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Unmasking Control – Hidden Patterns That Shape Your Life And Relationships – Part 1

Written by: Lynette Chartier, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Lynette Chartier

Have you ever been blindsided by a revelation about yourself that challenged your self-perception?

Woman under a duvet in her bedroom

Let's begin with a moment of truth. Years ago, during a private coaching session, I was surprised to learn that I had control issues. It left me questioning myself – control issues? Me? As I explored this further, I realized that control is less frequently about overt dominance; it generally hides in subtle patterns, impacting our lives and connections. This realization led me to explore the dynamics of control, trust, and vulnerability, bringing about remarkable positive changes in my life. Join me as we uncover the power of embracing our true selves.

How fear of failure fuels perfection and the need for control

In an earlier article on this platform, I described perfectionism as: “ a pattern born from a false belief that in order to feel and be emotionally safe and secure, we must constantly strive to be enough in every aspect of our lives.”

We unconsciously spend our days scanning for clues on how to behave and present ourselves, and for what to fix, all in the name of making everything “just right” for others, so they can be happy with us, thus ensuring our safety. The relentless pursuit of perfection can stem from the belief that being flawless or always going above and beyond is the key to earning approval, love, and ultimately, safety.

Another angle to perfectionism is doing everything in our power to avoid making mistakes. The fear of making errors, of failing in what we have set out to achieve, sets in motion behaviours that we subconsciously adopt in order not to feel the shame, and the stress that became hard wired into our nervous system when we were much younger.

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one." — Elbert Hubbard

This fear of not getting it right fuels the habit of constantly being on guard, meticulously digging for details, checking things, and scanning our environment, whether in our personal or professional lives for clues of what might be amiss. Our logical mind kicks into high gear, compelling us to straighten out, organize, or fix what it believes needs fixing. The sooner we complete 'that thing,' the quicker the stress and anxiety coursing through our veins can dissipate.

Should 'that thing' become a recurring presence in a particular situation, whether it's related to your job, a relationship, or something else entirely, and you judge it as unfixable, you may begin to feel the urge to leave, quit, or escape from the situation altogether. Running away, as it is often referred to, means the runner doesn’t deal with the real issues and will continue to attract similar circumstances until the awareness is received, and the transformation of the behaviour can begin.

Whether it's in careers, relationships, or homemaking, control can manifest as an inclination to over-organizing, meticulous scheduling, excessive preparation, extended hours at the office, or even the development of a workaholic coping strategy—all in the pursuit of ensuring that every base is covered, and that no unexpected negative surprises come knocking at the door. After all, surprises have the power to trigger us and make us feel unsafe.

However, it's important to recognize the high costs associated with this form of control. Exhaustion, fatigue, a sense of depletion, a lack of motivation and little joy are just some of the tolls it can exact on our well-being.

The coping trap: How control serves as a shield against life's uncertainties

In the adult world, we often encounter individuals who appear to be moving through life wearing emotional armor. This armor serves as a shield, causing them to keep their emotions closely guarded, even seeming stoic or detached in challenging situations. Their reluctance to express vulnerability or deep feelings is rooted in a desire to shield themselves from potential emotional harm.

For many adults, exercising control over their environment becomes a means to enhance predictability and a sense of safety. This coping mechanism, like other adaptive strategies, falls along a spectrum, often having a more significant impact on the individual who exhibits it rather than necessarily affecting those around them. It's essential to recognize that engaging in controlling behaviors doesn't always involve big overt actions such as coercion, intentional manipulation, gaslighting, or outright mistreatment of others. The individuals displaying the behaviours are not bad people, they simply have maladaptive strategies and behaviours.

In some circumstances, individuals may be quick to defend themselves in conversations or arguments, always ready with counterarguments or explanations. This defensiveness serves as a shield against criticism or judgment. Such individuals, equipped with this emotional armor, also tend to avoid situations or relationships that might make them feel exposed or vulnerable, often shying away from intimacy or any circumstances where they can't maintain control.

It's important to note that wearing emotional armor can serve as a protective mechanism in response to past trauma or challenging life experiences. While it can provide a sense of security, it may also hinder personal growth and prevent individuals from experiencing the full range of emotions and connections that life has to offer.

Researchers such as Dr. Vincent J. Felitti and Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, who have studied adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and their impact on later life have made significant contributions to the field of trauma / traumatic events, and coping mechanisms. Individuals who have experienced such events may, seek control as a means to ensure routine which creates a sense of safety and order in their lives.

