Breaking Free From Controlling Relationships
I have started a brand new series called ‘Break Through for the Real You’. A lot of feedback, mainly on my Instagram posts, has led me to create this 4 part series, where I will talk about experiences that have shaped my life, and the experiences that I hear all the time from the women and girls that I work with.
Today, I want to talk to you about control.
I have been in abusive relationships, pretty much, from the minute I was born.
I was told no one liked me or wanted me as a child.
I was abused.
I didn’t do well at school because of, what I like to call, learning differences.
People said I was stupid or that I wasn’t trying hard enough.
I carried all of those comments and feelings about myself that other people had projected on to me, throughout my life, right through all of my relationships, until 2 years ago, when I was 48 years old. It was then that I really started to get a handle on what control was, and how other people had controlled me.
And I realised something else; something huge. It was an absolute light-bulb moment for me.
I had stepped away from my last marriage – a very controlling place – 13 years ago. I then stepped away from an abusive relationship 9 years ago (which resulted in me having to seek sanctuary in a women’s refuge).
I'd thought that I was free now; that I'd left control behind me. However, just because I wasn’t in a controlling relationship with someone else, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t still in a controlling relationship. It wasn’t friends, family or romantic relationships that were controlling me. I had virtually no family around me, and only one or two friends.
No, it wasn't controlling relationships with other people.
The most controlling relationship I was in, was the relationship I was in with myself.
In order to deal with how I felt about things, and how all of these relationships had impacted on me, I had ended up controlling myself. I'd put myself into a self-imposed prison. I wrapped myself up in ‘chains’, because I thought it was going to keep me safe.
That was quite a big realisation to make. And of all the realisations I’ve made over the years, it was the biggest, hardest, and saddest of them all.
I had inflicted something on myself that others had been inflicting on me for years that I knew wasn’t right, yet I was doing the same thing. I was my own jailer.
When I realised this, I started thinking about how I could step out from my self-imposed prison. Being in there meant that I was still following the things people had told me; still being the person people told me I was. I'll be honest, I didn’t know who I was – people had told me that this was the person I was. They told me what I liked, didn’t like, how I looked best, what my best skills were. These things were what they wanted, what other people wanted of and from me, they weren’t me. They weren't what I wanted, or where I wanted to be.
I had lost who I was.
I love the phrase, ‘Why are you living in a prison when the door is wide open?’ It really speaks to me.
Me? I stayed in my metaphorical prison because it made me feel secure and safe, because I knew what to expect. I knew what bad relationships were, what bad boys were like. Bad boys were where I felt safe. Bad relationships made me feel safe. I didn’t feel safe with nice, kind, rational people - they frightened me. They frightened me beyond belief, because the first thing I would think is ‘what do these people want from me?’ or ‘Why are they being nice to me?’
So I decided that the best place for me was to stay in my little prison where I would be safe. Treat myself the way that other people had treated me, because that would keep me safe. Of course, that was ridiculous, because I still didn't really feel safe (how could I?) but I guess I felt more safe than I did in the big wide world, so I sat in that self-imposed prison for probably another 10 years.
Breaking free from my self-imposed prison sentence
Eventually, every so often, I would have a realisation, where I would suddenly think, ‘OMG I actually can do whatever I like! If I decide that right now I want to throw everything I own into a backpack and disappear off, I can do that! If I decide that I want to stay out late tonight then that's what I can do.’ I didn't even realise I could do that because I had controlled myself so much! I'd lived the life everyone else had imposed upon me, and just followed their instructions.
When I started my first business on my own in 2006, it took me a little bit out of my comfort zone, tested my control, but only enough that I still felt relatively safe. I did things that pushed me but didn't push too much because it was stuff that I knew well and understood.
When I started one of my bigger businesses, with which I achieved a level of success, back in 2011, that really started to push me and – if I'm really honest - the reason that I had to close it (I closed it about two and a half years ago) is because I got it to a point where I was becoming relatively well-known for what I did within my industry, and that made me frightened. It made me frightened because that meant that I wasn't invisible any more. And being invisible is what had helped me to escape my control for a little bit, yet still stay within my comfort zone.
What Control Meant For Me
The key thing about control, for me, was that I had to be invisible – that was the only way I could live. For me, control meant doing things that didn't take me out of my comfort zone too much; knowing that if I strayed too far out of it I could always run straight back if something frightened me. It sounds like quite an odd thing to say, that I have to be invisible. But that's how I'd lived.
