The genesis of extreme behaviors

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.

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