Over the past two weeks, my productivity has been down. It’s not surprising if you look at what is happening around me right now. My kids are home and I’m supposed to be homeschooling them while I do my job. I am also supposed to be keeping my family virus-free while still figuring out how to get supplies and cook many more meals than I used to. I really am a shameless non-cooking mother. Take-out and dine-in are two of my favorite phrases. And I guess I am supposed to be cleaning more. And I guess I am supposed to be doing more physical activity with my kids since their activities have been cancelled. And I guess I am supposed to get them to wear clothes and brush their teeth and take baths. Sometimes I am doing those things. But I feel so much less productive with my work. Stuff just isn’t getting done. Not surprisingly, my controller is furious and agitated.
But that’s not the only reason my controller is stirred up. Their illusion of control is failing, and they can’t figure out how to put it back together. There is nothing like a catastrophe to highlight the illusion of control. Most of the time, we live in a world that is filled with a fake sense of control. Our controllers keep us calm through their denial that anything can go wrong at any time. And our controllers lose their minds when unexpected things do go wrong. These things have the potential to poke holes in the lie. But when there is a bigger crisis, the illusion of control begins to crumble. And that is overwhelming. It is intense for everyone, but for those with complex trauma, it is retraumatizing. The unpredictable nature of reality brings our trauma front and center. We survived by believing we were in control. And we cannot face the truth without facing our trauma and seeing it for what it really was: uncontrollable.
There’s a reason we have avoided the awareness of just how uncontrollable this life is. When we are stuck in a traumatic childhood, it can bring up despair and hopelessness. It can be life-threatening when we see no way out. So we shove all those horrible feelings under a sense of false control. But each time a new hole is poked in that veil, those emotions show up. And they feel horrible. They terrify the controller who knows they can leave us paralyzed on the couch with no hope of functioning. They can stop us in our tracks. They can inundate us with stories of how hopeless this life is. And unfortunately, they can bring suicidal ideation. Our controllers are so scared of this, they would rather believe in a complete falsehood. They would rather have us running all over town, doing potentially dangerous things to avoid this truth.
But it doesn’t work. The uncontrollable brings futility, despair and hopelessness. It is a flashback. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t currently in a life we can’t control. There are aspects of our experiences we cannot do anything about today. But when we see our only path forward as death, we are back in childhood. When we believe there is absolutely no way out of this, we are back in childhood. When we believe we have no control over ANYTHING, we are back in childhood. When we believe we will be abused like in the past, we are back in childhood. When we believe a lack of control will only bring horrific things, we are back in childhood.
It is important for us to recognize these feelings as a flashback. When we do, we can see that our inner parts are trying to share their triggered emotions about the past. When we can hold space for them without telling ourselves a story about today, we can help them heal and come back to the real story. What’s that story? A pandemic is not something we can control by ourselves. But everyone is in this together and there are things we can do together to help. And for most of us with trauma, we are in less danger in a pandemic than in our childhood homes. That’s sad, but true. So let your inner parts share their futility. Keep poking holes in the illusion of control. And know that together (while physically distanced), we can take reasonable actions to make it through this.
*Note: If you are in physical danger because you are quarantined with an abuser, please know that many DV shelters are staying open. Please call the hotline and get help.