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
Thanks a lot for this post, Savannah. Loved it. Setting up boundaries and defending those fiercely is one of the most important “defence mechanisms” a recovering codependent has to develop. I am recovering from a devastating relationship with a narcissist and it is my personal experience. these are the very boundaries that save us from falling into oblivion. I have only just begun healing and took me a long time to realise that letting people carry on their projecting/ deflecting nonsense with me was dangerous.
it is absolutely important to call it out, however politely and learn to not let it affect us.
More power to you.
Thanks for this, love your work as a recovering codependent it’s amazing when you see things for how they are I had the same situation with a friend who I always used to offer lifts to on meals out and suddenly when I said no because 1 he drives 2 it takes me double the time to get home as I offered to pick and drop another friend up who doesn’t drive guess what he decides he can’t come to eat or will make excuses and attempt to manipulate me to change my mind … well it’s not happening ! It took me a long time to realise good boundaries require you not to take on other people’s feelings and it’s not selfish but the most loving thing you can do and also to not ignore red flags which is why I had so much resentments anger and pain because I tried to set a boundary then just gave in to my old ways and regretted it .
‘Calling people out on their behavior’-this is like a ritual a codependent needs to go through. It is not normal for us codependents to rock the boat, yes and conflict scares us straight. Can you believe it that I did this only one time in my life-I called out an acquaintance of mine who broke an important boundary. We lived in the same place and when she went traveling, she sub-rented her room to a guy she never met before (it freaked me out so much I had to leave the place). I called out on her behavior and after fighting for a while, she deleted me from social media.
People will take advantage of you if you let them. Boundaries are there to protect us. That acquaintance of yours broke few boundaries of yours too. When she was forced to face her behavior, she went into denial.
It’s not the worse thing to do to someone but it’s not nice either.
Marlena combatting the feeling that having boundaries, standing up for yourself and practicing self-care is not nice is what this article is all about.
“I can’t control what she does, but I can control what I permit, so I put a stop to it.” I LOVE this! I used this approach when my ex-husband outright told me he was going to have an affair and there was nothing I could do or say to change his mind. My reality was I had zero control over him, so I took time to weigh my options. Since I wasn’t permitting his behavior, I was the one who initiated the divorce paperwork. I don’t regret the decision I made, and have even taken further steps to call him out on his behavior.
I recently called a “friend” out on inappropriate, and out of line behavior, when this person was also offered long rants of unsolicited, and unwarranted, opinions. It had been going on for a few weeks. I was done and that is one friendship that I don’t miss.
So very true!!!! Always good stuff!! I totally took time for me, rebuild my boundaries that were eroded, it works!!!!
I remind myself to think, is this good for me? Is this healthy? Is this what I want in my life? I either proceed or put on the brakes. It’s amazing sometimes the reactions from stating “this just isn’t going to work for me”, then it’s like, whew, dodged another bullet!
Narc married over 20 years, Narc free over 3 years.
I met a wonderful man, companion over a year ago. He was with me in court for protective order, he listens, he asks about my day, we share, laugh, he’s accountable always done what he says. Actions match the words. Of course I’m cautious and gun shy, Being clear about what you will and won’t accept is extremely important! Those who are worth having around will respect that.
Thank you again Savannah, I read every week, but don’t always comment.
This is good stuff…I recently went through a situation where I felt I needed to do right by myself, concerning a persistent man. This has actually always been a struggle in my life and has often led much boundary crossing and me feeling horrible I didn’t stand up for myself. Every time I’d get an unsolicited message from him, my stomach would turn, until I finally listened to my uncomfortable feelings, over catering to his. After much anxiety and avoidance, I finally layed out what boundaries he crossed, and told him that I found his persistence and sexual innuendo disrespectful after I told him I was not dating at his point in my life; and that we are no longer to communicate. Moments before I sent it, my heart was racing and I wondered if I should even send it; but my turning point was knowing that this final response would possibly be good for both of us-me, standing up for myself, and rather than being another girl who probably ghosted him, an honest response to let him know where he crossed the line, might help him to understand why he has “such bad luck with the ladies.” Immediately after I sent it, the anxiety disappeared and I felt good about myself for honoring my needs instead of the normal people pleasing, dancing around feelings and begrudgingly responding to messages.
Even with good friends, I still have to do right by myself when their requests become increasingly more enabling or more than what I can or should do for their own dilemmas. It really is an every day practice to make decisions differently than default to codependent behavior.
