Archive for the ‘Codependence’ Category

Control Patterns (1)

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Control pattern: I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.

I would never have stated this explicitly, and I don’t think I ever thought this, at least not that I was aware of. But when so much of one’s life is spent in cleaning up after other people, is there any more-likely conclusion for one to draw? No matter how clearly a problem was not my fault during my childhood and much of my marriage, it was always still somehow “my fault”. Of course I came to act as though I believed others were incapable of caring for themselves: that assumption — that they required me to take care of all of their problems — was the foundation of so much of my intimate relationships. How could I have thought otherwise of my parents or my husband?

In the context of Borderline Peronality Disorder, this may be characterised as being “clingy” or of having unstable relationships.

I can remember one time, when I was a teenage, my parents rented me out to one of their church friends. I can’t remember what the friends needed me for, and I have no idea why my parents consented to letting me out of their sight (and thus their immediate control), but the weekend involved travel out of state and visiting one of the friends’ families.

The trip was over and they were taking me back home. When we were almost there, we had to stop; a tree had fallen across the road. They weren’t sure what to do; this was the boondocks and was well before the era of cellphones. But then we noticed that the car stuck in the road in front of us was my father’s. So we all hopped out and, while they chatted happily with my father, I climbed into the back seat of his car.

Where I found my sister looking anxious. Before our father got into the car, she had just enough time to whisper that we were in big trouble.

It was months, maybe a couple of years, before I found out what had happened. That’s another story for another time. The point is that I was “in big trouble” for something that had not involved me. I hadn’t even been in the same state! But somehow it was my fault, what other people had done and said, and I had to bear the responsibility.

So, yeah, I developed the habit of viewing people as incapable. I’m hoping that, with time, intelligence, and determination, I can learn to view people as just people. We each have our strengths and our weaknesses, and other peoples’ lives are neither my fault, my responsibility, nor my shame.

Low Self-Esteem Patterns (1)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Low Self-Esteem Pattern: I  have difficulty making decisions.

For most of my life, my opinion didn’t matter. Heck, the facts, if I were the one presenting them, didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. My attempts to say anything, on my own behalf or otherwise, met with disapproval at best, reprisals at worst. Is it any wonder that I learned to doubt myself?

But it is worse than that. I learned how not to make decisions at all, how not even to have opinions at all. When one is not allowed an independent existence, when attempts at such are punished as representing “betrayal”, then one tends not to have much “sense of self”. When everything “wrong” is somehow “your fault”, will you dare take the risk of being seen to make a decision, to have an opinion? Of course not! For one’s own safety’s sake, one learns not to think, not to care, not to decide. One only watches. One is ever-watchful for any sign, any hint of what one is “supposed” to think, feel, believe, want.

In terms of Borderline Personality Disorder, this might be characterised as “intense attachment” or a lack of a “sense of self”.

A friend of mine has, for many years, been in quite a few different Twelve-Step programs. He recommended that I try something similar. I’d tried Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) some years earlier, but hadn’t been ready for it. And I’d been trying therapy, and still couldn’t get past the “give yourself a break” and “give yourself permission” stage. I didn’t “get” to give myself permission. I’d lived nearly five decades being required to get permission from outside sources. What outside source had the authority to overrule that, and give me the permission to give myself that authority?

Yes, it’s very messy inside my head.

In the context of CoDA, I couldn’t get past the “turning my life over to” any sort of “Higher Power”, because that just meant more of the same: obeying people who, in the name of God, told me to do things that hurt myself and others.

This friend asked me if I really thought God wanted me to hurt myself and others. Did I really think that God wanted me to do things, for instance, that profited (literally, in monetary terms) my ex-husband but (emotionally and monetarily) harmed my child? No, I didn’t. So maybe it was time to let go of that idea of “God”, and instead accept the idea of a god that wanted me to do good things, both for myself and others.

And that God did “give me permission” to “give myself a break”. That was what I needed to get over that hump, and learn to start exploring making decisions for myself.

Thank you, Jade!

Denial patterns (1)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Denial pattern: I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.

My therapist could attest to this one. He has often asked me things like, “How do you feel about that?”, and I’ve honestly had no clue. Other times, I’d been feeling intensely about something, but had no idea how to describe it. Nearly all the time, I “minimize” or hedge. For instance, I’d never be “angry”; instead, I might be “perturbed” or “unsettled” or “displeased”.

