimes the controlling gets out of hand and becomes a form of entrapment.

Now my view has been confirmed by Dr. Gerald W. Piaget.

The psychologist's new book, ''Control Freaks: Who They Are and How to Keep Them From Running Your Life,'' fascinates me because I know I've always been an ''accommodator'' and too much the peacemaker -- to my detriment.

While watching Dr. Piaget on a recent talk show, I realized many women I know are controllers. Women are supposedly the kinder and gentler sex, but we aren't. We just control more subtly than men. This comes as a shock to some of us, because we grew up and were trained to be ''nice little girls.'' Is it that more women are finally in the work place? Or maybe it is that I know more women than men, or that I'm closer to more women.

I know one wife and mother who flies into a rage if her husband crosses her. Or she is apt to sulk for days, withhold sex and make life unbearable for her husband, and the children who love her.

The controller (and I prefer to call them that, for Piaget's word ''freaks'' sounds too slangy) can come in the form of a loving person. But controllers make you tense, frustrated or very angry. I am not talking about outright abuse, but intimidation through thoughts, situations and sometimes covert acts.

This is not a new phenomenon. My grandfather controlled all five of his sons and their families. He built them houses next to his and never really let them out of his sight. That was back in the 1900s, when you didn't argue with your father, although one son left and made it on his own in another country.

Last winter, a young man came to me desperate because his mother-in-law had just bought a house and a business in Florida. She wanted all three married kids to move with their families and go into business with her. She offered them not only jobs but security. The only problem was that the kids didn't want to pick up stakes.

My friend told me, ''we didn't want to leave the area here. I don't even like Florida, and although my job doesn't pay a lot, I like it for now.'' And yes, his wife was willing to move, for she was used to a controlling mother.

Six months later, all three families were living in Florida, fighting among themselves and within the family business.

If you are an accommodator, Piaget suggests ways to build back your self-confidence and learn techniques to help you avoid the traps of the controller.

He recommends taking the power by an aikido method of self-defense, which he calls ''aligning.'' Rather than trying to stop the attack, you move with the other person's energy. The two of you become collaborators rather than adversaries; this disarms the control freak. Then there's a kind of ''leveling'' where you talk it out and try to change the relationship.

And, of course, he suggests spending more time with non-controlling people. Sometimes you have to walk away from a controller, he writes, or even leave -- separate. He also suggests people seek professional help.

In ''Control Freaks,'' the author will help you to identify whether you need to do something about a person who controls you. He writes that your own accommodating habit can defeat you as much as anything the control freak does.

This is a self-help manual, and I wish I had the money to buy it for the many control freaks I know. Because like any other psychological manipulation used in relationships, this one is undermining and can be dangerous to your health. People suffer, and often silently.

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