What Makes your Control Freak Wife or Girlfriend Tick


control a man remoteDoes your wife or girlfriend tell you what to do most or all of the time? Does she become enraged or sullen and withdrawn if she doesn’t get her way? Does she needle you endlessly until you capitulate? Controlling behaviors and attitudes are just another aspect of emotionally abusive women with Borderline and/or Narcissistic personality traits.

It’s natural to want to have control over your own life. However, most of us realize you can’t control everything, especially other people. You can make requests or try to influence others, but you can’t control them. Psychologist Dr Thomas Schumacher writes, “When you have to be in control of the people around you…when you literally can’t rest until you get your own way . . . you have a personality disorder.”

Here’s the rub: You can’t control others. Not really. When you spend your every waking moment worrying about what others are doing, compulsively trying to control them, you’re the one who ultimately becomes controlled by your desire to control. It’s a paradoxical effect. For those of you who are involved with an emotionally abusive, controlling woman, you probably recognize that maniacal, “out of control” look in her eyes when she’s trying to bend you to her will and you’re trying to resist.

Are control freaks and Narcissistic and/or Borderline women one and the same?

There’s a lot of overlap between the characteristics of “control freaks” and emotionally abusive NPD/BPD women. This isn’t a great leap since many men who are involved with these women describe them as “controlling.” If you think of this woman as a cubic zirconia, “control freak” is just another facet that flashes in the light like “bully,” “professional victim,” “pathological jealousy,” “hypercritical,” etc. Or, put another way, it’s another piece of the fragmented BPD/NPD woman jigsaw puzzle.

Control freaks and abusive, high-conflict women:

  • Have difficulty trusting others.
  • Have a profound fear of having their flaws exposed.
  • Cannot tolerate feeling vulnerable (and, therefore, can’t handle intimacy).
  • Are riddled with anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger.

What’s really going on?

Why does she invest so much in trying to control you and your reality? Because she tries to manage her anxiety by trying to control you. Control is her anxiety management technique of choice. She doesn’t experience anxiety like a relatively healthy person does — an unpleasant sensation that will eventually pass. To this woman, anxiety is a painful reminder that something is wrong with her. To acknowledge this is akin to being lowered into a dark, bottomless pit with no way out. There is a way out, of course; facing her issues and feeling her feelings, but she’s not going to do that!

Facing her fears and working through her issues would mean admitting she actually has issues, which would mean holding herself accountable and not blaming others. It makes much more sense (to her and remember, she’s the only one who matters) to deny and ignore her problems and push and poke at you because you’re the one with the problem, not her.

Her strategy is unconscious for the most part and goes something like this: If you’re both totally focused on and consumed by what a useless, screw-up jerk you are, no one will notice her glaring flaws, especially her. Get it? I feel dizzy from typing that last piece of emotional reasoning, but that’s what goes on in the dark recesses of her brain.

She tries to stave off her deep-seated fear of having her true self exposed by controlling every aspect of her life and her relationship with you, including imposing her distorted version of reality upon you. She views her ability to control you as a matter of survival—her psychological survival, that is. “Being in control gives her the temporary illusion of a sense of calmness. When she feels she is prevailing, you can just about sense the tension oozing out of her” (Schumacher).

Think about it. When does she come close to being in a good mood or smile with pure pleasure? When she feels like she’s in the catbird seat because she’s gotten her way, pulled one over on you or pulled the rug out from underneath you. The size of her smile is in direct proportion to the number of times she twisted the proverbial knife.

More defensive mechanisms: Projection and projective identification.

Projection and projective identification play a part in her controlling behaviors. She maps her feelings onto you and controls you by inducing these feelings within you. Her controlling facade masks her true internal experience. Deep down she feels frightened, out of control, incompetent and helpless.

Les Parrot (The Control Freak) writes:

“People who want to exert control over everything can make those around them feel inadequate, insecure, nervous, angry, anxious and physically sick. Their message is: I don’t trust you to be able to do it right; I don’t respect your judgment; I don’t think you are competent; I don’t value your insight.”

Whether or not this woman is aware of it, this is how she feels about herself. Once you recognize the defense mechanisms at play, it becomes a little easier to take her hurtful behaviors less personally. She’d be like this with anyone.

In order for her to win, you must lose.

Because this is a matter of psychological survival to her, she has to steamroll you in order to avoid feeling helpless. “To relinquish control is tantamount to being victimized and overwhelmed” (Schumacher). Unfortunately, her fears also fuel her lack of empathy toward you and create the mindset: “Victimize or be victimized; dominate or be dominated.”

To the abusive woman, it’s not enough to merely control you. She only feels in control and good about herself if she makes you feel less than. Her mood becomes buoyant as she cuts you down. She has to make you feel useless, disoriented and helpless, so that she doesn’t feel this way.

This is evidence of a faulty belief system. She has a one-up/one-down mentality. She believes that in every interpersonal interaction there’s a winner and a loser and she will fight tooth and nail against being the “loser.” This is why it’s virtually impossible for this woman to compromise or make concessions. To her, compromise and concession are humiliating defeats. She’d rather blow the house up and everything in it than compromise or take personal responsibility. Anyone who’s gone through a high-conflict divorce with a BPD/NPD/Sociopath knows this only too well.

Her need to control, however, will come back to bite her on the backside. Instead of feeling and appearing in control, this woman comes across as out of control when trying to exert control. Oftentimes, those living under her tyranny eventually stage a revolt and/or bolt from the relationship ultimately causing her to lose control.

Losing control

Schumacher cites the rapid phases this kind of woman goes through when she’s not getting her way or feels she’s losing control. For example, when you challenge her or threaten to end the relationship, she probably exhibits the following emotional states in quick succession:

  1. Angry and agitated. (You’re treated to a rage episode and/or nasty commentary, blame and accusations.)
  2. Panicky and apprehensive. (She exposes fleeting vulnerability as she tries to “feel you out” in order to see how and if she can regain control. She may worry that she’s gone too far and is testing the waters before gearing up for another control maneuver.)
  3. Agitated and threatening. (Because anxiety is ego dystonic—i.e., painfully uncomfortable—she quickly reverts to form and begins to bully you and issue ultimatums and threats of punishment.)
  4. Depression and despair. (When all else fails, she becomes sullen and withdrawn and suffers a temporary identity crisis.)

