Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Controller.

By Roger Melton, M.A

Unlike men that can honestly struggle with their own uncertainties and confusions about a relationship, and recognize the part they play in creating problems and conflicts, there are other kinds of men that see love as a game and you as their pawn. In this cruelly covert contest, cunning is their watchword, deception is their fix, and control is their high.

Just as addicts are unrelenting in pursuit of making the next score, these kind of men are unyielding in their hunt for women that they can deceive and manipulate. Unlike emotionally sound men and women, who respect others as much as they do themselves, controlling-men respect no one. To them, people are things. And things can be used.

These "Controllers" use words as deceptive tools. Applying charm's anesthetic to deaden the pain, they perform emotional-heart-surgery with crude precision. And young women can make the most vulnerable targets for a Controller's manipulative scalpel.

While the harm most of these men inflict is emotional and psychological, there are those among them with a more dangerous twist, who feed off their victims' souls the way a leech drains the blood of its prey: drop by drop. These are the captivating vampires, whose devious masks conceal every woman's worst nightmare-the terrifying face of a future batterer or stalker.

To these violent men, control is like oxygen. Every sign of submission from others is like the breath of life, falsely confirming their delusion that only brute force affirms their worth. Failing to dominate a woman triggers loose a choking fear in these men, which they cannot face. That hidden fear is the truth that threatens their common delusion of godlike invincibility and exposes them as frightened little men, terrified of everyone and everything, including their own guilt. But guilt, for them, is intolerable.

They twist responsibility for their cruel actions away from themselves and lay it onto their victims. Their domineering maneuvers are magically excused in their minds. They project their own selfish, manipulative and deceptive defects of character onto the very people they harm, while persistently and vigorously proclaiming themselves as blameless.

Almost every woman will encounter at least one of these control-obsessed men in her lifetime, whether his method of control is limited to emotional manipulation or extends into physical intimidation. But there are ways to identify each type of Controller before it's too late. There are methods for dealing with them, avoiding them or escaping them. There are ways to protect and keep an honest heart. And this series of articles is designed to help you protect yourself from harm, by providing you with a basic Controller detection system, which begins in grasping the fundamental nature of control.

Control, itself, is not inherently negative. Everyone wants some form of it. It would be sheer folly to want none in a relationship, especially if you have experienced previous betrayal. But there is a critical difference between healthy and unhealthy control.

A healthy desire for control originates in a need to protect-either someone else or your self. Until a toddler learns the limits of safety and danger in the home, its only source of protection is its parents' limit-setting controls. Movement control is harm control. Love is the motive. Protection is the goal.

Unhealthy control originates in a desire to dominate another, either through words or actions designed to both charm and harm--to captivate while simultaneously damaging the emotionally captured. It is this pairing of charm with harm that is the hallmark of Controller manipulations. Preaching sugar while practicing poison, they are experts at concealing their true natures. Hiding bad intentions beneath polished appearances, they have perfected the art of "looking good." It is this uncanny ability of Controllers to alternate looking good with manipulative behavior that perpetuates tormenting emotional snares for those they target as victims.

Regret is not in their psychological vocabulary. They harm others because they feel entitled to hurt people. It is not a matter of moral right or wrong to them when they inflict harm. It's only a matter of believing that they "have the right." And if they always believe that right is on their side, which they always do, then any harmful act is always justified.

In over twenty year's work as a therapist, one of the eeriest experiences has been in listening to clients describing control-obsessed parents or partners. It is as if many of the people I have counseled had the same mother, father or relationship partner, stamped out of a small collection of similar molds. Or that all control-obsessed individuals took the same set of courses at Controller College-some with a specialty in narcissistic personality, others in being sociopathic and still others in sadistic or borderline psychopathology. The behaviors and attitudes of each type are so astonishingly similar, it seems as if they must all belong to the same bowling team.

Preaching sugar while practicing poison, Controllers are experts at concealing their true natures. Hiding bad intentions beneath polished appearances, they have perfected the art of "looking good." Subtle and devious in the way he conceals his manipulative nature, he may look like a rose, but ends up feeling like poison ivy.

Imagine-or remember-the following scenario:

You're at a friend's party, and you're single again. You have sworn to yourself, and a dozen friends and acquaintances, that you're never going to pick another loser. The next guy you get involved with is going to be sweet, smart, kind, successful and interested in you. All your friends seem to be telling you the same thing: "Don't worry. You'll spot the jerks. You've been through it enough times. Now you really know how to tell the losers from the good guys."

Confident that pure experience alone has mysteriously given you the ability to protect yourself from ending-up with another self-centered manipulator, you confidently scan the crowd, trying to sort out the unmarried men from those trying to look single.

In an ambiguous effort to be taken seriously while still being attractive, your outfit falls somewhere between glamour and medieval armor. Pleated slacks, a tailored toreador-jacket, conservative but v-necked blouse, hoop-earrings and heels somewhere between low pumps and stilts. Assertive, but available.

