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Heart Ki

How Spoken Words Can Control You

father and small child daughter waling in beach holding hands

There was once a father I once knew (not my own) that had relationship issues with his son. The teenager son was growing increasingly distant from the father, not listening and opening up to him as he used to.He also had an adult daughter. His relationship with her also had a similar, but much more advanced stage of the problem: she didn’t want to see his father at all, let alone listen to him. The relationship with his children distressed the father, who was trying to look for answers.

A typical reaction is to blame on the other person, asking “what is wrong with him?”. Yet, every single time we see an unwanted or challenging behavior from someone else in relationship with us, what we do have to wonder, is “what is my role in this situation?”. Discarding our accountability, and blaming others, is the least responsible thing to do. We always play a role.

At some point the father told me something. No more than a fleeting comment in the middle of conversation, but one that struck me nonetheless.

“I never made him do anything; I never forced him into anything. I only tell him what my opinions is, that is all, but then he is free to do as he wants.”

He was a person filled with beliefs and values about what is proper, what is right and wrong, and always ready to dispense them to others. I immediately visualized the effect this could have on his children.

Opinions can be Forms of Control and Violence

People are usually able to spot the most obvious forms of control, which are, physical intimidation, fear, violence. And these can be hidden from sight for a time; but once the word is out, once it’s known what is being done by whom, it’s plain for all to see. However, words are also extremely powerful. Words alone can be used for control, no less powerful than fear-based control, because it’s not as “violent” as intimidation and therefore remains subversive and difficult to acknowledge. It stays under the awareness radar, much more easily than outright intimidation and violence. It won’t leave a bruise in your skin, only in your mind.
I’ve never met anyone impervious to the words of others — save perhaps for the Dalai Lama, I suppose. We care. When one says ‘I don’t care what others think’, it’s unrealistic wishful thinking. Perhaps it’s true in certain peak situations, when you happen to feel really good about yourself, at the top of your game. Perhaps you have reached a point in your life when you finally don’t ‘give a damn’ about what others thing. But words always carry power. If self-esteem isn’t at an absolute top at the moment, anyone can be affected by words from others.
Words between loved ones in family relationships, in particular, carry a special weight and impact. A child will always have a father/mother figure to look up to, and will want to make that person proud — consciously or unconsciously. This will be true even going into adulthood and more advanced ages. So many people in their 60s and beyond emotionally still defer to the image and memory of their departed parents, in terms of authority – even if as human beings they may well have surpassed their own parents in wisdom and clarity. 
Words from a parent will inevitably have a deep and long-lasting impact when shaping a young, still-maturing child’s psyche and emotional body. Some things your parents said, and believed in, still linger in our beliefs today. When you have an emotional bond with someone, your guards are generally less active. It is far less easy to detach and put things into perspective.

My story’s father indeed never took his kids by the arms and push them into doing what he wanted them to. But his spoken words and opinions were a form of control; made that much dangerous since he wasn’t willing to measure his own speaking.

There was also a deliberate, yet unconscious, intention of control from the father. He felt the need to be validated, to be agreed with. ‘I’m just saying my opinion’ wasn’t an innocent form of guidance: it drained a lot of energy.

By consistently making his opinions known to his son this way, the father is conditioning him. The son — unless if he’s particularly confident and fearless (or reckless) — will inevitably feel trapped between his personal choices and the desire to please his father. This happens naturally as a teenager begins to find his own identity in life. However, an attitude of trying to format the child, instead of stepping back and providing guidance, makes the situation that much difficult.

Opinions and Expectations have Weight and Occupy Space

Words can cut off spiritual and emotional silence, and reduce the space to think, and seek, by yourself.

People seldom do this in a malicious way; but it’s their ego doing the talking. The “ego” is that part of the human being that craves, gets addicted, wants to take from others for itself, finds identity and strength in what others give to him. The problem with the ego is that it can get out of control. Ego is to your life as salt is to food: too little and you can’t enjoy i; too much and it spoils everything.

When faced with an oppressive father (oppression using opinions) son and daughter naturally felt suffocated – without necessarily being able to accurately explain why – and instinctively started backing off.

There is a very fine line between helping/advising, and formatting, i.e. invading the free will of others with our opinions. This is especially true between parents and their children. The line must be drawn by the talker, who has the responsibility of minding what he says. It has the responsibility of pondering about the balance of advising, VS providing freedom, silence, a noise-free emotional space to the other person to exist, explore itself, and grow.

This is not to say that every impulse and decision of the son will be “correct”. That is how humans learn: by taking the reigns of its own choices, live by them, possibly make mistakes, learn and adjust, and try again.

This is not to say that stepping back and just observe is easy for any parent. But that is not the point anyway. The ideal situation is gradually stepping back, allowing the growing child the express himself, while maintaining a degree of monitoring and safety.

This is not easy — no one is claiming that it is. Finding balance, in anything, is difficult. But there must be an effort, an active choice to find it. If there is none, opinions get out of control and oppression occurs. As with anything else.

Each person in this world has its own things to do, lessons to take, and wills and desires about these things. There is a path unique to each of us, and that path does not necessarily mirror the lesson, opinions, and wisdom, of our parents. For this reason, it is vital that each person is given enough space to listen to itself.

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