I can recall, early in my dating career, many occasions where I really let myself down. There were plenty of cringe-worthy moments where I would let something slide or hold something in and never stand up for myself. My love interest would say or do something completely inappropriate and I knew if I spoke up it would mean a huge fight and the end of that relationship. It wasn’t that I didn’t know I was being disrespected and it wasn’t that it didn’t hurt me deeply, but my fear of rejection and abandonment was greater than my need to be treated with love and respect.
I had a lot of practice eating my feelings. I’d learned speaking up at home would only result in mocking, criticism or having my wants ignored. So I never learned how to appropriately communicate my needs. Asking for what I wanted in adulthood was so difficult that I would either, not bother asking at all, or would disguise my request with vague hints, hoping that others would be able to read my mind and guess what I needed.
Many years back, I remember needing to leave early from work one Friday afternoon. The prospect of having to ask this particular boss, for this favor, was so difficult and anxiety provoking that I put it off until I couldn’t put it off any further. I approached him an hour and a half before I needed to leave and I fidgeted like a frightened child. He had granted this request to others on even shorter notice, but there was something about my behavior and nervous energy and the fact that he was kind of a jerk, that had him deny my request. Had I known how to be assertive and communicate my needs effectively I would have approached him as soon as I’d found out I needed the time off and calmly and directly made my request, confidently knowing that I deserved it and it would be granted.
We are social beings and if we don’t know how to communicate effectively we are at a huge disadvantage in life. Here are typical modes of communication most used by codependents:
Guilt Mode: Codependents often use guilt to get their needs met. They might use phrases like, “After everything I’ve done for you and you couldn’t even….”
Indecisive Mode: Rather than give a hard no or take a stand they will speak in vague terms. When asked to do something they don’t want to do, a codependent will often try to postpone giving an answer on the spot and will instead give some future date in which they’ll have a definitive answer – while knowing they will just ignore future attempts and hope the person and the request will just go away.
Lazy Communication Mode: If a codependent has to deliver a difficult message or give an opinion that they know will cause opposition, they will usually do it via text, email or voice mail. They avoid face to face or telephone communication, because they fear taking a stand or being challenged on the spot. It’s amazing how brave one becomes when there is no live opposition.
Blame Mode: Some codependents when faced with potential conflict are quick to put the blame on others to avoid responsibility even if it’s not true. Throwing someone else under the bus gets rid of the immediate threat of the conflict and allows them to deal with the fallout at a later time.
Taking Responsibility Mode: When there is a dispute or a conflict, a codependent will often end up apologizing and accepting responsibility, even when the fault is not theirs. To a codependent, being at fault is easier than taking a stand and sticking up for yourself.
Defelct Mode: When a codependent is confronted with something they don’t want to deal with they will try to dismiss it as quickly as possible and try to steer the conversation onto a new topic.
Pleaser Mode: Some codependents are afraid to say no – even to their children. They want to be liked and be the hero of the situation even if doing so is detrimental to them or others.
Avoidance Mode: It doesn’t matter how big the elephant in the room may be, when a codependent fears rejection, blame, criticism or conflict they will pretend that everything is okay and will avoid bringing up the contentious subject at all costs, even if avoiding it may cause worse or further damage.
Codependents fear taking a stand, they fear being challenged, criticized, judged and rejected. This fear is greater than their need for respect, or fairness. Conflict causes acute anxiety and they’ve learned that it’s something to be avoided at all costs. All of the behaviors listed above are by no means a comprehensive list but they are learned behaviors and like any learned behavior they can be un-learned.
Everyone should be able to ask for what they want. They should be able to express their opinions and emotions both negative and positive. They should be able to disagree amicably. We all deserve to be treated with respect. We deserve to be able to be ourselves, be heard and to express ourselves. Not being able to communicate properly is like going through life without one of your five senses.
When you find yourself in a situation where you’re falling back into one of your old modes of communication, stop yourself and be mindful that that is what you are doing. Mindfulness is half the battle. Only when you’re aware of what and why you’re doing something, can you make changes.
Instead of falling back on your old ways of communicating ask yourself :
What is my stand on this?
Is this stand logical, moral, accurate, right for me?
If yes then take the stand without fear. If you’re being challenged or deem it necessary – don’t back down, state your reasons, but know that you don’t owe someone a big explanation. Simply stating your thought, opinion or desire is enough. Resist the urge to waffle when getting pressured. Take your stand and hold it and end the conversation and be comfortable in the fact that you are allowed to have an opposing view, a desire for something, or stick up for yourself.
Take the emotion out of your communication in a suspected conflict. Many codependents have to deal with an abusive ex when it comes to co-parenting children. In these types of circumstances where your wants and needs are likely to be ignored, mocked, deflected or any other number of avoidance techniques, you must be consistent, keep the focus on the children, don’t engage in any baiting techniques, just deal with facts, repeat your needs and wants if they are being dismissed or ignored, and keep your emotions out of it.
You: I need the kids home by 3:00pm on Sunday.
Ex: They’ll be there when they get there.
You: I need them home by 3:00pm because they are invited to Suzie’s birthday party.
Ex: You were late dropping them off so whatever. Why do you have a date with that Dan idiot?
You: Let’s stay focused on the children and be respectful of each other’s schedules. I’ll be there at 3:00 to pick them up. Good-bye.