Your post makes me feel better about my situation of sending him not one, but two letters. I am disappointed that I felt I needed to apologize for the first letter, but now that I haven’t had contact for over two weeks, I feel a calm knowing that I got it all out and can move on. When you stop all contact, it’s like losing an arm since he was in and out of my life for over 7 years. But it is also liberating and my mental health is returning. His text to me over the years are shameful, and I am amazed that I never stopped them.
I just wrote a whole story and something happened.
Getting there slowly.
Since my experience with the narc, I find that those suffering from extreme codependency not only turn me off, but I can’t be around them. It’s very strange how it works because very often they will be demanding and unempathetic, as this woman was towards you.
I know some codependents who have never held a full-time job, sleep all day, manage to find a guy to pay for them, etc. They will alter their interests and opinions depending on what guy they are with, and I find their people-pleasing very insincere. Those suffering from codependency (I am not speaking about recoveries) can be very much like a covert narcissist at times, taking on the whole martyr attitude, rationalizing poor treatment from that of their partner or situation, always claiming their feelings are hurt, for no reason, etc.
I also know of at least 2 female codependents who were, in a strange way, mirroring me. One I barely even knew told me how she thought that she and I were ‘so much alike.’ We have absolutely nothing in common! I found it very strange.
I do wonder if others have these same feelings towards codependents now too.
Perfect timing. My mother is not doing well with me. She’s an encroaching on Octogenarian Narc. I am a recovering co-dependent that she made me as a child. She is not dealing well with my refusal to continue to play her game or allow her to be the Grande Dame or Queen Mother when it comes to me & my children. My children do a better job of not falling into her poor pitiful no one appreciates all I do routine then I ever have. At nearly 50, I have finally learned to walk away and not be sucked into a fight or guilt by her. Thanks for the Monday reminders that I am not alone.
Thank you again Savannah….your post was timed so well. I am practically on the brink of despair with establishing boundaries with people. Left the Narc last year and his flying monkeys. It’s been hell dealing with the aftermath as there are children involved. Since then i dealt with Narc boss and left my job. Now working on Narc immediate family member. Still have to see these people due to my children so no contact not an option. Your article furthers my insight and fuels my codependent recovery. I am done with the takers and no longer care what they think. You are an inspiration and a rock- keep up the great work. xx
I have a question.
Recently I set a boundary with an orgainization I volunteer for. I had taught a class for them for 4 years. In my proposal I told them I needed 2 hours for my class as usual, but the new coordinator said I had to take one and a half hour time frame. I told her I was sorry but that didin’t work for me and to please cancel my class for the Fall. Well she went off on me in an email…calling me selfish and inconsiderate of others. She CC the email to “other powers that be”.
Well it took my breathe away…I was blindsided by her rant. I know that is not true about me but it still hurt. Maybe because she made it so public.
I was with a Naracissist for 4 years and I didn’t believe what he said about me either. But I realized in that relationship – I really needed to pay attention to how it felt because words do hurt and can be abusive.
How does this fit into “not taking it personally”?
P.S, Happy ending! I am now doing classes for another orgainization. – Actually one of the people the cooridinator CC to. They didn’t believe her either.
BeAnne Lane I think probably what happened was she was hoping to strong arm you into doing it her way and she didn’t think for a second you would pull out. She thought she had all the hand, but you called her bluff basically, she lost and she didn’t like it. She sounds like a bully who didn’t get her own way. Just remember to pass back the energy, don’t absorb any of it – it’s not yours, it’s hers, so leave it with her. Her behavior says nothing about you and everything about her. You’re a shining example of when you do right by you, good things happen.
Thank you very much. That was a good reminder for me not to absorb the energy. That is probably what i felt when it took my breathe away. I will pass it back. 🙂
Savannah; My first comment… You are awesome, love your teachings, they are a great service to humanity. As you wrote these wise words… “Just remember to pass back the energy, don’t absorb any of it – it’s not yours, it’s hers, so leave it with her” That also reminds me of some teachings words of the great Wayne Dyer (I’m a huge fan) Wayne quoted Buddha and said something like this in regards to receiving or rejecting positive or negative energy from others… “If someone offers you a gift, and you do not accept that gift, to whom does the gift belong?” If someone offers you a gift of love, praise & encouragement, you can choose to accept that gift, and if someone offers you anger, demeaning words & insults, you can choose to reject that gift, and it stays with them. He also wrote… “A person can only give away what they have inside of them. If they have love inside, that’s what they can give away to others. If they have anger & hatred inside, that’s all they can give away to others. “Let no one come into your energy field that does not come with love” So Savannah, your wise words reminded & compelled me to also write some of Wayne’s words. Thank you for providing a place for us to express our stories & thoughts 🙂
@Jeff – Looooove this!!!!!!!!!!!
