There I was in my living room surrounded by my peers. My roommate and I were having a huge disagreement, I can’t even remember the reason. What I do remember: I was not winning. I was trying to be discrete because everyone was watching us, but nothing I said was convincing her. She grew tired of me fussing at her and called me out in front of everyone in the room. I was mortified.
Externally, I took what she said in stride without flinching; I calmly walked away. Internally, a storm was brewing. My impotence to control her and to control people’s perceptions of me made me feel backed into a corner, helpless, out of options. Next thing I knew I was flying feet first through the air towards the couch where she was sitting. I somehow landed a ninja style, double leg kick to her face…in front of everyone. My momentary sense of accomplishment was hastily brought to an end as I victoriously jumped off the couch, in doing so, I landed wrong and sprained my ankle. Shame and embarrassment washed over me as I collapsed to the floor in pain. It was one of my lowest points. How was it that I, an adult, lost it when I could not control the people around me? I share this story with you now to give you a glimpse of how toxic control can be.
When I say control I am not just talking about people who like to be in-charge. I am talking about people, who, at the core of their being, are not okay with the vulnerability of not being in control of everything. Driven by their need for self preservation they must control the people around them as well as control how they are perceived by the public. There are varying degrees of this type of control and it is not always one-size-fits-all.
People struggling with control might be seen as driven, perfectionists, micromanagers, control freaks, toxic, or abusive. Whatever the trigger, the controller is threatened by the individualism of the corresponding person. An honest internal dialog of someone partnering with control might be, “You are not me, your decisions/actions are not what I would do and that scares/embarrasses me”. There are many tools that the controller may use to get one to surmount the impossible task of pleasing them; threats, seduction, gas lighting, displays of anger, shutting down, manipulation, physical/verbal/emotional violence, to name a few. This starts the toxic cycle as the person being controlled will then search for areas in their life or people in their life that they can control.
For example: I had no problem dealing with a verbally abusive employer. The kind who would berate me because I did not make the judgment call they would have made. I had the tools for that, I knew how to survive. But my boyfriend who would not tolerate threats or disrespectful language; he was terrifying. I had no grid for that.
On my journey of personal growth I spent much of my time fighting against things inside me such as pride, anger, and fear. I did not realize they were symptoms of this deeper vulnerability issue, control. I used to think the blowout I had with my roommate was just a self control issue with my anger. In reality, I was not ok with her being her, making her own decisions regardless of how they reflected on me. I pulled all the tricks out of my bag to control her and get her to do what I wanted. When that did not work the only trick left was physical violence. It was an ugly way to be. It was toxic. It was control.
A defining moment in my process came few months before I met my husband. I listened to a pre-marriage series called “Defining the Relationship” by Danny Silk. He spoke of Powerful and Powerless people. Powerful people manage themselves and take responsibility for their actions. They know they can not control anyone around them. Powerless people are victims of their environment. They do not manage themselves and they try to control everything and everyone around them. This completely blew my mind. I realized for the first time I was a Powerless person. The problem was ME!
Since then, (with much help and forgiveness from my husband who was already a Powerful person) my journey has looked like, learning how to set boundaries with other people, communicating my needs boldly, and giving myself space to be an imperfect human. It has not been an easy or straight-froward journey. Refusing to participate in controlling relationships is one thing; I also had to come to a place where I was not going to use control on others. I can’t hate being controlled or seeing control operate in other peoples lives, but then embrace control as a powerful tool to use whenever I see fit. Control is evil and I must refuse to partner with it. It seems silly, but I literally had a breakup conversation with Control. “I’m done, we can’t use each other any more.” It was not an instantaneous breakthrough, although something in my thinking shifted. It is a daily refocusing to choose to walk as a Powerful person, and to give the people around me the space to be Powerful as well.