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home : health : health June 20, 2018

6/12/2018 12:57:00 PM
A woman's desire for control
By Audry Van Houweling, PMHNP

One of my goals in my practice is to heighten insight and self-awareness among my clients. Many of my female clients come to me with complaints of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and underappreciated. These symptoms are often married to perfectionistic tendencies and attempts to control the external to compensate for internal chaos.

Now for some controversy. When it comes to control and gender, it seems that a double standard exists. Men are often chastised for seeking control in a relationship as it seems akin to emotional abuse and patriarchy. This sense of disapproval is warranted; however, I question whether women are judged by the same standard. It seems more acceptable for a woman to voice emotional distress over a controlling man, yet if a man were to voice his emotional distress he would need to overcome a societally reinforced barrier of embarrassment and defeat.

A man may feel pressure to acquiesce in order to not "rock the boat" and consequently, similar to a woman in the same position, resentment can flourish.

When I ask women - many of whom laud equality as a core value - to put themselves in the shoes of their partner or children or inquire whether they would tolerate the same level of control from their partner, a good healthy pause and then reflection ensues. Ironically, these women often voice that their partner is too passive, yet simultaneously insist on "doing it all" and have difficulty delegating even simple tasks.

A woman's desire for control certainly is not born in a vacuum. Often, the origins of her controlling tendencies are rooted in trauma. Trauma is an insidious and almost universal experience among women. Taking control and maintaining order may have been critical to emotional and physical survival at times, which can be a hard pattern to shake even when emotional and physical safety are secured. This can leave well-meaning spouses, children, coworkers, and others in the path of the "control storm."

Putting aside individual experiences, our society alone perpetuates the persistent unease among women that "we are not yet good enough until..." This by itself can cause a strong fear of disapproval and ongoing attempts to control partners, children, co-workers, food, appearances, and money, among other things.

A woman may have experienced times of chaos or abuse or dysfunction that left her feeling desperate for a sense of control. Micromanaging, demands, and persistent critique are often secondary to a sense of emptiness or internal turmoil that fuels uncertainly, self-doubt, and the need for external validation, praise, or a sense of order. In some cases, a woman experiencing abuse from a spouse or partner may seek to regain a sense of power or control by displacing her anger and resentment onto her children. It comes as no surprise that the children who have absorbed emotional impacts from their mother and father then also start displaying concerning behaviors. Children may then be chastised, given that they are not fulfilling desired outcomes and yet in trying to correct the behavior, it is only further reinforced.

Control is about being attached to an outcome that will somehow, per our perception, dissipate fear of the unknown. Yet despite our best efforts to plan, manage, and control, the unknown will always exist a minute from now, an hour from now, tomorrow, and so on. Letting go of outcomes is not giving up, but rather trusting yourself enough to navigate the unknown - whatever may come your way.

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