The Subtle Signs of Control

There’s often an unconscious mindset, a spiritual sleepwalking involved in the unspoken agreement between the controller and the controlled.

*Dana started making jewelry as a hobby. But the designs she gave to family and friends were so well-received, they began asking Dana to sell her creations. Within a year, Dana’s hobby was a part-time successful business.

            Unfortunately, Dana’s husband didn’t like his wife’s success.

            “A hobby is one thing but now it’s taking away time from our family.”

            Dana stopped selling her jewelry.

            *Brian dreaded calling his mother each day. He knew her judgement and disappointment were waiting for him on the other end of the line, knew he would be insulted within five minutes of the call. 

            “If I don’t call her every day, she freaks out, says she’ll call the police if she doesn’t hear from me. It’s just easier to call her and get it over with.”

            While Dana and Brian are two different people and genders experiencing different relationships, both are people in a controlling relationship. Like the metaphorical story of the frog that’s slowly boiled to death, Dana and Brian are in hot water, living a spiritual death each day.

            Controlling relationships manifest in all forms: romantic, friendship, family, and professional. Like the allegorical frog that is put in a pot of water that, ever so slowly, gets warmer, we can often miss the early, subtle signs that we are about to experience a “slow death.”

            Whether you are wondering if you are in a controlling relationship or about to start one, there is always the opportunity to wax reflective and consider the following warning signs:

  • Do you often feel like you are walking on figurative eggshells with this person?
  • Do you find yourself second-guessing your feelings regarding things this person does or says?
  • Do you find yourself agreeing to “get along” (think of the “Ostrich in the sand” mentality) with this person?
  • Do you feel guilty for privately resenting this person?
  • Have you found yourself altering your lifestyle (i.e. your choice of clothes, diet, faith, friendships, career, politics, etc.) to “make peace” or “satiate” this person?

Dana stopped selling her jewelry to make her husband happy. But just like the frog who sits in water that gets warmer and warmer until its boiled alive, Dana’s decision to please her husband before herself is an ongoing theme in their marriage: like the frog that doesn’t notice the subtle increase in temperature, Dana slowly rationalizes that “it’s not a big deal” that she wears high heels because he wants her to, or cooks lamb for him when she is a vegetarian, or receives an “allowance” from him because he’s informed her that she just “doesn’t have a head for numbers.” While Dana is a physically alive woman, in many ways, she’s no different than that boiled frog.

            Brian’s consistent cortisol spikes around the need to please his mother, usurping his own needs for hers, has long term effects on his biochemistry. An adult man, Brian has the power to decide how often he calls his mother. He can get out of the boiling water any time. But like our metaphorical frog, the Appeasement Game has been in place for years, so he thinks he’s forever trapped in that pot.

            Getting out of the pot isn’t necessarily easy. In fact, getting out of that water will feel downright cold, if not plain frightening. But that is the price of freedom—a gift and right deserved for everyone.

*Names have been altered to retain the privacy of individuals.