Think Your Spouse Is Controlling?
Even FBI Agents Are Wary Of This Type Of Person
Nancy Michaels’ husband had a pet name for her. It was four letters and started with a c. Even with her husband’s foul name-calling, temper tantrums and manipulating behaviors, Michaels had a hard time admitting that she was married to a control freak.
“You know what’s funny. I honestly didn’t see him as being nearly as controlling until we separated,” said the 44-year old marketing specialist, who has used her experience to start a website for singles. “He can’t seem to accept the fact that he doesn’t and can’t influence what I do, who I see and how I act.”
Before her divorce several years ago, Michaels had been convinced she had it all: three children, a financially successful husband, her own booming career and an expensive home in tony Concord, Mass. It wasn’t until her husband announced that he wanted a divorce that Michaels began to see the truth. It was in part thanks to a local support group, Women with Controlling Partners.
“I totally see it now but at the time, I didn’t. I think part of it was that it looked perfect from the outside looking in. I don’t know if I was the classic example,” she said. “I lived in wealthy community; I had a gorgeous house. I didn’t realize.”
But in reality, Michaels is the classic example of a woman who has been in a chronic, controlling relationship. “Many times the person who is being controlled doesn’t even know it. They think they are the ones doing something wrong,” said Susan J. Elliott, 51, a New York-based lawyer, certified grief counselor and founder and CEO of Getting Past Your Past Productions, LLC., and author of “Phoenix Rising: How to turn a devastating breakup into the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“I see that dynamic a lot. Where the abused person is taking the blame. It gets worse as time goes on. The longer you are in it, the more it erodes your self-esteem and the weaker you get. Consequently, the weaker you get, the stronger they get and their control issues come out more and more,” she said.
“And along with the control issues escalating, so too can the physicality. It can get dangerous. When someone doesn’t respect you, then they can objectify you and do anything to you and justify it,” said
Tina B. Tessina, 64, a Long Beach, Calif.-based psychotherapist and author of “The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You’re Far Apart (Adams Media, April 2008).”
“There’s a difference between critical and nasty. No one likes critical and maybe it’s not pleasant but it’s not terrible or out of line on its own,” said Tessina. “But when it gets nasty, when you are reduced to being a ‘bitch’ for not doing something they want you to do, then you aren’t worth anything. That’s a bad sign. When it is not about what you did but who you are. When he thinks, ‘She’s just a bitch. It doesn’t matter if I hit her.'”
Which is exactly what happened to Michaels. The night her husband threatened to move out, there was a final altercation. “I said to him, “Why don’t you just stay and let’s talk about this?” He pushed me down and I smashed my head and my tail bone hit the floor. He had pushed me in the past. I covered up for him in the past. This time, I called 9-1-1,” Michaels said.
“But that’s not how authorities saw it. He came up with this great story about how I would never be happy and about how I eventually attacked him. And they arrested me,” she said.
By nature, men who have controlling personalities all have similar patterns. Literally, this is about making another person crazy. It’s like they hypnotize the people around them. They mesmerize you into believing that everything they say is the truth and make you question your own instincts,” said Mary Jo Fay, 52, a self-proclaimed survivor-turned-advisor who has authored several books about narcissistic relationships including the self-published “When your Perfect Partner goes Perfectly Wrong.”
“Then they start chipping away at your self-esteem. These men are predators. They can sense out who they can pray on. Then he will suck up to her, praise her, tell her how great she is, do things she has never seen before, and sweep her off her feet. Once he’s got her, he switches to Mr. Hyde. In response, she says, ‘What did I do to change his behavior? It must be my fault.’ And so she tries harder and harder and harder to please him and have him treat her the way he once did, which doesn’t happen because the abuse pattern is being set in stone,” said Fay. And as that pattern is reinforced, Fay says it’s very difficult to change because the person’s self-esteem suffers from the conditioning.
Narcissism can come in all forms and all grades, according to Fay. It’s like a one to 10 scale, with 10 being the most manipulative and dangerous. Say one is Oprah Winfrey, a woman with a healthy sense of herself. A woman with empathy and compassion for people. That is healthy narcissism. Put Hitler as a 10, a person who truly thought he was God and had no empathy or compassion for others. That’s the key to the difference in levels “ how much compassion and empathy does the person have. People fall in every level in between,” she said.