Savannah; Wow, Thank you !!
This is an excellent description of the challenges and internal dynamics that codependents face all the time. I really appreciate your honesty too; as the author of all these posts over the years, I imagine it would be easy to decide not to share this kind of difficulty. I know for myself, it takes courage to walk through my internal process with others and be vulnerable enough to admit that I do not have everything figured out, I am not in some sort of “perfect recovery.” In short, that I am still (and always will be) a codependent. Sure, I have made huge strides (partly with your help Savannah and the help of everyone who contributes here), but I still wrestle with my internal dynamic all the time. It is very reassuring to see that I am not alone in that.
I see from your post that you used some of the tools I find most helpful when dealing with difficult people. Most important is keeping the focus on myself, on my internal dynamic. Your experience shows (as if we needed another example) that there are many needy, demanding, unreasonable and difficult people in the world; we all have to deal with them. But what you did — and what I try very hard to do when I face such a challenge — is to turn your energy, attention and love inward onto your own dynamic. I try hard to do the same. I cannot control other people and their unreasonable demands, but I *can* be aware of how I respond to them. If I feel confused, anxious, guilty, responsible for other people’s feelings and reactions, then I know my work lies within myself.
You showed the same approach when you worked through your resistance to setting a boundary with this needy and unreliable person. And when she (quite predictably!) attacked you after you set the boundary, you devoted your energy to counteracting the negative voices within you that were triggered by her response. This is exactly what I try to do in these situations. I can’t prevent my initial response to attack or criticism: I feel guilty and responsible, every time. But I can (and do!) counteract that response — first, be asking objectively if there is some truth to it (I am not perfect after all!); then, if I decide not, by actively soothing the guilty and responsible feelings. Counterattacking the other person, going into a guilt or shame spiral: these don’t work. Distancing myself and giving myself positive reinforcing messages (“you did the right thing; you were right to set that boundary; that other person can take care of themselves, my primary job is to take care of myself and I did a good job of that in this case”): that’s what I can do. And that’s what I saw you doing in this case.
For many of us, the basic codependent wiring was installed at a very young age. Taking responsibility for other people’s feelings — especially, feeling guilty and responsible when other people react unreasonably — is second nature. It takes active work to offset, counteract, and overcome these reactions. In my case, I was not properly and lovingly parented in this respect, so I have to “reparent” myself by providing a supportive inner voice to counteract my tendency to internalize an attack. You gave a nice textbook example in how that is done. Bravissimo!
Thanks for your comment HC. I think that the beautiful part of this journey is that I’m past the doubt, guilt and confusion. I didn’t for one second have to battle internally with if what I was doing was right or wrong. I just knew it was right for me. I was detached from the outcome and stood by my decision. I remember certainly battling with indecision at various points in my life, but I’m at a pretty good place now where I know how to do right by me and that that is the most important thing. But you’re exactly right in the approach – you take a step back, don’t instantly react.Look at it from a logical perspective – taking the emotion out of it and make your decision from that.
Thank you so much for this. It really helps to hear a specific example. I liked how you said codependency requires constant vigilance because I have found that to be true. My father died April 5th and I have been going through a big inner shift (he was a toxic narcissist) of changing some very basic belief systems that came from always being wary and hypervigilant. Having better boundaries now than I did years ago has really helped me to relax in life, to get that fear and “cringe reaction” out of my body. What I like about your sharing was that I saw how easily takers and dysfunctional people reenter our lives. It is a real muscle we build to say no to this next presentation of our old pattern. The month after my father died I moved and I found myself unable to tolerate certain people’s “energy.” One friend just kept busting my boundaries not to call and text me all the time. I’d gone two rounds with having a very specific boundary conversation with her — in person and in email — only to have her text me three times during a very stressful week. I realized further words would be a waste of my time so I simply texted, “This relationship is not working for me. I feel stalked.” It was all I could do not to say “I’m sorry,” but I am so glad I didn’t. Because I am not. Its amazing how much my stress dropped when I dropped this needy-greedy person.