Practice difficult conversations in front of a mirror. Practice saying no. Practice taking a stand and not waffling. Practice is key. Then put what you have learned into practice and you’ll quickly realize that you had nothing to fear. Remember that what you think, matters. What you want and need, matters. You – matter. So stop being afraid to ask for what you want and remember the only person you have to please is yourself.
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Savannah, thank you SO much!!! You really nailed it hard on me. This statement of yours really hit the bull’s eye, “It wasn’t that I didn’t know I was being disrespected, and it wasn’t that it didnt hurt me deeply, but my fear of rejection and abandonment was greater than my need to be treated with love and respect.” This pretty much summed up why I stayed with my ex Narc. Thank you for opening my eyes and for helping all of us here to become better in loving ourselves.
Thank you.All the stories are very helpful .Trying to learn how to communicate effectively is a long journey and what I am doing is remembering this fact every day so I can act on it when needed.
Yes everything you say is all so true! I love hurtin’ cowboy’s comments too!
My husband has helped me quite a bit with some of my communication issues. I especially had difficulty asking for time off at work, even when deserved. Anything out of the ordinary or extra I’d resist asking for. He’d say, “why are you so worried about this? What’s going to happen?” A few times I had good reason, but when I realized that many co-workers asked for even greater favors than I ever had, I knew he had me.
There was one time, however, that turned out as bad as I imagined it would. I asked my boss if I could changed my schedule to something that would better suit my needs. I was afraid to ask as she was very domineering and intimidating. My husband said that I had nothing to lose – if she said no I’d be in the same place I was now. So I got up the courage and asked. She held a meeting with myself and my coworker and although my coworker agreed to my idea, my boss got ANGRY. She yelled at me. It angered her that I dared ask, which is what I was afraid of in the first place. I came home upset about it and wished I’d never asked, but my husband said, “But what did you do wrong? Nothing. The law is on your side. If you get fired for asking for a different schedule, you have recourse. She’s the one who lost it, she’s the one who looks like a fool for getting angry.”
He was right. I can’t be responsible for anyone else’s reaction. It’s still a challenge to this day and especially with certain issues like asking for things at work, but the more you face them the better it is. In my current employment I also have to tell people NO, firmly, sometimes, which has helped me feel confident about saying NO in other areas. Everything you say here, Savannah, I’ve felt too. I could have written this – especially when you wrote about work and boyfriends! Thank you for this post – this was particularly helpful.
dear Savannah when I feel insicure I always look for conflict especially with men. It’s like if I enter in a distruttive mode, pointing out all their defects , trying to make them feel inferior, or most of all trying to punish them.
needless to say all of this comes back to me as a boomerang, they’re upset and most of the narc disappeared . Then I enter in the regreat phase making my life really miserable .
is this a codipendent behavior ?
“Conflict causes acute anxiety and they [codependents] learned that it’s something to be avoided at all costs.” I may as well have been born with this sentence tattooed inside both my eyelids, and etched across my forehead for good measure. I not only avoid any actual brewing conflict; I imagine potential conflict well before it happens, and plan all sorts of elaborate avoidance/deflection strategies. I would say that the fear of conflict dominates my internal life far more than I usually care to admit. This is partly because I grew up in an era when “Are you complaining? Well, I will give you something to really complain about now!” [hit; swat; slap] was considered good solid parenting (at least in my family); and partly because I am just a gentle person by nature.
Your strategies are all terrific, and I see some new ones I will add. This is a constant battle for me, as the fear of potential conflict will event keep me from speaking up if I get something other than what I ordered at a restaurant or cafe. One additional strategy I try to use (not always successfully) is putting my “grownup” in charge, reminding myself that in the event of conflict I know how to protect myself. Instead of just being afraid someone might overreact, I say, well, if they do, I have tools to handle that. (It helps to remind myself that I am over six feet tall and weigh close to 200 pounds; but the scared little kid inside feels much, much smaller.) And of course most of the time it does’t happen anyway. It is funny but also sad how much time I have spent avoiding potential conflict that was never going to materialize. But it has been and continues to be a major challenge for me, basically every day. Thanks for the extra tips and tools in this mostt challenging area for me.
These posts are sometimes hard to internalize. I’ve been working on my codependency issues for over two years now and there are times that I still don’t get it! Or I get it, it makes sense and I understand where I come from but… when it comes to a conscious effort of changing my pattern of thinking… is like I am hitting a mental wall.
Practice, practice, practice! It’s indeed a learned behaviour and like any habit, little steps practised frequently, eventually will break the crazy cycle.
Years ago our firm’s passive aggressive HR person who would never say no, she would say “That’s not a viable option for the Firm.” Now that my people pleasing days are behind me, I’ve often had to give myself a pep talk to be assertive but afterwards, I feel great. Thank you Savannah.
Thanks Savannah, I can see myself/past behaviour in many of the above statements. Once I recognised (as an adult) my fear of getting into trouble/being yelled at/abused by someone for (pick a reason) making a mistake, giving bad news/disagreeing I managed to get past it with practice. My parents had yelled/screamed/put down and belittled me quite a lot while I was growing up. They forgot to tell me I was good too. Self esteem seems to be a key factor to our codependent behaviour. I had to make a conscious effort to not expect the same reaction from other people, particularly at work. Growing up in a toxic environment you don’t realise how skewed your perception is.
Have now NC’d both family and ex. 3 years out it has been quite a journey. Self-care has become a priority now. Where I used to feel selfish, I can now see that it was the selfish needs of other’s playing their games.
Thank you to all the readers who share their stories to.