Her unhealthy coping mechanism (control) becomes an unhealthy and rigid pattern. Because it’s impossible to control others, she’s locked in the endless loop of fighting off real and imagined threats to her control. Since she won’t look at her own issues and focuses solely on controlling you and her environment, she never gains mastery over the fears that plague her. Her attempts at mastery (control) over her emotions and fears instead become a replay of misery for herself and others. But remember, she’ll probably never be able to see herself as part of the problem, which means it’s highly unlikely she’ll ever change.

Psychologist, Dr Patricia A. Farrell, states: “They’re highly resistant to any therapy, and there is no medication for the personality disorder.” To seek help themselves, she says, “the control freak has to be convinced the price is too great not to, and that doesn’t happen very often.”

Yes, this woman is deeply troubled, but it is NOT your responsibility to tolerate, accept or change her. The only way to gain mastery over a relationship with this kind of woman is to end it. Otherwise, you’ll begin an endless replay loop of your own misery.

Next week I’ll post ways to manage an emotionally abusive “control freak,” so please check back.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

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  1. Youngman
    December 4, 2009 at 4:50 am

    “Think about it. When does she come close to being in a good mood or smile with pure pleasure? When she feels like she’s in the catbird seat because she’s gotten her way, pulled one over on you or pulled the rug out from underneath you. The size of her smile is in direct proportion to the number of times she twisted the proverbial knife.”

    Wow, this article is SO spot on, and especially the text I quoted above. I could literally see the N/girl I knew TINGLE with pleasure as she cut someone down, made them look stupid, or tricked them. She did not connect with people, it was simply a game to her that she MUST win.

    I also remember a few times when I totally ignored her because of her disgusting behavior, she would go from this witty, charming, on top of the world woman, to a pathetic, desperate, child when she panicked because she realized all her tricks were spent and she couldn’t control me.

    Such sickos. I’m almost grateful I’ve been full circle from being abused, educating myself, and now being enlightened…its unlikely I’ll have to waste anymore time with these types.

  2. SKA
    November 18, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Jp-
    I wanted to get a dog. The wife threatened to leave if I did. I relented as usual and we dont have a dog. Later she told me that my bad parenting skills were one of the reasons that I shouldnt have a dog. I didn’t spend enough time with my son when he was grwoing up so that means that i wouldn’t spend the time with a dog. Honest truth. That is what she said. WTF?
    How do they come up with this stuff?

    • Rich
      February 23, 2010 at 6:33 am

      Get a dog.

  3. October 24, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    jp,

    I for one see nothing wrong with your story and agree it’s a great way to be honest with your children and try to teach them a very serious mistake like the moral of this story is “you might think there isn’t anyone around but you can be wrong“..

    Anyway, I know from years of experience with my ex NPD no matter what story we tell our children and they find out it will be twisted and bend to serve their agenda not your child or you. Strange that she used the word filter and wonder just how many time she herself filter her statements and words with directing them at you? If she is like my ex not many times.

    • jp
      October 24, 2009 at 11:01 pm

      What kills me is that I get these abusive, hysterical emails or comments, and even though I know they’re BS, they still rattle my cage, even after 14 yrs married and 3 yrs separated.

      I got that email yesterday. Today I have my kids again, and because of the email I find myself second guessing everything I do and say with them. I know it’s all good…in fact it’s great…but her negative BS is in my head again and I have to fight against my own thinking to keep my time with kids from being tainted by her poison. What a sad waste of time and mental energy.

      Grrrrr….

  4. October 24, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    “Why does she invest so much in trying to control you and your reality? Because she tries to manage her anxiety by trying to control you. Control is her anxiety management technique of choice. She doesn’t experience anxiety like a relatively healthy person does—an unpleasant sensation that will eventually pass. To this woman, anxiety is a painful reminder that something is wrong with her. To acknowledge this is akin to being lowered into a dark, bottomless pit with no way out. There is a way out, of course; facing her issues and feeling her feelings, but she’s not going to do that!”

    This anxiety management technique has been witness by both my two children (yes they both now live with me) and I. In fact my oldest son just started to tune her out and whenever she tried this he would just block it out. Wish I was smarter but I was brought up to believe any problem can be “talked out“. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work with anyone with a PD.

    “This is evidence of a faulty belief system. She has a one-up/one-down mentality. She believes that in every interpersonal interaction there’s a winner and a loser and she will fight tooth and nail against being the “loser.” This is why it’s virtually impossible for this woman to compromise or make concessions. To her, compromise and concession are humiliating defeats. She’d rather blow the house up and everything in it than compromise or take personal responsibility.”

    How true! In 17 years there was never a compromise or concessions but there were plenty of promise to such. While I did in fact come back to her and stated how she “promised” to do something we both agree on it only brought fore more rages and verbal fighting. Again being raised to believe that any problem can be worked with both of these attributes and the ability to be flexible. But atlas pathological people don’t have this skill nor the desirer to learn it..

    God, how I wish this site existed three years ago!!
    Thanks again Dr. T

  5. jp
    October 24, 2009 at 5:10 am

    Thanks, Mary.

  6. Mary
    October 24, 2009 at 4:39 am

    Of course not. I think you know this. You told them an amusing story, and made a fine point with it. Of course I’m sure you know what the ex was trying to do. Make you second guess yourself and lose confidence with your parenting skills. It sounds like you enjoy your kids and I’m sure they love hearing stories like this. It sounds like you are a great dad who loves his kids and who wants to present a honest picture to them of who he is.

  7. jp
    October 24, 2009 at 2:43 am

    Guys,

    I’ve written in this thread about the difficulties of being married–or in my case now separated–to a controlling woman. And I have a great example from today of the kind of thing that goes on.

    But what kills me is that even on one level I know she’s full of BS and just plain nasty, I still at the same time question myself when she pounces on me for what seems to me completley legit behavior and decisions.