Beautifully said…thank you~ I’m 45 days no contact now with my ex and finally breathing better. Your wisdom always helps me and I love some of your quotes..they’re posted on my board. I appreciate you and you inspire me!
I am so happy I found your blog!! Thank you so much for you help!
This second part of my comment may not be completely applicable to this story Savannah but I thought I would share it anyway 🙂
Firstly, since being much better with my own boundaries and calling people out respectfully on their bad behavior, my experience is that 9 times out of 10, unfortunately most people react like this woman in your essay. So I am usually prepared that if I call them out, no matter how gently that that will be the end of our friendship. Sadly it usually is the end (from their side.) I wish that weren’t the case, but that’s my experience. Sometimes I have just quietly stepped away because usually calling them out means it’s over anyway. I don’t know if that’s the best thing, but I abhor conflict and I have enough stress in my job. I don’t know if you have had any good outcomes Savannah but my mine have not been so positive 🙂
As I mentioned my boundaries are much better these days. I have tried to keep clear boundaries with people in the last 17 years in particular. I’m not saying that the woman in your essay is a taker, but in the past I would have had a target on my head meaning that folks who are takers would have zeroed in on me. And I would have allowed them to take take take, and to rarely give. I like to give more than receive. But I’ve learnt to be happy to receive as well. Sadly though I have had a history of attracting takers because underneath it all I probably thought that if I am giving all the time how could they possibly reject someone who is giving all the time? Haha. At that time my self esteem was low and continued to shrink, attracting more and more takers and they would get away exploiting my good nature and some were abusive. Well I guess one could call it all abusive. And if I started pulling back a bit and wanting reciprocation, they would move on and find someone else. At the time it felt awful, but I realise now they did me a favor.
It took a while to wake up to this destructive pattern. It was only when I happened to be fortunate enough to meet someone when I wasn’t looking for anyone, and they were not a taker and I’ve been with that person ever since. We are both very happy. But my point is, that it was only until I had had enough of being used by takers, that’s when I set some real boundaries, and that’s when I came across someone really wonderful.
Sara Tonin – I love the handle btw, lol. You’re right most people will stop talking to you when you call them out and that’s okay. Narcissists especially will never be okay with it, but their reaction is your cue. You don’t want people in your life who will continually bust your boundaries so letting them go is okay. The one percent that can take a step back and acknowledge and be responsible for their own behavior – those are the keepers.
This post resonates with me today. I am taking the day off work to have a calm day to myself for some future planning. As in “Leave the Narciscist” planning. It is a challenge to DO self care in a context of dysfunction. I am doing way better these days than in the past about being more fair to myself. And it is so true that my boundaries of self care can really trigger other people when they are used to my codependency (being there for them without any expectations of return on a continuing basis).
So this all makes sense & helps to empower me today to spend the time on me. Still it is hard to make that decision & not feel really anxious about push back. But like you say, it is not easy & acknowledging that is a big help. Thank you !!
p.s. Sorry the freak out happened to you. Thanks for setting an example of how to deal with boundaries & how to stay strong when a freak out happens. I am happy to be heading in the right direction & hopefully I can notice my anxiety but not let it stop me from continuing on doing the right thing for me.
I really, really enjoyed this post! I have such a problem knowing how to handle people like this. Of course, that’s MY problem: setting boundaries and also a morbid curiosity about the problems of others. Thank you for showing us a real situation and a healthy way to deal with it. The hardest thing for me is to respond in an appropriate way without getting angry in response but standing up for myself. It’s so helpful to see what language you used and how and why.
After my latest episode I wrote a letter telling him that I was done with his treatment of women, etc., and that I was done, It wasn’t nasty, but it was truthful. Then in my conditioning through all his antics, I felt bad so then sent a letter that was a bit nice and ended up apologizing for sending the first letter. I felt bad for sending both of them, it was crazy to send a letter explaining my boundaries and then basically apologizing for probably making him feel bad. Ugh. So I have agonized that I did both. I will give him credit that he didn’t respond to either, I realized that it was foolish and not who I want to be. My codependency was trying to get him to react to make me feel validated. Another good lesson to mean my words in the first letter, let go and move on. I made a promise to myself to have no more contact and get my head together.. it’s been two weeks and I continue to work hard. It certainly is not easy, but I hate who I am when he is involved. He will never be accountable. Self care is the key. Thank you for the reminder.