anxiety · blogging · family · mental health · perception · writing

Loss of Control & Tone of Voice

I am a control freak. Anytime I’m in a situation or in a mood where I feel there are things that are out of my control or influence, I act out. The most common way I “act out” is being more impatient in the way I speak because I am so frustrated by the loss of control. The factors that set me off are problems I have had since long ago and I haven’t been able to resolve yet.  I don’t know if there is right or wrong way to explain what this is like for me. I will illustrate below in greater detail. The examples I gave are very specific to when I’m around a certain person and it’s not a reflection of what happens when I’m in the same situation but with different people.

Situation: Being spoken to in a certain manner, where the person’s voice can be higher or lower in pitch and higher or lower in tone.

Trigger: Sensitivity towards the changes in a person’s voice, especially associating the pitch or tone with a negative response, or anticipating that the pitch or tone is meant to be an implied negative response towards me.

Origin: Perhaps because I was always a sensitive person since childhood, particularly because I grew up mostly having exposure to an Asian language that was not English and that was my primary language at home due to the fact my parents were not very immersive in English. This could be just my perception but as the language my parents spoke relied heavily on using different enunciations in tone to differentiate between same sounding words, I got used to hearing it. But also, I felt quite impacted because my mom was known to have a temper and she would often raise her voice drastically and even scream incessantly to show she meant business. Probably the worst memories I have are of her screaming at me and how unfair (in my opinion) it felt that she thought it was okay to yell at me in that way. I remember being both angry and afraid of her and being mad that she made me feel angry and afraid of her. I would yell back at the same angry volume as her and she would actually get even angrier at me for “daring” to use that kind of tone with her. As if I was supposed to just stand there and take her tirade. I can’t speak for all Asian kids who grew up mostly having to communicate with their parents in an Asian language, but for me, it seems the cultural norm was it even when a parent wasn’t angry, sometimes the way of speaking would come out in a very flat affect and give the impression of anger.

Example #1: This happened recently. My dad happened to stop by my room one day to ask me to help him text someone who he was working for (because he’s not good at typing in English). He noticed my orchid plants on the table and suddenly his voice raised in tone as he commented upon how well they were doing. He said something like, “Wow, look at your plants!”, while giving a halting kind of laugh. And this would be the rough translation because he was speaking to me in Mandarin.

Perception: As my dad habitually is the type to throw out remarks with that halting laugh he usually does, I have (for some reason) come to associate it as a mocking gesture. I feel I perceive his laugh that way because many times in the past, I’ve gotten the sense he laughs that way because it’s one of his habits to do so while talking, but also he does it because he’s not comfortable expressing certain things without attaching a laugh to it to sound less awkward or self-conscious. So not only was I perceiving his laugh as, Oh, he must be secretly making fun of me but also Great, there he goes again hiding his feelings and is unable to say something without giving that nervous laugh. The third thing I felt out of control about in this situation was my own anxiety. The way his voice just suddenly boomed in volume was unexpected and it pissed me off that I got slight anxiety from it. I thought, Seriously? Why is a change in someone’s tone triggering for me? 

Response: I felt out of control, of course, about my father’s reaction to me, about my perception of how he was reacting, and being upset that I was even upset about the change in speaking tone. So after his initial comment left me with a teeny fissure of anger, it was like once that crack was there, there was no stopping it from getting bigger because I didn’t know how to fix it. My mind was already set on the idea he was mocking me, even if he didn’t outright say it. So when he said the next thing, which was to notice how little water I put in the orchid pots to nourish them, I was already riding high on that negative perception, almost as if it were a fact I could not disprove. I took his comment to mean, You really don’t know how to take care of your orchids, just because he commented on the amount of water in the pots. Additionally, I remember feeling inadequate and thinking my reply to him had to be proof that I did indeed know how to care for my orchids, but I also felt disgusted by my level of low self-confidence. I had the perception I wasn’t able to assert myself and that then proceeded to get mad at myself for feeling like I had to prove my own worth. Crack goes the fissure some more. Then when I finally did give a response to him, it came out in a somewhat annoyed tone where I simply told him I couldn’t put too much water in it. Not only did I use an annoyed tone, I raised the volume of my voice to match the perceived loudness of his prior tone as an almost challenge.

Example #2: This type of situation is to show my loss of control in not so much that I reacted in anger, but that I lost control by becoming increasingly irrational in my thoughts because of the perceived or misinterpreted negativity in myself and the people around me. Well, the story is from when I was roughly 11ish or somewhere around that age. It was a weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, when my mom was cooking. I was in the living room as I heard her call my brother to come down (which I assume was because she was almost finished cooking). I noticed she did not call me, even though she saw me. So then I was loitering in the living room with my bookbag. My brother was already in the kitchen with my mom at this point. I could hear her washing the pan after finishing up with cooking. She still didn’t call me, so I grabbed my bag with all my homework inside, deciding I would go upstairs and start on my assignments. I was halfway up the staircase when I heard her yell from the kitchen, “Where do you think you are going?”

