Last week I found myself watching the most severe form of ratchetness currently on television. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m referring to “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.” This season, on a show that has absolutely nothing to do with hip-hop, the antagonist is played by former Bad-Boy producer Stevie J. Still attempting to hang onto the notoriety he gained in the late ’90s-early 2000s, Stevie J portrays the quintessential asshole perfectly. Not only does he have a baby-mother (Mimi), but he also has his side chick (Joseline). He seemingly has both of these women wrapped around his finger. His controlling and manipulative ways, not to mention his contorted faces, actually make me want to vomit when I see him onscreen. What’s even more depressing is the fact that these two women are fighting over him.
In one corner, you have Mimi, the woman he’s been with for several years. Together they have a child, and up until recently, seemed to be cohabitating as well. That is before he decided to get her a house far away from his. In the other dysfunctional corner, you have aspiring, um, singer, rapper, former stripper Joseline e . As the story line goes, Stevie J saved Joseline from a life of pole burns and stripper stunts by convincing her she’s the next rising star. In typical woman fashion, Joseline and Mimi bump heads. While Mimi has been putting up with Stevie J’s ways for quite some time, Joseline, the “newcomer,” is still trying to mark her territory, even though she knows about his relationship with Mimi.
With a bat of his lashes, some smooth talking, and broken promises, Stevie J is a master control freak and manipulator, but he’s not the first man to be able to rope in two women by using control tactics. In my 20s I had Stevie J moments and found myself being drawn to a certain type of man. Adjectives that I could use to describe them would be: arrogant, manipulative, and controlling. Not only were these traits fostered in their personal lives, but ironically in their careers, as well. There was the overly aggressive cop, the strict military officer, and the arrogant professional athlete. All of these men seemingly shared the same traits as Stevie J. When things didn’t go their way, or when they would get caught doing their dirt, they would try to “butter” me up and make promises that would eventually end up being broken. These men were my Kryptonite. On the outside, I was the “strong” black woman, but in their presence I became a meek follower, hanging on to their every promise to do better.
Now that I’m in my mid-30s, when I look back at these relationships, these men were just as insecure as I was.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Carla Rhodes, Ph.D., a D.C.-based psychologist. I wanted to pick her brain on control freaks and what they thrive off of and how to recognize the warning signs.
What are some of the warning signs that you’re in a controlling relationship?
The warning signs range from the subtle to the bold and seemingly outrageous. A man may make negative comments about your weight or looks or may even dictate how you eat and dress. In most controlling relationships, there is either an implicit or explicit contract that essentially makes the woman feel as if she is a party in the controlling behavior, if not a partner, albeit an unequal partner. This “contract” serves as a point of reference for the controller, allowing him to refer to your complicity in the behaviors as a condition of the relationship should you protest (i.e., “We agreed on this” or “You know what this is”). A controlling man might make sexual demands that are uncomfortable and exploitative, whether it be demanding you engage in sexual acts with him at his command or compromise yourself otherwise sexually. Verbally or physically assaultive behavior may be a factor, as well. All too often in a controlling relationship, such abuse is often followed by a swift “apology” or tender explanation, like, “I hate when you make me treat you this way.” Other signs include a demand for monogamy while flaunting infidelity; uneven access to each other’s social lives (he has all of your passwords, but you dare not touch his cell phone); restrictions on your social circle and interactions; and a generally negative or misogynistic attitude about women in general.
Why do you think women choose to be in these types of relationships?
Women who choose to stay in controlling relationships may have a history of abuse, though this is not true for all women. Those with a history of abuse, whether verbal, sexual, or otherwise, may connect controlling behavior with love and concern, particularly if their early abusers were people who professed to love them (i.e., family or former lovers). They perceive the controlling behavior as an expression of passion and desire and are willing to endure the abuse for love’s sake. There are also a great number of women, who may or may not have a history of abuse, who feel helpless and trapped, typically for financial reasons. They may have children who require support or may have difficulty earning an adequate living.
Are the men to blame that they’re controlling or are the women to blame because they choose to stay with them?
We cannot really say that the controller is to blame for his behavior or that the controlled is to blame for sticking around. Controllers have typically been subjected to abuse, either directly or vicariously. They may have seen their mothers treated in similar ways and, instead of breaking the cycle, they are filled with guilt and rage over having been so helpless. They may be trying to understand or master the situation or even hold onto a wish that the women they are controlling will be “strong enough” to break free of what their mothers could not.
All in all, being a part of a controlling relationship isn’t healthy. When you see the signs, take note, and possibly think of an exit strategy.