Being able to feel safe with other people is probably ​the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. – The Body Keeps the Score

Control dynamics in relationships

Speaking of control, did you know that intense people-pleasing is actually a form of control?

It's a coping mechanism deeply rooted in the pursuit of emotional or physical security. In recent months, I've come to notice this intensified aspect of people-pleasing more closely. When interacting with individuals who engage in such accommodating behaviors, the way they communicate can sometimes give off the impression of being cagey, evasive, or hesitant to share information—as if they're concealing something. At times, they may even come across as being less than truthful. However, it's important to understand that, in many cases, their true aim and underlying necessity are simply to establish a sense of safety.

"The need for control and the degree of intimacy are inversely proportional. The more you need to be in control, the less intimacy you'll be able to tolerate."Harriet Lerner

These individuals who exhibit this heightened form of people-pleasing may have seldom found safe opportunities to express their genuine needs or desires during their formative years or in past relationships. More often than not, any attempts to do so were met with suppression, belittlement, or other negative reactions. Consequently, they developed a coping strategy of silence, never fully revealing their true opinions or preferences. They became adept at keeping their cards close to their vest, occasionally resorting to deflection and other tactics to safeguard their emotional well-being. Consequently, when someone genuinely encourages them to articulate their needs and desires, it can stir within them profound discomfort and trigger their subconscious insecurities.

Interestingly, in many families and social circles, it's common to observe women who resort to control through over-giving and over-doing. For them, it becomes a means to manage the emotions of their partner, family, and friends, often driven by their relentless pursuit of feeling safe and secure.

They may find themselves perpetually prioritizing the needs of others above their own. This unrelenting habit can be driven by an earnest desire to ensure the happiness, contentment, or approval of those around them. In their unrecognized faulty belief, such actions become a means to secure acceptance and safety within their social or familial circles. Engaging in a disagreement or asserting a differing opinion can provoke deep discomfort, and as a result, these individuals often go to great lengths to avoid conflict altogether.

“When you are fully sharing power with someone, you are ‘meeting them at the 50% line’.  You are doing your 50%, and they are doing theirs.”

Furthermore, the compulsion to over-give and overdo may extend into the realm of spending. Some individuals may indulge in material purchases/ gift giving as a way to make themselves and their spaces more acceptable to others. This unnecessary spending can also be done to alleviate any discomfort or guilt they might feel when setting boundaries or uttering the word 'no' to others' demands. Somewhere within, there is a part of them that feels this extra spending serves as a temporary source of reassurance, offering a fleeting sense of being valued and needed.

These behavioral patterns run deep, originating from earlier experiences where individuals learned that their self-worth and security were intrinsically tied to their ability to meet the emotional needs of others. Acknowledging and understanding these deeply ingrained patterns can be the first step toward cultivating healthier coping mechanisms. This includes the practice of setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, and seeking the support needed to embark on a journey toward a more balanced and fulfilling life.

For more authentic living: Embrace truth and shed old patterns

Our primal instinct for safety, sometimes illogical, can trigger a range of behavior patterns within us, often going unnoticed by both ourselves, and others. The encouraging news is that these patterns can be transformed. With effective methods, support, and a willingness to change, individuals can release these types of nuanced controlling behaviors that no longer serve them, recognizing the costs outweigh the benefits.

In Part 2, we'll explore the transformative process of letting go of non-serving control patterns, developing greater self-trust and trust in others. We'll also discuss the significance of vulnerability in breaking free from control and acquiring the ability to authentically express one's true needs and desires, all while cultivating a genuine sense of security.

Remember, the truth may sting, but it also has the power to set us free. Embrace it! Know that you're not alone; we all develop coping mechanisms based on our past experiences. Any controlling behaviors represent just one facet of who you are—not the entirety of your being. It's equally essential to acknowledge and tap into those resourceful and positive aspects that exist within you as well. In doing so, you can find the balance needed to lead a more harmonious and fulfilling life.

If you or someone you know is grappling with self-protective patterns and seeks guidance, please don't hesitate to reach out. I am here to help you gain clarity on your journey.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Lynette Chartier Brainz Magazine

Lynette Chartier, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lynette Chartier guides smart, motivated women who feel stuck, unfulfilled, or are playing small to overcome long-buried pain and fears that limit them. Drawing from over 17 years of experience in spiritual work rooted in SAM’s philosophy, as well as extensive study and accreditation as an EFT practitioner, Lynette offers a practical framework of empowerment and results-focused approaches. Having navigated personal challenges across various domains and transformed her own life, Lynette is dedicated to empowering women to make their desired transitions and enhance their quality of life.



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