Don’t think I haven’t seen the rolling eyes, gritting teeth and balled-up fists. The exasperated sighs are what really give it away—others frustration with my need to be in control. All. The. Time. Lest you think I’m an overbearing tyrant—I’m not. (At least not the tyrant part.) I just need order in my life. Sometimes that spills over into unconsciously trying to manage the lives of those around me, too.
This post was inspired by fellow blogger Kimberly Harding . Her posts always touch me with words of wisdom and beautiful drawings. She commented on my recent post Reclaiming Mama Bear–My Inner Child. It made me take a closer look at why I have such a need to be in control. She recommended a book by Steven Farmer, Adult Children of Abusive Parents, and she said the author talks about developing a “controlling child” to survive the abuse. I knew then I was on my way to the answers I long for. Amazon’s two-day delivery of the book arrived in one day—the Universe must understand that I am Miss Antsy-Pants. The book delivered, too. It’s the best I’ve read on recovering from childhood sexual abuse and understanding the Inner Child.
This was my take-away from the book:
I actually have three “inner children”: the Hurting Child, The Natural Child, and the Controlling Child. The Hurting Child suffered the abuse. She felt traumatized. She felt fear, anger, shame and embarrassment. The Natural Child is the one who experienced joy, through her imagination, when her parents weren’t around. She was the sensitive one. She felt the emotional pain of the abuse. And when the pain became too much and her emotions became dangerous, it was necessary for the Controlling Child to silence both her and the Hurting Child—by splitting off from them. It felt like an emotional death, but it was, as the author said, a survival decision. Now she, the Controlling Child, was free to create roles to protect herself. She would manage everything and keep everyone happy. It was no small task. In some families where there are many children, each child takes on one role. However, in mine, my older brother mostly lived with our real father, and my two younger half-siblings didn’t come along until I had my well-developed roles.
My Controlling Child had to be a Perfectionist, the family manager. The words responsible, mature, and reliable describe her. Having a mother who stayed in bed with her “nerves” meant the Controlling Child would take over Mom’s duties as wife and mother. Yet, the constant criticism meant that nothing the Controlling Child did was ever right, or enough. She needed to try harder. [As an adult, the need for perfection continues. No matter how well I do, or what I achieve, I don’t see it. I feel constant guilt at my failure. Relationships are difficult. I never relax. I want others to conform to my plan and my schedule. I believe that’s the only way our lives have any possibility of working out. I watch their disapproval of my attempts and interpret it as further criticism of my ability to manage. So I turn away from them; I isolate . . .
I also took on the role of Caretaker. My mother took to her bed by the time I was three. From Mom I heard “You take care of Daddy,” and from my dad I heard, “You take care of Mom, she’s sick. Take care of the house. Take care of meals. Take care of the little kids. Take care of me . . .” [As an adult, I continued my Controlling Child role of trying to manage the care and happiness of others. But I’ve been unable to allow others to care for me. I haven't understood my feelings of emptiness. Now I’ve grown too exhausted to take care of others.]
In her teen years, the Controlling Inner Child began resisting her role as perfectionist and caretaker. It became clear that she couldn’t make her family happy. She couldn’t make her mother well. She couldn’t get Daddy to leave her alone. She lost her ability to manage the family. The Controlling Child flipped a switch and took on the role of REBEL. She grew angry. She screamed at her parents, “I’m sick, sick, sick of this!!” Now the attention was on HER. She acted out her rage and hurt. She sought out attention from the wrong people. She drank. She ran away. She dropped out of high school. She begged for attention. All her actions were a plea for help. [As an adult, the guilt from my actions as a rebel stayed with me. My parents made sure of that, right up until they died. I brought the low self-esteem and powerlessness with me into adulthood; but I also brought an enormous sense of empathy for others who have suffered abusive childhoods. And now, there is a drive in me to be a crusader for potential victims and survivors of abuse.]
I’ve just finished this amazing book, up to the section on Recovery, so now, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut:
“You were sick but now you’re well, and there is work to do.”