As I have been working with my freedom fighters over these past months, I have come to understand the numerous ways others tried to control me throughout my life. I became so accustomed to these controlling tactics, I didn’t notice them. Being controlled was like breathing air. It was the norm. Until I started to uncover how I have been impacted, it did not occur to me that I was controlled at all. After all, I live in the “land of the free”. I celebrate freedom every July 4th in my country. I have been told I am free to make any choice in my life. I have been told I can be anything. Isn’t that what all the inspirational memes say? It must be true. But there is an undercurrent of control that runs beneath all the inspiration out there. So the messages sound a bit like this.
“You can be whatever you want as long as it doesn’t inconvenience others too much.”
“You can succeed at anything but only if it doesn’t make others insecure or jealous.”
“You can make any decision you want but don’t let it fall outside the norms we are comfortable with.”
“You can do anything within the standards of what is possible for someone like you.”
These messages start when we are very young. They become ingrained in our unconscious with the controller. They are dissociated away. They are not even available to our conscious minds. How can we argue with them if we don’t know they are there? We can’t. So we live under a control we don’t know about. If we want to be free, we must build awareness of what is happening in our unconscious minds, so we can break free of our programmed patterns. To help with this process, here are some phrases we might internalize which will keep us from freedom.
“You won’t be able to financially support yourself without me.” Adults can bring this message home in many ways. It can be an abusive message meant to keep us from escaping a family’s control at adulthood. But it can also be more benign in context. If adults share too much about financial struggles, children can internalize how difficult it is to make it on their own. Adults might say things about how children don’t understand what it takes which could be true at a young age. But those statements can be internalized and follow us to adulthood. And then, there are the societal-level financial control mechanisms. Women and minorities are consistently set up for lower paying jobs and higher expenses through societal norms. Single mothers are consistently met with financial obstacles when trying to balance work and child care. This can keep women in abusive relationships. And these restrictions support the belief that financial independence is not possible.
“You need me to protect you.” Once again, this can come from an abusive mindset. Abusers use protection from other abusers as a reason for children to give them allegiance. But this can also come from the benign understanding that children do need the protection of adults to make it through childhood. When protection is overdone in the form of hovering, it can become internalized and manifest an adulthood of insecurity and searching for a savior. For women, this is reinforced by society. Instead of focusing on the perpetration of crimes, victims are blamed for not being careful. Women can wind up in dangerous relationships while attempting to find protection from other abusive people. Over time, our constant search for protection can manifest in a pattern of abuse.
“You are just like me.” This can be a very abusive statement. Abusers will use it to make children feel responsible for their abuse. They can make children feel they deserve or even want what is happening to them. They tell them they are evil and bad. But this can be seemingly benign too. Of course, parents tell their children they are alike. Children want to be like their parents. I cannot tell you how many times my children have told me they want to be like me. It is sweet and scary to hear. But when adults take it too far, they can pass their feelings of unworthiness on to their children too. They become subjected to the same obstacles. If grow up in a poor family, they learn not to expect too much. Girls might learn to aim a little lower. And if children do manage to overcome the obstacles of their parents, they might face some jealousy. But children were meant to take things further. They were meant to crash through the barriers. It is important for them to be set up for an adulthood without the limits previous generations have faced. Or they won’t go where they are meant to go.
Yesterday I felt this deep urge to do something “exciting” with my kids in the afternoon. I had an open schedule and their violin lessons had been cancelled. There was a gaping hole in my schedule where one rarely exists. Then Facebook so kindly provided an advertisement of half-priced tickets to a local amusement park. They were full-day tickets but they were cheaper than the normal price for half-day tickets. I heard my controller saying, “It’s too expensive for four hours. We should wait for a day we can spend longer there. The kids will be tired for camp tomorrow. We will have to spend a bunch of money on food too. You still have to write a blog for this week. When will you do that?” I was in my normal logic-based debate when I heard a freedom fighter. “You keep telling us we are free. Is it true or not?” They laid down the gauntlet. I had to go. I had to prove to them that no standards, rules or norms were going to stop me. We were going. And nothing stopped me. It was a great experience with my children who made it clear how much they like my freedom fighters.