Conquering Codependency is akin to maneuvering through a battle field. You have to constantly be mindful of where you are, you’ve got battle after battle after battle, both internal and external and you have to always be on the look-out for shrapnel and falling bombs from overhead.
I recently had an experience that perfectly illustrates a Codependent minefield. I think it’s a good example of how our resolve can be tested and the types of behavior that can threaten our well-being, so definitely worthy of a share.
A couple of weeks ago I got a text message from an old acquaintance. I’ve maybe been in the same room with this individual a handful of times. I’ve always thought she was a nice, caring girl, who had a lot of problems, codependency being one of them.
We chatted for a bit and she let me in on what a mess her life has become. She wanted to quit smoking and knew I was a hypnotherapist and was hoping I could help her. I told her that to do it effectively it’s something that has to be done several times, not just once. I stressed to her that I was very busy, that I work every day until 6:00pm, then I go to the gym until 8:00, then I eat dinner, I work on my blog, Skype with clients, and I’m working on 4 different projects, but of course I’d help her. I just had to figure out when and how, as she lived an hour and a half away. She offered to perform Reiki on me as payment, but it’s not something I was interested in, nor did I see it as a possibility due to the distance, so I told her not to worry about it.
I told her we could Skype every day for the next week, but it would have to be at 9:00pm and I’d have to write a hypnosis script specifically for her. We agreed to start the following Monday and that night I went about writing a script for her, which took me about an hour and a half. I got a request for a Skype session from a client for that Monday. I had to turn them away because of the prior arrangement I made.
Monday came and went and I didn’t hear from her.
The next day she apologized and told me that a lot of stuff had happened, she was very stressed and she wasn’t ready to stop smoking. A few more days go by, I got a text from her asking if we can talk. We agree to talk that night at 9:00pm.
9:00pm comes and goes and I don’t hear from her.
A week goes by, I get the same request and you guessed it, the time comes and goes and I don’t hear from her.
This past Friday I get a book-type message from her on Facebook detailing all of her recent drama, most of which was of her own making. By this time, I had had enough and I replied:
I’m going to level with you. First, I want to preface what I’m about to write by saying I’ve got nothing but love for you. I’m not mad, but I need to address some things. I need you to understand that I am very, very, very busy. You’ve asked me for help and to talk on several occasions. I’ve shifted things around, turned away clients, spent time writing a script for you, rather than focus on my own projects and made sure I was available for you and you couldn’t even be bothered to show up. I understand that your life is a mess right now and that you are barely treading water. I get it. But you need to understand that I’m not going to make time for people who do not respect my time. I don’t have people in my life that I can’t depend on 100%. I just don’t – that’s my line, my standard. Again, I’m not mad, I’m just not doing it anymore.
The response I got was interesting and chock full of emotionally unhealthy reactions.
• She blasted me for starting an attack on her with the word “love” and said it was tacky.
• She regretted reaching out to me as it was obviously a huge mistake.
• She said she didn’t ask for my help for free, but I insisted. She was fully prepared to give me an energy exchange via Reiki (something I wasn’t remotely interested in, nor was I willing to do the drive for.)
• She gave a big explanation of why she didn’t make our numerous appointments.
• She said as a therapist she expected better from me.
• She didn’t understand my need to kick her when she was down.
• She left off wishing me well in the future
Criticism is tough to take at any time, most of us don’t do well with it, and it’s especially tough to take when your life is in utter chaos. It can feel like you’re playing a game of Jenga with your life and another block has been pulled and you’re teetering, just waiting for your life to topple over.
At this stage of my life, if I received a message like mine, from someone I respected, I would probably take some time to mull it over before responding. I’d do some introspection and measure whether, or not, it had any validity and then I may or may not respond.
I’ve learned that practicing self-care and doing right by you isn’t always the easiest or the most popular route to take, but it is the necessary one. The old, Codependent, me wouldn’t ever have dreamed of engaging in conflict and calling people out on their behavior. It’s not easy, but it’s something I’ve gotten a lot of practice doing. I’m no longer concerned about not rocking the boat, or how other’s will react. I have a line and if you cross it, I’m going to call you on it. People don’t like to have their bad behavior pointed out to them. That’s just a fact of life. But I’ve learned, through experience, that the old adage, “What you allow continues,” is an absolute truth and I wasn’t prepared to allow this individual’s issues to complicate my life any further. I can’t control what she does, but I can control what I permit, so I put a stop to it.
Her behavior highlighted some important issues that we talk about a lot in this blog. Here are some I think are important:
• The best defense is a good offense. You hear that all the time in sports, but it works with defense mechanisms too. Rather than show some insight into her own behavior, she went on the offensive and attacked me, while accusing me of attacking her. I’m more than sure that there wasn’t anything in my message that could be construed as attacking, I just pointed out facts, but we know that projection and deflection are defense mechanisms used by people who are emotionally unhealthy and know they don’t have a leg to stand on.
• It’s not me, it’s you. We’ve all witnessed unhealthy people that refuse to take responsibility for their own behavior. Their reasons are full of excuses and lacking any type of apology or acknowledgement of wrongdoing. She painted the picture that if I was a better friend and a better therapist I would have behaved better and been more sympathetic to her plight but instead I derive some kind of sadistic pleasure in revealing in other people’s misery – hence my need to “kick her when she was down.”
*while I can sympathize with what she’s going through I’m not going to jump in and try to fix or take responsibility for it, nor am I going to allow her problems to affect my life.
• I use the term, “The Inappropriate Freak-Out,” to define outrageous behavior by someone in an incredibly fragile state of mind, who wouldn’t otherwise behave this way. I think this is a good example of that. I’ve certainly been there. Most of us who have been involved with dysfunctional people and are at our breaking point, will find ourselves in this state and acting in ways we never thought we would. Though we may feel incredibly volatile and justified, it still doesn’t give anyone a free pass to be disrespectful and thoughtless, to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
• I think you mean – thank you. I had a client last week tell me that one of her friends told her that none of them wanted to hang out with her anymore, not because they didn’t care about her, but that it was becoming too hard to listen to the same problems over and over again and watch her make the same mistakes, despite knowing what to do and choosing not to. I said to her, “That’s a really great friend you have there.” She agreed. Real friends aren’t afraid to tell you the truth, they care enough about you to hold you accountable. They don’t enable bad behavior and they’re not yes people, who just agree with everything.
Practicing self-care, creating and enforcing boundaries, and holding people accountable isn’t always an easy road. It’s going to offend some people. You’re going to be criticized. People are going to call you names, attack you and think you’re selfish. That’s okay. You can’t control what other people think and do and as the late Wayne Dyer always used to say, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Your job is to try and always do the right thing, be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, as Miguel Ruiz, author of the Four Agreements, says, and to do right by you. If you can do these things, you can hold your head high and know you’re on the right path to emotional health.
Image courtesy of marin at freedigitalphotos.net