    So in the interests of cataloging wingnut behavior, and also because I’d like a sanity check to make sure I wasn’t a jackass, I’d like to share this with you. Your comments are more than welcome:

    At some point a couple of weeks ago I was driving around town with my daughters, 6 and 5. (THat’s their ages, not their names.) We were talking about the rules of the road. They were asking what kinds of things people get tickets for, and I was telling them about as many as I could think of.

    Then one asked, “Daddy, have you ever gotten a ticket?”

    Well, I regret to say I’ve had a few in my time, but I didn’t say that.

    But I did tell them about the last one I had which was a couple of years ago. It seemed a cool way to show them that nobody is above the law and that even when you think it’s ok to break the rules, it really isn’t. A good lesson, I thought. (Yes, I really think like that.)

    Here’s a slightly truncated version of what I told them:

    “Yes, I got one. A few years ago.

    I was driving home at 3:30 am one night, more tired than ever because I began working the day before at 8:30 in the morning. [Working a second job to pay CS, but I didn't mention that of course.] I came to a stop at a red light in a giant intersection in the midde of nowhere. I really really wanted to get home and get to bed because I was so tired, so I didn’t think it would really be wrong if I went through the red light. After all, there were no other cars around anywhere…or so I thought. So I drove on.

    But guess what? [They yelled laughing, "there was a policeman!"] Yup, he was hiding up ahead behind a building corner and he stopped me and gave me a ticket. And you know what? I deserved it, because what are you supposed to do at a red light? ["you're supposed to stop!" they yelled, smiling]…etc.”

    End of story basically, but we discussed it some more. The whole thing was really interesting.

    Anyway, today I got this in an email from stbx wife (separated 3 years) among other tidbits:

    ‘Why would you tell your 5 and 6 year old how you ran a red light on purpose thinking no one was there, but a police officer was hiding? Do you not have a filter? Jesus! When the girls tell these stories I feel sorry for you. How do you not now what to say and what not to say to this age group? ”

    Ok, so…help me out here. Never mind the fact that she heard just a snippet and is unaware of the context of the larger conversation I’d had with the girls, and ignoring her spew and personal attacks, and forgetting for a moment that I shouldn’t care what my she says anymore, was I wrong to tell my kids this story?

    • jham123
      October 24, 2009 at 6:39 am

      Nothing wrong with that story JP. Understand the girls were giggling about it…you stole some attention away from stbx and therefore you must be destroyed for doing such…..

  8. Nathan
    September 30, 2009 at 12:36 am

    I’ve been divorced from an abusive marriage now for six months. It took me five years, 3 break ups, one aborted child, a shotgun wedding and allot of grief before I was able to free myself from this women. I was told horrible things about my family, friends and self being. I was humiliated in public. I was told an engineering profession wasn’t enough. I was followed around the house while shoes and fists flew through the air aimed precisely at my back. Oddly enough, part of me still loves her, I think it always will. But our love was mad love and I know now that I made the right decision in leaving her, for I realize my own life is precious to. As such I have not spoken with her since. I will continue to pray every night for her safety, health, happiness and spiritual evolution, but that part of my life has ended. I still feel her presence, though ever so slightly and the emotional remorse is ever so brief as the days pass to weeks, months and personal joy returns to my life. That being said, since the divorce I have dedicated each day to me, to my mind, body and spirit. I choose to believe that I will have love again in my life, I will make the “deal breakers” up front and I will focus on the positive aspects of what we had: the smiles, the laughter, the union. I will never again be strapped to spite my shoulders. I never thought I would be abused in a relationship, because I wrongly believed that only a man can abuse, but it’s now part of my story and I am stronger now for this than ever before. I am a good man and I deserve to live. Thanks for helping us “simple creatures” out by allowing us to share our stories. Control is an illusion and abuse is its resolve.

  9. StillRecovering
    September 29, 2009 at 10:18 am

    All of this very accurately describes my miserable ex. There is one lingering aspect of my soon to be ex-wife’s behavior that I can’t for the life of me figure out, however, and that’s her continued obsession with the wedding planning/married life/pregnancy web sites. She accused me of abusing her and “damaging” her during our marriage (all very imaginative lies), yet she continues to constantly post on these sites. She maintains her profile as a married woman, complete with our engagement photo prominently displayed on her “wedding planning bio”. I don’t understand how a woman that claims I made her so miserable during our marriage still perpetuates this fantasy of still being married. Even stranger, she talks about her new “amazing” love life, and other aspects of her new life that are obviously those of a newly single woman, yet also talks about aspects of our wedding (our venues, catering details, our photographer, etc.) as if nothing has happened. I would think that if she was so miserable, she would want to do everything she possibly could to forget the wedding and our marriage (especially since she originally pushed to have our marriage annulled). I am currently in the process of trying to have her account removed, along with all photos of myself, but it has been impossible to get a response from the owner of these sites. I feel like by keeping her accounts active, she’s keeping some aspect of our marriage on life support for some unknown, bizarre reason, and I really don’t want to be associated with her. It’s all very, very confusing.

    StillRecovering

    • Kev
      September 29, 2009 at 1:45 pm

      Have you considered having a lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter? It tends to get people’s attention much more quickly than repeated calls/e-mails to customer service.

      I don’t have an answer for you as to the “whys” of her behavior, other than it’s creepy, and perhaps has something to do with some sort of image she’s trying to project (no matter how self-contradictory it is).

      Good luck…

      • StillRecovering
        September 29, 2009 at 8:52 pm

        I actually had my sister, who signed up for an account, post on my ex’s favorite board today that she needed to remove the photo from her profile, and it worked! Of course,she was less than thrilled about this, since only a few of the other brides on the board knew about her real situation, and has reacted as if a serious crime had been committed. She has vowed to “take action” and has made herself out to be the victim. I got my desired result, though. She has been outed as the liar she is, and her profile has been wiped clean of any mention of a wedding of any kind. A group of crazy brides on the board rallied to her defense, but I have a hunch they’re probably all personality disorders as well. I also signed the final divorce papers today, and in the next few weeks I will officially be free. Hopefully, by this time next year, all of this nonsense will be a very distant memory.

