Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Emotional Control


There! I said it. I used the "C-word". Control. Ooh! That feels very non-poly. Controlcontrolcontrolcontrolcontrol!!! Relax, I think I have a point coming on. There are a couple of common takes on emotions and how they work inside poly relationships, or relationships in general. One is that emotions are there to be felt and should be fully experienced in the moment. Another is that managing emotions (or controlling them) is more desirable.


In the past few weeks, everyone I'm in relationship with has identified me as the latter version of those possibilities. When one of my partners shared with me that they hadn't realized how "emotionally controlling" I could be, my initial response was panic! What?!?! There's been a lot of work put into not being controlling, so if I was failing to hit that mark, it was hugely concerning! He went on to explain that he didn't mean that I was emotionally controlling towards him, but with myself. Oh, okay. That's was a bit more palatable. Still a bit confusing, so I asked for more input.


What I came up with during several collaborative conversations with different partners and friends is that I have a strong attachment with the concept of circles of trust. As you're sitting there, reading some of my inner thoughts, it would seem to be pretty apparent that being fairly transparent is something I shoot for. Lots of people see me as quite open. What many would consider to be "over sharing" is very comfortable for me. On the flip side, I seldom place myself in a position to be emotionally vulnerable, based on my own standards, with people that aren't directly inside my inner circle.


As the partner that brought the idea of being emotionally controlled elaborated, he's found as he got closer in towards the innermost circle, just how much is going on under the surface, which wouldn't be apparent based on the perceived level of transparency that many people in the friends and acquaintances receive.


Why do I do that? Well, for me, it seems self-indulgent to put my most volatile emotional states on people that haven't asked for that level of intimacy. With all the challenges in the past year, I've crossed that line more than I prefer at various community events, been more vulnerable, not done as much self-editing as I would like. There is shame around that for me. Expressing my emotional state isn't the issue, having feelings isn't the issue, it's feeling as though I have less choice in how I express them which drives me nuts!


The other viewpoint I've seen within the poly community in general is the idea that if you have emotions, expressing them freely is really the way to go. This kind of goes back to the earlier post on catharsis. Deep emotions are unhealthy to "stuff", so you should just go right ahead and put it all out there! All or nothing, black and white. Absolutes are uncomfortable for me, and it's been jarring when I've partnered with people that enjoy that realm of emotional output. To me, it feels volatile and scary, unpredictable; as though the edge of a cliff is somewhere just ahead, and it won't be seen until dropping over into free fall.


Is structured emotion just as valuable as unstructured? Is something lost when a person takes the time they need to analyze, process and organize their feelings before sharing them with others? That, I lack an answer for. It seems more prevalent within the poly community to choose structured emotional sharing, likely because the higher number of partners involved creates a higher degree of risk for crossing ethical lines (over sharing about one partner with another, for example).


So I'm emotionally controlling. It's worked far better for me than emotional outbursts, and my energy will continue to go towards gaining better skills in understanding what I am feeling, seeing the underlying causes, and choosing my responses to those emotions, within and without. Some days, I may fall off the bandwagon, but that's an opportunity to learn something new and apply it moving forward. Isn't that what all of this is about anyways?
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