There are two kinds of controllers. The first kind is one who puts the desire to please others at all times before honesty and his own well-being. Such people initially overwhelm you with charm but gradually make you feel uneasy in their presence because you are not dealing with the real person. You are face to face with a mask. You sense the underlying lack of sincerity and feel worse after spending time with them. This is the more subtle kind of control.
The second type has a compulsive need to always be right. All dictators, benevolent or otherwise, come into this category. When taken to the worst extreme of the effort to convert, the final solution is imprisonment, torture and death. Think of the Holocaust, think of the Spanish Inquisition.
We want to control others when our own lives appear to be out of control. We all feel like this sometimes. The most obvious example is when we encourage our children to do well in all subjects at school, instead of letting them get on with the lessons they like best. A common belief is that the more ‘education’ our children have the greater the opportunities for them to get a good job and do well. It is true that children need some guidance, but it is better to wait until they ask for help, and even then we must be careful to respect the childrens’ individual gifts and ambitions.
When working with clients, we psychotherapists have the responsibility to avoid trying to change their lives on their behalf. That is for them alone to do. This is why patience and a good sense of timing are essential qualities in a professional therapist.
Bigots, victims and martyrs also exert pressure on us to believe that this is what they are and they cannot be changed. As in everything, there is a sound reason for such harmful ideas, sunk deep in their unconscious minds. They need to hang on to their beliefs like a man on a sinking ship. If they give them up they are sunk.
Fear is one of the most powerful of all human emotions and the most deadly. All controllers work from this basic belief that we must never take risks but must always do as we are told. This is their way to try to keep everyone they come into contact with, SAFE. Could you imagine anything more stultifying?
(This article is based on an extract from Dr Jean Pain’s book “So you Want to be a Therapist”).