        StillRecovering

      • jham123
        September 29, 2009 at 9:26 pm

        It worked, the innerweb can be a brutal place to fibbers…

      • shrink4men
        September 29, 2009 at 10:35 pm

        Nicely done!

    • jham123
      September 29, 2009 at 4:13 pm

      The websites?? Just sign up yourself and tell your side of the story…..Your “Alternate” view of reality will crush her image and sour the milk…she is feeding from that Teeter….you showing up with all your “truth” will have her leaving those sites never to show her face again.

      Don’t be mean, just raise questions that you know she cannot answer without lying. Then ask more probing questions…..Her fantasy life will soon be exposed. People on forums can be brutal to those that are found to be frauds and liars. You won’t have to do anything afterward.

  10. anonymous
    September 27, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Just pasted by this, guess i was looking for answers and oh my god you are a freaking genius. I seriously cannot put you on a higher horse, this relates so much to a person i know and i always had an incline about her behaviour however i have never understood the situation shes in as much as you do. I dont even type things like this usually as i just flick through but i simply had to. Thank you so very very much.

  11. Frustrated
    August 25, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Am I the only one who was under the impression that all women exhibit these traits?

    This is my wife to a T. I love my wife, and have no desire to leave her, but sometimes it’s near impossible to deal with!

    It doesn’t just end between her and I. It’s everything in her world. One little thing can not go exactly as planned (not by me, by her of course. My plans are usually irrelevant), and everything comes crashing down.

    She’s even aware of it, and acknowledges it. She can literally get physically sick when she doesn’t get her way.

    I got a little scared after reading this, I’m starting to feel you know my wife better than I do.

    I honestly thought this was normal. Am I just blind?

    Frustrated

    • shrink4men
      August 25, 2009 at 12:36 am

      No, Frustrated, not all women exhibit these traits. In fact, reasonably emotionally healthy women do not exhibit these traits. You’re not blind. You probably just don’t know any better. Perhaps you have history of becoming involved with this kind of woman, in which case, it’s what you know and “normal” to you.

      It’s not a normal and healthy relationship in which one partner is constantly taking and the other partner is serving and dancing on a string to make the other person happy. In a healthy relationship, one partner’s needs and feeling are just as important as the other’s.

      There are women in the world who wouldn’t dream of dumping the entire financial burden on you, who don’t take advantage and who are happy with you just being you. Their affection isn’t based on how much you do or how much you spend upon them.

      Believe it or not,
      Dr Tara

  12. melove54
    August 6, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    At a point in time in the latter days of my abusive relationship, my strategy was to simply not engage or debate an opinion or perception of hers. I would simply say, “you’re entitled to your opinion and I’m entitled to mine. Let me assure all you men out there, this strategy will create even more problems!

    First and foremost, leaving a topic “open-ended”, that we can “agree to disagree”, will drive her insane. I have to laugh about the first time I employed this strategy she came back the next day after work and said , “you know, I talked to 10 of my colleagues today, using our scenario as a hypothetical situation, and all ten of them agreed with my point of view!!” My reply was, “it amazes me that you need to take a census from others in order to justify your opinions. You are an intelligent and educated woman, so whay can’t you figure it out for yourself?” Holy shit, did I ever get lambasted!!

    In a way, I kind of felt set-up, at the same time, even if I employed my strategy once more by stating, “well, you’re still entitled to your opinion and I’m entitled to mine,” it probably would have made no difference whatsoever. It’s about the end result. She was destined/driven to gain/regain control either through her census (that probably never occured), or some other rhetorical, illogical BS, towards the endeavor of defeating me to her satisfaction.

    The only calm thing she stated in this particular situation was, ” I want you to embrace my way of thinking.” The effect of this statement was like words utiliized in hynosis, i.e., “your eyes are getting heavy,..you’re getting sleepier and sleepier.” or maybe B. Legossi in dracula, “I want to suck the blood from your neck.” It was erie none-the-less.

    You are right on Dr. T, where it concerns submission. All men will submit to their female abuser is some way, shape, or form. Men must accept this fact and decide for themselves if that’s the life they desire.

    • Kev
      August 6, 2009 at 7:03 pm

      “it amazes me that you need to take a census from others in order to justify your opinions. You are an intelligent and educated woman, so whay can’t you figure it out for yourself?”

      Hahahaha. Sorry. I wish I’d thought of that. It’s utterly brilliant. I, too, was told on a number of occasions that “all of her friends thought…[I was equally wrong/horrible about whatever it was]”

      Of course, I probably would have just gotten yelled at further as well, but it’s an amazing comeback.

      • melove54
        August 7, 2009 at 12:50 pm

        I can relate, I couldn’t tell you how many times the friends and family (specifically father) were the “census board” for her to further discredit anything I said. For the most part, I don’t believe most of those conversations ever transpired. Oh, the stories I could tell!!

    • shrink4men
      August 10, 2009 at 5:15 pm

      Hi melove54,

      Ah, “the census building” technique. Many women also use this tactic to march their boyfriends down the wedding aisle. “My friends all think we should take our relationship to the next level.” “My friends say it’s time for you to make a commitment and if you don’t, I should dump you.” “My friends all say if you really love me, you’d be willing to marry me.”

      Fellas, if your girlfriend holds a “town meeting” with her friends to tell you how you should behave and how your relationship should be, THIS IS A VERY BAD SIGN. First of all, who cares what her friends think? They’re not in the relationship with you. Second of all, they aren’t her friends, they’re her echo chamber. These women don’t have friends who challenge their positions. They have the “You’re right! You’re absolutely right!” hallelujah chorus.

      The level of immaturity is astounding. I remember using a similar persuasion tactic with my mom when I was a kid: “But all my friends’ parents are letting them…” Mom’s response: “If all of your friends jumped off a cliff would you want to do that, too?” Classic.

      I’m not surprised you were lambasted for pointing out the obvious, melove54. There’s no greater threat to a woman like your ex than reality.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. The anecdote you share is priceless.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

      • George
        September 19, 2009 at 2:51 am

        Dr. T.

