(Written in September 1999, but always useful to send out to anyone who needs this sort of information. )
The art of control is complex and refined.
The controller is not, he is a three year old sitting cross-legged in the middle of a rug, with chocolate round his mouth, determining that the only way he feels safe is if he has everything HIS OWN WAY. The criteria of determining HIS OWN WAY is also simple, unless he ensures that HIS OWN WAY is never anything that anybody else could want then he has no way to be sure it will be HIS OWN WAY.
That insight came to me on a bolt of lightening a few years ago; control is never about someone imposing what they want, but rather someone constantly proving to themselves that they can impose something you do not want.
To return to our three-year old:
In time he builds an adult body, and all the accessories around him, and tends to ensure the chocolate no longer stays around his mouth, but he is still sitting cross-legged on the rug refusing to move.
The only thing he has really learned is that screaming his head off has limits in terms of obtaining HIS OWN WAY…
…and the art of control has become a very sophisticated thing.
To give an example:
If you very badly want a cup of coffee, then that is the one thing YOU MUST NOT GET.
The controller KNOWS that only VERY NASTY PEOPLE (and he would NEVER be a VERY NASTY PERSON) would put a half nelson on you and force orange juice down your throat.
Besides, he is an adult who reasons like an adult. He KNOWS he’d never get a second chance to do it that way.
After all, mature people see things in the long term.
So he must form a strategy.
There are several options.
He can persuade you that coffee is a terrible, unhealthy thing to want.
He can accuse you of demanding something unreasonable, costly and unobtainable of him. (OF COURSE he values honesty, all mature healthy people do, it’s hardly his fault if it tends to be an obstacle to HIS OWN WAY now is it?)
He can be reasonable, caring, and arrive at a compromise. He can go to great lengths to obtain orange juice for you, pour it into a crystal goblet, bring it to you smiling, waiting patiently for approval, desperately hurt when you object.
He can patiently explain that you asked for coffee, he brought you the finest he could find in the finest vessel, and he was tired, and didn’t feel like going out for it, but your happiness and comfort was more important.
He can cry at this point, the effort of all of this probably makes him feel like it in a very sincere way.
Please tell him why nothing he does pleases you?
Instead of being so unreasonable, because he knows this IS coffee, and you always dismiss everything he says as invalid, why do you do that?
Would you rather have had something else?
He will fetch it for you.
This first time requires effort and patience on his part, but after that, the chances are, you’ll just thank him, pour in a little cream, and drink it.
From his point of view this involves a couple of minor inconveniences.
Occasionally, the target will, for no rational reason, and with no warning, sling the (extremely expensive, hard to replace) crystal goblet at the wall, or even his head.
He will NEVER be able to drink a cup of coffee in the presence of the target again, even though he CRAVES coffee, adores the stuff, can’t entirely live without it.
But all is not necessarily lost.
The target loathes gin, can’t even abide the smell.
He can get out his percolator and have a G&T in front of the target as often as he likes.
Sensitivity and consideration demands that he should NEVER offer the target anything so repellent to them!
Which raises some interesting side issues.
If the target does not then drive him home (after all that G&T) the target doesn’t give a damn about whether he loses his licence or not.
What kind of person let’s you drive after four large mugs of G&T?
Anything could have happened!
This proves beyond doubt that he is a good person, and the target is, not entirely, and that the constant imposition of HIS OWN WAY, is the only safe way for him with someone so selfish and insensitive. He understands, he forgives, but he must after all protect himself too.
This may even be a much needed learning experience for the target.
Such is the anatomy of control.