anxiety · life · social anxiety

Power and Control

I have never liked being a leader of anything. I am thoroughly uncomfortable being in a position of power where I’m the one in control, plus the added perceived pressure of being judged on my performance level.

I enjoyed riding my bike as a young child. I remember it took me forever to learn how to ride a two-wheel bike because I wanted to avoid crashing onto the concrete and scraping my knees. Eventually, I got the hang of it after spending a whole summer practicing on my bike in the basement. However, I never stopped having trouble with turning corners on rides. I often rode back and forth in the driveway of my home or would venture up and down the block and sometimes even around the block on rarer occasions, but never any further. The trouble started when I became self-conscious of people looking at me as I passed them on my bike. I don’t think I ever got over this insecurity because I eventually stopped riding my bike.

There were two past incidents that are still humiliating to think about today. One was a spring or summer day when my aunt had taken my brother and I on a bike ride. I was unaccustomed to riding so far and had quite a lot of trouble slowing down my bike completely whenever the three of us stopped at a red light. This resulted in my bike hitting into my brother’s bike many times. He got pissed off at me for this and loudly complained about my inadept biking skills. His remarks drew some attention from strangers. I did not respond to his criticism and instead went away in my head, as this was a typical thing I learned to do whenever I felt too uncomfortable to speak. The second incident coincidentally also involved him. It was some years later, perhaps 2005. I was vacationing with my family in Taiwan. There were bike rentals in a park we were exploring. At this point, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years. The fact I even picked out a bike that day had nothing to do with whether I was interested in riding it or not, and was more about keeping up appearances because I was too afraid to say I didn’t want it. My brother suggested I try out the bike first, but I didn’t. Why? It wasn’t because I thought it was a stupid idea. In truth, I couldn’t make myself get on the bike with the rental vendor standing nearby watching me. I was afraid of looking like an idiot trying to get on the bike awkwardly, and then riding around in a circle. Later when we rejoined our parents and I obviously had trouble controlling my bike speed, my brother pointed out to our parents about what he had told me about earlier and how I didn’t take his advice. Similarly to the last incident, I didn’t say anything back to defend or explain myself. The rest of the way down the hill as everyone else rode their bikes, I opted to walk mine.

The second incident coincidentally also involved him. It was some years later, perhaps 2005. I was vacationing with my family in Taiwan. There were bike rentals in a park we were exploring. At this point, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years. The fact I even picked out a bike that day had nothing to do with whether I was interested in riding it or not, and was more about keeping up appearances because I was too afraid to say I didn’t want it. My brother suggested I try out the bike first, but I didn’t. Why? It wasn’t because I thought it was a stupid idea. In truth, I couldn’t make myself get on the bike with the rental vendor standing nearby watching me. I was afraid of looking like an idiot trying to get on the bike awkwardly, and then riding around in a circle. Later when we rejoined our parents and I obviously had trouble controlling my bike speed, my brother pointed out to our parents about what he had told me about earlier and how I didn’t take his advice. Similarly to the last incident, I didn’t say anything back to defend or explain myself. The rest of the way down the hill as everyone else rode their bikes, I opted to walk mine.

I am noticing a pattern with myself lately. Even with the simplest things, like when I am given the choice to decide what my family and I are having for dinner, sets off alarm bells in me. Being asked my opinion by other people is supposed to be a good thing, but because I associate it with my fear of control, I often think, Why do I have to be the one to decide? I feel as if I am shoved from the back passenger seat into the driver’s seat whenever I am asked to make a decision. Am I crazy? It’s not that serious, it’s only dinner, right? I do think there is some amount of performance anxiety to this as if I’m afraid of giving a wrong answer, even if I’m reassured by those around me that they would be fine with eating whatever or wherever and that I can choose. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to make a choice because my brain is screaming, “I don’t want to be in control!!”, and so I try to weasel out of the situation by saying I don’t really care what or where I eat. It’s not a complete lie to say I don’t care, however, I am aware that I say this just so I don’t have to be the one to give the final decision. The times I try to fight my instinct to run from the situation, it’s like internal warfare in my mind. The part of me that dislikes being in control believes it’s a bad thing, so my body naturally tries to “protect” me from a perceived danger by flooding me with a thousand different reasons why I shouldn’t go through with it. Aside from the initial fear that grips me as I realize I’ve been put on the spot, I deal with the emotion in a not-so-good way: by feeling angry. I start blaming those around me for putting me on the spot and making me decide something I want no part in. The power of belief is very strong, which is why many a time I do indeed end up aborting out of the situation.

I’m not sure how to get over these conflicting feelings about power and control. It is a problem because I’ve been thinking about learning to drive and only recently realized that I turned down previous opportunities in this because I’m scared to death about being in total control of a vehicle in public places. As for my grumpy attitude when it comes to being asked my opinions in situations, I have no clue how to fix this part of me. I get the sense I don’t want to be seen because being heard makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, but I’m unable to come to terms with how badly it impacts me so instead I just run away. There are days where I want everyone to just fuck off because I feel shitty and don’t want to talk to anyone, which is not a feasible thing to accomplish in the long run.