        I think your site should be required reading for any guy thinking of entering into a relationship. Most of us get here after we’ve already screwed up and got involved with a NPD/BPD. I wish I knew many of the things from your site before I got involved with a NPD/BPD. You should do an article on all of the signs or red flags to watch out for when beginning a relationship. Call it “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!!!”

        Will Robinson

        • shrink4men
          September 20, 2009 at 2:01 pm

          Thanks, George. You’re very kind.

  13. Richard Oliver
    August 5, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Hi Dr T

    Thanks so much for your blogs. They’ve helped me no end as I tread as gently as possible through a divorce which pretty much came out of the blue. There’s a young child involved (well two really!!!) so I need all the help I can get.

    Although I’ve always been aware that my wife had deep rooted psychological problems, she’s done a stirling job of hiding them in our first 4 years (and I mean that sincerely).

    The last 6 months have been awful and I recognise and understand all of her behaviours thanks to you.
    Because I was desperate to make sense of what was happening to us, it’s given me a profound understanding of our situation.Thanks to long discussions with her mother, I have a mountain of dirt on her which she is now absolutely aware of. We work at the same place where I am very well known (and liked) so normal smearing may not work. I’ve made it absolutely clear to my wife that I have this information about her and I think, as she is what I consider a very high performing borderline, she knows that her battle is lost. And she has no idea that I have kept a diary for the last 4 months (I would advise anyone going through this to do the same). I will not allow her to use our daughter to get what she wants. I am very to the point in our communictions and will not bow to her will. I have adopted an “I know what you are” stance allied to an understanding rather than aggressive attitude. It seems to be working.

    To give an idea as to my wifes problems, she has not seen her father for over a decade. Nor has he seen his only biological grandchildren. He will not allow her back into his life (according to her) until she apologises for an incident involving her step mother which occurred 14 years ago. She says she would give her right arm for a relationship with her dad who she says she loves more than words could say. However, she won’t apologise. Go figure!

    My question, Dr T, is this: am I kidding myself in thinking that my attitude to her has a chance of letting this go through smoothly. She really appears to be concerned about our daughter (not to the point of actually looking after her but thats another story). I think she may have a way to go before this episode bottoms out but I’m hoping that by distancing myself almost absolutely, I have a chance.

    rgds

    Rich

    • shrink4men
      August 11, 2009 at 12:18 am

      Hi Rich,

      If your approach has been working so far, keep it up. I wish I could predict that things will continue to go smoothly throughout your divorce, but these women are unpredictable.

      Emotional bullies and predators fear exposure, so perhaps the info you have on her will be enough to keep her inline. However, it’s possible that when she realizes the relationship is really over, she may go off the rails in a fit of desperation and anger. I truly hope not—for your sake and your daughters.

      Try to keep your eye on the end goal, don’t take her bait, cover all your bases and surround yourself with people who care about you. That’s really all you can do.

      I wish you the very best and please check back to let me know how things are going.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  14. jp
    August 4, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    LOL…I was checking out Match.com today and among my search results was a profile of a woman whose tag line is: “I’m the Boss”

    Guys, they always let you know right from the start what they’re all about. Their red flags might not be as obvious as this wingnut’s, but if you pay attention you can see them plain as day.

    JP

    • shrink4men
      August 5, 2009 at 12:24 am

      Nice one! Also beware of women who state they want to be treated “like a princess.” HUGE red flag.

      • Anonymous
        August 6, 2009 at 11:33 am

        This one struck home. She told me “you have to start from scratch and woo me all over again”. I was also informed that I had to make more money, and not criticize her anymore, or the marriage (ten years) was over. It’s over.

        The confusing thing is that she told me for years that I was the controlling and critical one. I’m starting to think that maybe it was a case of one finger pointing, three fingers pointing back.

        Thank you for the very helpful blog.

        • shrink4men
          August 10, 2009 at 4:26 pm

          Hi Anonymous,

          You’re welcome for the blog. Thank you for commenting. It probably was a case of “one finger pointing, three fingers pointing back.” That’s what projection is. The accusations these women make are usually self-descriptions.

          I’m happy to read that you’re out. My very best wishes to you.

          Kind Regards,
          Dr Tara

      • danielle
        August 6, 2009 at 2:25 pm

        Anonymous…

        My partner’s ex told him for years that he was controlling and emotionally abusive to her. Every time he questioned anything she became defensive and told him to stop being so critical to her, yet he could barely breathe without having her snapping at him about the way he looked or smelled or walked or talked (or even better, talking to people behind his back about what an lazy useless ass he was while he went out and worked 60+ hours a week at a job he really doesn’t like so she could sit at home and do nothing all day and call it homeschooling and child rearing – and then would bitch at him because he was always working).

        My partner really struggles with this. He believes he has PTSD from his relationship with her. He has a hard time when he makes suggestions to me and I agree with them because he doesn’t want me to think he’s trying to be ‘controlling’. It deeply saddens me because he’s been conditioned to think that’s who he is. He’s not… not even close.

        It is profound (and personally heartbreaking) to me how much emotional damage these women cause.

        • shrink4men
          August 10, 2009 at 4:52 pm

          I agree, Danielle. It is a form of PTSD. Oftentimes, men who were involved with these women have strong reactions to relatively innocuous statements because in their previous relationship, asking the ex to use less dressing on the dinner salad would turn into a knock down drag out fight, in which he was accused of not appreciating all the hard work she put into opening the bag of Ready-Pak salad, of being abusive and controlling, etc., etc. It takes a little time for these guys to let down their guard and realize they no longer have to be hypervigilant for “the next attack” because there isn’t going to be one, especially not over vinaigrette.

          Thanks again,
          Dr Tara

      • Kev
        August 6, 2009 at 2:52 pm

        Anonymous – I remember that one all too well. “You have to fight for this relationship, or die trying.” That was the version of this I heard.

        I almost did.

        And yes, I was accused of being “controlling” as well. Especially after I requested a timeline for her to remove her belongings from my apartment, post break-up. By this point, she hadn’t lived there in over a month and a half.

