One single mom asked:
“How do I deal with a controlling ex who continues to abuse me mentally and tries to control me even though we’ve been split up over 6 years?”
I’m starting a movement. And this is our mantra:
We can’t control people. We can only control ourselves.
It’s one of the hardest things to realize, but once you accept it as truth, it sets you free. But you have to see BOTH sides of the truth.
We can’t control other people in our lives. We can only control ourselves.
Only we can control ourselves. Other people can’t control us.
I’ve had a lot of practice in my life with this one. And way before my marriage tipped toward the edge of no return.
Growing up in a difficult home, my father and I always seemed to be in conflict. I’ll never understand why, and God has healed me to a point that I no longer seek that answer. But, for the vast majority of my life, this man’s anger and unacceptance of me controlled me in ways I couldn’t get a handle on:
- The way I valued myself.
- The way I felt about my inner and outer beauty.
- The way I felt about my abilities and what I had to offer the world.
- The way I felt about men and what kind of men I would allow into my life.
His reach was far and wide in my life and even when he disowned me at the age of 26, I felt like that single act was also another method of control. A final word on my unworthiness.
For many years after that, I tried to figure out what I’d done to cause him to treat me that way. And even though I knew the outcome would always be the same, I’d even reach out to him on occasion trying to make amends. He ignored every attempt—thus exerting his control by proving my insignificance in life.
Even when he was no longer in my life, he controlled me. Because I was still allowing him to.
And, I began to realize that I wasn’t still listening to his voice in my head (and allowing it to affect me) because of my great love and respect toward this man. He was a mean person, who treated me and others terribly, and there was absolutely no love lost when he left.
What it boiled down to was this:
I just wanted to be a good person. And what kind of good person has a father who despises them?
It was as if I needed him to not only accept me, but to like me in order to prove that I was a good person. That I needed him to see the error of his ways so that I could be free from the feeling that it was something inherently wrong in me.
But, it wasn’t me, friends. It was him.
It was him.
It wasn’t until I became a Christian at the age of 30 that I began to get a grip on why I would allow something like this to continue in my life. I began to understand the kind of life that Jesus was calling me to. And you know what? He wasn’t calling me to be the kind of good person I thought He wanted me to be. Because in my version, I had essentially become a doormat. Allowing people to control my emotions, my worth, and my mental health simply by the way they acted or reacted toward me.
Jesus doesn’t call us to be good. He calls us to follow His ways, and lead others to do the same.
If being “good” and accepted by everyone is your goal in life, you’re aiming for the wrong things. Because “good” can become a prison that allows others to control us. A prison that keeps us from doing what God is calling us toward.
- When you want to be a “good wife” so you stand by a husband who has no regard for you, your family, or the vows he took.
- When you want to be a “good daughter” so you allow behavior, words, and actions toward you that a loving parent would never do.
- When you want to be a “good friend” so you bend over backwards for people who take and take but never give.
- When you want to be a “good mom” so you put your children above everything in your life, making them your sole focus instead of taking care of yourself, your health, and your faith.
Sweet friends, we are not called to be “good.”
We are not called to take hit after hit from people who have no regard for us.
We are not called to allow others to abuse us through methods of control for the simple fact that they hold, or once held, positions in our lives.
Jesus didn’t do that.
When people came against Jesus, He didn’t hang his head in defeat because He didn’t meet their expectations or didn’t act in the way they thought He should. He carried on with His business. He continued to live His life for God. He removed Himself from those people, rebuked the untruths they spoke, and no longer gave their words a place of significance in His life.
We should do the same. But it takes determination and a choice on your part. Because you CAN control you. You CAN control your actions. You CAN control what you allow to sink into your heart and mind. When you choose to believe who God says you are, instead of listening to others.
How do you deal with a controlling person?
You start with yourself.
You take back your power.
Cease conversation with them
Cut them off from every possible angle. Block them on social media, your phone, don’t open mail from them. Give them ONE method of contact (and only if you need contact for the daily needs of the children still in your home): an email address that you send to a special folder. Doing so takes the surprise emotional attacks off the table.
Make peace with it
Accept that you may have one person in your life that will never see you in a good light. I understand, it’s hard to do. It’s hard to accept. But, like our mother’s told us and like we probably tell our own children: not everyone will like you. Make peace with that fact.
Don’t give the things they say and do any weight
We are called to protect our mind, friends. That’s in the things we see, read, hear, and accept. If your ex’s method of control is the things they say, stop listening. If it’s the things they write, stop reading. If it’s the things they do, stop watching. I know that sounds ridiculously simple. That’s because it is. There are some people in our lives that we have to un-validate. We have to take the things they are doing to us and no longer assign any value to them. At. All. Remove the value and the sting will be removed as well.
Stop depending on them
Whether you are depending on them financially, or in some way emotionally, to support you, you need to stop. If they are unreliable or using these things as a method of control, you have to take your control back by ending your dependence. If the dependence is financial that means no longer counting that money as an integral part of your monthly budget. If the dependence is emotional that means no longer allowing them access or information to any part of your life so that they have little left to comment on.
Pull out your biggest gun
The largest weapon in your arsenal is YOU. Your own self-control. Self-control is not only about controlling our actions. It’s about controlling our thoughts. Controlling what we allow in our lives. Controlling what we will accept, setting up standards to protect ourselves, and then allowing nothing less.
In some ways, my father is still in my life. He still has a relationship with one of my brothers, and his children. I still have to listen to stories about him and what he’s doing. And there are times that those stories fill me with rage that a man who has hurt so many can go on as if nothing happened. But in every instance, just like when I was younger, I have to choose whether or not I will allow him into my life by allowing him to affect me. When I choose not to, his power is gone.
And so is his control.