Within the context of Borderline Personality Disorder, this characteristic might be referred to as a mood disorder or as an inadequate sense of self.

Throughout my childhood and much of my marriage, I was required not to feel how I really felt. I was told that my (normal) reactions and feelings were wrong somehow, and was often told how I “really” felt or how I “should” feel. After decades of covering, hiding, squelching, and numbing myself, being allowed at best only to hint at what I meant, I finally reached the point of being very much “out of touch” with myself, sincerely having no idea what I might have been feeling in that instant before I’d managed to supress.

While I still believe that we shouldn’t be run by our emotions, I also now believe that we have emotions for a reason. They serve a purpose. If nothing else, they provide additional data. If I’m feeling happy about something, this doesn’t necessarily “make” the thing “okay”, but it could indicate that I’m feeling invested in the thing and am thus deriving pleasure, on more than just an intellectual level, in the success of the thing. If I’m feeling angry about something, this doesn’t necessarily “make” the thing (or me) “bad”, but it could point out that I’m trying (by force of habit) to ignore something that I shouldn’t, or that something is attacking me and I need to start defending myself. (Whether or not it’s acceptable to protect myself is another issue for another day.)

A very kind lady told me many times that I needed to learn how to “feel your feelings”, which made no sense at the time, but she worked hard at explaining. Her first rule was to use basal terms for my feelings. I’m not “perturbed”; I’m not “unsettled”; I’m not “distressed”. No, I’m “angry”, “scared”, or “sad”

As silly as that may sound, just the fact of naming my emotions with such bald terms was enlightening (though scary) and eventually freeing. After decades of being required to minimize and hedge and hide and cover, I was saying, explicitly and with no “shading”, how I felt. And I wasn’t struck by lightning; the world didn’t come to an end; people didn’t hate me; I didn’t become evil. It was okay.

Learning — from experience — that it was acceptable and safe to feel these things, and also to acknowledge feeling them, was one big step in my early recovery. Peggy, wherever you are: Thank you!

Twelve Traditions

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

I think I’m having more trouble with the Twelve Traditions of my program than with the Twelve Steps. Maybe I’m still stuck at the “trust and have faith” stage? Because I’m not able to come up with answers for a lot of the questions.

Or maybe this is kinda the point of having a sponsor. I’ve gotten a couple phone numbers. Maybe I’ll call someone tomorrow.

“As We Understood God” Part 2

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

I spoke yesterday with a trusted friend who has worked through so many of the same issues as I face. I asked him about “the Third Step” which, for codependents, is:

We…made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

I told him that I was coming at this “turning over to God” thing from a background where that meant “do as you’re told, no matter how much you don’t like it”. This friend already knows that I have a background of being altogether (and often unknowingly) willing to do as I’m told. But this has almost never been to my benefit.

He pointed out that surely a loving Higher Power would not want me doing things that harm myself or others. I had to agree. So, he said, this suggests that part of submitting to God is the act of ceasing submitting to other people, especially those who direct me to do harm. Part of submitting is doing what is good (though this will often not be easy, fun, or comfortable) for myself.

I’m not sure I “get” this, entirely, but I think I can work with it. And that’s good enough for now.

“As We Understood God”

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Twelve Step programs are spiritual at their base. They don’t specify the god one should worship, and I’m not even sure that “worship” is the right word for the relationship these programs espouse.

I grew up with my mother telling me repeatedly, “God is going to get you for ruining my life!” Praying seemed only to guarantee that whatever I’d asked for came back to hurt me, or seemed specifically to be damaged or destroyed. The highest ideals (chosen by others for me) were submission and obedience. “Surrendering one’s life” to God meant doing whatever those in power told one to do, no matter how detrimental or even illegal.

Understandably, I have issues with the whole idea of surrendering my “will and life” to anyone or anything. Granted, I have a tendency to do this anyway, but I’ve rarely ever meant to.

But back when this was required, at least the expectations, some of them, were clear, because I was told what I was supposed to do (or think or feel or believe). I might not have done it, but I knew what “it” was.

How would that work with one’s “Higher Power”? What does it mean to “surrender control” in the Twelve-Step context? What would this Step look like in practice? Because it sounds to me like I’d just be sitting there with my thumbs up my @$$, waiting to hear voices. And I’m pretty sure that this isn’t what’s meant.

