When you have one half of a couple, that takes responsibility for nothing and liberally distributes blame to the other and the other half, that feels responsible for everything and willingly accepts blame, you have a match made in dysfunctional paradise.
Young children are incredibly ego-centric. They internalize negative messages and have an uncanny ability to make everything their fault. As a child grows and develops they become less internally focused and are able to examine and question their environment, internalizing less and looking more and more for logical and external explanations.
If you throw an emotionally manipulative parent into the mix, one who is quick to blame, shame and belittle their child, the lens that that child views the world with becomes more and more clear and points directly at them. They get into the pattern of thinking that they are responsible for everything and anything that may go wrong, is a direct result of something they have done. They seldom grow out of that pattern, because that way of thinking becomes habitual and they will continue to think this way until they learn how to break the cycle.
Breaking that pattern of thinking is an essential part of conquering codependency. It’s imperative that we learn exactly what we are responsible for and what we are not. Once we understand the difference then we have to get into the habit of monitoring how we are perceiving incoming data and learning how to interrupt that internal tape and teach ourselves newer, healthier ways of interpreting our environment.
What You Are Not Responsible For
- Other people’s behavior
- Other people’s moods
- Other people’s problems
- Other people’s financial or job situation
- Other people’s children
- Other people’s inability to take care of themselves
- Other people’s happiness
- Other people’s self-esteem
- Other people’s emotional outbursts
- Other people’s issues
- What other people think or say about you
What You are Responsible For
- Your behavior
- Your attitude
- Your choices
- Your well-being
- Your self-esteem
- Your children
- Financially supporting yourself
- Validating yourself
- Your life
Interrupting Your Tape
The first step, quite obviously, is to acknowledge that this is a behavior that you engage in. Pay attention to how many times you so willingly take responsibility for a situation that isn’t your fault and how many times you say you’re sorry. Do you have triggers that revert you back to childhood, such as an angry or raging partner or friend that starts acting up and yelling? Do you try to keep the peace by being quiet or do you take responsible for their behavior to ease the tension and their ire? Start to look for these patterns in your thinking and behavior and pay attention to the people in your life and how often they lay the blame at your feet. Be mindful of how many times these patterns happen in a day.
Once you start paying attention to these patterns, their frequency will shock you. Your job then becomes to interrupt the tape. Every time you find yourself in a situation where you are taking responsibility for something, take a step back and analyze the situation with a new lens. Ask yourself, “Who is really responsible for the situation? What are the facts? Is their reaction appropriate? Am I responding appropriately? Am I making myself feel small to make someone else feel better or to keep the peace?”
Every time we try to break a bad habit it becomes a battle. It’s called self-work because it is work. You must constantly challenge these notions and beliefs that enter your mind, otherwise the old tape will start up again. Be mindful of the pattern, interrupt it and challenge it every time it makes an appearance. Get in the habit of speaking your truth irrespective of how others will react to it. The impetus is on creating a new set of behaviors, a new way of perceiving our environment and a new tape.
Just like starting a new fitness regime, it will get easier as you continue to do it. It takes practice, practice, practice to master any task and this is no different. Our brains learn through repetition so this is something you will have to continue to do it. You’ll know you’re there when you start to see things objectively rather than always defaulting to ‘everything is my fault.’
Those people in your life who have enjoyed laying blame at your feet, will of course, not like the idea of you challenging the status quo. Once you know who they are start the process of eliminating them from your life. Hanging around people who want to blame you for everything, while you are trying to kick the habit of accepting blame, is the equivalent of an alcoholic hanging out in a bar. Practicing healthy behaviors should always be the goal and anyone who tries to get in the way of that should be removed from the front row of your life. When they complain you can truthfully tell them it was all their fault.
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Sometimes I don’t realize how fragile I am after all the things I’ve been through with narcs and I become impatient with myself. I get caught up in perfectionism and in my healing journey I have to be careful with my heart. I found myself on a very confusing triggering conversation with someone. I regret having even a conversation with them as it brought up all the loss and I realize I how much more I need to heal and find healthy strength. Also I realize i need way more stronger and healthier boundaries.
