Demanding Controlling Behavior

This post is a bit long, but I feel this topic needs extra attention as this behavior is not only challenging, but exhausting as well.  You’d appreciate a word or gesture of gratitude, however, it may often seem that nothing you do is good enough, no matter how hard you try.  Demanding controlling behavior adds a lot of tension to the relationship, especially when the person you’re caring for is your parent.  Here are some examples of how demanding controlling behavior may be manifested:

Placing a sense of urgency on every request: This becomes more noticeable as the level of independence declines.  For example, at one time they were able to drive to the store whenever they needed something, but now they must wait for someone to take them or get it for them.  In their world, minutes seem like hours, hours seem like days, days seem like weeks, and as such, their sense of urgency grows. They want what they want, and they want it now!

Yelling or cursing: This may be an expression of anger and/or fearfulness about their current condition and what lies ahead.  It’s difficult not to take it personally, but chances are it’s their way of venting and, in a sense, they’re fighting back against their circumstances.

Refusing to participate in their own care: This can take many forms such as refusing to bathe, exercise, get out of bed, follow a diet plan, etc.  It’s important not to jump to the conclusion that this is passive aggressive behavior.  It could be that they are falling into a state of depression.  If this behavior continues or i, it’s best to talk it over with their doctor.

Manipulating you through guilt, sympathy, or other emotions: We’re all familiar with this tactic. As frustrating as it is, we must admit it works much of the time, and this just encourages the behavior to continue. It takes a strong person to stand firm and not give in when it comes to what you know is best for them.

Crying or screaming: We usually associate this behavior with children or someone who is developmentally challenged. However, it’s not uncommon in adults who are overwhelmed by their illness or disability. This behavior demonstrates extreme frustration in action. It will run its course, although probably not as quickly as you would like.

Dropping or breaking things “by accident:” Passive aggressive behavior such as this allows them to be in control without facing the consequences. After all, it was “an accident.”

Giving you the silent treatment: Their silence can be heard loud and clear. They’re upset with you or with their dependency on others to meet their needs. It could be another form of passive-aggressive behavior. However, if it’s combined with other symptoms such as excessive crying, refusing to eat or care for themselves, it could be a sign of depression. In this case, their physician needs to be alerted.

Criticizing everything you do: Every person has their own preferred way of doing things, their own timeline, and their perceived order in which they should be done. When that’s not matched exactly, which is nearly impossible, they become critical of you personally. They’re really just upset that they aren’t able to do it themselves, in their own way.

Complaining no one cares about them: Coming to grips with a disability or facing death is a lonely journey. No one can do it for them. You and others are offering support, but the bottom line is they must find their own inner strength to work through it. This journey must be done within themselves, and is indeed a lonely one which can often be confused with feeling no one cares.

Note: You may be experiencing the same feeling on your own journey as family caregiver. Once again, determining if you are in a maze or walking the labyrinth will be a factor in how the journey goes. Your path will become an example and source of strength for your loved one as well. Never underestimate how much your attitude, words, and actions affect those around you.

Pestering until they get what they want: Eventually you’ll reach a point of exasperation and give in. We’ve all been there. The problem is, you’ll give in begrudgingly and a negative tone is set. Now, you’re angry and they’re not as happy as they thought they’d be because of your reaction.


All of the behaviors listed above can be very challenging, testing your patience. Why are they acting this way?  Realizing what’s at the root of their behavior can make it more tolerable. There are several possible underlying causes for these unwanted behaviors. Consider the following.

Personality Trait:  If the person always had a tendency to be demanding and controlling, this trait will now be intensified. A person is always at their worst when they don’t feel well or are under stress.

Loss of Independence: Your loved one’s world may be shrinking for a number of reasons such as losing the ability to drive, relying on others for their care, or experiencing diminished cognitive function. They’re trying valiantly to hold onto their independence by controlling as much as they can in their environment, and this includes you.

Loss of Self Esteem: A person’s dignity is as important as food, water, shelter, and love. If your family member has lost purpose in life, he/she starts to feel useless and worthless. They may find purpose now in controlling those around them to feel important again and gain attention.