Perception: In my head (at the time), I started to question whether she was actually cooking for the three of us, or was she only cooking for my brother for some reason. Already at that age, whether by my own fault for not being a very assertive kid or being used to a home environment where generally it felt like I was supposed to shut up and be quiet, I had the perception there were things I couldn’t freely express to my parents. There was also a feeling of awkwardness because it didn’t seem like the norm to ask certain questions or say certain things to my mom. I do not know for sure if I felt that way due to actual awkwardness I had or a perceived awkwardness in voicing xyz to my parents due to never having the experience of doing that. It could have been a combination of both, honestly. Either way, the supposed awkwardness of the situation is why I didn’t just march into the kitchen and ask her, “Am I eating with him too?” I couldn’t bring myself to go near the kitchen. As a child, I almost always felt my brother was my competition for my parents’ affection and love, especially since he often did better than me in school. In that moment, all sorts of strange things went on in my head. I started to imagine that secretly my brother was my parents’ favored child. And the more time went on that I wasn’t called into the kitchen by my mom, the more I started to fear that I was going to be excluded. So when I did hear my mom yelling at me from the kitchen, my initial (and brief) reaction was to feel relieved but then I felt discontent and even fearful because her tone seemed to suggest I was being a nuisance.

Response: Her tone made me wince and I honestly could not decide if she was angry at me or not. I didn’t say anything when I came into the kitchen. At that age, it was like a common occurrence that my mom would regularly raise her tone to express frustration, annoyance, irritation, or just being loud to get a point across if someone (namely me, my brother, or even my dad) tried to argue against her. I can’t say if it was that my child brain at the time wasn’t fully equipped to comprehend her attitude then as I do now; probably because back then I simply did not have a comparison or someone outside the sphere of my family who could tell me, “You know, how she yells at you like that, it’s not right”, especially considering she saved her screaming for behind closed doors so no one outside the immediate family knew she was that way. Like, I knew then that my mom could be scary and could incite dread and fear in me. Unfortunately slivers of those experiences have reverberated down to my present life, in that I feel hypersensitivity when either of my parents talks to me in Mandarin and when I can detect the slightest change in their tone.


8 thoughts on “Loss of Control & Tone of Voice

  1. Wait, is your brother older? I don’t even know xD but also Asian families tend to “favor” the son anyway (like leaving them alone for the most part), which makes me SO MAD LIKE WTF WELCOME TO THE 21ST CENTURY (then again… look at this political climate right now lol)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, my brother is older. The dynamic between he and I has always been troubled, in my opinion. My parents did favor him in some aspects. And though there are things today where they’ll say I am better in than him, honestly the metric I have for sizing myself up to my brother makes me feel like I will never be good enough. I suppose you could say I still see him as a rival in certain ways. I get extremely hung up on the fact I’m unemployed and am still working on figuring out what I want to do in life. So I get self conscious when I’m at family dinners or when we eat out together and of course my brother is the one to pay the bill. Or when he buys stuff for my parents. Or all the times my parents seemed to be proud of the fact and told other people about their son working as this and having gone on vacation overseas to so and so. Meanwhile I’m here, having done none of that. XD My sense is that although my brother is successful and has a great salary that allows him greater opportunities, I don’t think his job is his passion. But that could just be my perception and not what he thinks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s always harder for creative types like us who are looking for passion. It’s hard to remember but keep in mind that we are all going at different paces and we have different metrics for deciding what makes us happy and fulfilled<3 I think you're doing just fine! And your blog, to me, is a great success 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Aw thanks for opening up! I’m glad you can write such private thoughts on your blog like this, and I hope it made you feel a bit better.
    Sometimes feelings build up over time and so things that don’t seem like a big deal can trigger an extreme response, which makes you go, “Why do I feel this way?! I’m overreacting!” but it’s because you’ve become even more sensitized over time to constant exposure of it, like being worn down by raging water. You’re always around your parents, so I think it makes sense. It’s especially hard for introverts who need that sort of sphere of safety and comfort, but they’re stuck with other people all the time with thin walls so they’re always kind of… walking on eggshells and wanting to be left alone. It’s very fraying on the nerves x_x I understand that. I feel like the youngest in families always have the least say in comfort or privacy, too. Because usually, these things trickle down from the person with most authority to least authority, and the one with least authority has no one else to pass the buck to so are left with the brunt of things.
    I think it’s so wrong that adults think they can act however they want with children and disrespect them but they expect kindness and respect in return. That’s not how it works. You get what you give. You don’t just automatically get respect for being an adult or someone with authority.
    I guess this might be a case where you should adopt an IDGAF attitude because you can’t make other people control their tones around you and you can’t control your reaction to these triggers, so the best thing is to be like “MEH IDGAF” and maybe that’ll help the stress subside 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for talking to me about this! I was a little nervous thinking about if my readers would assume I’ve lost my mind because I can’t handle the fluctuation of someon’s tone of voice. But I really did mean it, I mostly associate the negative tone with my parents. I do think you are right about the feelings building up over time and triggering an overrreaction in me. Partially I feel I am that way perhaps because I now have the cognitive means to know the way I was spoken to by my parents (for the times their tone was meant to be overtly negative) was wrong on their part. The overreaction/trigger I have now over being sensitive when detecting the tonal change and sometimes misinterpreting it as negative may be my mind expecting the past to repeat itself. And it has, in some circumstances today. It could also be because I’m aware of the wrong that was done to me in past instances, I continually assume my parents are bad news, either because in some ways I know they will never change and because I’m left over with the past experience of “this sh*t happened to me and idk how to get over it”.

