How Do I Identify a Controlling Personality? Tim Kimmel
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Tim KimmelDr. Tim Kimmel is the founder and Executive Director of Family Matters, whose goal is to see families transformed by God’s grace into instruments of reformation and restoration. Tim and Family Matters conduct the Grace Based Parenting Conference across the country on the unique pressures that confront members of today's families. He and his wife, Darcy, also team up with other organizations such as FamilyLife, Focus on the Family and MOPS to build strong families. With his dry wit and engag...more
How do you identify a controlling personality? (Could you be one?) Author Tim Kimmel offers ideas to break free from pain and develop secure relationships.
How Do I Identify a Controlling Personality? Tim Kimmel
Tim: Abuse of any kind can cause anger, rage, and then it just spills over naturally into “How do I compensate for this? How do I protect myself from this?” Next thing you know we are slipping over the boundaries in relationships with the people we love and assuming the right to make decisions that aren’t ours to call.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
You know I’m around you sometimes and I can see that you are getting really bothered when you are around a certain type of people.
Dave: I don’t ever get bothered by anybody. I’m sure I don’t bother anybody either.
Ann: Do you know what I’m going to say?
Dave: Of course I know what you were going to say. What category of people really push my buttons?
Ann: High controlling people. [Laughter] As soon as it begins I’m thinking, “Oh no, it’s a trigger.”
Dave: It’s like something happens to me and it’s like I want to rebel. It’s like anything they say, I want to do the opposite. They are often well-meaning people, but there’s something that happens inside me. I get pretty feisty.
Ann: Yes, you do.
Dave: You get a little scared; do you?
Ann: I’m like, “Oh no! What’s he going to do or say?”
Dave: That doesn’t happen to you?
Ann: Mine is probably I keep mine inside a little more than you might, but I feel like I have been controlling to you in some ways over the years for sure.
Dave: Well, let’s talk about that later. We’ve got Tim Kimmel - Dr. Tim Kimmel in the studio at FamilyLife for another day talking about high control people.
Tim, you are not a high control person. That’s not why we’re talking about this.
Tim: I actually think I’m very capable of being it, too. I know when I—obviously I wrote a book about it and I’m in the book. [Laughter] As I said, “I’m an equal opportunity offender when I write this book,” because I wanted to make sure that we—we all struggle with it.
Ann: We said yesterday, “Everyone has this in them.”
Tim: Yes, we all have it. Some of it is just self-preservation. When you said you have a problem with it, you were designed to have a problem with it because God didn’t—
Dave: Hey, you hear that?
Ann: You’re enabling it.
Dave: I could tell her that. She’s always like—really what do you mean by that?
Tim: When you think when we were made in God’s image, as image bearers, we were not made to be controlled. We were made to cooperate. We were made to live within the boundaries and make a contribution. But the reason you bristle is because high controllers don’t bring the best out of a situation.
Ann: That’s true.
Dave: That is so true.
Tim: The problem is when that high controller is me or you. [Laughter] Then we realize, “Well.” In The High Cost of High Control, in the book, we talk about what to do if you are the controller or you are the controllee and you are dealing with it. We’ve got to deal with it from both sides.
Dave: Yesterday, you gave us a definition. Let’s look at that real quick, but today let’s get into the “Why?”
Tim: Sure; high control is when I leverage the strength of my personality or my position against your weaknesses in order to get you to meet my selfish agenda. Right away, it discounts normal parenting; it’s not a selfish agenda. I’m just trying to do things that a good mother or father do. There’s places in marriage, because a healthy marriage is dependent, independent, and interdependent—that’s a healthy one—there’s places where we do it.
Once we do that, though, it just brings the worst out of the situation. I want to have a family picture where the smiles are real.
Ann: I think your book, Grace-Based Parenting—I read that when our kids were younger. I thought, “This is extraordinary.” It really did change my style of parenting because I realized, “Oh, I’m kind of that controlling parent instead of that grace-based parent. It was all because of fear.”
Dave: Is that why—
Ann: Yes, let’s—
Dave: High-control people are high controlling. Are they fearful?
Ann: Why do we control?
Tim: I unpack the five main reasons. The very first one is what I call “Toxic Fear.” It’s interesting how you can take legitimate things that have a very legitimate role and you put the word, toxic, in front of it and it changes everything. Because fear is one of the gifts that God gave us.
Tim: When used properly, it’s one of our best friends.
Dave: It saves our lives.
Tim: It saves our lives; yes.
But I like to say it like this, “Fear is like a loaded gun. It’ real handy if someone is trying to kill you, but it’s very dangerous just lying around.” It falls into the four-letter-word category. When we think of the cliché of that, when we don’t handle it right. It can turn us into sophisticated high controllers.
