Controlling People: Summary & Review

controlling people book cover

Controlling People (2002) teaches how controlling people think, what their needs are, and why they do what they do.

Bullet Summary

  • For controllers, intimacy means being one with themselves
  • Controllers perceive their partners’ signs of independence as threats
  • Some controlling batterers really believe their partners “made them” violent because they see them as part of themselves
  • Most controllers control and manipulate unconsciously

Full Summary

About the Author: I couldn’t find much information about Patricia Evans and her background. 
She seems to focus on abusive personalities and provides seminars and consultations on abusive relationships.

Controllers Are Afraid of Losing Connection

First of all, says Evans, we all try to control others to some degree, especially so in intimate relationships.

And when we are afraid, a degree of control makes us feel safer.
However, controllers take it to an extreme. And for them, controlling is always on.

Patricia Evans says that most controllers aren’t rationally and consciously trying to control you.

They try to limit your freedom and shape your behavior because they are afraid of losing you.

In the controllers’ warped mindset, an independent partner is a threat. To a controller, controlling equates to working on the relationship.

Backward Connection

Some controllers establish a “backward connection”.

A backward connection is typical of batterers and abusive men. Since they don’t perceive the difference between themselves and their partners, they really believe that it’s their partner who made them attack them.

Signs of Independence Are Threats to Controllers

Since controllers see their partners as part of themselves, signs of independence and own judgment are seen as a threat to the relationship and to themselves.

Other signs of separateness include:

  • Having an own opinion
  • Requests
  • Thoughts
  • New ideas
  • Suggestions
  • Questions
  • Beliefs
  • Objections
  • …. 

Even looking for government support to help the family when in need can be a threat to a controller. 
It’s a sign of seeking independence, a sign of acting on one’s own volition. 

The most interesting aspect for me though was that controllers often target and devalue their partner’s most glaring gift or uniqueness.
Because that gift, especially if creative, is the most important -and threatening- expression of their individuality.

Controllers Are Extreme Pretenders

Patricia Evans says that in many relationships there are pretenders and controllers.

Pretenders look for a dream and when they meet someone they project their own fantasies onto him or her.

Controllers are pretenders who will want to keep their fantasies alive by trying to adapt their partners to their dream.

Controller Are Highly Dependant

Controllers paradoxically see themselves as very independent, but in truth, they are highly dependent on their partners.

Also see:

My Note: Not sure I agree
I’m not sure I agree here. 
George Simon, author of “In Sheep’s Clothing” says instead that controllers are not dependent on their partner as “many clinicians seem to believe”.
Controllers seek power and control, but they are able to move on and can function independently.

I believe the evidence shows that the truth is in the middle here: some controllers might be dependent. But many are not. It seems like psychopaths, tend not to be codependent because they don’t form attachments.
See for example the difference between “cobras” and pit bulls” in “The Wisdom of Psychopaths“. 

Controllers’ Techniques

Patricia Evans also lists a few “techniques” that controlling men use to keep their women emotionally weak and dependent on them:

  • Devalue her
  • Don’t listen to her
  • Listen  in a distracted or preoccupied way
  • Find fault in what she says
  • Imply she should have known better
  • If she complains, persuade she’s too needy or demanding
  • Have her listen to your troubles to explain why you can’t listen to hers
  • Say she doesn’t appreciate what you do for her
  • If you make more, say that gives you a greater right to decide
  • Always ask for what she does in exchange
  • Deny any imbalances in the relationship
  • Ask rhetorical prosecutorial questions
  • Deny you were criticizing but you were only asking an innocent question
  • Imply she’s overly sensitive
  • Make her feel guilty for misperceiving your intentions and hurting your feelings

Stalking is Controlling

Stalking is controlling connection at a distance.

When the stalker gets a reaction from the victim, he feels connected to her.
Even if the reaction is negative, she is reacting to him, and he’s now in her mind and they’re connected.

Control Through Ganging Up

Ganging up with someone against someone is also a form of control and an unhealthy way of bonding.

Gangs often find a spurious reason to be together and a spurious reason to hate each other.
Patricia Evans says that hate is an excuse and that ganging up is a substitute for real bonding. 

She also talks about hate groups, religious extremists, and Taliban states. 

My Note: I couldn’t agree more
I totally agree and that’s one of the reasons I gave such low reviews to Lean In, Tribe by Sebastian Junger, and The Way of Men by Jack Donovan.
They all, in one way or another, cheered for ganging up.

They gang up in fear of standing alone

controlling people

To Read After Controlling Men

Real-Life Applications

This is my own very personal real-life application and not endorsed by Patricia Evans:

  • Leave a controller

The author mentions a few cases of men who willingly tried -and even managed- to overcome their controlling ways.
But as Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That says, that’s a tiny minority. And the majority doesn’t change.


  • Complex

I would have preferred a book more clearly laid out, with chapters and key concepts explained and flashed out.

It felt instead like a long, slightly disjointed talk.

  • Lots of Stories & Anecdotes

At times it felt like it was a lot of stories and circumstantial evidence but not as much data and research.

  • People who define you are manipulative and controlling?

I really have to disagree with this definition of controlling people.

Evans is talking about a specific controlling manipulative technique delivered from a judge role.

But what if those who define you are actually right, or at least somewhat right? 
And what if they define you positively? Would that still count as controlling? 
Enlarging the definition of “controlling people” and casting the net so wide seems to me like a witch-hunt a case of “crying wolf” a bit too often or, might even be, at times, being indeed a bit too touchy.

I often find people who define me highly annoying. Especially when they know little about me.
But I wouldn’t define most of them as “controlling”.

  • Providing justification for controllers?

I don’t say this lightly, but at times it felt as if the author wasn’t taking a strong enough stand against controllers.

Understanding the psychology of controllers is great -that’s what I’m all about-.
But are we sure that batterers feel one with their partners? And does that exempt them from also being violent assholes?


Some good insights on the mindsets and psychology of controllers.


I had very high expectations for “Controlling People“.
And there were some great foundational information and new perspectives for me.

Like, for example, the idea that controllers are extremely dependent and, often, believe they are actually working on the relationship.

However, overall, it was an OK read.
Maybe I had too high expectations, or I didn’t really get some parts, but it left me wanting.

Check the best dark triad books or get the book on Amazon.

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