The Dark Art of Control: How to Reclaim Your Power

The most difficult blogs to write are the most personal ones for they expose you “belly-up.” This is one of them. It’s particularly tricky to write this one because, in addition to the opening for personal exposure and the criticism that can follow, I recently came to an awareness about my own propensity to judge others and in order to write this entry I have to walk a fine line between observation and judgment.  But here goes. 

I have previously written about my divorce and the fact that we have a 16-year-old daughter so there’s no need to elaborate here other than to remind you of both.

Just this week, our daughter had a doctor’s appointment for a minor issue and my ex-husband agreed to pick her up from school and take her, since he had been unable to during his normal Parenting Time with her last week. When I was able to check my calendar, I realized that I couldn’t pick her up after the appointment as my day was full with commitments through late evening. So, I asked him if he would also bring her to my home after the appointment.

He refused without giving a reason.

When I inquired “why” he replied, “Because I have a full day and don’t feel like driving anymore then I need to

.”  When I suggested that I generally do all of the driving for her and that she had heard his reply and was hurt by it, he said he would be “happy to explain it to her” two days later when he took her to the appointment.  I further suggested that he might want to call her now, rather than later, as she was obviously disappointed and hurt…feeling unimportant and like an inconvenience to him. His response to that was “If she needs to she can call me.”

I want to repeat what he said: “If she needs to she can call me.”

I was married to this person for almost 17 years and I take responsibility for allowing him, over that period of time, to chip away at my self-esteem by exchanging my personal power for the need to be loved by, and compatible with, him.  And, in hindsight, I had pretty much figured out how that had occurred.  Even our daughter had said to me, post-separation, “You were always too easy on him. No matter how he treated you, all he ever had to do was say ‘I’m sorry’ and you’d forgive him.”  That’s tough to hear from a then 15-year-old who you know is forming her model of a woman after you… and her model for relationships after her parent’s marriage.

But I’ll tell you what was even tougher to hear than that.

When he said that sentence, ” If she needs to she can call me,” I heard him tip-toeing down the path of a pattern of manipulation that is the slippery slope to emotional abuse. He had said something hurtful and insensitive and now he was trying to see if he could get her to come to him for the apology he owed her.

He was planting the seeds of emotional control. 

Had she complied, those seeds could then take root.  Each time such an opportunity would then arise in the future to solidify the pattern… he would take it, knowing she was a participant.  And each time she acquiesced and went toward that which was the source of her pain, he would have gained a little more control over her and she would have relinquished a little more of her self-esteem and personal power.

The good news is I got in the way. In a good way.

I used it as an opportunity to talk with her about dignity, self-esteem, male-female relationships, and the different types of abuse…emotional, psychological and physical. We spoke about healthy relationships and the importance of knowing where your boundaries are.

Finally, we spoke about being able to say to yourself, if not to anyone else, “No thank you. The price is too great” and so to be able to  “pass” on what’s being offered with confidence in knowing that your dignity is not for sale and betrayal of Self is never an option.

One caveat… because I need to be careful as I walk that observational/judgmental line I mentioned earlier.

I don’t think my ex-husband is a malevolent person. I don’t think he consciously sets out to seek that level of control.  He obviously has his own needs and insecurities that cause him to take that approach rather than expose himself belly-up. But that’s no longer my concern.

Our daughter is.

Abusive relationships don’t start out in the deep end. They develop slowly over time and, like everything else, it takes two. The one sure way to avoid them is to be self-confident, self-aware, and unwilling to trade anything for what appears to be love.  Love doesn’t possess, control or hurt. And it’s NEVER the result of a bargain between two people…no matter what’s being exchanged.

Hopefully, our daughter knows this and has learned it from her parents.

There is an old saying, “You teach what you have to learn.”


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