      You hit the nail on the head with the sphere of safety and comfort. I would love to be in IDGAF mode. The last piece that’s really hard for me to let go of is the perceived injustice I cling to whenever I feel challenged by or have to protect myself from a tonal change. This really fuels the anxiety I get and the loss of control I experience. I think the emotive state does kinda go back some years to when I wad helpless and felt as if I was being walked all over. So I keep looking at the situation like, if IDGAF, does it mean I’m surrendering my only bit of control? And I know that makes zero sense but that is how my brain rationalizes not wanting to sacrifice what I am holding onto and how I currently cope when I’m triggered.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally understand! Families are such huge influences in life, especially during the most important cognitive developmental stages of your life (or something cool sounding like that), so they have lasting effects, negative or positive.
        I don’t think you’re surrending your bit of control by not giving a f*ck. I feel like when you react, you lose control of your own sense of self or logic, because you know that you’re not in the wrong but you feel guilty which then makes you feel mad. And why let them stress you out when they’re not stressed in return? And if they are stressed, it’s really their problem, not yours! I don’t know if that makes sense, but yeah, haha. It’s all a process. If you’re not yet ready to let go, you can’t will it. I’d say just keep as aware as you are now, and eventually it’ll naturally happen 🙂 They say time is the best healer! In the meantime, keep reading about the subtle art of not giving a f*ck, haha. Man, I have to revisit that gem…
        Sorry you’re in that state, though. I’m excited for you to get away from it all and find your sphere of safety!! Because time AND distance are great for healing, but we don’t always have that kind of liberty ><

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Man, I love these comment conversations we have that seem to go on forever. I’m serious. I put my issues out there on full blast in my blog posts and I get free therapy in return. Haha. Can I call you Dr. Gal? XD

        It’s taken me a looooooong time to understand that when other people are stressed or upset, it’s not my problem. In the past I used to be totally influenced if I got the feeling someone was mad even if the person wasn’t mad at me specifically.

        Like, the other day my mom got annoyed when a package came for her in the mail. She was being very loud about how much she disliked that the thing had her name on her because she didn’t order anything. Once she made that comment, it was like I could feel my mood deflating a little because her annoyance made me think, “uh oh she’s unhappy” and how her mood was affecting me in terms of increased stress/anxiety. But at the same time, I felt indignant about it because I was allowing her mood to swallow up my own. I would almost compare it to a food chain diagram, the kind where a smaller specimen is eaten by a larger one. The third reaction I had in this situation was my own irritation at her reaction. The control freak in me was upset by her tone and choice in words, which rubbed me the wrong way. I had an impulse that almost made me want to lash out at her like, “so what? just because you don’t know where the package came from doesn’t mean you have to be so pissed off about it. geez, just open the damn box and figure out wtf is in there before you start complaining.” Of course I didn’t say this but I sure did want to. It’s this type of situational stuff where I both don’t want to be affected by someone else’s stress but I also feel judgemental about how the person is reacting and being so focused on that inevitably makes me affected regardess. Ugh!

        The sphere of safety is a hard one to develop. Hypothetically I would like that to be certain places I can put myself into that I feel comfortable being in and decreases stress. But I guess the same could be said for finding activities where I feel relaxed? How do you define your sphere of safety?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Haha I love these long conversations, too! You can definitely call me Dr. Gal. I should get my own TV show in a couple of years.
        That can be super stressful when someone around you is tense or irritable–especially all the time and over the most trivial stuff! I feel you so much on this. I think it’s cause we’re the intuitive types so we’re super sensitive to others’ emotions. These feelings ooze out of their skin like dark tar and hang in the air for us to breathe in. We’re super responsive to that and we cannot turn off our empathy, so whether we want to or not, we feel the same stress or anxiety that they do, and it in turn definitely annoys us because we want to remain zen but it’s hard to when outside sources are intent on bringing everything around them down with them like some natural disaster.
        Because I know I can’t control my environment, I’m trying to just work on what I can, which is myself. It’s harder for sure. I just want to escape, and my sphere of safety is a literal physical space where I can be alone. I would love to get my own place. While this won’t be able to protect me from everything, I think it helps to have a safe space to stay in for a recharge because constantly being around toxic energy is what’s killing us on the inside. Once in a while, it’s fine and that’s life, sure, but not ALL the time, you know?


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