        If you’re not out already, get out. I know it doesn’t seem easy, but it actually is. It’s kind of like that part in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where there’s that “invisible” bridge across the yawning chasm. All you need to do is take one small step, and you’ll find it’s not impossible at all.

        Danielle – I’ve been where your partner has been. He’s incredibly lucky to have someone as understanding as you in his life right now. This, truthfully, gives me a little hope for my own future. It is PTSD. Be patient with him, and love him.

        • shrink4men
          August 10, 2009 at 4:56 pm

          Hi Kev,

          I really like your example of the “leap of faith” from “The Last Crusade.” These women treat relationships like “Thunderdome” (another movie reference—Mad Max was on Encore last week),; “Two people enter. One person leaves.” You’re supposed to be in a loving relationship, not a fight to the death. Ugh.

          Best,
          Dr T

      • danielle
        August 11, 2009 at 2:07 am

        Thanks Kev… my partner is not the only lucky one, I feel deeply blessed to have him in my life :) There is someone out there who will love you for who you are, who will treat with kindness and basic human respect… all the things you deserve.

  15. August 4, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    “She doesn’t experience anxiety like a relatively healthy person does—an unpleasant sensation that will eventually pass. To this woman, anxiety is a painful reminder that something is wrong with her. To acknowledge this is akin to being lowered into a dark, bottomless pit with no way out. There is a way out, of course; facing her issues and feeling her feelings, but she’s not going to do that!”

    and

    “In order for me to win you must lose”

    are so inherent in custody cases with BPD’s it’s scary. We see it over and over, and it’s frustrating for men who want to love their children and move on. The worst part is the fact that all of these thoughts make it impossible for BPD’s to take responsibility for not only their own actions, and the consequences, but for their own happiness. They believe in some twisted way that everyone else is responsible for making them happy, and of course that’s not possible, happiness comes from inside. It’s a cycle that is extremely difficult to break.

    • shrink4men
      August 4, 2009 at 7:11 pm

      Hi Mr Custody Coach,

      Thanks for reading and posting a comment. I checked out your site. It’s a great resource from which I may cite a few items in future posts.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

  16. John K
    August 4, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    The description you wrote is my marriage. My wife started out as a casual girlfriend who I broke up with. She came back a few weeks later, pregnant. The baby was mine, and in my effort to do the right thing we rebuilt the relationship. My son is now 3 years old, and she has only gotten worse. I am not perfect. I lost my temper one time when she hit me, and I pushed her into a wall, and was arrested and charged with domestic assault.(she called 911) The charge was eventually dismissed after I took anger management courses, all the while realizing she would probably benefit more.
    My big dilemma now is that if I leave her, she will have custody of my son. My record will do me no favors, despite no prior criminal history. I fear she will abuse him. Her family is impoverished and she would surely move back in with them. Not a healthy environment for my son.
    Her controlling behavior matches this exactly. Everything is a win or lose. She hates my twin brother, and views him as an enemy, and hates it when I spend time with him.
    In our previous fights, she has made it clear she will use my son against me, whether it is in his best interest or not. I often feel that, despite her obsession with being a good Christian, that she has absolutely no moral compass. Whatever she does in her numerous conflicts with people, she was always in the right. She has been fired from two jobs in 5 months, and I want to believe that it wasn’t her fault, but I know better.
    My question is this: Will marital counseling help? Can it help? I don’t want my son to suffer. I don’t know what to do.

    • danielle
      August 4, 2009 at 3:34 pm

      I’m so sorry you are in the position you are in. From everything I’ve read and experienced, I doubt counseling will help and will only serve as a dumping ground for her to talk about how awful you are and garner pity from the therapist based on her lies. You don’t need to change and she’s not going to unless she sees her part in the problem, and that is highly unlikely.

      Have you visited http://www.thepsychoexwife.com ? He might offer some insight in addition to this blog. The only other thing I can say is document document document. And if she assaults you again, walk away and call the police. I don’t know where you live, but if the police in my town had been called to the incident you describe, you both would have been arrested.

      As the partner of someone who was emotionally abused by his ex for 8 years before he got out, my heart goes out to you.

      • shrink4men
        August 4, 2009 at 3:41 pm

        Excellent advice, Danielle. Documentation is worth it’s weight in gold. Also, do not give her any occasion to call the cops again. If you plan on having a difficult conversation with her, bring a witness.

        Best,
        Dr T

    • shrink4men
      August 4, 2009 at 3:40 pm

      Hi John,

      Unfortunately, counseling rarely helps these women. Actually, I take that back. Therapy often helps these women to continue to blame everyone except themselves for their problems. It helps them find an “ally” to help beat you down (*it doesn’t matter what the therapist actually says, these women twist everything to support their perspective). And, if you do find a therapist who tries to hold her accountable, you will be accused of having an affair with the therapist or that both of you are “out to get her” and she will refuse to see that therapist again.

      That’s if you can even get her to agree to go to therapy. Sometimes, these women will actually be the ones who suggest going to therapy because they are angling to portray YOU as the one with the problem and want a “professional” to say, “Yes, Mrs. Crazypants. You’re right. Your husband is an obnoxious jerk. You’re right about everything. If you don’t criticize him and tell him what to do and how to do it every minute of the day, it will bring on the apocalypse. So, by all means keep hammering away at him. You’re absolutely right to do so and he’s a bad man for becoming upset over it.” These women rarely agree to attend therapy when it’s for their own issues, because it would mean admitting they have issues and that happens about as often as Haley’s comet flies past the Earth.

      I encourage you to seek support independently. Not to figure how to manage or change your wife because that’s highly unlikely to happen and it would be a waste of your money and time, but to help you develop some coping skills, a safety plan and to get support while you figure out what you’re going to do. Also, if you go the divorce route, it would be in your best interest to have a witness to testify how damaging your wife is.

      Please check back and let me know how you’re doing. You’re right to worry about your son. These women can be so ugly when their delusions break and you walk (or run) away.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

      • John K
        August 4, 2009 at 4:19 pm

        “And, if you do find a therapist who tries to hold her accountable, you will be accused of having an affair with the therapist or that both of you are “out to get her” and she will refuse to see that therapist again.”

