by Dr. Irene Matiatos
One of the most difficult concepts for the abusive and the abused is “control.” The difficulty is compounded because “control” has two opposing meanings: “Controlling” vs. “self-control.”
“Controlling” refers to when people try to run other people’s lives. For example, if I tell you how to behave (even if I am “right”), I am being controlling. Controlling people insist, persist, or make a fuss when they don’t get their way – until they get their way.
“Self-control,” on the other hand, is analogous to self-discipline. The individual with self-discipline skills intentionally runs his or her own life, not the other person’s. If I don’t like the way you behave, I may or may not let you know. If I open up, I may make my argument once or twice. Then I drop it. I have no (sane) choice but to accept that you choose to behave/live/think/dress/etc. in a way that I do not like. I am free to make more choices for myself from that point on. I am free to take into consideration the fact that I do not like your *fill in the blank*.
Both abuser & abused need to stop controlling each other, and instead control themselves.
Victims are co-dependent. These individuals attempt to achieve closeness and unity with the person they are trying to control. They seek to bond with other and obtain self-esteem supplies by the approval or gratitude received. The objective: Let me take care of you so you will love me.
Abusers are counter-codependent. These people attempt to diminish their own pain by dictating what the other person should do – so that they (the abuser) may feel better. This control is experienced by the victim initially caring, and then as rejecting. The objective: It is your job to take care of me. Don’t fail.
Emotional Freedom, Self-Control, & Assertion
“Self-control” implies the ability (a skill) to express modulated emotion. The disciplined individual experiences emotion, but instantaneously (automatically) subjects the raw emotional experience to the logic of the cerebral cortex (the part of the brain that makes us uniquely human) prior to any verbal and behavioral expression. The result is an expressive, yet controlled response. Self-control skills are prerequisite in producing assertive responses.
The individual in control has the ability to recognize and interpret their internal affective state. They have the impulse control skills to tolerate the discomfort of painful emotions; they hold onto the emotion until it is “processed.” They don’t nurse or hang onto these emotions. They possess the concomitant ability to accurately interpret reality and implement sound judgment skills. Finally, they have verbal skills that reflect an underlying, internally-based self-esteem. They know where they stand and have no need to prove it to or convince anyone of their position. These individuals are internally connected to themselves. They passively listen to what their feelings convey and impose no control over the emotional material that wells forth. What they do control is their response.
A Dangerous Duo: Distortions & Lack of Self-Control
The cognitive and behavioral style of both the codependent and abusive individual differ markedly from that of the assertive individual. Both codependent and abusive persons blunt their emotional reactions. They control their experience of the normal full range of emotions via denial, self-imposed rules, and expectations, often fueled by difficult emotional memories, thoughts, images, expectations, etc. In other words, they distort aspects of reality. It’s not too hard to do this.
The codependent victim mindset distorts in it’s objective to win approval. Approval provides a semblance of self-esteem. Conversely, the abusive person’s mindset is often about survival in a dangerous world. They expect to be hurt…again. Do not mis-anticipate them!
When individuals with distorted underlying emotional and cognitive sets also have poor self-control skills, watch out! Distorted cognition coupled with poor self-control skills are the reason that abusers and victims create so much pain – and often both appear abusive or otherwise over-emotional!