Even “well-meaning” control is still control. When we think of control, many clichéd situations come to mind. We think of someone, like the infamous David and Louise Turpin, who locked up their children.
But subtle control is as damaging as extreme control. Control can masquerade as “positive,” for example, someone who believes they know best how we should dress, accessorize, act, speak, think, walk, live because “I want you to be the best you can be.” Someone for whom we are, well, to quote my friend, “Not a person. Just a Project.” Even this “well meaning” control, is still control. And control is always inappropriate, bad and usually backfires.
Faced with this I-just-want-you-to-be-the-best-you-can-be micro-control, how do we keep our soul alive? How do we desperately cling to the merest thread of freedom? How do we keep our personhood when we’re being turned into a Project designed carefully to reflect well on the Project Master?
Obviously, the best scenario is for the control to cease, whether that means setting a successful boundary or, in more extreme situations, going No Contact entirely. But what if those aren’t options? Like many of you, I found myself coping with being controlled in an unhealthy way in my twenties.
I realized I was doing this by committing micro-rebellions. If molding me into some Perfect Person was their Project then my rebellion took the form of self-sabotage. If they wanted me to be the very best, well! Then I just wouldn’t!
Was it healthy? NO! Do I recommend it? Absolutely not. But it did keep my soul alive and there are thousands out there, also self-sabotaging, just so they feel that they belong to themselves, that their lives and bodies are still their own.
How many teenagers dress, act, accessorize, etc. in ways they know are out-there or unattractive merely because their parents are so pushy, so controlling, so embarrassed by their child’s appearance. The more the parents lecture, scream and punish, the more their teenager-on-the-cusp of adulthood self-sabotage…just to feel that they belong to themselves. That they have any say or control over their own lives, own appearance, own body, own soul.
Oddly enough, it took meeting my step-children in 2012 to realize the extent of the toxic and inappropriate control of my life. My step-children had the freedom to choose their own hairstyle, dye their hair any color that tickled their fancy, wear dramatic Cleopatra eye-makeup, decorate their bedrooms and put up posters and artwork. Having never had that much ownership over my own body or childhood bedroom, at first I was shocked. Then I realized Wow! This is good. And it was such fun to dye their hair and let them dye mine!
My self-sabotage didn’t begin until my twenties. Sometimes this micro-rebellion took the form of conveniently forgetting to take my vitamins because I was sick of being reminded to take my vitamins. (It felt like my old nemesis, infantilization.) Other times, (I’m a little ashamed to admit) it took the form of always leaving something “wrong” with my appearance. Just not looking quite as put-together as I felt pressured to look. The only person I was hurting was myself, but it made me feel free to not maintain the Project (me) as They wanted the Project maintained.
Case in Point: I’ll never forget, never, the fight to cut my hair. It was a fight for the history books! At the age of nineteen, I realized that not only was my long-hair-tied-back-with-a-pink-ribbon weird for my age, but it was also unattractive. My fine hair can’t support being long; it looked stringy and ill-kept. So I announced my intention to cut and layer my hair so the waves could bounce and shine.
Well!!! World War III! But a war fought in proxy, I’m pretty sure. I never had a direct conversation with my narcissist about my plans, but his Flying Monkey was beside herself. Reading between the lines, all the frantic drama (and there was a lot!) seemed somehow second-hand. As though she was desperately, and I do mean desperately, fighting someone else’s battle. That compelling my obedience was vital for her to attain so she wouldn’t catch heat.
For perhaps only the second or third time in my life, I held my ground. This was one fight I wasn’t willing to lose. “Fine!” my Flying Monkey yelled, “Shave your head if you want to!!!!” or words to that effect. If she’d been wearing petticoats, the stage direction “she flounces out of the room” would have described her attitude perfectly.
So it was that at the ripe old age of nineteen, I had my first salon haircut. How nice it was to have a professional wash, trim, layer, blow dry and style my hair! What a difference from having it be snip-snip-snipped at it in the kitchen at home. And, of course, my Flying Monkey absolutely loved my new fluffy ‘do. (So all that drama was…much ado about nothing!!!!)
The narcissist ignored it. Pointedly ignored my new hairstyle. So I lightened my hair. He pointedly ignored that too. “He likes women to have long hair,” I was told. That explained why he always criticized his coworkers for returning from their maternity leave with short hair. So, as the years went on, my haircuts got shorter and shorter. Was it flattering? No. But that wasn’t the point. But he hated it, silently hated it while his Flying Monkey fussed and made suggestions for wearing “big hair” instead of keeping it short. So I just kept cutting my hair shorter and shorter.
Because it was mine. Did it look good? No! Did I know it? Yes! Do I wear it that way now? No. I don’t need to. No one is trying to control my hairstyle now. There’s no more need for micro-rebellions. No need for coiffure self-sabotage.
Control is just another example of narcissists’ lack of boundaries. Narcissistic parents are so afraid their children will reflect badly on them. After all, they criticize other parents for their children’s appearances. Turn about is fair play. Narcissists create their own personal Hell but assuming everyone thinks like them; ergo, that the narcissist is being judged by his/her child’s appearance. In reality, normal people all know teenagers go through awkward physical and emotional phases as they try to find their adult selves and wise parents will give them the autonomy and ownership of their own bodies, hairstyle, clothes (within reason), make-up, etc.
If you find yourself self-sabotaging, ask who’s trying to control you.
If your child or teenager is self-sabotaging, take a long, hard look in the mirror.
This world would be a much better, happier and healthier place if we could all just leave each the heck alone!