Being controlled

I was completely under her thumb. I had no thought of my own. She decided everything, as if I were hollowed out and her idea of what I should be poured in to fill the gap.

I am sorry if I have brought you here on false pretenses. This is not a sexual fantasy, but reality, just how it was. It was trauma: Trauma is the experience of being powerless to establish a boundary between our self and that which is about to inflict, or is already inflicting, serious harm or even death. It is one of the most acute forms of suffering that a human being can know. It is the experience of imminent annihilation, writes James Finley.

So now I have lost my confidence, completely. Something bad will happen that I will not understand, or be able to predict, or avoid. I will face- the employer, the monster, the person with power, and I will die. That I know this conviction is totally irrational does not take away any of its power.

My mother was completely controlling. She had me because that was the conventional thing, not because she wanted me. It was very hard for her, but convention was important. I recognise that she did her absolute best for me, as parents do.

I had some control over what I ate, but only to refuse. So almost every night I ate rissoles beans and chips (not always chips) separately from what my Mum, Dad and sister ate. These things are negotiated. I have no memory of how this came to be, but remember that when I was about fourteen my Mum went off to look after my grandfather, my Dad ate my diet while she was away (my sister was away at school) and said how dry and horrible it was. When I went to University I quickly came to eat anything, and now I say I would eat anything any culture would offer honoured guests.

Clothes: Of course parents get clothes for children, and living so far from shops it was difficult, but my mother made shorts for me until I went to secondary school. The other boys were in long trousers in winter of course. When I said it showed I could stand the cold my sister was derisive: “So you’re the wee toughie, are you?” I wore shirts and ties at weekends.

I had the sense of us being apart from the community, with my parents. My sister was part of it (the school was comprehensive, boarding, the nearest that had a fifth and sixth year of secondary). My father, a teacher, allowed me to sit in the classroom and read rather than go outside during breaks. Normally, children get their accent from their peers, but I got mine from my English mother.

Attitudes, beliefs, understandings, ways of being: all from my parents. In my thirties I decided it was time to rebel against my parents, and I have been doing teenage ever since, that is, thinking for myself, or at least absorbing ideas from other sources than ones they approved.

My mother was distressed when I was very small, when I did not respond well to all her hard work. The trauma began then for me, her inner critic creating my own. What I remember is the outworking of the control, not its initiation. And it came because she so rigidly controlled herself, as she had been controlled, the sins of the fathers visited on the children.

I watched The Cry on BBC1. Episode 3 is a compelling portrait of coercive control: every line counts. I could hardly bear to watch it, feeling all the horror. Perhaps because of that, I am able, now, to state that I bear that trauma: the inner critic saying what I say is simply ridiculous, no-one would possibly believe it, is quieter, or perhaps I believe it less. And, adult experiences have damaged my confidence; but it is that small-child reaction, the terror of imminent death, that prevents me acting.

5 thoughts on “Being controlled

  1. I very much identify with that small child’s terror of imminent death. Indeed there are times when I find his experience tremendously stultifying.
    However, I find myself fairly reveling from time to time in the experience of my teenager set free.
    And I enjoyed your little game of bait and hook, at the beginning of your article. Very cheeky, Clare.


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