Q I have always suffered from anxiety as I grew up in an anxious and very controlled home. As a result, I have a tendency to over-focus on my husband's behaviour. My main trigger would be how much and how often he drinks. My husband doesn't have a drink problem, but like many other men in Ireland, he would drink more than the recommended guidelines. He also vapes, which I tend to focus quite a lot on. I've come to the realisation that my urge to control this is the issue, and not my husband's behaviour. I would be very grateful if you could help me and advise me on how to deal with these triggers.
A In one word, therapy. Well done for having the insight as to the origin of this, for you, which can not have been easy. It is so much easier to focus outside of yourself. Getting therapeutic support to help process what it was like for you to grow up in a controlling house and how this led to anxiety will allow you to find healthier ways to relate to yourself and others.
Change is hard. Acknowledge any anxiety or fear that comes up for you with starting this process, but keep bringing it back to the fact that this will liberate and change the quality of your life and relationships.
Be kind and courageous and be gentle and supportive to yourself internally. Bring compassion to your urges to control and ask: what is really driving those feelings? Expect setbacks and welcome them as it is a sign that you are a normal, lovely human who makes mistakes, but who wants to grow and change.
Sharing your vulnerabilities and fears about your urge to control your husband could potentially connect you both. Reaching out, as you begin to bring any shame or fear about these feelings out of the dark, is a deeply intimate thing to do.
In relation to your husband's lifestyle choices, you could have an honest conversation about how you feel about any health-related concerns you have, specifically about his drinking and vaping. Followed swiftly by the fact that you know that what he does is his choice. Explaining however that these choices are impacting the relationship. Do not use ultimatums as this will only create defensiveness. Try and instigate an open conversation with him as to what is driving these behaviours.
What you didn't learn, growing up within a controlling family, is where you and others begin and end. The lines and boundaries were unclear, confusing and possibly chaotic. This led you to doubt your thoughts, yourself and your reality. Have you ever seen how this possibly plays out in other roles or relationships from work to friendships in life?
When dysfunction occurs within a family, often the adult-child is left with a vastly different perception of how their childhood was from their parents. Days where major upset occurred may have been mentally photo-shopped by a parent, leaving you doubting 'did it really happen like that' or questioning if you are 'too sensitive', a comment you may be quite familiar with, as a verbal means of control when you would question things within the family.
The therapeutic goal would be to establish healthy boundaries for yourself so that you can have a healthy, meaningful relationship with others. That mental fog of not trusting yourself causes a lot of uncertainty and exacerbates anxiety.
Chaos is confusing and can misdirect where the responsibility lies. Misplaced anger from a parent to the child can leave you angst-ridden and not being sure of how you feel or how you have been told you 'should' feel if your feelings were minimised or dismissed.
Tune back to yourself, listen to how you react in your thoughts and how it feels in your body. When triggers such as your husband's drinking set you off, ask yourself: 'what do I feel?'
⬤ How do you feel when you feel like you are losing control of others, by their behaviour? What is that like for you? It is a familiar feeling?
⬤ As a child, did you parents drink in an unhealthy way?
⬤ Who was anxious?
⬤ How did their anxiety show itself?
⬤ Did they over-burden or over-share with you how their anxiety was for you?
⬤ How were you controlled?
⬤ List some experiences that stand out. How did that make you feel?
Anxious, fearful and controlling parents have their own battles. The issue is you learned their fear. If they held you back from age-appropriate tasks due to their fear, that lack of mastery and sense of competence of learning those skills have a major long-term impact upon your self-efficacy and self-concept. Feelings of being inadequate and frustrated can be misdirected to control others first.
Challenge limiting beliefs that you hold about yourself. Write them out, then time-line who, when, why and what happened for you to believe that. Are these self-limiting beliefs helpful or unhelpful to you and your relationships now? The big questions: ⬤Who are you? ⬤ What do you want to change? ⬤ What needs to happen for this to occur? ⬤ What do you need for this to happen?
Letting go of the illusion of control of others and really making decisions daily that will influence you and your life is the focus and intent as you bring the control back to the meta-thoughts that make the biggest impact. Wishing you the very best of luck.
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