How to Deal with an Interrogator

It's the person you might call a control freak.  It could be your sister, supervisor, father or someone else close to you. They make you feel like you can't move without being watched and judged.  The following is Bill Eddy's take, in a parenting context,  on why some people persist in this course of behavior and what you can do about it.  _________________

By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.


Do yu feel controlled by someone who watches and comments on every little thing you do?

I have been asked to give some suggestions for dealing with a parent who constantly interrogates the children and the spouse like this: 

Where are you going?  Why did you choose that color? Why did you make that for dinner? Why did you use that pan, pencil, etc.? Why didn't you do your homework an hour ago? Why did you go to that food store? Did you take a shower or a bath? Why did you order carrots instead of peas for dinner?

Who Acts Like That?

If this behavior is repeated a lot, then it is likely to be associated with a personality disorder – it’s part of their personality; their automatic way of being without even thinking about it. It’s most likely associated with Narcissistic or Antisocial Personality Disorder. Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) tend to be preoccupied with showing that they are superior to those around them – especially children and spouses/partners who have to tolerate them. People with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) are generally preoccupied with dominating others – especially those they perceive are weaker than them or those who fear them. It is a form of bullying at least, and more likely a form of “power and control” which especially shows up in abusive family relationships. By interrogating those around them, they can control them.

It is often a wearing down process, which their “targets” slowly learn to accept. For the target, it becomes easier to answer these questions than to resist. In some cases, the High-Conflict Person (HCP) may punish them for not cooperating, such as through violence or destruction of prized possessions or denying them normal freedoms and independence of thought in the relationship – whether as a child or as an intimate partner. The theme is superiority (narcissist) and/or dominance (antisocial). “My choices are better than yours.” “You have to rely on my judgment and deny your own.” Remember, when it comes to these types of patterns of interpersonal dysfunction: “The issue’s not the issue – the personality is the issue!” There’s nothing that the target does to cause this happening to them. It’s about the dysfunctional person’s behavior. If you’re in a new relationship and this type of interrogation starts to occur – get out as quickly as you can. It’s not “normal” behavior and it’s not a sign of love.

What Causes This Behavior?

People with personality disorders have many different types of behavior, but generally a more narrow range of behavior. Their dysfunctional patterns of behavior repeat and repeat, despite Negative Feedback and they are generally not aware that they are doing anything unusual (See more about Negative Feedback here). Some have genetic tendencies toward aggressive and/or self-defeating behavior, while others may have learned these behaviors growing up in their families of origin, and some feel so out-of-control inside that they are driven to control everyone around them to feel better.

How Do You Deal With It?

One has to be careful here. Since this is a form of power and control by someone who likely has a personality disorder, you can’t just challenge them without risk – either of violence, control of other aspects of their lives (finances, social isolation, etc.) and/or emotional abuse. The first thing I would suggest is getting education and support from outside of the family, such as with a therapist, a doctor, a lawyer, clergy or other helping professional. Each situation is unique and this is one of the warning signs of a larger problem that usually needs professional advice and assistance. A parent who sees this happening to herself or himself or to their children should not try to aggressively intervene alone. They need a well-thought-out plan of intervention. Remember, this type of behavior is often the tip of the iceberg, so people need to be prepared for the angry reaction the person may have when challenged on this behavior.

If there is no history of physical abuse or other dynamics of power and control, and no concern about these, then the other parent and the children could learn to ignore the questions. For example, they could start out learning to tell themselves “This is not about me – this is inappropriate behavior and my other parent has given me permission not to answer these questions.” They could start with just telling themselves that and then, after they have sufficient outside support, simply ignoring the questions or saying “I’m not going to answer that. Let’s talk about something else.” These are common tactics you can use with a bully, but you need support to use them in a family – especially for children of a young age.  [Editor's Note:  You also want to use caution in the manner, timing and word choice in a situation involving a habitually controlling person. We recommend learning and using the BIFF Response(sm) technique for these and other difficult personality types.]

If you are trying to cope with the above scenario, you can get more tips in the book It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything. Remember, this is not legal advice nor therapeutic advice. Get consultation!

Link to book


© 2014 High Conflict Institute