Awkward Control

drawing of a girl with her arms crossedI am an awkward person. I don’t think many people would describe me as awkward, but that is how I feel all of the time. I often feel that I can’t be myself because that is not how I grew up. I grew up wearing armor to protect myself. I was trying to control what I could in that volatile world of abuse.

And of course, thinking about control and armor got me thinking. And then I was reading Brené Brown‘s book The Gifts of Imperfections: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. There is a section that resonated with me. It is Guidepost #10, Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control.”

The reason it resonated with me is that I realized I am awkward because of my need to be in control. Control is not what you (or I) thought it was. As Brene Brown writes in Imperfections, “Being “in control” isn’t always about the desire to manipulate situations, but often it’s about the need to manage perception. We want to be able to control what other people think about us so that we can feel good enough.

And at that, I am a master.

“Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.”

— The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
https://a.co/ctAgwE4

Control and Loneliness

So, what does one do when we are searching for that ever-important comfort and connection, and we come up empty-handed? To my little kid’s brain, that meant that I was alone. I needed to know that I wasn’t, but I truly felt that I was. Growing up, it was every person for themselves. Survival meant being alone. It was guarded loneliness, protected behind the walls that I built up to defend myself. 

I wrote about my armor, and the reason for needing it in, Who Am I  Without My Armor? That same armor helped me to hide that loneliness, be in control, and able to present whatever front I wanted. It was essential to have a façade. 

Growing up in an abusive environment, I could not allow my true self to be seen and known. Letting my true self out would have been dangerous. An abuser finds those vulnerabilities and uses them against you. And they are relentless. And so, I had to control what other people saw when they looked at me. I had to present a strong, take no prisoners façade when home. When I left home, it was a different façade.

Control and Coolness

When I first read the part about being cool, I was a bit confused. But as with many things, Brown’s definition of cool is not what I thought. She writes, “Wanting to be perceived as cool isn’t about wanting to be “The Fonz”—it’s about minimizing vulnerability in order to reduce the risk of being ridiculed or made fun of.” 

I absolutely grew up valuing being cool and in control. Ridicule is one of the many ways that emotional abuse manifests. I felt vulnerable all the time. And so, my entire childhood was minimizing my vulnerability.   

It was one of the ways that I was able to survive by minimizing my vulnerability. Because once an abuser sees vulnerability, they pick and pick until you fall. Growing up, I needed to maintain that façade and my armor. I kept everyone at a distance. I never let my guard down.

Keeping Distance

Because I was very focused on being cool and in control, I never learned how to interact with children. You think that because I was a child that I would have figured out how to interact with other children? One would think, but I did not. I was an awkward kid who didn’t care about the same things that other kids cared about. 

My world was one of survival, not playing with toys and dreaming of the future. I could go through the motions, but my hypervigilance never let me be a kid.  And therefore, other kids were a great mystery to me, and that meant they were something to fear and to avoid. 

Most of my interactions with children have not gotten any better. I don’t have kids, and the ones that are in my life, I see relatively infrequently, which makes it worse. So, when I am around my nieces, and they are okay, kids, I pass judgment. I don’t say anything, verbally. Usually, I say it all with my posture and facial expressions. In general, I don’t interact with them well.

Betrayal

drawing of two little girls talking about asking their aunt for somethingAnd so, I have betrayed them by passing judgment on them for being uncool and out of control. I don’t use put-downs or make fun of my nieces. I ignore them, give them the cold shoulder, only talk to them to correct their behavior. You know what, I am glad that they are uncool and out of control. It means that they have a better homelife than what I had.

I have noticed that I do that with my husband too. I think he is too forceful in the way she converses with others. He is so loud, and his voice increases in volume, the more passionate he becomes on a topic. That is very contrary to how I grew up. There were no raised voices, and no one ever spoke over other people.

I used to think that he needed correcting from me. Bless his heart, he accepted my feedback, but it wasn’t feedback. It was me thinking he was uncool. And by trying to correct him, I was judgment and shaming. I was raised in an environment of betrayal. I was shamed for being me. Acting in such a way is second nature to me.

Betrayal is an important word with this guidepost. When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves. When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same for the people we love. 

Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (p. 123). Hazelden Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Freedom

I have not been free to be myself. It was me that placed myself in that prison. I kept myself there, drinking in the darkness of my anger and sadness. I do not like the fact that I betrayed my nieces and my husband and, most likely, so many others in such a way. 

It is the nieces that I think about more so than the adults that I have interacted with. Children learn how to be themselves by watching the adults in their lives. By not allowing my authentic self to be present with them, they are not learning to do that for themselves. 

They have not seen me, not my authentic self anyway. To be fair, I don’t know who that person is yet. But I am on that path now, and I will be able to do more and be more around them. And watching someone go on that journey is perhaps more beneficial than seeing the final result. And still, being my authentic self scares the hell out of me. But I no longer want to miss out on things because I am trying to maintain control and be cool.

When we don’t give ourselves permission to be free, we rarely tolerate that freedom in others. We put them down, make fun of them, ridicule their behaviors, and sometimes shame them. We can do this intentionally or unconsciously. 

Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (p. 123). Hazelden Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sources Cited

  1. Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (p. 116-123). Hazelden Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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