“We admitted we were powerless…”

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Part of any Twelve-Step program involves agreeing with the statement that one is “powerless” over whatever is the problem at hand, whether alcoholism, codependency, or something else. This presumed powerlessness may be presented within a “disease” framework, such as calling alcoholism an “allergy” or referring to codependency as “Borderline Personality Disorder”.

I objected to this “disease” characterisation because it seemed to “blame the victim”. My parents and spouse abused me, and the results are my fault?!? Sure, I’m damaged, but I’m hardly “diseased”! But I’ve rethought the issue.

Imagine a child who was born perfectly healthy. While he was still just an infant, he was “shaken” to the point of having his retinas detach. It doesn’t matter that the child did nothing wrong; the fact is, he’s blind, and always will be. He will always have “issues”; the effects of the damage will always be present.

And if he tries to live his life without taking that damage into account– well, that’d just be crazy, and his life could easily become unmanageable.

Similarly, my sisters and I never did anything to “deserve” what was done to us. But that doesn’t matter; the fact is, we’re damaged, and always will be. The effects of that damage will always be present.

I need to start taking account of that.

The genesis of extreme behaviors

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

My sister and I were recently talking about how those termed “codependent” are viewed as being either subservient (“doormats”) or controlling (“control freaks”), and sometimes both (by veering between the two). We agreed that this makes quite a lot of sense, when considered within the context of childhood abuse.

We spent our formative years being required to do whatever we were told, no matter how much we didn’t like it. “Obedience” and “submission” were the primary ideals of our parents and their supporters; there was no greater sin than “rebellion”. So of course we got good at being doormats; it was explicitly required of us, and necessary for survival.

But we were also held responsible for everything that annoyed or upset others. Somehow, no matter how little power, influence, participation, or even knowledge (or physical presence) we’d had, the outcome was our “fault”. So of course we got good at frantically attempting to anticipate every outcome, desparately trying to steer things in less-damaging directions. We were going to be punished when things went south. We’d have been stupid not to try to steer things north. This was implicitly required of us, and greatly enhanced survival.

Why do we veer between the two? Because these are the only two options we knew growing up. In addition, anything in that vast middle ground of moderation and balance was decried as “phoning it in”, “doing things half-assed”, or other, more critical terms. If we did something, we were supposed to “do our best” and “give it our all”.

What the healthy world calls “moderation” was a punishable offense in our world.

Codependence: my new understanding

Monday, December 19th, 2011

When I first read about “codependence” two or three years ago, I had problems with it. While I certainly recognized the patterns of my own life in the stories and illustrations, I didn’t accept what I saw as the blaming aspect of the term.

The codependent seemed, in what I read at the time, to be blamed for “her part” in the dysfunctional relationships. If only she hadn’t tried so hard, or been such a control freak (in trying to control situations for whose outcomes she would be punished), or cared so much, or supported so much, or whatever, then her abuser wouldn’t have abused her. It smacked too much of my husband’s self-justification: Whatever he did to me was okay, because “you’re not perfect either!”

But I don’t accept the equation. Intentionally causing harm is not the same as accidentally making an innocuous mistake. Attacking the victim is not the same as apologizing for one’s blunders. Blaming the victim is not the same as owning up. Requiring others to clean up one’s own messes is not the same as trying to make amends. There was no “my half” to his unilateral actions.

Maybe I’m reading different things now, or maybe I’m reading similar things in a new way. But now I conceive of codependence as a suite of behaviors, rather than a co-equality of any sort.

While I didn’t seek out what my marriage eventually devolved into, my background of childhood abuse left me “broken” in ways that certain types of people find attractive. In slowly and unwittingly falling back into the patterns of my childhood, I enabled dreadful behavior to succeed — if it can be called “success” — for way too long. It’s not that I helped, per se, but I certainly did nothing to stop it, or even to point out that there were problems.

I’m coming to think that codependence isn’t some knowing cooperation in dysfunction, as much as a psychological / emotional inability to recognize dysfunction, let alone attempt to fend it off or otherwise deal intelligently with it. It’s a form of revictimization, or at least the entre to retraumatization.

This does not absolve the abuser in any way. But it does offer hope that the victim can learn to heal, or at least learn how better to protect one’s soft underbelly.