Something that I get asked a lot is, “well, maybe he’s just trying to get me to communicate. How do I know the difference between communication and control?”
This really hits home for me because for so long I thought healthy communication was control. I didn’t know that it was wrong for someone to want to know where I was every second of the day. It never struck me as strange that he asked to see what I was wearing before I left the house. I just assumed he wanted to keep me safe.
Now looking back, that thinking makes me sick because that is not healthy communication. That wasn’t healthy anything. That was disrespectful control.
So today we’re going to talk about the difference between communication and control. I’m going to share what each of them are and how to spot the difference.
Let’s Talk Communication
Communication: the imparting or exchanging of information or news.
Communication is sharing information, generally for the benefit of oneself and others.
For example, when I go out on dates (online dating – not a fan, by the way) I text my best friend and let her know where I’m going to be. This insures that not only will she have the peace of mind knowing I’m ok, but it helps to keep me safe in case anything were to happen.
Communication can get a bit sticky. Some people do it too much and others do it too little.
When I say “too much,” I don’t mean that you shouldn’t communicate. But it’s more of a “read the room” situation.
Back to the date example, if I’m having a good time and the guy is attractive, I get nervous. Unfortunately, when I get nervous I talk. A lot. I end up spewing out a bunch of random facts about myself that no one really needs to know followed with “Oh man. I don’t really know why I shared all that.”
When you’re in a relationship, creating communication standards and boundaries in the beginning will save a lot of time and frustration later.
As someone with a lot of anxiety, if I don’t hear back from someone, my brain automatically assumes they died. So if my person goes out or is later than planned, I like to have communication about it. Not because I need to know where they are every second, but because I need to ease my mind.
Let’s Talk Control
(as a noun): the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.
(as a verb): determine the behavior or supervise the running of.
Control is when someone attempts to run your life for you as if they own you.
How does communication tie in with control?
Take the earlier example about I like communication if someone is going to be gone longer than planned. That could easily become control if I wanted them to text me every second of everyday letting me know where they are and who they’re with.
Basic communication becomes control when the person is using it as a way to control your life.
Communication vs. Control
There is a line between healthy communication and controlling communication but it’s not as fine as you may think.
For survivors of abuse, this can be an especially difficult topic. We’ve been manipulated to the point that our brains don’t function properly and struggle to differentiate between communication and controlling behavior.
That’s why I’m going to show you how to spot the difference.
Communication is healthy when it provides information that benefits both people.
“Hey, I’m going to be about a half hour later than I thought.” This is healthy communication because it eases the communicator’s mind by making sure the other person knows and will be in a better mood.
This benefits the receiver because they’re aware of what’s going on and they know that the communicator respects them.
“Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a bit and wanted to make sure you’re ok.” Is generally another healthy form of communication. It let’s the receiver know that the communicator cares about them and it gives the communicator a chance to have their mind eased.
Where this gets a bit murky is the point between blatant, obvious controlling communication and the more covert, unhealthy communication.
If someone is blowing up your phone over and over while you’re out with your friends, that’s obviously controlling communication. They want to know where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with and they get angry when they don’t get an immediate response.
But what if they seem to be checking the boxes of healthy communication, but you have an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach? Don’t ignore that. Listen to it. Trust it.
This is where it’s important to step back and take a look at the communication over the course of your time together.
Do they expect you to have your location on in the name of safety without making sure the same standard is set for them? That’s definitely controlling communication. They’re making sure they know where you are to hold you to your word, to make sure you’re not “sneaking off.” That’s dangerous.
That may seem like an extreme example, but it’s important to pull back the curtain and become aware. Get comfortable with and listen to your gut.
Communication within a healthy relationship can be difficult to navigate let alone in an abusive relationship.
That’s why it is so incredibly important to trust your gut.
The reason this has become so confusing is because we’ve been manipulated into thinking that our thoughts, feelings, gut instincts are wrong. But the reason we were manipulated into thinking that is because once we stop trusting ourselves, they can control us.
If you have a gut feeling that something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. Act on the fact that it isn’t. Get a friend or accountability group you can take your concerns to. They can step back and give you insights that you’re too close to see.
The fact of the matter is that you are so much more powerful than you ever thought possible, you just have to trust yourself enough to see that.
If someone is trying to control you, you’ll feel it in your gut. Trust that. You’ve got this, boo.
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