I get defensive when someone tells me I’m controlling, in part because this is an area of deep work for me. When I hear it, I fall into having disgusted feelings about myself. Mainly that I’m a bad human and no one is going to want to be around someone who’s controlling. I continue to work on these things within myself, at times it’s been an incredibly helpful trait and at other times a hindrance. It’s easy to ignore or hide our traits, because it can feel hard to examine or to understand, yet when we ignore them they become inner monsters that can ravage our well-being.
The interesting thing about control is that it’s often used to describe women who are confident and ‘go getters’. The same qualities in men are not often summarized as controlling; my masculine counterparts are often celebrated for being ‘doers’ and creators. Accusations of control trigger deep shame of inadequacy in me and reflect the societal misogyny I’ve experienced my whole life. They carry the message that being a woman means you should remain small.
The combination of the two realities is complicated, my own need for control at times and society’s misguided relationship with women.
We all have parts of ourselves that we don’t love or feel ashamed about. For some of us (maybe most of us) it can feel suffocating to admit those things to ourselves. When we’re ashamed of parts of ourselves, hide certain personality traits, or feel distressed about aspects of ourselves it is difficult to want to be seen. It’s easier to orphan the thoughts, ignore our behaviors, or bury our perceived inadequacies.
The relationship with ourselves is not transactional; we can’t abandon the parts we don’t love. It disconnects us from ourselves when we do that and we can feel numb, anxious, rigid, jumpy, reactional, or any other way that our bodies communicate to get our attention.
I think we often make the relationship with ourselves transactional. Meaning that if we perform in the way we want to or feel like we have to, we feel good; if parts of ourselves surface that we don’t desire, we feel shitty. It’s easy to make those parts separate, and therefore nonexistent, but they continue to resurface. We then try to hide from them like they’re awkward uncle at a family gathering.
This is the hiding and separation we do in order to feel whole and complete. But it does the opposite; in unconscious ways we experience more of the things that make us feel incomplete, dampening our feel-good side.
I had someone working for me who was struggling emotionally. Every time I’d come to work they were needy and wanted my attention. When I asked them to give me five minutes to ‘land’ when I arrived, it was as if I said I didn’t like them. From then onwards, no matter what I said they seemed upset and timid around me. This triggered a deep insecurity for them and I became the problem instead of recognizing their own pain which was the trigger for the feelings.
If we assume others should take care of us and help us with our problems, we set ourselves up to be disappointed. If we learn to have honest conversations and speak to the experience we’re having, we get to hear ourselves and process our own truths and insecurities. It’s OK to feel fragile — I do a lot. But if we hide that fragility it will find a way to surface in other ways.
I’m not perfect, far from it. I’ve learned how to admit my imperfections, but I have also learned to be selective with whom I share and accept that no matter what, someone might try to use them against me. If I already accept this, it holds little weight when someone throws them back at me.
If we aren’t open about our truths we’re essentially pretending to be perfect. In a world that pretends perfectionism is where it’s at, it feels freeing to be messy and imperfect.
As I’ve said many times, when we’re OK with floundering and fumbling, we’re more willing to allow it in others. That’s how we learn to be kind; kindness doesn’t develop from hiding parts of ourselves or being doormats to others, it’s learned by allowing the less desirable parts of ourselves to lift up. That’s kind.