        My God, before my relationship with her, I would have thought this could only happen in a movie, but this is exactly what happens whenever any of her friends tries to offer perspective on her actions. She accuses me of colluding with them in some way, either an affair, or “out to get her.” I think if she saw a video of somebody else doing this, she would realize how irrational and paranoid it is. She has used my domestic assault record against me in past arguments, threatening to call the police and tell them I hit her, saying “who do you think they’re going to believe?” The worst part is when we are cooled down, and I try to hold her accountable, she twists her memory and claims that she “THOUGHT” I was going to hit her, based on some made up action that never happened. She takes advantage of a system designed to protect women who are actually in danger, and uses it. This has made me lose any shreds of respect I had left for her, and I hate that.

        One of the hardest things for me to see is the toll her actions and thoughts take on her own potential. How can you improve in a career, or life in general, if you don’t recognize your own weaknesses and flaws and then work to correct them?

        Based on all of this, I think I will be leaving her. Financially, it will be very difficult, and I wish there was something I could do about my son. She will take him, and use him as an emotional weapon, and I fear he will not be well treated. The only way I can stomach it is to realize it is a bad choice being forced upon me by her actions.

        Thank you for your insights. Finding this blog has been an eye opening experience.

        I now know what I have to do. Now the hard part.

        • shrink4men
          August 4, 2009 at 7:09 pm

          Hi John,

          Just be sure to get all your ducks in a row before you tell her you want out. You may even want to notify your police department to expect a call right before you tell her you’re leaving. Also, get a small digital tape recorder to keep on you for when she starts to get ugly (this is admissible in some states). Warn your friends and family about the smear campaign she’ll no doubt start. Make copies of all your financial records and keep them somewhere safe. In fact, you may want to open up a separate account now and start putting money in it that she won’t notice. Find a good attorney who has experience with high conflict/divorce custody and work on your strategy.

          A woman like your wife won’t progress in her career. When she actually has to get a job, she’ll eventually self-destruct and blame it on her boss, co-workers or anyone else she can make a convenient target. I wish you the best in navigating your way out of this relationship. Once you get out and are able to get some emotional distance, you’ll begin to feel like yourself again and be a healthy role model for your son.

          Kind Regards,
          Dr Tara

    • George
      September 19, 2009 at 2:38 am

      John,

      Your story sounds all too similar to my own. Other than the domestic assult, just about everything else was the same. For what it’s worth, I tried the marriage counseling thing. My wife would only go if she was able to pick the conselor. It started off where she played the big victim and I was the source of all the problems. I think the conselor was initially convinced with her portrayl. He told me that we need to focus on your wife’s needs because she is the one in crisis. For months we went to sessions, where they listed all of the areas that I needed to change. What surprised the couselor was that I made changes in every area that was mentioned. After months of this he finally said, ok its now time for your wife to start making some changes to meet your needs. My wife immediately quit. She said the the conselor was a sham and everything he said wasn’t helping and just a waste of time. Long story short, I spent several thousand dollars, catered to my wife’s every whim for months, and nothing ever changed. She was never wrong. I was always the bad guy. It was a total waste of time and money. I wish I had a better story for you, but that was my experience.

      Couseling won’t help.

      George

      • shrink4men
        September 20, 2009 at 2:17 pm

        And this is why couples counseling or individual counseling rarely works with these women.

        Effective therapy isn’t a bitch and blame session and therapists who allow clients to do so week after week—don’t get me started. Effective therapy helps a person examine himself or herself and take personal responsibility for their choices, mistakes, well-being and happiness.

        It’s not your job to make your wife happy. Fundamentally, everyone is responsible for his or her own happiness. By “happiness” I don’t mean some Disney-fied, constant Prozac high, but an overall sense of contentment that comes with accepting and liking yourself. If you depend on other people to make you happy, you’re never going to be satisfied. True happiness comes from within, which then makes it possible to treat others with kindness and do little things to please your loved one because you’re also able to do these things for yourself. I don’t think women like your wife understand this. I don’t know if they will ever understand it.

        It’s very paradoxical. When you expect others to make you happy, you will never be happy. Because the more things you do to make someone like your wife happy, the more unhappy they become. No matter if you follow her list of “happiness demands” you’ll be accused of not doing it the right way or too much or too little or of only doing it because she told you to do it. At this point, you need to take responsibility for yourself and your happiness and decide if you want to be in a relationship with someone who is incapable of happiness and mutuality.

        Wow. Consider this my tangent of the day.

        Kind Regards,
        Dr Tara

        • George
          February 24, 2010 at 7:33 am

          I can relate to your comment on being responsible for your own happiness. I was once chatting with my son and saying something similar to this to him. I went on to mention that some people by their makeup and the choices that they make are happy and some people are not happy for similar reasons. While I was telling this to my son, by BPD wife at the time, came over and butted her way into our conversation. She went on to say that I was the source of her unhappiness. I was the cause and totally responsible for it. She wasn’t responsible for her unhappiness. It was all my fault.

  17. Freedom
    August 4, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    The thing that floored me with my ex was the absolute win at all costs mentality. and it was a strict win/lose with her. there was never a difference of opinion. any difference of opinion meant going 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, suffering blow after blow. we were talking about movies once and she mentioned a movie that i didn’t think was all that great… and she got so defensive and argumentative, then went on this attack. i told her i didn’t like the movie, it’s certainly nothing to fight about. at which point she crossed her arms , stared at the wall, and said “fine, you win”. i won what? that was the closest we ever came to a healthy discussion of any differing opinions. and also a lesson learned that there couldn’t be any differing opinions. even ones as trivial as that.

    • shrink4men
      August 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm

      Hi Freedom,

      That’s a great (and awful) anecdote. It really illustrates the win/lose mentality. These women allow for no differences of opinion and no direct or indirect challenges—especially over trivial matters. It’s been my experience that they make mountains out of molehills in order to wear you down and out so that you don’t have any fight or energy left for the big things. It all goes back to the basic coping mechanism of managing conflict with these women: DON’T ENGAGE IN THE CONTENT.

