Are You Living With a Steamroller?

Are You Living With a Steamroller?

Why do some people become controlling?

In order to be the unique person who we are, we need to access 4 internal parts of us. They are:

1. Our feelings

2. Our sensations, like hearing, touch, sight and movement, and our preferences.

3. Our intuition

4. Our thinking

The first 3 of these are very much from our direct experience. But our thinking is from a secondary source.

Many of us are not connected to our feelings, sensations and intuitions, because we were taught, often by parents or authority figures, to negate them or not to trust them. eg “Don’t be a cry baby. You’re not even hurt” or “Don’t tell me you like that!”

Because of this we can grow up not having an intact personal world that we can depend on, and instead we can rely almost entirely on our thinking. This particularly happens in the male culture where many boys are taught to be tough and deny their feelings, senses and gut feelings.

When you have had your personal reality denied, you need to think up an identity according to what you think you should be. But unfortunately these identities tend not to be grounded in your inner world.

So having made yourself up from the outside in, it is easy to imagine that you can also make others up, as well, and this then can become quite a controlling way that you interact with others.

If there is a control connection, this person will want to define the other person. They will have trouble hearing and seeing the real person, and therefore, they will struggle with empathy or any real understanding for the other person. They, in actual fact, fail to grasp that the other person is actually a separate person with their own reality.

But it doesn’t look like that to start with….

During the initial stage of a new relationship, where both partners are wanting to impress each other, the more controlling person can contrive their behaviour to impress and charm, being careful to make sure they mirror the desires of their new partner.

Then comes the transition…

However this “impress your socks off” stage doesn’t tend to last.

Once the controlling partner feels secure in the relationship (this happens most commonly at the 3 major transitions: when you move in together, when you get married, or when you start having children) there is now far less need for approval.

Without realizing it, the partner has crossed over into the controller’s self definition boundary. With this transition can come the expectation that the partner is now an extension of him or her, and of One Mind with him or her.

This can be a dumbfounding change for the partner, as it can be made almost overnight, or at a more gradual pace; but the change does happen.

The “Bubble”

Patricia Evans in her book “Controlling People” describes a man who felt like he and his wife were in a big bubble that he had created as his reality. His wife had freedom, and all was happy, as long as she stayed in the bubble.

“There was room to move about so the illusion of freedom seemed real to her. But when she expressed an idea of her own, or any feelings, it was like she was stepping out of his bubble and stepping into her own. But he did not want her out there. He feared being alone with himself. He feared being with his feelings. So he tried to pull her back into his bubble, or worse, injure her so she could never leave, or worse yet, disorient her so she can never find her way out.”

Whatever control measure or verbal abuse it took, he needed to get her back inside the bubble where he felt safe again.

The controlling person does usually feel a great and strong love for his or her partner, but this is not what we consider real love. It is more of a control connection.

In reality, there is usually very little regard for his or her individuality, an absence of empathy or understanding, and often an angry assault or the silent treatment, every time he or she shows any signs of separateness.

This usually leaves the partner feeling shunned, negated, unseen, unheard, trivialised, and, as a result, also very confused, sad, and often outraged that they have been so invaded or negated, every time she or he expresses her or his individuality.

All the while the controlling partner denies any wrongdoing, not being willing to recognise the devastating effects on the partner.

When your partner defines you, you can’t feel connected to them, and along with this disconnection comes no sense of real partnership or real love. It’s only when he or she begins to asks about you that you can begin to feel the connection.

The healthiest relationships are those where there is no controlling, simply acceptance of each other and negotiation between each of you for what you need and want.

However, in reality, many people tend to attempt to control their partner in some way. The degree of control is what really counts. You may be happy to allow your partner some control in areas that aren’t really important to you and maybe important to them. You may even be able to joke about it, and it can certainly add to a lively relationship where those things are part of your shared jokes.

But it you are feeling that you are often being negated, not heard, discredited, blamed for things that are not true, or blamed for things that you know is actually more true of your partner, then your relationship is not functioning in a healthy way, and you will be suffering personally.

Controllers fear intimacy because intimacy requires hearing and seeing each other for who you are.

This kind of intimacy stops the control connection.

There are graduated degrees of controlling, and the more extreme, the more difficult it is to improve your relationship.

For those of you who are wondering how similar this sounds to Narcissism, there is a huge overlap between the two.





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The futile and fatal search for control


Sandra was furious. She had caught Tom checking her phone message once again. “ I just did it to reassure myself – its no big deal” Tom replied defensively.

Is it a big deal?

In relationships the tendency or temptation to control is one of the most toxic forces that leads to the breakdown of trust, openness and growth.

Worse it can lead to domestic abuse and in the worst cases violence. In fact physical violence should be seen as what it is – a desperate attempt to control one person by another. We know this is wrong, or we should. But people often get confused about control behaviours that fall short of physical contact. Sometimes these can be worse than physical force.

Psychological abuse which includes humiliation, denigration and bullying leave scars that take a lot longer to heal than bruises and broken bones.


We often see the tendency to control associated with jealousy. Jealousy is a complex relationship dynamic. Fundamentally it is about fear. A fear that your partner will drift or he/she will be “stolen” . The notion that someone could be “stolen” naturally runs counter to the idea that relationships are a matter of choice.