And those who have dealt with level 10 narcissists agree that the level of manipulation and control is frightening, and no match for someone who is vulnerable. These guys are incredible,” said Thomas Martin, 63, a private investigator and former FBI Agent from Newport Beach, Calif.
“I have worked with other FBI agents, who are trained, you know, spend their lifetimes interrogating people, killers, terrorists, the scum of the earth, you name it. And they will tell you that these guys, the controlling ones, they are the worst. When you are interviewing and interrogating them, you have to constantly be on your guard. You have to keep reminding yourself every five minutes who you are talking to and what they are capable of because if you don’t, they can suck you right in and you think, ‘What a great guy this is.’ And these are seasoned professionals I am talking about and they still can get duped.”
While the award-winning personality is often saved for manipulating the masses, the ones closest to them see the real person.
“You are more of an extension of him rather than an individual in your own right,” said Daniela E. Schreier, 37, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of the Chicago School based in Illinois. “He feels, ‘I have the right to control you. You are an object of mine.’ While the other person at first may have been flattered thinking, ‘This person wants all of me,’ it is very unhealthy. You belong to them and you have to please them.”
According to Fay, the issues go much further than just possession and control. The controllers, she said, actually think they are gods. These people truly believe the everyone should believe that what they believe. Look at Hitler. He expected everyone else would believe what he believed, too. It’s truly that they look at their world and think those who don’t share their views are idiots. And they treat the ones they do love as objects. And that objectification allows for them to continue the spiral of control and abuse.
You don’t buy presents for your car; you don’t thank your car, apologize to your car. It’s an inanimate object. That’s how they see us. We are cars. Turn on when they want us to turn on. We don’t have feelings, that is why they don’t treat us like we have feelings. But their feelings are magnified 100-fold because they are God. Therapy will not work with these people.
And many agree that men who are narcissistic to the point of being oppressively controlling cannot be changed. “Controlling husbands, we have found, cannot be fixed. The same applies to females afflicted with the same curse, which is far fewer in my experience,” said Martin, a former FBI agent whose agency has been involved in more than 30,000 surveillance cases. He added that in his experience controlling husbands are actually very insecure.
I have many degrees, but my Ph.D. is from the streets, and what we have found is that these guys are very insecure. They freak out over the smallest things,” he said. It’s like a huge tantrum over nothing. They have zero self-esteem. That’s why they need to control everything. Don’t tell me these guys think they’re gods.”
Fay further explained that thinking you are a god is not tantamount to having good self-esteem. Narcissists, according to Fay, are empty inside. They have no self-esteem. The God-complex is just a facade, something constructed to mask the truth, which is why they need others to control.
“They need you to reflect self-esteem back to them,” she said, while admitting that the source of controlling behavior is still being debated. “There is still a battle ensuing over whether the problems stem from nature or nurture. Were they born this way or was there something wrong with their belief systems, their upbringing, were they neglected, abused or idolized. Either way, the message delivered to them was who you are really is not acceptable. They don’t feel lovable, so they come up with a persona that seems to fit. That’s their job 24/seven, so no one can get to that real person. They need an audience to reflect back. A narcissist alone will perish.”
But not everyone believes that controlling husbands are a lost cause. “Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior and that gives an indication if they can change or not,” Schreier said. “But if it is part of your personality pattern, a longstanding, persistent trait, it is very hard to change that. If a person has antisocial or psychopathic traits, are always out to get the better of others, and does not have the capacity to emotionally connect if someone has those psychopathic traits, this is not treatable. You can’t pop a pill and make it go away”
Of course, the overriding factor is whether or not the controlling person even recognizes his behavior and if so, is the desire there to change it. “And,” Elliot would add, “if there has been some substance abuse involved that exacerbated the controlling behavior. I have seen it a lot of times with alcoholics who get sober and work a program. Men who have been abusive and controlling and get sober. They make amends, put the marriage back together. But it has to be something extreme like getting sober,” said Elliot.
“I think they can change if they want to change. But I think people don’t change unless the pain is bad enough,” said Elliot. “A lot of times, it is a person who is abused who changes, because being abused is more painful than being abusive. But I believe that there are some people who know what they have done. Usually, they can’t restore the relationships they destroyed, but they can create new ones.”