I’m fortunate. I hate trying to control people. I have enough trouble controlling my own life. I sometimes say that when my kids reached their teens I let them raise themselves. After my divorce, here I was a single parent, no clue how I was going to handle this, not only financially but just in terms of how to finish raising my four children who were ages 10, 12, 13 and 14. I came home from work one day to find my thirteen year old daughter in the kitchen fixing dinner. The house was immaculate and everything seemed peaceful. I stared at her, amazed. Her first comment had me roaring with laughter. “I put Mike on restriction, Mom. He wouldn’t clean his room.” Mike being 12 years old and a fairly strong willed kid must have not taken this command well. I went down the hall, opened his bedroom door and immediately saw the window open wide and no Mike. He was down the street playing basketball with his buddies. I decided then and there that less was more. This meant giving them their lead and seeing if they were heading in the right direction. If they weren’t a gentle nudge in the right direction usually fixed the problem. All four children grew into responsible, loving, devoted to their siblings, family minded and hard working adults with strong personal integrity.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse it’s amazing that I was able to do this. A lot of survivors turn into control freaks once they get to be adults. That makes sense. When we were children and at the mercy of some perpetrator being in control of our own life was not an option. We spent a lot of time hoping some one would save us from the perpetrator. How that would happen we didn’t know because we were too afraid to talk to anyone about what was happening. Silence wouldn’t produce a knight in shining armor.
Once we were adults, being in control of our own environment became paramount. We hadn’t learned how to communicate our needs as we were growing up so that left few options. When I was growing up the term for someone being in control was, “bossy”. No one wanted to be around someone like that. As adults, if we’re one of those “bossy” people we either think a bossy person is needed, we don’t recognize that we’re being bossy or we know but can’t help ourselves.
How many times have you been to someone’s house for dinner and afterwards start to help with the cleanup only to hear, “Never mind, I’ll do that myself. I have my own way.” But what happens is after you leave the hostess is angry and resentful at having to do too much work. A couple of years ago my husband and I had house guests. I had planned all of the meals in advance as well as all of the sight seeing we were going to do with them. When I woke up the first morning everyone was asleep so I grabbed Guinevere, our Golden Retriever and headed for the State Trust Land behind our house to take my morning walk, my “hour of power” as I called it since that was the time I did most of my talking to God. As I headed back home I ticked off in my head what I was fixing for breakfast: pancakes (with my secret recipe), sausage, scrambled eggs with cheese and onions, fresh sweet rolls and orange juice. I loved having company and getting to show off my culinary skills. As I walked in the house I saw food cooking on the stove, the table all set and the wife of our company busily preparing breakfast. I was stunned, and momentarily irritated. I already had breakfast planned. What was she doing? A stranger in my kitchen, heck no! I saw my husband, who knows me well, watching closely (I guess he figured he was going to have to pick up the pieces after my tongue took hold of the scene). I counted to ten, and then said, rather weakly, “Wow, what a surprise. Aren’t you the wonder woman.” or something to that effect. Breakfast was great, the sightseeing was great and I managed to come to the realization that it was nice to have someone else doing the work once in awhile.
But that’s a tough one to do, relinquishing control. Even though we don’t consciously think it, what’s happening is that our unconscious mind remembers when we were a kid and we knew that we didn’t dare try to control the hideous things our perpetrator was doing. Now we have a choice and we’re going to use it. Think what might happen if we didn’t control what was happening in our life right now. I know several people who refuse to let me load the dishwasher, saying they don’t like the way I do it. That’s too bad. How important is it that the dishwasher be exactly the way we want it compared to the chore being shared and giving us more free time. I know people who alphabetize their canned goods, who tick off in their head every morning all of the committees they are on and exactly what time they should be at each one and all of the new ones they are planning to join. But later, at the end of the day they find themselves in tears because they didn’t accomplish every thing they wanted to, because they had no free time to themselves and because the rest of their week is going to be the same as today.
I’m not encouraging being uninvolved in activities and committees. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to alphabetize your canned goods. What I am saying is that if the tight controls you are trying to levy on your world are making you feel crazy and depressed how good are they?
Why not take a deep breath, tell yourself it’s okay if you’re not in charge of every minute of your day, that if everything you hoped to finish doesn’t get finished it’s okay. A stress filled life leads to heart attacks and other medical problems. Trying to control other people’s lives (when you maybe don’t have a handle on your own) is self-destructive. Your perpetrator is no where around. He may even be dead. You are safe now. You were your own Knight in Shining Armor. You survived. And if you still can’t seem to stop straightening your towels, insisting your teenage girl wear what you told her and nagging at your husband for watching sports too often, I’d suggest calling your nearby Codependency phone number and get to a meeting.
Control is about power. It is something we never had as a kid when we needed it to protect ourselves from our perpetrators. But now, we are big people, with the right to make wise decisions, to let go when we need to. Think about it.