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3 thoughts on “Power and Control

  1. “I have never liked being a leader of anything.” This is exactly me. Though opportunities and personal growth can come from being a leader and speaking up, a lot of the time I’d rather pass this up. Not to say by not being a leader you can’t learn anything – we sure can, in our own quiet reflective way. Just different way of learning and more importantly, doing different things that speak to us.

    Bike riding sounds unpleasant for you. It sounded like your brother was judging you when you got on the bike in Taiwan – sure, the bike might be too big for you and not the right one but then again, we all have bad days at the things we do (the things we do best too).

    As someone who has anxiety, I symphatise with your experiences. I’ve never managed to ride a bike well, could never really find a balance. My mum used to get me to practise riding my bike in the carpark after school – my favourite part of it all was when it ended and all throughout practise, With each pedal, I always thought, “Enough. Finish already.”

    When i went into therapy last year, my counsellor asked me, “What’s the worst that could happen?” when I said I didn’t want to do certain things. That put things into perspective for me, because usually the worst that can happen ends up something silly that we can laugh at. But that’s not to say I put my hand up for everything now. No. I still haven’t driven since my driver’s license test. I still don’t speak up first in group discussions (if I ever at all speak up). It is a wonder how I work in customer service or how I’ve come far from being unemployed and on benefits a few years ago. I’ve always lived life honestly and never tried to hide the quiet side of me. People who don’t respect that can certainly fuck off, and being honest and proud of being someone who is not a leader but someone who is good at doing what they want to do in the background.

    Someone once asked me, “Would you rather be a leader or follower?” and from the tone in his voice, it sounded like he frowned upon of someone being a follower. I said follower, but argued that as a follower, you still have the autonomy to define yourself in what you do.

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    1. I’ve been asked that same question by my therapist as well. In hindsight, yes, being afraid of the worst thing happening in any given situation is silly and over the top, but when push comes to shove, I sometimes still give into that horrible side of my mind that likes imagining my worst fears coming true and being humiliated socially.

      Biking didn’t start out unpleasant for me, but I think I adapted poorly to it. If I got on a bike today, I would most certainly be freaked out at the prospect of how I would look to other people as I’m riding. And being on the other end of the situation, when I see bikers pass by, I do look on at them in curiosity. It’s not hard to assume that I was looked at the same way all the times I rode my bike as a young child and that people weren’t actually thinking mean/cruel things about me. Yet the fear still persists.

      Being outspoken is something I’m very uncomfortable with. I don’t know if I elaborated enough on this in my post. I see there is a definite difference between not being outspoken but not being uncomfortable to give an opinion when asked, and actually being so passive that even when people ask for my opinion or give me the option to have the final say in a situation, I just balk because it feels like I’m being pushed into a role of power that I don’t want. Many times I am aware that my fear is irrational, but other times I question if I’m like this as a result of my environment.

      I don’t want to make generalizations about Chinese people and can only speak from my own experience. But, both my parents are really compliant people. More than a handful of times I’ve seen it’s commonplace for them to say “oh don’t worry about it” or “I’m fine with anything” in a public sphere. Even around people they know well, I get the sense there’s still a certain degree of them veiling their true feelings and it’s covered up with a form of courtesy in words. So when they actually don’t want to do something, they won’t say no outright to the person. I’ve inherited this kind of behavior from them, perhaps. Another thing I notice is neither of my parents seem to like having a final say on situations. I can only speculate on why because there might be different reasons. My dad is not particularly picky so it’s possible he really doesn’t mind. My mom, however, I see sometimes that when she’s asked outright by my dad if she wants to go somewhere, she won’t say yes or no right away and instead ask if he wants to go. Then he’ll say something like “I don’t mind. It’s up to you” and she won’t say anything back. After this my dad typically says “well if you want to go we would leave soon”. She doesn’t give a verbal confirmation after this; no “ok let’s go out” and instead I see her go through the motions of going upstairs to change her clothes to prepare for leaving. When I witness this, I have to keep myself from sighing because it’s like watching them throw a ball back and forth and neither of them wants the ball in their court. I don’t understand how a decision is still reached in the end (they both end up going out) without proper verbal communication.

      That’s why when I’m left with the final decision in some situations where both my parents pass on giving their actual opinions, I feel upset, both because I don’t want the control and because I perceive they don’t want to decide and shove the responsibility on me.

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  2. Honestly sometimes I do get to the point of imagining my worst fears or the worst things that happen come true. What we feel we will feel and we can’t help it. I think it helps to remind ourselves of situations that don’t bring on that fear, and we have a right to walk away from the situation or voice our fears out loud. If people laugh, they will laugh – and it goes to show the worst in them.

    It is interesting you mentioned both your parents are the indecisive ones. My mum is the one who is more indecisive, and my dad will always want to make the final decision (which isn’t always something that I like, one sided dominance). Maybe in the instances when you make a decision, you are being a help, in that you are helping them to get somewhere and move along. Maybe they love each other enough to not make a decision. Or maybe they just don’t want to be blamed if they make the decision and something goes wrong.

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