Even in healthy relationships, there will be a time when one partner needs to control the behavior of the other – usually in times of crisis when the objectivity of one is severally impacted. In a true partnership this is what needs to happen – we table the decision making process to someone who will look after our best interests when we are not able to see the world clearly. When I heard about Natalie dying, I immediately called my father to tell him because I felt that I only had a few minutes before I lost perspective and I knew my father would look out for me better than almost everyone on the planet. It was tough on him, but he held it together, he held me together and he worked with my mom and my brother to help me through it. I handed responsibility for me over to him so I could just fall to pieces. The thing is, he didn’t try to control my actions very much. He just needed to be sure I didn’t do anything rash that I would come to regret or worse, die from. I think he and the rest of my family did a great job!
So that’s the ideal, an empathetic and compassionate partner who guides you through a crisis without projecting their will on you. They help you objectively engage the world in your terms. So, in this regard, there is rarely a time when a partner should try to control your behavior.
Sadly, this isn’t the case in number of couples. Drawn to me are a lot of people who are in controlling relationships with partners who lack the awareness to objectively observe and control their own experience of the world. Given the dissonance these individuals experience between their understanding of the world and the objective reality of the world, and their inability to see that through effort they can alter their understanding, the only form of reconciliation they have is to force the world to conform to their world view. This is impossible given the size and interdependent nature of the world so they are only able to control a few things about their immediate world and most often it will be their partner and their children.
Controlling the actions of someone who loves you simply because you do not wish to put the effort into learning how to see the world objectively is immoral because it causes suffering and drastically inappropriate because it uses ones love again them. Because they love you, they give you the power to hurt them and because you have very little self awareness, you use this power to make them feel something unpleasant (hence the term toxic) that isn’t actually there.
The common scenario has the abuser (the immature control partner) feeling out of control when it comes to their partner’s actions or thoughts. Since they don’t want to put the effort into transcending their lack of understanding – or even put some time into considering that they may be able to adjust their understanding or that their understanding is based on something other than reality – they set about to create guilt within victim so they feel bad and motivated to change their actions.
Guilt is very effective only because of the compassionate love the victim feels towards the abuser. It doesn’t work with people who don’t care about them. Statements like “you are breaking up our family” or “I am going to kill myself” don’t have any impact on people who don’t care about you. But if you care about the person who says it, you are sure as hell going to feel something horrible. Toxic people are really good at making compassionate people feel badly about their benign actions.