My opinions didn't count
What I wanted didn't count
What I believed didn't count
What I really yearned for didn't count
All of that makes you want, and need to be, invisible.
Pushing myself too much took me to a point in 2016 where I was in a really bad place; I felt so visible that I couldn't cope, and in conjunction with a number of other things, it really led to me having a pretty difficult time on a mental health front.
When I finally started to come to terms with things, and began to emerge from the other side, I realised that I had kept myself in an awful place. There wasn't much fun in it, there wasn't much light in it or much jollity. There wasn't any love in it, apart from my boys and my little granddaughter who I showered with love and affection, and they gave me love and affection back.
However, I would go so far as to say that I think I probably made myself a little bit unlovable. I didn't think I was worth being loved. When you've been controlled, or controlled yourself, I think that feeling and being unlovable is a by-product. You end up putting yourself in this tiny prison that gets smaller and smaller; day in, day out. It doesn't matter, because it's only you...
Steps You Can Take Today
Control isn't something that has to be put on us by somebody else; it can just as easily be put on us by ourselves.
I want you to have a think about whether that is the case for you.
Is it that you're letting someone else control you or are YOU controlling you?
And are you controlling you to such a point that you don't enjoy your life?
Do you think that you are worth that level of interaction of being outside and enjoying life or do you control yourself to such a point that you don't even allow yourself to enjoy things that other people might take for granted?
If this is something you do, I want you to take note of what I'm going to suggest to you, and I want you to take this very seriously because I don't want you to be the person that I was. I don't want you to spend upwards of 40 plus years either being controlled by somebody else or, crucially, being controlled by yourself; so I want you to think about this:
I want you to think about how you live your life, and about the controls you've put in place, the things that you do and whether you enjoy them or you feel you have to or whether you don't. Whether you feel there's a level of responsibility and duty to what you do or whether you don't.
Then I want you to be really honest with yourself, and this is going to require you to be kind to yourself.
I want you to ask yourself this question:
‘If I was talking to my best friend and they said I'm not nice to myself, I let other people control me, and/or I control myself. What would I say to them?
Would you let your best friend treat themselves in the way that you treat yourself? Would you let your best friend stay in a relationship – and I'm not talking about romantic relationships necessarily, I'm talking about any relationship – that is controlling?
I'm going to suggest to you that you would say no, you wouldn't do that. I think you would say that the idea of my best friend being unhappy and unfulfilled, living in a prison, not doing stuff that makes them happy, is abhorrent to me.
So, why are you doing it to yourself? Why?
I can tell you why I did it. I did it because I was frightened. I was actually frightened that if I took a step outside of my prison that something nice would happen.
What does that say to you about my frame of mind? What does it say to you, potentially, about yours? Because I'm guessing that might be what you're frightened of too.
When you control yourself to that level, to that degree, and probably it's because other people have controlled you before; people being nice to you, and doing kind things for you, is really quite frightening because it takes you so far out of your comfort zone that you don't know how you're going to find your way back. And let's remember, we've been in our comfort zone because it's what we understand, what we know, and what makes us feel safe.
Someone being nice to us, kind to us, caring about us and wanting to do stuff for us and with us frightens us, right? It frightened me. And that’s why I stayed in my comfort zone, and why I let myself control myself for so many years.
I don't want you to do the same.
If that is what you are doing, sit and think about what you would do if your best friend told you all of these things. You would listen, support them, you would be kind to them and you probably would signpost them to some help.
So what I want you to do now you've asked yourself the question and I'm guessing you've probably seen that you might be doing these things to yourself, I want you to recognise what you've said, and understand how you feel.
The second thing that I want you to do is I want you to be kind to yourself because your first reaction is likely to be ‘yes I might do that but it's not the same as if my best friend did it’ or ‘I might do that but that's because that's what I'm worth’ or ‘I might do that but that's because that's what I'm used to.’
I want you to hear those things and then what I want you to do is, I want you to ask for help – I want you to go and find a friend and I want you to tell them what you're feeling and what this has made you think. If you feel that you don't have anyone else, please message me because I will listen, and I'll help to signpost you to someone who can help you in a constructive way.
The world is an incredible place but it's missing a little tiny part, and the part that it's missing is you. We all have a unique part to play in the world and if we're not all fully present and we're not doing our thing, being happy, helping other people, living a life that we want to live whatever that might be, then I think the world is slightly off kilter.
You are special, and unique, and we need you in the world to make it what we all deserve.