Codependency and Allowing People to Experience Their Own Consequences
“My biggest pet peeve?” She was asked. “It’s people who create their own problems and then complain about the outcome, while expecting everyone else to fix it.” – Unknown
Last week I was talking to a client about teaching. She rolled her eyes as she told me about her desire to coach people, as if she were saying, “I know me as a life coach …right…what a joke.”
“Who better than you?” I said. “Who better than someone who has lived it and found the other side?” I gave her the best piece of advice I could and it was something like this:
Share with people what you know. Tell them every horrific detail if you think it will be beneficial to do so, but you must let it stop there. You cannot allow yourself to become too invested in their progress. You can’t shove your ideas down someone else’s throat. You can’t say, “This is the way. The only way and you have to do exactly what I say. You have to let people figure it out for themselves. You can’t do the work for them. You can’t push people every step of the way. All you can do is turn the light on and if they come towards it, it is because they want to and because they are ready.
Codependents have an incredible gift of figuring out everyone else’s problems and then finding the best way to implement their solutions. They are most comfortable focusing the spotlight on their nearest and dearest and least comfortable focusing the spotlight on themselves. You will often find them in the helping/fixing field as an occupation. They are ready, willing and able to go to the mat for other people and not so inclined to do it for themselves.
There seems to be an unconscious belief amongst codependents that if they could get this person to change, by getting them to do A, B and C, then they’d be a perfect couple. Then we’d have our fantasy relationship. The problem arises when their partners refuse to do A,B and C and instead does X,Y, and Z, because telling an emotional manipulator that you would really like them to do something is like giving them a handful of grenades to throw at you.
Codependents also have a problem with control. They have a very difficult time trusting other people to get things done. Its obvious roots come from having to fend for themselves, or be responsible for other people at an early age, at the same time learning that people can’t be trusted. They exemplify the motto if you want something done right do it yourself. They’re the ones who have been in relationships and because their partner was so irresponsible they had to do all the work for them. This in turn allows their partners to continue to be irresponsible, because they are always saved from any repercussions to their actions and it creates an enabling environment.
The Fixing Stops Here
I have a friend I haven’t seen in years, but I still keep in touch with him over the phone and through social media. He’s got a heart of gold. He’s an old choir boy, who always believes people will do the right thing.
About 6 years ago his mother died, leaving just he and his sister. His sister was named executer of the estate and the estate consisted of a million dollar house.
The sister told him she wanted to stay in the house and go back to school. Rather than sell the house and get his share immediately, he permitted it and the year turned into two, then three, and here we are six years later, she’s still living in the house, living off of her parents money and investments, and he has nothing and is days away from being evicted if he doesn’t come up with $3000 for back rent owing.
He has asked and begged and pleaded for her to sell the house and give him his share. At this point, she is so used to him being all smoke and no fire that she has just stopped listening. We’ve had several conversations about this situation and my advice to him has always been ‘sue her.’ She has broken the law by not following through on your mother’s Will, which stipulates that everything be split 50/50 between you. The only way you’re going to get her to act is through the courts. He would agree, but then continue to do nothing. He’d find himself in a tight financial space and then find another way out of it, from borrowing, to selling off all his assets – but he just wouldn’t do what needed to be done to get his fair share of his parents estate.
So now his financial situation is dyer and he is out of options. It’s going to leave him and his wife without a place to live and here he is now on the phone with me. As a recovering codependent my first thought was to lend him the money, my second thought was to figure out a way for him to get it and then for me to implement these steps and save the day. Luckily for me I was able to take a step back and recognize that my codependency was rearing its ugly head.
It took me a long time to learn that people don’t benefit from not experiencing the consequences of their own actions. When you always bail people out of their jams it robs them of a great opportunity for growth, because I really believe that we learn a lot more from pain and loss than we do from success.
I thought about my friend’s situation and I realized that this is the Universe’s way of shoving him out of his comfort zone, enough to force him off his ass and sue this woman and the worse thing I could do was interfere with that. Necessity really is not only the mother of invention, it’s also the mother action.
Because of his faith in people and his disbelief that his sister would actually screw him out of his inheritance, he was blinded to the fact that her behavior showed she did not care about his well-being. Nothing short of this happening was going to get him to open his eyes and get him into a lawyer’s office.
Letting others experience the consequences of their actions, doesn’t mean we stop being or acting like a friend. It doesn’t mean we’re not supportive, or that we can’t give advice or our opinion, but I’ve learned that I don’t have to rescue people. It’s not healthy for me. It’s not my job. I’m not more well equipped to deal with hardship. I’m not smarter, or more disciplined than they are. The best way people learn is by doing. So letting them deal with their problems on their own is a better teacher than any of us could ever be.
I believe the best gift you could ever give someone is the girt of autonomy. How does that old saying go? “You can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, or you can teach a man to fish and he’ll fish for a lifetime?” Healthy people take responsibility for their own actions and they solve their own problems.
A big part of managing codependency is letting go of the need to control everything. You don’t have to fix everything. You don’t have to charge in and rescue, you can sit back and let be people be responsible for themselves and still be a good friend, mother, father, partner, or person.
Allowing someone to suffer the consequences of their actions doesn’t make you selfish. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. It’s not an easy excuse so that you don’t have to get involved. Letting people solve their own problems is not only good for them, but it shows that you can let go and not have to be in control all the time.
Your amazing powers of ‘fixability’ won’t make you more likable to others. They won’t make you more popular or indispensable. It makes you someone that doesn’t know when to let go and someone that doesn’t understand boundaries.
When you can let go and stop being so invested in the problems of other people you have more time and energy to focus on your own wellbeing. You don’t get inundated with other people’s negativity, nor do you have the pressure and anxiety that accompany it. When you take on someone else’s problems you end up absorbing the energy of that problem. Your priority should be keeping your energy clean, healthy and positive. You don’t need the burden, it’s not your responsibility. Be a friend, give advice, but know where the line is.
Subscribe to our mailing list and receive our weekly posts right to your inbox and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Do you need to talk? Click on this link and find out how you can Skype with Savannah.
Image courtesy of nenetus at freedigitalphotos.net