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In my seminar this past Wednesday, we had a discussion about various ways that people “dominate” others. Certain ways are more obvious. For example, some people dominate with arrogance or money or authority or information. Other ways are less obvious, such as dominating through withholding, cynicism, humor or victimization. Essentially, we all have tools (conscious or unconscious) that we use to control situations, steer conversations or manipulate others. During a break on Wednesday night, I asked David how I dominate. He thought for a moment and said that, at least within our family, I dominate with upset.

He’s completely right. And I hate that he’s right.

What he means by “upset” is that if he and/or the kids push my buttons past a certain point, I become stone-faced, I withdraw, I act sullen and shoot dirty looks. The entire family is then held hostage by my mood — walking on eggshells, ignoring me or attempting to placate me until I soften. It’s ugly behavior and it’s embarrassing to own up to it.

It is not news to me that I go to that place. But describing it as a tool that I have employed (albeit semi-consciously) in order to gain control of people and situations allows me to view it through a new lens. I am feeling very hopeful that I have a chance of addressing this tendency from a new perspective — one in which I have something to say about it and I’m not a victim.

There will, of course, always be times that I get upset, but, with this new awareness, I can stop the upset from turning me into an emotional terrorist.


2 responses »

  1. Lindsey, first, thank you for allowing me to join the conversation. I think it is really great that you are willing to examine these things and address them. It takes great courage. Think how difficult it is for people to even look at their physical selves in the mirror. And from the outset, I am a crier. It is not always in my control. Sometimes the best I can do is cry and and use my words at the same time.

    I am a little worried by what you write because I hear the slightest kernel of censoring your feelings and really, really that is not the way to go. Suppressing your feeling in the moment always makes it worse in my experience- both in the short run and the long run. Sometimes, such as in emergencies, situations may require you to quickly acknowledge your feelings and just as quickly put them aside so that you can deal with the crisis, but even allowing yourself that split second will leave functioning more efficiently and better able to process everything in the aftermath at least in my experience.

    The point is that your kids and you are going to feel all sorts of feelings. Some feelings feel better than others, but they should feel safe and comfortable to express all of them. And Lindsey it is okay for you to feel angry, disappointed, frustrated, whatever. And like any kind of pain it is much easier to deal with the smaller it is like a tree whose trunk doubles in thickness each year. Think with each degree of pain you hold in that it doubles, how much harder it is going to be to get rid of. I had a therapist who put it much better, but I forced myself to put in practice and I found that by forcing myself to say I feel _____when you______ when there was only a sapling we could all be laughing again soon and even better with practice it got so I would forget that I had been angry earlier in the evening until it came up in relation to something else. Anyway, if if at first all you can do is say I am angry and I need to take a time out and listen to your iPod or watch tv for a few minutes whatever chills you out, computer solitaire, reading. Feelings are good. How we act is sometimes not so good, but that’s in our control.

    Seriously, we are going to have a family gathering somewhere…

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. You and I are actually in agreement. My hope is to be able to express my feelings in the moment without my behavior moving to a place where I threaten or make others responsible for those feelings. It is my actions I am looking to control – not my feelings.


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