You notice a pretty good-looking guy: little over six-foot, trimmed beard, tasty dresser. He looks at you and you smile slightly. He looks surprised, nervous and glances away. Shy? You notice he's shooting the breeze with one of the computer-geeks from the office, and you lose interest.

At intervals between talking with women friends, you randomly scan the room, sweeping the crowd, pausing to appraise various men. After an hour, you're starting to get bored when someone arrives late. He steps right in to the middle of the crowd, doesn't seem to really know anyone, but acts like everyone knows him. He isn't particularly good-looking, but you recognize that other women are noticing him. And suddenly he notices you. He not only notices, but immediately steps out of the crowd and strides directly toward you, as if he already knows you. His eyes fix directly into yours, and his smile shines with all the sincerity modern dentistry can afford. In the back of your mind, the voice of experience is trying to warn you, but there is something louder about this man's manner than the wobbling wisdom of your experience. He is so immediately attentive. You feel targeted at the center of his attention. His persistently complimentary manner is exciting, because it is he that is making the compliments. Even though he is talking about you, what really feels good is listening to him. And he is so charming.

By the end of the evening, you've given him your phone number and made a dinner date for the following night. Two weeks later you are already "involved." At the end of the month, you're sleeping with him. But, once that happens, you notice a change in him. Suddenly, you are no longer at the center of his attention--he is. And the sole topic of every conversation has become only him.

All the while, common sense's voice of experience and your instinct keep trying to tell you something, but you can't understand what they're saying. That's the problem when the voices of instinct and experience remain disconnected. You knew you were being steered in a direction that past experience tried telling you to avoid. And your fear was sounding its alarm, because you could feel it. But one more manipulative man has succeeded in overriding your instinct and common sense and took control of the way you thought about him. And the outcome is always the same, whether you give up on him today, or throw in the towel twenty years from now: frustration, aggravation, depression and, ultimately, despair. But you do not have to be fooled again, if you can get a handle on what you're dealing with.

Every controlling-type man wants power, but he must feel it to know he has it. Inflicting control, and witnessing someone being controlled, is how he succeeds at sensing power. Loss of control equals powerlessness. And powerlessness, to a Controller, feels like death.

'Normal' is not a good term to describe a mentally sound person, because it seems to imply that there must be a set of obvious, precisely definable characteristics that describe sanity. But, that is not easily the case. There is such an astounding range of differences between the vast majority of healthy individuals in the world that it is impossible to pin 'normal' down to an exact and narrow set of behaviors, attitudes or mannerisms. Ironically, one of the things that helps in spotting Controllers is the opposite-their behaviors, attitudes and mannerisms can be defined in predictable, narrow sets of characteristics.

There are certain general characteristics that define a mentally healthy individual. A hallmark of mental health is the ability to tolerate uncertainty, which is demonstrated in our capacity to carefully weigh choices before deciding a course of action. Because we can tolerate the tension that occurs while going through the process of choosing, we can more accurately make a final decision. Mentally unsound individuals cannot tolerate much tension, which is why their actions tend to be irrational and impulsive.

Flexibility grows out of the ability to tolerate uncertainty. A flexible mind is one that can change. To some degree, change is uncomfortable for everyone, but normal individuals find it tolerable and manageable. In contrast, personality-disordered individuals are rigidly intolerant of change, inflicting their will against anything new or different in their lives-or in the lives of those around them. Externally imposed change is threatening, because it reminds them that the world is not under their total control.

Adaptability grows out of flexibility. Normal people are capable of adapting themselves to new situations. Change may make them feel uncomfortable, but they can accommodate themselves to it and adjust. Personality-disordered individuals find it extremely difficult or completely impossible to shift gears when a new situation develops.

Mentally healthy people have the capacity to take appropriate responsibility. Such individuals know how to see the part they may have played in creating a problem, can admit their part in it, can take corrective action to solve the problem and have the capacity to admit they were wrong. They also know how to realistically recognize when they have not played a part in creating a problem. Personality-disordered individuals cannot make those kinds of discriminations around the issue of responsibility. They always blame everything that goes wrong in their life on everyone else, or they do the exact opposite and always blame themselves for everything that goes wrong. Controllers are blamers-self-abusive individuals are blame-takers.

Personality-disordered people can be roughly divided into two groups-blamers and self-blamers-but this series of articles will focus on the blamers: Controllers that psychotherapists have classified as "narcissistic," "borderline," "sociopathic" and "sadistic." Approximately twenty personality disorders have been identified, but these four predominate in the kinds of Controllers who tend to manipulate and deceive women-the kinds of men that have given Romeo an extremely bad name.

At his core, every Controller is monumentally self-centered. He is not just on an ego trip. He is on an expedition. In his mind, everyone orbits around him, as if people are his planets and he is their shining sun. What he wants he should have, simply because he wants it. He needs no other justification. Seeing himself as the center of everyone else's universe, he is blind to the fact that anyone else's wants or needs are more important than his own. Doggedly locked into this self-image of grand, "godlike" proportions, he may literally feel entitled to other's worship.