Jealousy  and control are thus close companions. Control behaviours are much more common where there is a belief system that supports the idea of relationship as a form of ownership where one party (the male in patriarchal systems) has dominance or “ownership” of their partner. Males usually also have the capacity to physically dominate their female partner, but it is the belief that this is acceptable that causes the most damage.

This belief runs directly counter to the view that a relationship is a voluntary association between two adults of equal power. The “equal power” relationship is the one assumed and supported by our laws and the values of an advanced society. It means that two people enter, stay or leave a relationship based on free will and an unfettered choice.

In this context our fears and anxieties about our partner’s choice need to be managed. Any attempt to control should be named and recognized as the enemy of building trust.

How can you build love and trust with someone by imprisoning them! Sounds  ridiculous – but this is precisely what many people try to do out of fear there partner will leave them.

The controller who is able to recognize their insecurity and learn to trust as well as develop a better framework for what is acceptable in relationship can save their relationship descending beyond the point of no repair. Many couples facing these problems have been helped by good relationship therapy.

Often the pattern of domination and control is recognized as a legacy of the family of origin – a family where Dad roared and Mum cowered. Usually when such a pattern is recognized there is a desire to improve on the past and not repeat the tragedy.

The point is to recognize control behaviours as toxic and name it and do what is required to get it out of your relationship.

This article is written by our Perth Relationship  Psychologist David Indermaur.



If you are in Sydney and want help with controlling issues in a relationship, see our Sydney Psychologists.





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Forget relationship counselling: We are just too different


“We are just too different for our relationship to work, and so relationship counselling is a waste of time”.  I had a new client say this to me this week, and it is a common thing for people to think.

But nothing could be further from the truth, so I thought I’d fill you in on what I have found from  relationship counselling with thousands of couples in trouble.

Have you ever thought what it would be like if your partner was exactly like you in every way? To start with, it would be physically impossible, but even it it was possible, would you really want it? Someone who was a clone of you except for the sexual anatomy?

Boring boring boring!

It is differences that make life interesting, it’s differences that give you advantages, it’s differences that give you other perspectives, it’s differences that balance you out.

It is often the differences that attract you to your partner when you first meet. For example you loved her fun loving nature because you are very serious; you were attracted to his neat organised structured way, as you were disorganised and forgetful.

Every couple has areas that they are different. There is no inherent problem with being different from your partner. The problem is only with how you handle the differences. couples counselling for recovering from an affair

For every couple, there will be differences that are so great that you feel you are polar opposites, each sitting on the outside edge of the continuum when compared with each other. For example: very responsible versus playful and fun loving, or very social versus a homebody.

The key factor in whether you see this as a huge problem or a huge gift, is whether you judge your partner or not. Do you sit at the end of your continuum looking over at your partner saying, or thinking “He’s such a jerk or an annoyance. Why doesn’t he do things like I do?”

Well, if so, you are wasting a huge amount of energy, not to mention a huge opportunity to see the gift your partner is giving to you.

If one of you is reliable and responsible and the other is fun loving, each of you is a gift to each other. Becoming more spontaneous and fun loving is just what the overly responsible one needs, and similarly, picking up more responsibility is just what the fun loving one needs too.

If  you can handle it as a gift both to each other and the relationship, you can enrich your relationship with your differences. The only thing stopping you is your sense of superiority and judgement which is the thing that will be killing your relationship, not the differences.

If you’re interested in further exploring relationship counselling, we’d love to hear from you.

More next time



Why women find it difficult to be assertive in their relationships

I talked in an earlier post on why men find it difficult to express empathy. For women, I have found that one of the most challenging things for them is to stand up for themselves in their relationship; I have many many women clients express how they are sick of their men controlling them, or they have lost themselves in their relationships over time.

There is a biological reason for why this happens.female brain

The female brain is built primarily for connection and social harmony. In a women’s brain, the communication and emotional memory centers are larger than in men’s, and additionally women have huge supplies of the hormones Oestrogen and Oxytocin.

Oestrogen creates an intense focus on communication and emotions, and Oxytocin, which is released when during intimate times (with a partner or a baby or child) leads to strong desires to nurture, help, serve, attach and bond, and additionally, triggers the trust circuits, by shutting down the critical and skeptical mind.

As well as this, the psychological stress of conflict registers far more deeply in female brains than in men’s.

So, maintaining the social approval of others, and the relationship at all costs is the goal, if you are a woman. Women are built to build social bonds based on communication and compromise, and to preserve harmonious relationships.

This all leads to women having outstanding verbal ability, a great ability to connect deeply in friendship and develop empathy, an almost psychic capacity to read faces and tone of voice for emotions and states of minds, a response to distress in others, and a wonderful ability to defuse conflict.


What does this mean?

In summary, women are built to highly value communication, connection, emotional sensitivity and consideration for others. All of these qualities are worthwhile, however women need to be careful not to overdo these and lose themselves in their relationships.

Men, on the other hand, with the flow of testosterone in their system, and more development in the Sexual and Aggressions centres of the brain, are built to be potent and affect the world as an individual.

This has a profound effect on our relationships with each other.

It means that men can learn from women how to be more empathic and communicative and connective, as mentioned earlier; and equally, women can learn from men how to pay attention to their own needs and be more assertive in standing up for themselves, particularly in their relationships with their man.


If you are a woman and don’t know how to go about developing this essential side of you, some individual counselling will help.

Until next time