Boredom: Something as simple as not having enough to occupy their minds and hands can lead to demanding behavior.  The days and nights will seem endless to them if they having nothing interesting to do.

Fear: Facing the unknown is unnerving for you, so imagine how frightening this is for your loved one. With so much time on their hands, they imagine all sorts of awful scenarios. Who will take care of me? What if I don’t recognize my friends and family in the future? What if I can’t tolerate the pain? What if I have to go to a nursing home and no one comes to visit me? What if I run out of money? How long will I have to live like this? The list is endless.

You’ve probably heard the adage, “The best defense is a good offense.” When a person is frightened, they may go into the offensive mode, exhibited by controlling behavior.

Anger: Imagine how you would feel in their situation. Anger and resentment are normal reactions to a debilitating or terminal illness. This emotion may linger until they are able to accept their reality. Until that occurs, the anger may be exhibited by constant demands.


This list is not complete by any means; however it will give you some insight into the possible triggers causing this behavior. If you can figure out the root of their actions, you will find it easier to come up with a solution. Here are some suggestions for managing this undesirable conduct:

Inclusion: Include the person in as many choices as possible pertaining to their care. For example, ask for their input in developing their care plan, in compiling important documents, in deciding what to eat, what time of day (and which days) they want to bathe, what clothes or pajamas they want to wear, what room they want to sit in, etc.

Respect: Ask for their opinion about anything, such as TV shows, books, news stories, old movies, child rearing, what color looks best on you, etc. By asking them about even simple things, they will feel a sense of value. It gives them dignity and respect.

Involvement: Give them something to do based on their abilities. If they’re able to use a computer, ask them do some research for you, or look up something they’ve shown interest in, or use social media as a way to touch base with friends.  If they enjoy drawing or coloring, offer coloring books, sketch paper, paints, colored pencils, and the like.  If their abilities are limited, you might have them sort through a container of buttons or yarn and sort them by color or size. Giving them something to do with their hands, even as simple as shredding junk mail or finding an item in a catalog gives them a sense of purpose and occupies their mind.

Mental Activity: Are they able to read? If not, is there someone who would like to read a story or a newspaper to them? Perhaps they would enjoy listening to audio books from the library. Subscribe to their favorite magazine. Offer crossword and jigsaw puzzles. Encourage them to write a note to a friend or family member.

Legacy: Ask them to tell their own story in their own words by using a tape recorder. Give them a specific topic each time so they stay focused and avoid rambling. For example, if the person is elderly they can talk about their school days, where they grew up, what they did for entertainment, what jobs they’ve held, etc.  This is good for their memory and they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. If the person is young, they can talk about their dreams and wishes, or use it as a daily journal. This is a great opportunity for them to talk out loud, which they may not do as often anymore due to decreased social interaction. As a bonus, they can also listen to the tapes anytime they like.

Communication: Communicate clearly and in simple terms anything you’re doing regarding their care. For example, “I’m going to warm up some towels now for your shower.” When they understand what’s going on, their fears and anxiety lessen.

Attitude: Keep a cheerful attitude with them. Avoid arguing or raising your voice. If you find yourself reaching your limit, walk away for a few minutes for a breath of fresh air.

Prioritize: If they’re trying to control things by not cooperating with their care, determine the priority of the matter. If it’s possible to postpone the task, ask them to choose a specific day/time to do it and then follow through.

Rewards: Be sure to offer thanks and praise when they’re cooperative and courteous with you. Positive attention will be something they seek, making your life a bit easier.


I hope you have found this post about demanding controlling behavior helpful in caring for your loved one.  If so, please “Like” by clicking the button below.  You may also find my Amazon Kindle book “Gentle Caregiver: Practical Advice & Support for the Family Caregiver”  to be helpful as well.

6 Replies to “Demanding Controlling Behavior”

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  2. Marti,
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    1. Thank you, Carolyn! It’s been a rougher journey than I anticipated, but each day brings improvement. I appreciate your thinking of me 🙂

  3. Thanks for all the information you provide to help people who are caregivers. Your compassion and knowledge shines through and is such a valuable resource!

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