(c) July 2013 All rights reserved This article is the sole property of the author and CAN NOT be reprinted in any format without express written permission of the author.
We are all aware of the existence of “control freaks”; those people who insist on having everything work according to their own desires and who tend to lash out when someone chooses something contrary to those wishes. The general public warns against relationships with such people with overt criteria for identifying them. Although I find that behavior to be problematic, if not outright dangerous, I feel there is a much more subtle category of control that is all too seldom addressed: Coercion through guilt.
Guilt Trippers, as they are often labeled, seldom outright demand the control they desire. More often than not they find ways of making you feel as though you have wronged them when you exercise your own identity. They may be overt or subtle, confronting you directly or simply allow their emotional stability to crumble in response to your actions. You may go out for a night with your friends and come home to them making a production of their disappointment. They may ask you often to isolate yourself with them so they can talk to you about their disapproval.
I’ll give an example from my personal life:
I dated a man who was afraid of nearly everything about me. He worried often that photographers must have taken advantage of me when I modeled or that I had relations with other models on tour. If a man looked at me in public he would pull me aside and ask me if I knew him, if we ever dated, if we ever had sex. This sort of conversation ensued when I hugged my friends, if a male took his shirt off while I was in the room, if I laughed and smiled and had a good time with anyone other than him. Whenever I engaged in conversation with another person about a common interest, especially when my partner didn’t share that interest, he would drill us both about whether or not we had an attraction to each other. However, he always approached the issue from a standpoint of loving concern. He was soft spoken and knew a lot of “feel good” counseling lingo and it almost effectively masked his true intent.
“I noticed that you both have an affinity for Steampunk and you seem to really be connecting in that area. Have you ever considered dating each other since you obviously have common interests?”
“I just want you to know that [X interest] is really important to me and it makes me sad that I can’t share it with you. I know you said you’d support me absolutely in my pursuit of it but I just feel that you not being interested means that you’re not interested in me and I need to be loved for who I am.”
“You both make each other smile a lot. I’ve never seen her look that happy. Maybe you’d be happier with each other. I never make her smile like that.”
“I’ve got a question for you if you have a minute to talk. I noticed that you seem really comfortable with [person X] and I was wondering if you’ve ever been involved with each other.”
Of course, that “minute to talk” ended up being hours, or sometimes days during which I had to reassure him that I’ve never cheated on a partner and didn’t plan to do so in the future. However, his insecurity was never adequately appeased and, subsequently, continued to be triggered several times a day.
I reached a point where I was afraid to enjoy any of my own hobbies if they weren’t HIS hobbies. I still wanted to do those things but I was constantly weighing out the consequence of doing so. Thankfully, I am a strong willed woman and stood my ground. I still enjoyed my interests and I still spent time with my friends but I now had to dread the end of the day when I had to listen to all his covert accusations that I was a less honorable person than I am.
He dug through my past:
“I just don’t understand why you would put yourself at risk by going to house parties. Someone could have raped you and it just makes me sad that you didn’t value yourself enough to protect yourself from situations like that.”
He expressed similar opinions about me being a belly dancer, about me modeling, being Goth, working as a bartender, visiting people in bars, traveling alone, having male friends, drinking, taking lessons in martial arts and even having a close relationship with my own brother.
“I noticed you and [brother] are very huggy with each other. Don’t you think that will scare away potential partners? I figured that would be something you’d stop doing once you were in a relationship.”
His approach was obvious to me because I have a long history in human studies, but there are so many people out there who could easily mistake his words for genuine concern. It’s not always easy to dismiss control when someone SEEMS to care about your welfare.
This sort of control tactic manifests in both vanilla and BDSM relationships. As people become more aware of overt control tactics and arm themselves against them, controlling people develop more subterfuge. They learn how to make you feel as though they only want what’s best for you, to keep you safe. They invoke your pity when it comes to their emotional instability. It’s easy to feel guilty if you trigger them and to take the blame upon yourself rather than calling them out on their own issues.
So how do you protect yourself against this sort of approach?
Be yourself. You know yourself better than anyone in the world. Remember that. You’ve experimented in your own ways and learned what works for you and what doesn’t. The key is to never allow yourself to be convinced that you’ve been wrong in all the choices you’ve made. Sure, you’ve made mistakes. We all have. However, those mistakes are the stones that paved the path to learning who you really are. We are all evolving creatures who shape and shift throughout the course of our lives.
Learn to recognize open challenges to the core of your being. Stand your ground. Tell them that you need the freedom to express who you truly are. If they continue to ask you to change it, take it as an indication that you need to move on to greener pastures, and there ARE greener pastures for you. Believe it. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the mind trap so often set out for people, the one that causes them to wonder if this is the best thing that they will ever have. There are always other fish in the sea, other opportunities to learn and grow…and be loved. Don’t settle.
You’re on a boat of your own creation in the sea of life. Only YOU can plot the correct course for your destination, even if that destination is simply to wander the seas forever without ever setting foot on land. Know yourself. Embrace yourself. ENJOY yourself. There is only one you. Live it. Love it. Be it.