Why HSPs Have Trouble With Controlling People

If you are alive, you have met controlling people.

Controlling people can drive anyone crazy, but If you are a highly sensitive person, you may find the effect of controlling very difficult to live with.

Controlling people can certainly have that effect on me.

Controlling people will probably not understand why their behavior is problematic for you, the HSP.

Each HSP, however, needs to understand that controlling people can be very bad for their health.

Why Do People Control?

Most people only want to be happy. Many believe that controlling themselves and others is a method to achieve the desired result of happiness.

Some of the reasons people try to control others include:

  • they have low amounts of trust possible because of negative experiences
  • they think they are more competent
  • they have deep-seated prejudices about right and wrong
  • they have been taught fear
  • they perceive themselves as better and/or more “normal” than others 

Controlling people sometimes assume that others want and need what they want and need. Although we all have needs and desires in common, over-generalizing about other people is a mistake that controlling people often make.

Controlling people often treat others as an extension of their needs and desires. In extreme cases, the person is narcissistic in demanding that they be catered to.

So one reason that controlling people control is to get their needs met.

The Hidden Agenda Of Controlling People

It is fairly easy to recognize that controlling people are trying to get their needs met as we have discussed.

Controlling behavior also has a social function: to maintain their comfort level which they do by enforcing social norms and conforming behavior.

One thing I have noticed about controlling people is that they often have a wall around them. You can detect it in interacting with them. They are often guarded and measured.because deep down they are afraid. Protecting themselves from that fear can be their hidden agenda.

So if there is a conflict between a controlling person’s comfort zone and another person, the comfort zone will likely win out.

The Comfort Zone Dilemna

The controlling comfort zones of other people can be hard for the highly sensitive person to handle for several reasons:

  • we are naturally loathed to hurt others. We can feel bad when we upset someone’s comfort zone when we had no intention of doing harm. Such negative reactions over time can cause us to pull back, and doubt ourselves. We can see ourselves in an unnecessarily negative light.
  • we are sensitive to nuances which means that what we perceive to be a constructive course of action may interfere with someone else’s comfort zone. We can take on and internalize the conflict blaming ourselves and as a result cause ourselves a lot of emotional pain.
  • we are naturally creative which means our strategies may be way out of the box for our colleagues and friends. We can have a lot of difficulties navigating our creative differences with others.
  • we can be very farsighted in a shortsighted world. Our long sightedness may step on the comfort zone of people who seek short term rewards.

All of the wonderful qualities of highly sensitive people can make their relationships difficult because an HSPs talents can often lead to unwelcome change.

So what to do about this?

Letting Possibilities Guide Us

Handling fear – our fear or the fear of others  – is an important skill to master.

When we are dealing with controlling people, we can use our natural empathy to help others reduce their fear:

  • we can demonstrate the benefits of an action
  • we can offer proof
  • we can demonstrate that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain if that is the case
  • e can take the risks out of the closet, put them on the table and create a positive perception about how they can be handled.

Sometimes we can make the case for  moving out of our comfort zones. When the possibilities are attractive enough and the risks well handled, successful forward movement is possible.

What about those situations when you are not able to create enthusiasm for new possibilities?

Let Compassion Be Your Guide

There are many situations where an individual or an group is not interested in change and you have to honor their decision. Sometimes when an individual is controlling in favor of their comfort zone, they are respecting their own limits, and that is a healthy decision to make.

I think it is dangerous to assume what someone else needs or should do. Many of us require healing. The demands of healing may preclude creative activities. Or perhaps an individual simply has too much on their plate. That happens frequently as well.

It is important to honor where someone is and treat it with respect even if you do not agree and think they are wrong. You cannot force change and you might be doing harm in pushing too much. Very controlling people may have made a decision in favor of a less creative lifestyle in order to respect their personal needs.

Whenever we encourage a controlling person to let go of fear and try something new, we need to be promoting joy and wellness. We need to be supporting the agenda of our higher selves and the higher self of the other person. That may mean that we need to back off.

Highly sensitive people are lucky that their natural empathy can help them find compassionate relationship choices that can help a controlling person feel heard and loved. That is a great way to reduce fear, and helps others engage more with life.

What is a great gift to offer others!

Published by


Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program of "sensory processing yoga" using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers the Emerging Sensitive Community focused on living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.

21 thoughts on “Why HSPs Have Trouble With Controlling People”

  1. Avatar Carroll says:

    My relationship with my cousin– like a brother to me for decades–was destroyed when I visited him for an extended stay by his controlling needs and need to be comfortable by being right –no doubts allowed… EVER. (Plus his need to deny his own family caused suffering, which I was a reminder of…) He accused me of being “addicted to suffering.” (I had been physically assaulted at work… and fired.)

    This hurt me very deeply. When I expressed that he defaulted to his usual defense– it was MY fault, just as it had been his girlfriend’s fault when he pushed her away…she “took it personally.” (NOTHING is his “fault”…)

    He was so controlling he told me how to swipe my card at the village store!! I might have been funny but I was in deep distress at the time.

    I had to sever all real connection with him, which makes me sad.

    1. Avatar Maria says:

      Wow, Carroll,

      I think some of the hardest relationship problems are in those relationships that become negative after such a long time of friendship. It has to have been extremely hurtful to you. I am sure I would have been devastated.

      I think sometimes HSPs will be accused of being addicted to suffering when we do not know what to do with our pain particularly because our aggressive culture creates reinjury which makes healing difficult. That is no excuse for his thoughtless actions.

      How to swipe your card? Really! It sounds funny now but when you are seeing what you thought was a friendship disintegrate it is not.

