A dominant feature among narcissists is the need to control others. They want to determine how time and procedures are managed, which opinions you should hold, who you should associate with, how you are supposed to emote, and much more.

Telltale traits of a controlling person include stubbornness, criticism, impatience, bossiness, insistence, non-cooperation, harsh agitation, and being passive aggressive. The narcissist’s need for control illustrates a pervasive attitude of entitlement and self-centeredness, and it gives rise to insufferable insensitivity.

In the mind of the controlling narcissism, it is your task to defer to them and conform. If you balk, you are considered a nuisance, untrustworthy, ill-informed, defective, inadequate, unattractive, argumentative, disruptive, and a malcontent.


All this begs the questions. How does a person arrive at the conclusion that it is so necessary to control those who differ? How did that need become so embedded that it is central to that person’s character? What is it about another person’s lack of conformity that sends them into emotional disarray?

Applying the most basic common sense, any thinking person would acknowledge that individuals are at their best when the freedom to choose and to think expansively are present. Coordination and cooperation are good…and that is what controlling narcissists would declare as their goal. And yet, they repeatedly shun the notion of free choice, drawing instead on the presumption that they must have the final say.

The narcissist’s outward displays of control reveal a much deeper, unresolved issue. First, narcissistic control indicates a lack of trust toward people in general. Beyond that, the lack of trust arises from a place of pervasive insecurity. Through word and deed, the narcissist is screaming: “I’m too afraid to accommodate your privilege to be as you are. It won’t turn out well for me! I don’t know what else to do when faced with your distinctions.”

So here is the progression.

From the earliest time, a narcissist’s insecurity is so strong that they cannot trust. And the level of distrust is so strong that they rationalize the necessity of controlling others as a defense from being controlled by others.

If you draw attention to this pattern of insecurity which breeds mistrust, which breeds control, the narcissist will predictably take offense. They are too unstable to simply pause and think. They will become angry and predictably flip the focus back onto you, griping about you being the one with the control problem. And thus, the pattern never ceases…at least on their part.

So, as you ponder how to respond most wisely to the narcissist’s need for control, keep certain insights in mind:

  • Contrary to the narcissist’s presumption, a narcissist’s emphatic pronouncements are not the same as common sense. Common sense is lost on non-trusting people.
  • Being loud, bombastic, or unbending is a cover for feeling weak.
  • Their inability to listen to you can be traced directly to a deep history of either non-existent or inauthentic relationship connections. They are devoid of the skill of empathetic exchanges.
  • Narcissists have immaturely decided that if they feel something or want something strongly enough, that’s all that matters. They do not consult truth or simple norms. Their reasoning has not grown beyond childish petulance.
  • In the world of narcissists, love is absent because self-preservation is paramount.

On the surface, when narcissists are intent upon controlling you, the message is conveyed: “I have no confidence in you.” But at a more poignant level, the greater message is: “I have no confidence in me.” Simply put, narcissists need to control you due to longstanding struggles with their own emotional incompetence. They are little more than hyper-sensitive, hyper-vigilant adults guided by a multitude of hidden fears.

So, when a controlling narcissist indicates that you are supposed to shut up, lay aside your initiatives and boundaries, and go along with their commands, don’t get pulled into their morass of lies and self-deception. Instead, it would be appropriate to remind yourself that it is sad indeed for any adult to struggle with decades old pain, but you are doing that person no favors by pleading with them to cease their insecurity games.

That would mean you are in a counter-control mindset with the narcissist setting your pace. Go your own path even when (especially when) the narcissist cannot join you.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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