In the book, I tell a story of a young man who watched his mother. He knew she was cheating on his father. He didn’t know what to do. Finally, his father figured out what everybody else already knew. Instead of the father going after his wife and taking it up, her went after the son because he knew she loved that son so much. So he just poured it out all on this—
This guy gets married.
Ann: The son?
Tim: The son gets married; marries a wonderful gal; looks like it is going to be a great story. Next thing you know he doesn’t want her styling her hair, doesn’t want her wearing makeup, wants to pick out all of her clothes.
Finally, she was just being smothered by this, and ultimately she ends up in the arms of somebody else, the very thing he was trying to avoid. His fear was so controlling him and controlling the situation and it blew it all up.
Ann: It suffocated her.
Dave: That’s usually what happens, whether it’s in a marriage or with your kids. I remember—Tim, you might remember this because we’re both old enough to remember—decades ago when I came to Christ, I was a junior in college. I had been in rock bands my whole life. I’m trying to walk with Jesus and be on fire. I am, and I find out the church says, “Rock and roll music is of the devil,” and literally said, “Any music that has the two and four beat causes you to sin.”
That was toxic. “Is there music that can be harmful?” Yes. “Does it have two and four beats?” It has all kinds of beats. [Laughter]
Dave: —two and four.
Tim: Everything has a good use and a bad use. Cars are wonderful vehicles to get around in, but you can run over somebody if you are mad at them. But music is music. I would rather, if I were your parent or someone leading a church, rather than say, “Go into the rock world and no boundaries,” no. That doesn’t make any sense. But teach you how to walk through that with God’s Spirit leading you.
Dave: A number of kids probably left the church because of that wrong theology. It’s scary because that’s what high control does. That’s one of the why reasons, “Toxic Fear.” What’s another one?
Tim: Toxic Anger, Toxic Rage. A lot of things could cause this. Maybe you have had perfectionist parents or your parents divorced or you went through a divorce; or you had some cruel treatment by an ex-spouse; you have a crippling illness or terminal illness - inequities at work, name it, killer gossip, being heavy in a thin world/being average in a smart world. I could go on—being single in a partnered world, young in an adult world, being old in a young world.
All these things can get the best of us, and abuse of any kind. These can cause anger and rage. Then it just spills over naturally into “How do I compensate for this? How do I protect myself from this?” Next thing you know we are slipping over the boundaries and relationships of the people we love and assuming the right to make decisions that aren’t ours to call.
Ann: I remember walking out in the garage one day—this was—we were pretty young in our marriage—and Dave is yelling—
Dave: Do you really have to bring this up? I know what you’re going to talk about.
Ann: —it goes with this point.
Dave: I’m embarrassed about that moment.
Ann: He is kicking the lawn mower and screaming so loud.
Dave: It wouldn’t start. Isn’t that what you do? That helps.
Tim: Yes, that always gets it going. You just kick it and it starts on its own.
Ann: But he—
Dave: I think I cast out a demon, too. [Laughter]
Ann: But he went through this anger period in our marriage that I said, “I can’t even talk to you. Everything becomes such a big thing and you become so enraged. I’ve stopped talking to you.”
I give you credit, Dave, because you thought, “She’s right; I need to look into where this came from.”
Dave: I couldn’t, as crazy as it sounds, from that example, that was just one of many. I didn’t even see it that I had this anger. When she said that I’m like, “I’ve got to get to the root of this,” which I did over the years. But that was part of what was going on in my life.
Tim: When Darcy and I met we were in high school—she came from a family where God was not a part of their conversation or anything. I came up in a family where we went to church all the time. But she came to Christ. Then we started dating.
We were apart from each other for two years. I was in college, and we wrote each other. In that two years, several hundred letters were written.
We still had them all. I went and I scanned them all during the COVID isolation thing, put them all in order and with our fiftieth anniversary coming up, “I’m going to go back and read all of these things.”
Ann: That’s so sweet.
Tim: It’s just been—it’s just been the most amazing trip back in time-
Ann: We have all ours.
Tim: —to see how God was working in our lives and all. But in one letter she said, “Tim, we’ve got to deal with something. It’s your temper, and it’s just unpredictable, and when it comes out it frightens me so much,” and so forth.
I so deeply loved this girl and I cared about her. I thought—but she lived at the base of Mount St. Helens and her family with her father. He was a control broker and rage and anger. When she saw even a smaller type of that thing in me—when she showed me that, it broke my heart that I was being that way. I realized, “Yes, I do; I can slip off the edge and react.”
I was vulnerable with her and I said, “I don’t want this to be a part of my life if God’s going to let our lives proceed.”
We went to work on it. “Does it go away right away?” No, you probably yelled at the weed whacker the next week.
Dave: Then at the dog.
