One of the natural and healthy needs that was disrupted by my childhood sexual abuse trauma was the need to influence others and to be influenced by others. There’s a loss of control in abuse (mind, body, the situation), so it’s a struggle to regain a healthy amount of control over oneself (as well as over others).

I’ve been seeing this phenomenon in myself for a while. It really can’t be avoided. For instance, the workplace is all about persuasive speech. You have to convince people that you have the right perspective on the problem and the best plan to solve it.

“We should make this decision based on these economic forces.”
“This report proves a causal relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variable.”
“If there’s a problem, we can fix it by making a PowerPoint slide deck.”

If you ask me about what’s the best app or service for this or that function, I start frothing at the lips. If I’m excited about a particular one, I’m going to recommend it to you and make you install it right away so I can watch you use it so you can praise me for being so smart. I’m the kind of person who thinks about their responses before giving them, so I expect everyone to treat my words like they’re handed down from on high.

I’m also very wary of people trying to manipulate me or use me for their purposes. To boost that suspicion, I got burned during a co-op work term once by someone who apparently needed to boost themselves by putting down the lowest level employee in sight. Unlike Sir Mix-A-Lot, I don’t want you to use me, use me.

When people ask me for help, it makes my day. Conversely, it frustrates me when people don’t listen to said advice. As a people pleaser and know-it-all, I will do the research to get you the answer that fits you best, but if you aren’t going to take it even a little seriously, I might just swear you off for eternity. I psych myself out a lot now that I know about it. I have a lot of false starts trying to offer my help because I try not to get overly excited when people don’t act the way I want them to. Don’t titillate me.

I find it especially frustrating when people are strong willed in social situations. I hate when people are immature and cannot sacrifice their personal enjoyment for the good of others for a short moment. Sure, you get your way, but you give up an opportunity to be mature. For even healthy adults, it’s hard to get what we want when there are so many competing interests, so your immaturity steamrolls those of us who are weaker in this area.

“Why won’t they show up to my meeting?”
“Why did you even ask my opinion?”
“I already told you this before.”

Another coping mechanism I employed while growing up was suppressing my emotions, especially when I couldn’t control them. You may recognize this feature in my monotone voice. Those who are traumatized tend to distrust the natural emotional roller coaster ride of life, so I forced all of my emotions to run flat, horizontal, and slow. It’s okay to be agitated every once in a while, but emotional charging can trigger me. You can tell when I’m comfortable around you when my voice gets non-monotone. In addition, factor in how men don’t have feelings and you can see how I had trouble expressing my emotions in a healthy way. In arguments, it takes me longer than usual to process emotions because I spend a lot of energy pumping the brakes. Sometimes people overwhelm you with their problems, and it’s okay to lose your patience at a certain point.

My poor wife. I’ve forced her to try so many apps, watch so many shows, try this and that life hack. God bless her. So patient. So kind.

As I stated in a previous post, part of the challenge in writing about my recovery is determining to what extent certain character flaws affect my behaviour and how do I write about it without appearing too crazy. Maybe you think I’m being too hard on myself since everyone struggles with this, but I don’t think so. I’m explaining the concept in a way that will more easily resonate with you, the reader, so you can learn a bit about me. I used to rage when people ignored my advice. Once my counsellor pointed this out to me (it was in like, the first or second session), I realized I needed to cool off. Even the very fact that I have this blog, where I want you to read my incredible thoughts, speaks of my need to influence you.

I’m working on it. I’m mindful of my exaggerated need to control myself and others, and I’m trying to catch it as it happens. But still, if you ask me for help, just listen.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le