If someone defines you, even in subtle ways, they are pretending to know the unknowable. There is a quality of fantasy to their words and sometimes to their actions. Even so, they are usually unaware of the fact that they are playing “let’s pretend.” They fool themselves and sometimes others into thinking that what they are saying is true or that what they are doing is right. When people “make up” your reality—as if they were you —they are trying to control you, even when they don’t realize it.
Control is a big problem in relationships: romantic, collegial, friendship. When people control you, they “make up” your reality, as Evans puts it. They don’t respect you the way you are.
They want to change you, make you different, more similar to the image they have or want to have of you. They want to make you fit their reality, so they don’t have to face the fact that their reality may be wrong.
Control can be over so subtle, hidden behind the pretense of help, advice, a suggestion, a joke. But it is none of that. It is a conscious or subconscious attempt to rip out your soul and put in a new one: The one they created.
If you are in the habit of recognizing controlling people and standing up to them, then the controller loses. He fails to replace your inner self with the one he created.
The problem is: Most people have no clue how to recognize controlling people. Why? Because most controllers are experts. They are subtle in their approaches. They have refined their techniques over many years. They take over your life when you least expect it.
Then you are left with nothing. The real you is gone, or at best hidden away. It may take you years to find the real you again once you leave a controller’s hands.
Evans invites us to consider the following case of a controlling husband:
At a farmer’s market on a recent Saturday morning in a nearby town, I stood in line behind a well-dressed elderly couple waiting to buy corn. When their turn came I heard the woman ask for two dozen ears of corn. They were being sold at three ears for a dollar. She handed over two ten-dollar bills. When she received her change, she expressed surprise because it included one of the ten-dollar bills. “Wow! I didn’t think I’d get this much back for twenty-four ears,” she said, laughing. “Guess it’s too early in the morning to figure it.” Suddenly everyone’s attention was riveted on the man with her, as he shouted angrily, “She can’t even count the goddamn change!” The woman, seemingly as shocked by his roaring declaration as were the bystanders, was silent. But she seemed stunned. [...] As I thought about the incident, I found it most significant that the husband [...] pretended that his wife couldn’t count change and acted as if that “fact” appalled and infuriated him. Moreover, it seemed as if he were restricted in some way from finding out if what appalled him might not be true.
–Evans (2009). Controlling People (p. 103).
A grumpy husband a Saturday morning at a farmer’s market. “Poor woman,” we might think. But most of us fail to realize that her husband wasn’t just a little grumpy. He had long ago replaced the inner self of his wife with his own fantasy of someone who couldn’t even “count the change.”
Controllers are hard to spot and will turn the tables on you. As Evans points out, “when a Controller hears a plea such as, ‘Please don’t talk to me like that,’ the Controller will usually say something like, ‘I don’t need to be attacked like that,’ or, incredibly, ‘You’re trying to control me.’ or, ‘I don’t know why you have to start a fight just when everything’s going fine.’ “. (Evans 2009. Controlling People p. 128).
Or they might make up excuses for their behavior. “It was well meant,” “I was just giving you some advice,” “If you want to accomplish all the things you say you do, then you really ought to think about how you behave,” “If I don’t tell you, no one else will,” “Ah, c’mon, I was just kidding.”
People who are under the spell of a controller are just that: Under a spell. They have started believing the lies their controller is telling them. They can no longer find themselves within the collection of illusions that the controller has installed in them.
Still, waking up from the spell and finding their true self can be done. The spellbound has to be willing. She has to be courageous enough to find her own boundaries and find a way to separate reality from fiction. As Evans puts it:
If they are willing, the Spellbound can awake from their dream world by seeing the spell for what it is, and by remembering how they fell under it. By courageously facing their separateness and trusting in their true connectedness, they can find the strength to stand on their own two feet, apart from the other. If they accept the reality of their interconnectedness as well as the reality of their separateness, they can, with this two-fold awareness, begin to render possible what had before seemed impossible. They can break the spell’s influence over them. And they can bring awareness to others.
– Evans (2009). Controlling People (p. 251).