Ann: Isn’t it so sweet that God continues to transform us by the renewing of our mind.
Dave: I want to add this, because what you just said is really important, you tell me if this is true, Tim. Yesterday we talked about sort of the AA example of “I’m Dave and I have a tendency to be high control.” I think if somebody also walks up to an alcoholic and says, “I don’t know if you know this. You have a drinking problem.” Usually we get defensive and say, “No, I don’t.” But when they see something and call it—you just said Darcy saw something. Ann saw something in me. We both could have gone “What are you talking about?”
Tim: Or gotten really angry and demonstrated exactly what they are saying and try and put them in their place.
Dave: Would you say if somebody ever says to you, “Dude, I think you might have a control thing,” it’s something we should lean into?”
Tim: Yes, assume they’ve got you. [Laughter] You are so much better off. Toxic fear and toxic anger, I think fundamentally cause us to try to protect ourselves and we start to manipulate the circumstances as much as we can.
Dave: Even hearing you say that makes me think, and you’ve got some more to tell us, just those two to start—I can’t wait to hear the rest—I would encourage you, go to your spouse and say, “Do you see toxic fear in me? Do you see any toxic anger?” and listen because they might identify something you can’t even see.
Ann: I think it would be super brave to say, “Do you feel like I’m controlling?” because there was a time my kids and you would have all said, “Yes, without a doubt.” I think that’s a good question. But this next one “Toxic Shame,” this is interesting to me. I want to talk about that.
Tim: Toxic shame, many times, is where toxic fear and toxic anger will lead you to. But shame is the ultimate negative emotion out there. At the core of so many controllers’ hearts is a sense of shame that blocks his or her ability to see themselves as anything but fundamentally and absolutely flawed. Guilt says we’ve done something wrong; shame says it’s us who are wrong and that we are not good enough.
I think lifestyle shame is vulnerability out of control. You can see where this goes. Let me say it this way: I think shame is less about morality than conformity and acceptability or character. To be ashamed is to expect rejection, not so much because of what you have done, but because of who you are.
Dave: It’s an identity.
Ann: How does that lead to controlling?
Tim: Just think about it. Example: I had a pretty close look at this family through my teenage years and young married years as we were friends of this family.
This father was just unbelievably harsh and short-fused and domineering and dictating. He was just a nightmare. Because I had no choice but to interact with this family, I just tried to be decent and nice.
By the way, after many years, he died. After he’s dead, his former wife, we crossed paths with her and she tells us something that she was never allowed to say anything about. When he was a teenager, his mother had cheated on his father and his father was so distraught about this that he hung himself. When she realized what she did to him, she ultimately killed herself. This was within a seven/eight month period of time in a very small town.
He was so utterly ashamed, but he did the ultimate mistake when it comes to this. He said, “Let’s conceal this and keep this a secret. You can’t ever say a word to anybody,” he told his wife.
Now that life just completely ran the show. So much of what he was doing was trying to protect people from finding out who he is. I’m different from a lot of the people out there. I think you guys would be on the same page with me. I always tell people “If you have something really, really bad, flip that card straight up. Whatever it is in the past, just put it out. I don’t care how bad it is, just put it out there.”
Some people might reject you for it. There might be some reaction there but after a while people say, “Okay, it is what it is. Let’s move on.”
Ann: We say, “Bring it into the light.”
Tim: Yes, but family secrets always destroy. They change people into controlling nightmares.
Shame is a huge one, and it doesn’t have to be, because God sent His Son to take our shame. He actually says that in the Scripture. He became our shame on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to let that own us anymore.
Ann: You are saying with that one, because of our shame, we try to control our image. We try to control the fact that we are scarred and marred, but we don’t want anyone to see that. So we will go to any means to protect and control.
Tim: You used one of the expressions I talk about in the book: image control. We are trying to present, especially and unfortunately sometimes our spiritual circles think that we’ve got to do this to be accepted; that we present ourselves as something that we’re not and we’re always trying to prop up this image of “Our kids are just this and this,” but the kids are living in that and they know the reality.
It’s just a matter of time. It doesn’t need to be this way. There’s ways out of this.
Ann: That’s the beauty of the gospel: that Jesus came to set us free.
Dave: I was just going to ask, if I’m listening right now and I’m identifying like, “Toxic fear, toxic rage, toxic shame,” whether it’s a high level or there’s—and I’m starting to sense, “Tim is talking to me,” what do I do; what’s my next step?
You’ve got to end the show with something hopeful for them. How do they get victory?
Tim: Yes, there’s a hilarious YouTube video of a comic. I don’t even know if he’s still alive—a guy named Bob Newhart.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Dave: Yes, sure.
