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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

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The Controlling Caregiver

The Controlling Caregiver

by Dr. Irene

Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow.
-- Yiddish Proverb

May 19, 2000

I received a very interesting email. It was also a post on one of the boards:

Dear Dr. Irene

I read with great interest on your website today your description of the classic controller abuser vs. caregiver victim.  What I would like to know is what insights into the make up of this person or advice you can give to help a situation involving a person who is a combination of controller/caregiver. 

  By this I mean a person who is the angry, verbally abusive, controller who is also and obsessive, over reaching caregiver. This type of controller sets a standard of care giving that the victim can not match and then becomes angry and abusive at the inevitable disappointment. The verbal abuse and the lack of empathy for the victim, even though they may receive a lot of care giving, reinforces the lack of appreciation the victim has for the caregiver/controller since the victim does not want the care at the terrible price that must be paid for it.  Yes.

This leads to even more disappointment and anger until the caregiver/controller lashes out with even more verbal abuse creating a viscous circle of trouble.  The control is often exerted by making the victim feel guilty and inevitably angry at themselves for all the intentions they can not live up to.   

Of course the angry person also displays other traits of abuse like not accepting that they make mistakes like everyone else, constant criticism, not accepting anyone ideas but their own etc., etc. but the controlling caregiver is one of the biggest.   Signed, Confused Victim    Good observations!

The Controlling Caregiver

Did you know that most controllers are also caretakers?

Most controllers are among the most giving, care taking people you'll ever meet. After all, these people are just another variety of  codependent. That's why once upon a time you thought you met the perfect person. That's why just about everybody (else) thinks your controlling partner is so wonderful... The shirt off his or her back? No problem! Here, take it! (Never mind that that  shirt belongs to -. you...)

Exquisitely tuned into what other people are thinking of him or her, this controller has many traits of the classic codependent: they can be very empathic and sense their partner's needs. 

These individuals really try hard. They use their very best judgment to figure out what is best for you. They will do things they are not  asked to do; things you may not even want them to do. They want to please you to show you how much they care.  

The problem is, it's really hard to reciprocate. No matter how hard you try, too often your efforts somehow miss the mark. And, you're likely to hear about it!

Why The Partner Can't Get It Right

Sometimes your efforts fall short because your controller is expert at going overboard. More often, your efforts fall short only because the recipient didn't think your actions up.

Oppositional and controlling tendencies keep them from being able to accept and appreciate whatever it is that is given. Not that there is anything wrong with what was offered, but it was not planned and executed by your controller. 

While the partner may be free enough to gratefully accept what is given, the controller is often too constricted to do this. This person implicitly pre-plans what they want, and how they want it. Any deviation from their implicit expectation is viewed as a disappointment. 

Often, there is an implicit, irrational presumption that you failed because you did not care enough  - when they cared enough to get it right for you!  

Wrong! Especially early on, before the giver gets sick and tired of being criticized in what they give, there is less of a difference in how much love and attention went into the gift, than there is a difference in the recipient's ability to accept the gift! 

The controlling person is not trying to be difficult. When they're not angry, they don't mean to diminish you. They simply have a difficult time with surprises. There is an agenda for every minutia you can think of - including what is expected from the partner. The partner, on the other hand, with less of an agenda, is able to appreciate the gift - not because it is "better," but because there is less of a need to design it - and more of an ability to accept the unknown.

Another contributing factor: the controller thinks they know best. Their judgment is infallible; they know what's best for themselves; they know what's best for you. If your opinion differs, you are wrong.

Add to this the typical controller's insecurity, and, bingo; the controlling person is likely to attribute the disparity (i.e., you are pleased with their gifts; they are not pleased with your gifts) to mean that you don't love them enough to work hard to please them, as they work to please you.

This is clearly an irrational interpretation of events, but, not checking out the faulty basis of their premise, they experience a big Ouchhh! Once again, their unlovability has been confirmed... And they are likely to get mad...

The Adult-Kid

Your basic controller is two-in-one, hence the Jeckyl and Hyde components. The higher self is the adult partner. This is the part of the individual that wants to be a partner, who is reasonable and rational, etc., etc. The kid self is the side that breaks your heart. This is the needy, demanding, out-of-control and needy child who takes themselves out of partner role every time some present day "slight" kicks up some very real pain that occurred in childhood. 

In a split second, they find themselves in a hurtful pity pot; their only solace is licking their wounds. Maybe you'll notice how much you hurt them... They really, really don't want to go there. But, they know no better. This place is the only sanctuary they could run to when they were hurt in childhood. All they know to do is push away the unloving parent who hurt them... 

Tips for the Partner

You can't fix this. You can explain your good intentions all you want; your partner is unlikely to get it. Your partner can fix this. Maybe you can send them this url. The controlling person you love needs to feel a little safer in the world, so they can stop working so hard at controlling it. Hear that controlling person? 

The victim's job is to set clear, firm limits on what behavior is acceptable. Whether or not your partner's goal is to hurt you, you get hurt. Therefore, you need to set limits to protect yourself.

Victims need to be careful not to give up their power. Never forget that no one else can give it away - but you!

 I want to read the posts.