      If you go ten rounds over a movie or the window cleaner you used that left streaks on the bathroom mirror, you will go mad, which is exactly what they’re trying to do—make you feel as crazy as they are.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

      • Freedom
        August 5, 2009 at 6:12 am

        and this wasn’t some meaningful movie like Saving Private Ryan or Crash, which could lead to a difference of opinion on war or the struggles of preconceived notions based on color, ethnicity, class structure, etc. this was a B-rated movie seen ONLY on late night basic cable channels. and when she would start the ranting because you disagree with something that trivial and basic, my eyes start that slow, uncomprehending blink, my mouth is wide open from being completely speechless… and there’s circus music playing in the back of my head. now… in the center ring for YOUR entertainment… here’s the mad-cap antics of the woman you love… EEEK!!!

  18. jp
    August 4, 2009 at 3:40 am

    Dr. T,

    One thing I’d like to add is that if you have children with a woman like this you’ve had it.

    First, kids, especially newborns, generate anxiety…lots of it, and it never goes away. Each phase of development brings new things to stress about. Consequently her need to control spikes through the roof.

    Second, from the minute they’re born you’re both called upon to make hundreds of minor, on-the-fly decisions per day, as part of caring for the children. More decisions equals more opportunities for her to dominate. You end up forced to choose between two options: push back–and have constant conflict–or submit to your role as hand-puppet and say goodbye to your self-esteem.

    Third, no matter how competent, loving and devoted a father you are, she will never acknowledge or show appreciation of it. On the contrary, she will constantly call into question your competence–in a hundred different little ways–not because you’ve done anything to justify her ‘concern’, but because her criticism and infantilizing treatment of you keeps you eager to prove yourself and her in control.

    The net result is that if she’s around you can’t enjoy your time with your own children. If you leave her, you see them less, but enjoy them more, and they won’t have to grow up watching their father henpecked into psychological oblivion.

    JP

    • shrink4men
      August 4, 2009 at 4:00 am

      Hi JP,

      You make some spot on points. You’re not the first man I’ve heard describe how this kind of woman’s controlling behaviors kick into even higher gear once a child/children are involved. Your parenting skills are just one more thing for her to criticize, demean and torture you about.

      “The net result is that if she’s around you can’t enjoy your time with your own children. If you leave her, you see them less, but enjoy them more, and they won’t have to grow up watching their father henpecked into psychological oblivion.” I couldn’t agree with you more, JP.

      Thanks again for your extremely insightful comments.

      Cheers,
      Dr T

  19. danielle
    August 4, 2009 at 1:18 am

    Thank you for this, for your whole blog really. I’m in a wonderful relationship with someone whose ex is described in great detail throughout your blog, and most definitely in this post. He’s been reading your blog, as have I, and the validation is such a gift.

    I look forward to your next post about how to manage someone like this. My partner still has to deal with his ex because their divorce is not yet final and they have custody dealings to work out. Any words of wisdom and insights he/we can glean from your blog will be put to good use as he heals from his relationship with this incredibly emotionally abusive woman.

    • shrink4men
      August 4, 2009 at 3:07 am

      Hi Danielle,

      I’m always gratified (and a little relieved) when a fellow woman leaves an encouraging and non-hostile comment here!

      It’s wonderful that you and your partner have found each other. I know how toxic it can be to watch someone you care about go through the divorce process. I’m sure he’s grateful to have your love and support. The good news is, these women can’t drag out the divorce forever; it will eventually end and as the children grow up you’ll have less and less contact with this woman.

      Thanks again for your kind comments and my very best wishes to you and your partner.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

      • danielle
        August 4, 2009 at 3:41 pm

        Your welcome… and thank you for your well wishes. This road with my partner will be bumpy, but I’m so lucky to have him in my life and so glad that he doesn’t have to suffer her abuse on a daily basis anymore.

        I’m a social worker in the child welfare field so I see things from all angles on a daily basis. I’m horrified at how many women I deal with who not only have untreated, undiagnosed BPD/NPD, but at how emotionally abusive and manipulative there are. I see the profound impact these women and relationships have on children and how soon it can become “too late” to reverse the damage they cause.

        Thank you again for calling this out and being a resource and voice for those men (and women) suffering in silence.

  20. Kev
    August 3, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    “I need to fix you so you can’t hurt me.” That was one of my favorite things she said.

    She also once confided to me that the best way to train a dog was to show it love and affection, interspersed with random beatings, to insure it’s loyalty.

    I wish I’d paid closer attention.

    I’ve come to realize, however, exactly what you’ve posted here. These were her problems. Not mine.

    And I don’t live in that space anymore.

    That’s not to say I don’t have the occasional anxiety/panic attacks, but I know now what they are, and that they will pass with time.

    And maybe, just maybe, I’m not as bad a person as I was led to believe.

    Thank you again. Your posts are once more spot on, and incredibly timely as my own healing process continues.

    • shrink4men
      August 4, 2009 at 2:57 am

      Hi Kev,

      Yikes. The comment about showing a dog love and then beating it is blood chilling. She seems monstrous. I’m so happy for you that you’re not in that space or with that woman anymore.

      Thanks again for your continued participation here, Kev. I value your contributions.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr T

      • Mike
        July 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm

        Tara there´s a book that says the following:
        “When you solve a mystery, you destroy its power over you. Discovering how a magician does a trick can clear up your bewilderment. Analyzing ads to uncover methods of persuasion is an eye-opening exercise for schoolchildren. Seeing how a con artist cheated lets you protect yourself in the future. Former members of destructive cults often get their lives back by understanding exaclty how they were recruited and indocrinated.”

        That´s exaclty what you´ve been doing. The first book that opened my mind about cluster B was EMOTIONAL VAMPIRE. However here you don´t pull any punches, and go deeper, besides that you focus on men which is something RARE.

    • bg
      January 27, 2010 at 3:38 am

      sorry 4 u kev! i lived the same life. theyre sick and dont realize it. thats all

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