Tim: Some of the older listeners would know who I’m talking about. It’s on Mad TV. He’s a counsellor. He can come in, and he only charges a couple of dollars for your session. It only takes about five minutes and you tell him what’s wrong. He says, “I can pretty much fix it every time.”
“Wow! That’s great.” So she starts unpacking all this crazy things.
He says, “Okay, here’s the solution: Stop it!” [Laughter]
Ann: Dave, this is your style of counselling.
Dave: That’s my style of counselling right there. It’s like, “You don’t need to pay me a dime; quit doing that.” [Laughter]
Tim: Of course, she’s, “What do you mean, ‘Stop it!’?”
“Well, stop it!”
We think that a lot of the ways out of these things are very elaborate and take years and years and years. There’s a place for counselling; there’s a place for therapy; there’s a place for a lot of this stuff. I don’t believe that this is a light switch that “Okay, I’m just going to stop it.” But somewhere we have to come to the mindset.
If you come into a doctor and you have a two by four and you have been beating yourself in the head with it, and you’ve got all these pain: “I’ve got these migraines, doctor.” What’s he going to tell you? “Okay, first of all, let’s stop hitting yourself in the head. Then we can start to repair the damage you have done.”
I think that we need to just recognize—I think recognizing that we are a controller, why we’re controlling, whether it’s toxic fear, toxic anger, toxic shame. I talked about toxic bondage. It might be some addiction that’s got the best of you. Even toxic strength. Sometimes the reason is not necessarily a bad thing that we’re doing. It’s just that what we are good at is over shifted. Any strength pushed to an extreme is going to become a liability in a relationship.
Those five things are causing—just knowing that that’s there. We realize that we have a God who sent His Son to deal with our fears. to deal with our anger, to deal with our shame, to deal with our bondages, and even to show us how to maintain equilibrium in the gifts that He’s given us so that they don’t become liabilities.
As we go there, I think it puts us in a freeing position to be open to the counsel of friends, the honesty of a spouse or children.
We did a thing in our family with our kids. We introduced a thing we called “What’s Your Beef? Night.” Because we knew we aren’t perfect parents. We would get it wrong.
Ann: I asked our kids that, too: “What’s bugging you?”
Tim: They would order whatever they wanted off the menu and they could go around and they could say anything that Darcy and I had done or said, that either ticked them off or embarrassed them or whatever. They couldn’t say things like, “You made me go to school,” or “—made me do my homework.” They knew we were not talking about that stuff. But they could say anything.
Here’s the rule for us: we were only allowed to do one thing, and that’s own it and ask for forgiveness: “I’m so sorry.”
Dave: Don’t get defensive.
Tim: Because if we had tried to put it in context or give “Well, yes but you didn’t…,” then they’d say, “This game is fixed. You are not going to change anything.”
I’m part of a generation of people that grew up that often you would hear them say, “I never once heard my parents admit they did anything wrong.”
Dave: We need to flip that one and be the generation where they do.
I think what you just said, Tim, as you walked us through toxic fear and rage and bondage and shame and strength, that’s the first step, because you can’t fix a problem until you identify—some light bulbs are going on.
Step two, and you said it, is “Ask God for help.” I want to change this. Step three is “Ask people in your life to identify when they see it”; like, “Honey, I’m really trying to stop this. If you see me slipping there, would you call me out on it? Because I obviously don’t see it.”
If you really want to change, that’s going to help you say, “Today’s the day I stop.”
Tim: That’s how medicine works: the ultimate solution to your problem is an accurate diagnosis. Because once we know what is wrong, “Okay, we’ve got a lot of ways we can go after this thing.”
Dave: Yes, “Let’s fix it.”
Shelby: You are listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Tim Kimmel on FamilyLife Today.
Stick around because Ann’s got some words of encouragement for you in just a second. But first, we’d love to send a copy of Tim Kimmel’s book called, The High Cost of High Control: How to Deal with Powerful Personalities.
It’s our thanks to you when you partner financially today with us and help more families hear conversations just like the one you heard today. You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, here’s Ann.
Ann: I’m just going to add the Scripture that came to my mind was James 5:16, that says, “Therefore, confess your sins to each another and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.” [New International Version]
That first person, I would say, “Go to the Father because we have the Holy Spirit living in us. Talk to Him, confess to Him: “This is what I’m feeling; this is what’s happened to me; this is the shame I’m hearing,” and then confess it to your husband or someone safe that you can say, “I think I need help in this area.”
Tim: That’s humility. To me, that’s the gateway to being on the receiving end and a conduit of God’s grace on a regular basis.
Shelby: Maybe you are asking yourself, “Am I a high controller?” or maybe, “How can I know if the people around me are highly controlling?” Tomorrow Dave and Ann are joined again by Tim Kimmel to talk about how to identify who the high controllers are in your life. That’s tomorrow. We hope you will join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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