      I am sorry for your loss and hope you are take special care of your healing needs.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      All the best,

      1. Avatar Maria says:

        Another thought Carroll,

        Respecting your need to do things your way can be very good for you. It’s OK if others do not like it. My husband hates the way I put the dishes in the dishwasher, but that is OK if he does not like my creative approach.


        1. Avatar Dan says:

          It’s not about the dishwasher, right? It’s back to the control topic. Or is it? The DW manual tells you how to load it based on how its water pressures and sprays hit the dishes. My wife and I have this discussion often. But who reads the manual, anyway? This HSP does.

          1. Avatar Maria Hill says:

            Thanks, Dan – being informed is a great way to make good decisions and choices.


  2. Avatar Claire says:

    Another great post Maria. What worries me is that although I am HSP, I can also be very controlling, specifically within my birth family unit. I was aware of this late in my teenage years, and whenever I go back to my mum and dad’s place, I become very controlling. When I was 10, something catastrophic happened to us as a family, something which made my parents appear very vulnerable, and in fact extended to all of us as a family. From that point on I always felt that it was us against a hostile, cruel world. Perhaps it made me feel that my mum and dad weren’t in control, and that I had to take control? I know I need to let go of this behavior, which has damaged my familial relationships. I would appreciate your thoughts on this Maria. Thank you.

    1. Avatar Maria says:

      Hi Claire,

      I think that it is important to realize that we humans as a race have been necessarily short sighted in order to survive. So when our survival feels threatened we use various strategies including control to see us through. It is not bad it is necessary. It is also important to discern when the war is over. One of the best tools for helping us naturally detach is meditation. I think you can intellectually realize the war is over but meditation will make it easier and more effortless.

      I hope I have helped.

      All the best,

      1. Avatar Claire says:

        Thanks for the prompt response Maria…we have synced despite the trans-Atlantic time lap! Meditation is something I am trying to learn, and I find it difficult. But I will keep at it. I suspect I will also have to find some other ways to heal a very deep-seated pain, other than conventional methods. Thank again. Claire.

        1. Avatar Maria says:

          Claire, I recommend TM. It is very easy and gets the job done. I have been doing it for almost 20 years and it is one of the best things I have ever done. Their website has tons of great information: http://www.tm.org.

          Good luck,

          PS. Reiki and EFT are wonderful for healing deep emotional pain.

  3. I am the furthest thing from a controlling person, except when someone else is trying to control me, or when someone is unrealistically treating me as if I were controlling, e.g. passive-aggressive behavior during a shared task or activity to which the other person originally agreed. Some of the people who do this to me seem to me to be textbook HSPs, so far, though I am new to the subject. Can you explain the reasoning behind such behavior? I am just bewildered.

    1. Avatar Maria says:

      I think there are a lot of reasons for passive aggressive behavior and I believe that you will find it in HSPs and non-HSPs. It is very much about issues around power. Men are known to be very passive aggressive with strong women and books have been written about it. When people behave this way, I believe that they do not want to negotiate, or cede the upper hand and so they manipulate the other person into doing their work, or letting them off the hook so that they do not have to admit they did not want to do something. They are seeking to have you do their work in the relationship.

      The more you can not take the bait the better.

      I hope I have helped,

      1. Thank you. I plan on keeping my distance for the time being.

        1. Avatar Maria Hill says:

          Good luck!


          1. Avatar flory says:

            Can you tell me some book titles about the men vs. women dynamics you mentioned earlier?

          2. Avatar Maria Hill says:

            Hi Flory,

            I do not have any titles that come to mind. However, there is some great work on the dynamics of oppression by Gene Sharp that may help you. This is the link. I hope it helps.


  4. Avatar Gloria says:

    When I read the title of your article, I thought it was about HSPs being the controller. I said to myself “I don’t want to control others, but I do want them to respect my needs and boundaries” (based on a very current issue going on), so I thought I might gain some insight. Then upon reading, I realized it is about people trying to control us, and yes, it can be easy for them to do so, based on our childhood and life experiences. At age 60, I am still learning how to avoid responding to the controlling person by trying to control them. I am trying to learn how to walk away when I can, and when I can’t, to be aware of their intentions and stand my ground. I started reading the other comments and am sad that a few of them think the article was about the HSP being the controller; it seems they either didn’t read the article or failed to understand it. Good article. Thank you.

    1. Avatar Maria says:

      Hi Gloria,

      Thanks for stopping by. I think most HSPs like you come from an egalitarian place, so they do not want to be controlling others. I agree with you that controlling behaviors are a challenge; I have to work at it all the time, and walking away is a good idea much of the time. Not engaging with the provocation helps also. Many HSPs because they are different are blamed for other people’s issues, so they may have been approaching the article from that standpoint. It is hard to get a handle on.

      All the best,

    2. Avatar Leslie says:

      Very interesting read, thank you.

  5. Avatar kayden says:

    I found large parts of this article cryptic and difficult to grasp.

    I don’t even think it’s that easy to spot a ‘controlling person’. People may have moments off controlling behavior. I don’t feel that there’s many people who are constantly controlling, unless you are Hitlers re incarnation maybe.

    I like some of the points made about The Comfort Zone Dilemma. They really hit home and are on the mark.

    I wish some HSP would write an article on hspss and the difficulty of growing up with ‘rough’ cultures eg working class british etc

    1. Avatar Maria Hill says:

      Thanks, Kayden for your thoughts. I think control of some sort is almost a constant in our lives, the media being a good example. I do not have experience with working class british culture and cannot address that. There may be some highly sensitive british writers who can address it.

      All the best,

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