Control freaks. You might be one, but you also might have one… or two in your life. The controller might be an authority figure, a parent, a boss, a teacher, a coach. He or she might be your spouse. He or she could possibly be a friend. Regardless, some of you have been hurt by people who have tried or are trying to control you.
Much of the time, the controlling person isn’t malicious. But they might be needy, hurting, or insecure. Life for them might feel out of control, so they’re trying to control yours.
How do we lovingly handle relationships with controlling people? I ask that question because Jesus calls us to love people, and not just the people who like us and with whom we get along famously. Loving others is the second greatest commandment and even extends to our enemies. Ouch! So somehow, we have to figure this out.
Allow me to offer a few suggestions that might help keep you from getting derailed in your relationship with a controlling person.
First, know your identity. In other words, know who you are. Controllers can make us feel bad about ourselves. They can make us feel like we are never good enough. Their criticism cuts deeply. Their guilt and manipulation cause us to doubt our value and our worth.
That’s why knowing who you are and whose you are is so important. If you are a Christian, your identity is never in question.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – “ (John 1:12)
Your identity is not dictated by your circumstances. It’s not cast into doubt by guilt or criticism. It’s as solid as the foundation on which it is built: Jesus Christ. You are secure, you are accepted, and you are significant because of your relationship with Jesus.
Second, know your purpose. You’ve heard the statement before, “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Controllers say, “God loves you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life.” Controllers seem to always know what you need to do, where you need to be, how you need to act, and how you need to think. It’s amazing! How do they know these things!
Juxtaposed to this is your calling. It’s important that you know your purpose, because calling clarifies. The Apostle Paul understood his calling:
“… because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:15b-16)
And Jesus was clear about His:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Knowing your calling gives you a plan, not someone else’s plan. It gives you confidence in the face of doubt. It gives you security during times of instability. Your calling and your purpose gives you direction and increases your fruitfulness.
And third, know your limits. This might be the hardest one, because it usually requires a conversation. The fact is every controlling relationship has two people: the one with the controlling behavior and the one who allows the controlling behavior.
Most relationships have both healthy and unhealthy components, whether it’s in your relationship with your spouse, with your kids, with your colleagues, with your boss, or with your friends. You create healthy patterns, but you permit unhealthy patterns. The first requires purpose and energy. The second results from passivity. Many of you might be in controlling relationships because of what you have permitted.
If you are subject to the controlling behavior of someone else, change what you expect. You might have to have a few “I love you but…” conversations. I love you, but you can’t talk to me that way anymore. I love you, but I can’t let you deter me from God’s purpose in my life. I love you, but I’m not going to bail you out again. I love you, but I’m not going to accept the guilt you’re putting on me.
Sometimes you have to define the limits – kindly, graciously, lovingly, and confidently. Chances are they’ll get upset, but remember your identity and remember your purpose and respond in love.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about unity and maturity in the body of Christ. And he said this:
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:3
Let’s do that. Let’s make every effort to live in healthy relationships at peace with everyone.