Control Tactics: Withholding Approval

Withholding approval is a tool/weapon that most Controller personalities use. When we are children, we seek approval from the adults close to us. Their approval of our behavior is removed temporarily when we do something wrong. With healthy adults, we regain their approval after we have paid our penance, served our punishment gracefully, and are showing that we are not doing the unacceptable behavior. This is all an essential part of growing up, learning how to treat people, and learning how to function effectively.

Controller personalities take this approval-withholding and use it out of context, in order to manipulate and put themselves in an inappropriate Authority position. They use this feeling from childhood that most people still have as adults to create an illusion of their own authority and superior status.

It really is amazing how often it works on even the most intelligent people.

The tool is very simple; they simply act as if they are an "important adult" and you are a child. They take on this role, and treat you as if you fit the child role. It works because of our long human childhoods; we were in this role naturally for many years. It felt kind of lonely and cold when an adult withheld or removed their approval, sometimes worse, and we would try to re-establish the feeling of being in their "good graces" again. This normal part of growing up human is taken and used by the Controller.

Withholding or withdrawal of approval can be very subtle, and this is the most effective, because we don't notice it. Simply cutting phone conversations short because they have "important things to do", not replying to messages, not returning phone calls, not answering the phone, answering the phone but then acting as if you are intruding on them, speaking in a certain "authority" tone  to their targets, frequently changing the subject,  and talking over others is common. A Controller will also bait another person to come closer, or disclose information, so they can have better leverage.

Controllers frequently trivialize the concerns, protests, and emotions of others. They also trivialize the work, effort, ability and accomplishments of their targets. They especially trivialize anything and anyone that might expose their control tactics. Demeaning others is common for them. A Controller reading this, for example, will probably say something like "Oh please, get a life.." or "You people think too much".

To gain a better understanding, it can help to put ourselves back in childhood. Joe and Sue are 12 and 13, older siblings to Rachel, who is 7. Rachel naturally wants to be included with Joe and Sue's activities, and is a well-behaved kid, causing no "trouble" for them. Joe and Sue have learned by watching their parents how to "discipline" Rachel with tone of voice, withholding attention, using signals (like putting up one finger to mean "hush" or "wait"), and giving her instructions and orders. When she misbehaves, she receives less positive attention and more negative from her parents; subtle shunning and ignoring.

Joe and Sue have picked up on all of these tactics, which can be useful in actually raising a child. But used out of context, Joe and Sue are able to manipulate Rachel into believing they have almost as much authority over her as their parents, and also getting her to do what they want. All they have to do is turn their back on her, act as if they are too busy and too important for her, and she will comply. The withholding of positive attention and approval makes her feel lonely and cold, and she seeks to make that feeling "better" again.

"We'll let you come along if you... clean my room/do my chores."
"We'll let you watch TV with us if you don't talk."
"You should stop trying to play the piano, you're annoying us."
"Stop trying to build that fort by yourself, you can't do it, we'll do it for you."
"Forgetting" plans they made with their younger sibling to establish their importance and her unimportance. Speaking to others "over her head" purposely, ignoring her when she talks, as if she is not important enough to speak in their group. Not allowing her to participate in activities that are taking place, treating her like a nuisance when she stands up for herself. Trivializing her good grades, her friends, her accomplishments, her projects, her skills, her aspirations; acting as if her work is silly and "in the way" of everyone else.

Reinforcing this dramatically is when Rachel protests about it, but her parents either ignore her, or treat her as if she is being a nuisance. Joe and Sue now know that their parents will not step in to stop them, and Rachel knows that no one will back her up when she is treated unfairly.

Most Controllers picked up these tactics during their own childhoods, like Joe and Sue, mimicking adults and then using it on other children, in the family, school, or neighborhood. Sometimes using it on their own parent or other adults whom they have witnessed having been treated in this way by another adult. Every time it worked, it was reinforced. (Many come to believe that they ARE actually Authority figures toward others.)