It is as if these kind of men view reality from inside a strange, transparent fortress, whose walls are both shield and golden mirror. Hardened against the truth of the world outside himself, this psychological citadel resists seeing things as they really are. Like mental bulletproof-glass, these opaque fortress walls deflect any words or actions from others that might threaten his perfect "godlike" image of himself. Everything is perceived through this armored, shining shell, and the world must always treat him as if he were golden. And failure to worship at his shrine can be devastating.

But what exactly is "narcissism," in terms of being a Controller? And what is the surest way to spot this self-adoring manipulator?

In a Narcissistic Controller's mind, everyone and everything orbits around him, as if people are his planets and he is their shining sun. What he wants, he should have, simply because he wants it. Greed is at the core of his being, but it is greed based more on attention than ownership. He may own a few things, or many, but his primary reason for "owning" anything--including you--is to display his sense of self-induced superiority.

Although such an individual is usually not physically or sexually abusive, he is a master at inflicting psychological, emotional and spiritual damage on others. This type of Controller is incapable of needing anyone but himself, and it is that rigidly fixated belief which lies behind the lordly attitude that dwells in him. It is as if these kinds of men see reality from inside a strange, transparent fortress, whose walls are both shield and mirror. Like mental bulletproof glass, these opaque psychological walls deflect any words or actions from outside him that might threaten his perfectly idealized, "godlike" self-image. And his mannerisms and behaviors reflect his own shining image.

He seems to stand out in a crowd, as if under a spotlight. He acts as if people aren't just watching him--they're adoring him. If you are within earshot, or he engages you in a conversation--which he will, if you can draw other's attention to him--pay close attention to his facial expressions when he mentions those whom he like and dislikes. Listen to how he talks about himself and others. Possessive arrogance characterizes him when he likes someone, as if he personally owns him or her. When he says something good about someone, he tends to say only good things about those whom he perceives as admiring him. Look for intense expressions of disdain toward those whom he dislikes, who will have failed to pander to his sense of self-centered specialness.

When talking about himself, everything he thinks, feels and does, sounds as if it must be important. Nothing is insignificant about a Narcissist, to a Narcissist. Regardless of what position he holds at his job, he is always better at it than anyone else. Whether a company's janitor or chief executive officer, he always conveys a sense of himself as superior to his peers.

When speaking of his family or friends, it sounds like he could be describing expensive cars, clothes, stereos or jewelry. People are possessions to a Narcissistic Controller, useful unto the degree that they make him look good to others and himself. They can be ignored, demeaned or discarded whenever they fail to make him shine.

The quickest and crudest way to confirm that someone is a Narcissistic Controller is simply to marry him. Unfortunately, this actually is the first moment when the narcissistic spell is broken and a woman realizes that Mr. Right is actually Mr. Wrong. If it were simply a manner of recognizing signs of self-centered arrogance, it would be a piece of cake to avoid this kind of man's clutches. But many Narcissistic Controllers possess a subtle weapon: charm.

Most people strive to be socially charming, but this is not the kind of charm displayed by a Narcissistic Controller. The manipulative impact of narcissistic charm is not intended to ease social connectedness. It is designed to establish social dominance. Instead of stimulating thought and interaction, it tends to lull or paralyze the mind. The Random House Dictionary defines charm's essence as, " . . . A power of pleasing or attracting, as through personality or beauty; to act upon (someone or something) with or as with a compelling or magical force . . .." It is this feeling of being acted upon--or controlled--which can initially hint that you are dealing with narcissistic control. It feels intensely charming. You feel gripped by it, instead of eased by it. Other signs can indicate the presence of narcissistic control, as well.

Displaying disdain and contempt for those whom he believes have betrayed him can confirm signs of narcissistic control. But betrayal, to a Narcissist, differs from what normal people experience.

For most people, betrayal usually means a deep violation of trust inflicted by someone with whom a close, personal relationship exists. But, to a Narcissistic Controller, betrayal simply means that someone stopped pandering to his every want and need. In other words, when someone breaks away from his control, he feels betrayed. Since Narcissists do not have the capacity to develop close, trusting personal relationships, there can be no deep violation of real trust.

When a Narcissistic Controller feels betrayed, contempt dominates his facial and verbal expressions. The insolent, aloof sneer commonly accompanies expressions such as, "He didn't know who he was dealing with!" Or, "Doesn't he know who I am?" His real complaint--if he had the ability to see it--should be, "Don't you know who I think I am?"

This is not an exhaustive description of Narcissistic Controllers. It is the basics--the essentials. If you believe that you are already locked into a business or personal relationship with this kind of man, a later part of this series will explain suggested ways to deal with him. But if you have recognized the features of someone like this man, and you are feeling caught inside his spell, ask yourself a question: What part of me needs this man, so that I can feel good about myself?

All types of Controllers capitalize on manipulating that part in anyone which lacks self-esteem. Essentially, they feed off our uncertainties about our selves. Find that shy, heart-broken or traumatized part of yourself and make friends with it. Get close to it, and it will help protect you from his deceptions, deceits, and ultimately, his inevitably egotistical scorn.