All survivors of child abuse have control issues, whether they are aware of it or not. And I was no exception. I grew up in a home that was out of control. I had no power over what was happening or the abuse inflicted upon me. And because of that, as soon as I was out of that environment, I sought to take control whenever and wherever I could to make up for the lack of power I felt growing up. My inner child was reacting to the adult world in defense, controlling all in order to possibly prevent any further harm from coming to her and I. Consequently, I spent many years being a terribly controlling adult.
But it took me a long time to realize that I was. Child abuse survivors are so disconnected from their bodies and emotions that we don’t know we’re control freaks. And we have no idea why we desperately crave control. We just need it to be that way to feel safe and it feels so risky to even question why.
I was an extreme case. I would actually complete other people’s sentences for them. At the time, I thought that was a wonderful part of my personality. In fact, I had several irritating characteristics like this. And if this is you, please don't be hard on yourself. I don’t mean to shame you at all, but just remind you that you learned to be this way. And the good news is that we can unlearn all of our habits, even emotional ones.
When I began to heal, I realized that control was a toxic coping mechanism and was the result of the abuse and trauma I had endured. Because I was a powerless child in a chaotic home and my emotional stability became a crazy rollercoaster, it was only natural for me to try to control every aspect of my adult life. And though it might have made me feel better at times or for a brief time, it was actually hurting me and my relationships. I was driving everyone around me nuts and it wasn’t sustainable behavior for maintaining healthy, loving relationships.
I realized I had to take action and face my control issues and be okay with learning how to be (temporarily!) uncomfortable in order to let go more and more of my new to control situations and people. And I finally realized...the only thing I have control over is me, in the present moment. That’s it. I can’t control the past. I can’t control the future. I can’t control other people. I can’t control life and what it brings my way. I was only responsible for myself and my thoughts and actions and learning to become a healthy, happy human being. Period.
When I started digging into the concept and practice of mindfulness, I learned that what was controlling me was my Ego. Control is the Ego's way to deal with fear. Which is why it makes so much sense for survivors to be controlling. I was afraid 24/7 growing up. I had powerful stories about who I was and felt I had to protect myself against other people all the time. It was exhausting. It finally took the inner work of becoming aware of my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about my fears to stop this vicious cycle. I was able to take the power back from my Ego and gain a clearer picture of the truth about those fears, to finally see that most of them were from a distorted childhood view of the world. My fears did not reflect the truth of how things were, in my life and all around me.
Today, self-care, mindful self-compassion, and self-love are my top priorities to the “flexible” person I’ve become. When I feel the need to control, I know it’s just my wounded inner child panicking (yes, this still happens sometimes!). And when that happens, I put my hand on my heart and remind her that I’m here to take care of her and let her know she’s safe. It’s my job now to encourage her to let go of her need to control because she needs to trust that I am capable of taking care of both of us now and making sure bad things don’t happen again.
Your quality of life is directly linked to your ability to be flexible. That means letting go of the need to control everyone and everything in your life. The healing journey itself is not an easy journey and you won’t be able to know what twists and turns are coming your way. You have to let go of trying to control your healing, how it happens and when, and let it be.
To accomplish that, make non-attachment and non-resistance your new goals. In the process, you will confront old fears. But you’re ready for that, as the healing, capable adult. You’re safe now, your adult self knows that. And when you allow both your inner child and adult self to feel safe and learn to let go, the new life you’re creating as a healthy adult will be filled with more peace, joy, and happiness than you’ve ever experienced. I guarantee it!
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