Other common habits: Giving orders and not requests, not accepting ideas or requests, always having to be in charge of all activities and time, editing any ideas or requests or taking them over as if they thought of them.
Refusing to look at another's point of view with objectivity.
Answering questions with a lecturing and condescension instead of direct answers, treating others as if they are less knowledgeable, skilled, or capable.
Arguing with everything another person says, and claiming it's just a different point of view.
Treating others as if they are crazy or controlling, when they are simply being themselves and doing normal human things.

If you've ever had a friend who was never available when you invited them to do something specific with you, but would suddenly want your company at other times with little or no notice, and expect you to be available, or expect you to be alright with changing plans all the time with seemingly no regard for you having a life other than their schedule, or who always breaks plans with you, and then reschedules them? They are establishing Authority over you. (This type will probably reject you if you don't let them be your "Leader", their need for control is more important than friendship.)

Some other Controller behaviors:
Standing up a person they have made plans with, and defending themselves about it, and not apologizing and trying to make amends. (The adult does not need to explain themselves to the child... Any changes the adult makes to his or her plans must be accepted gracefully by the child. If the child protests, he or she is being whiny and insubordinate.)
Leaving a person out of a group, out of plan and decision-making, (as if they are a child).
Switching conversation from a topic to criticizing or advising the person they are speaking with, especially in the case of social issues or difficulties.
Rude speech and behavior such as childish put-downs, public humiliation (trying to put a person down in front of others). Accusing anyone who defends themselves against their controlling behavior of being a control freak, or crazy.
Treating anyone who sees through and rejects their Control behavior as if they are crazy, telling others this person is crazy, and hoping it will stick.
Acting as if they have no difficulties when someone else is having them, but then switching to their problems being the most important, the most tragic, the most terrible.
Often hiding their real difficulties from others in order to maintain their Authority image.

Many friendships, business partnerships, bands, and marriages have been torn apart because of this. When one person actually believes in their own authority, they often feel "attacked" by whomever does not "recognize" them as an authority, and will actually blame the other person for causing all the problems.

In the case of a Rock Band, for example, when all members are there for the love of making music alone, whoever takes the lead in the moment is the person who knows the song best, or who has written the song, or who is the most self-disciplined at the moment. There is no "hierarchy" among peers without ego issues, no one treats one person as if they're a lesser human being than anyone else, or "less deserving" of respect and recognition. In a Rock Band where one or more members have Controller personalities, when one member participates naturally by sharing their thoughts or knowledge about a song, or saying "come on guys let's do this" when everyone is messing around and there's a show to do, or when they have written a song and are explaining how they want it to go, this is all seen as "Control Freak Behavior" NOT by those who are equal-minded, but by the Controller Personality in the band. Because someone else is taking the reins, just for a moment, the Controller Personality feels challenged, off-balance, even "undermined" or attacked. In order to feel "Normal", the Controller Personality must maintain their feeling of Authority, and that means whomever they have deemed as an "underling"  is expected to only participate as a submissive, being told what to do. Examples of this behavior have been documented in several very famous Rock bands, and has lead to all manner of unnecessary problems and difficulties. personally and business-wise.  (Of course this can be seen on the most local levels of music groups, even Church choirs.)

Pretty much anywhere there is a group of humans, there is often at least one person who has a Controller personality. Occasionally this person, IF he or she happens to be moving in the right direction, can be a good leader for a while. But inevitably, the group falls apart when the Controller starts feeling compelled to establish and maintain his or her authority over others with these tactics learned in childhood. The Controller will abandon the goals and progress of the group, the original mission, and will also sacrifice members of the group, in order to maintain his or her "Authority" position. (A healthy leader seeks to maintain the progress of the group, and will call on others to help and take over the reins when needed.)

So, look out for Approval Withholders, they are playing out habits they learned a long time ago, and are unlikely to change. They need to feel in control in order to feel good, so when they feel challenged by someone who simply wants an equal relationship, they tend to "bite". In their minds, when their "authority" is not being complied with, they are being rejected and rebelled against, and will simply increase their efforts. The best thing to do, if you know you are not going to be able to maintain playing their game, is to keep a wide berth. Don't get close enough to become a target. (And if you already did, then use their own tactics against them, and back away.)