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How Early Childhood Experiences Create Controlling Behavior

It’s important to know who you are and where you came from, especially if you had a difficult childhood. This understanding can help you be more successful in your professional life. 

As a coach for entrepreneurs, I’ve seen how controlling behaviors can be linked to childhood trauma, affecting your business and personal relationship as an adult. 

This article will discuss the causes of controlling behavior, how it may affect you now, and what you can do to feel better.

It all starts with desperation

Why desperation turns into controlling behavior

Growing up in a pain-filled family has impacted us in more ways than one. For many of us, if we were brave enough to admit it, during our childhood, our parents experienced some level of desperation. This is perfectly understandable as our emotionally-disabled caretakers weren’t able to model responsible behavior. To be blunt – our parents had no clue how to maintain their resources. Or perhaps, their own desperation caused some really terrible problems for everyone in the family. As a result, they struggled to maintain healthy relationships with anyone, including themselves. On top of that, it was common for them to mismanage their time and/or money. And because you lived in that hellstorm of a situation, there were times when you lacked food, clothes, attention, safety, and security. Our parents’ struggles to maintain healthy relationships, mismanagement of time and resources, and the resulting lack of necessities like food, clothes, attention, and safety, profoundly impacted children.

Bathe by candlelight

I remember seasons during my childhood when there was no electricity. I had to bathe by heating up water on the stove and clean myself in the tub by candlelight. This happened more times than I wish to remember. Your story is not mine, but I can relate to feeling desperate. Here are some things that I’d like you to answer. Don’t worry – I cannot, nor will I judge you for your answers.
  • Do you feel desperate now in some area of your life? If so, how is that impacting your relationships?
  • Do you feel like you can’t get enough attention, money, or power?
Even if you answered yes to one or both questions, don’t despair! The good news is that recovery can and will erase that hurt and pain so you can finally feel safe and secure. In next the next section, we will talk about how painful experiences during childhood and hormones can also impact how we relate to people.

Early Childhood Imprinting and Hormones

Childhood is a formative period that has a significant influence on our beliefs, emotions, and behavior.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

From 1995-1997, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente partnered to research the impact of childhood experiences on adult health and well-being. The ACE study examined the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences on later life.

Findings from the ACE Study revealed a strong association between adverse childhood experiences (such as abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, etc.) and negative health and social outcomes in adulthood. 

Those who faced more adverse experiences during childhood were at significantly higher risk for various health issues, including mental health disorders, substance abuse, chronic diseases, and premature mortality. 

Hormones gone wild!

When bad things happen during your early years, they can jumble up your feelings of control and connection, which impacts the way your body operates. Additionally, when you are anxious, your body produces additional hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline) that can make it challenging for you to comprehend what is typical in your behavior or that of others.

Suppose an individual grew up in a household where pain and control were frequent. In that case, they may assume that is the only means of connecting with their family members. This can result in difficulties in developing healthy relationships in their later years.

Now, let us explore how anxiety and stress can cause controlling tendencies.

What anxiety and fear looks like in full-bloom

Our childhood experiences can strongly influence how we act in our jobs. If we haven’t dealt with tough experiences from our past, we might end up trying to control things at work, like micromanaging or being overly dominant in a team. 

The following section talks about other forms of controlling behavior.

Other Types of Controlling Behavior

Below is a list of other signs of controlling tendencies.
Controlling BehaviorHow it sounds likeHow it hurts
IsolationIf it is so good, why do you need time away from me?Attempting to isolate someone from their friends, family, or support networks, creating a dependency on the controlling individual.
ManipulationBy the way, (INSERT NAME), never gave me the types of problems I have with you.Using tactics such as guilt-tripping, gaslighting, or emotional manipulation to sway or control another person’s actions or emotions.
Imposing LimitationsYou need to give me a record of your activities each hour, on the hour!Setting strict and unreasonable rules or restrictions on the other person’s actions, behaviors, or even appearance.
Verbal or Physical AggressionGet out of my way now or you will not like what happens next!Because of the deep lack of internal control, they result to aggressive behavior to feel a sense of internal control.
Constant CriticismAren’t you paying attention? I’ve told you this isn’t how it should be done!Frequent and unwarranted criticism, undermining someone’s confidence and decision-making abilities.
Lack of Respect for BoundariesI know you said you couldn’t – but this is an emergency and I need your help!Unresolved anxieties, fears and phobia create a sense of desperate to get their needs met – no matter the cost to ones self-worth, dignity or the wishes of others.
Unwillingness to Accept ResponsibilityIt wasn’t my fault – (Insert NAME) didn’t come through!Ironically, people with controlling tendencies want to outsource any form of personal responsibility for things they control or manage. The reason is because they have so much internalized shame they cannot bear anyone to mention their shortcomings.
Lack of TrustWe can’t give you more tasks because of your past poor performance.This is complicated because we don’t want to give people things they are unable to accomplish. However, nobody learns through handicaps. A controlling person will not allow people to learn from their mistakes.
Emotional BlackmailIt would help everyone if you canceled this appointment. The team needs you.Using threats or emotional pressure to influence or control the other person’s actions or decisions. This type of seduction causes a compliance tainted with guilt and resentment.

It’s important to note that the signs listed above might not always appear outright or in every situation. Sometimes, controlling behavior can be subtle and gradual. 

The image below summarizes the controlling tendencies. In the next section, I will share my final thoughts.

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Final Thoughts 

You can recover from being controlling, but it takes work. You can feel safe and secure eventually if you do the work. That requires nurturing that inner child and investing in your self-care and emotional wellness.

As a life coach, I help entrepreneurs break free from these patterns. If you need help, please contact me, and we can work together towards healing and growth. 

Dig deeper by listening to this episode from my podcast about feeling safe and secure.