Tasharuu, phew, I’m grateful for your comment! I am in exactly the same place, emotionally, as you.
I have only just realised how emotionally fragile I am. Which, surprises me, why? I don’t know as it should have been as clear as crystal to me! Nevertheless, it is another small achievement and the knowledge of it, is in itself empowering. Last week a social worker made a huge mistake with an appointment for me and instead of apologising she turned it around, mocking me in front of another and accusing me of not taking the necessary steps. Steps which I didn’t think I had to take as I believed the appointment to have been organised for me. It scrambled my brain and I was unable to state my case. Now, having just read the post and your comment I realize that it was exactly the kind of behaviour I expect from my sister and an ex friend! I wasn’t mentally prepared for it or in a self loving place to calmly state my case and put matters straight.
Sav, I recently started at the “root” and began to put up boundaries with my toxic family members that I grew up with and was raised by. I don’t want to be a victim anymore and have learned from you that sometimes we have to go backwards in order to move forward- that I need to eliminate anything and anyone who makes me feel bad about myself. In the recent blog above you stated that some people in my life may not like the change in status quo and me challenging it. This is so true.. I have received so much blowback because of my new boundaries and me sticking up for myself. me doing the self work doesn’t ensure that the others will go down that path with me rather it causes you and the others to run separate paths. in fact, the more self work i do and the more self aware i become the farther away these people become. because of this extra abuse that is being dished out-it’s like icing on the cake – i can see so clearly how i have let people abuse me my entire life. i’ve been a trinket or pawn or placeholder in these people’s lives that they moved around to fit all their causes and make their lives operatable. i’m so disgusted with this dream i’ve been in created by others, being controlled and manipulated – this is my life ..i’m entitled to create my own dream, my own reality. the repetive thinking tgat i’ve had since childhood has taken me to adulthood in which i try to over please, take the blame for everything, work work work to make others like approve and love me- work, friends, men. You’re right- it takes self work A LOT to break the pattern. so my question for you: now what?? and what i mean by this is: i’ve created these boundaries in my life and i’m watching everyone slip away. i feel alone as they were main players in my life thus far. do i just “let it be?” and keep walking forward on this new path. sometimes i feel lost on this unknown path or bridge from point A to point B.
We are in the same situation. I am on my journey to my higher self now. It’s okay to end relationships with toxic people. We are afraid to be alone, to lose our friends and family – I did!! It felt so good to feel alone and feel serenity, finding my authentic self at the same time.
I’m still on my journey but like what Savannah’s recent blog –when you’re right, the world is right. It opened up new opportunities for me, met new positive people, I started taking care of myself more than 8 years ago. I’m so much younger and healthier. Say goodbye to negative energy/energy vampires, and leeches in your life. You don’t need them, believe me
More rainbows and sunny days are coming for you!
When i was very tired i noticed myself saying to my son, you’re making me cross. Fortunately i caught myself and told him he wasn’t responsible for my feelings, although i didn’t like him repeatedly throwing towels in my face. I’m still figuring out how to ask for respect for my needs without making other people responsible for my feelings. Feelings definitely matter, but not in a way that i was used to.
Pecan how about something like, “(Name of son) your behavior is inappropriate. Please stop.”
crazybutttricia thanks for your comment I relate so well. The first thought I had with this article was wont that hurt peoples feelings and make you mean. I wasn’t even done reaeding the article and I was taking blame for suggestions I havent even tried yet. I can speak the truth and if it hurts Im not looking to evolk emotions in that person I am trying to stop being the doormat. Do I have it right. Brand new here but there is not one word I can’t relate to.
I can’t hear this message too often or too forcefully. I go back to negative internal messaging automatically and by default — *unless* I consciously and intentionally counteract the negatives with something positive. These tapes were laid down in my mind when I was a vulnerable and defenseless child. They will play, at high volume, unless I press the pause button and put on a more positive message. This is not what I would have chosen but it is the truth for me. The narcissist who hurt me would not penetrate my psyche today because I no longer am so needy that I would suppress my instincts just to hear positive things (the classic overvaluation stage which sets the hook so the N can then abuse us). And that’s true because I give myself affirmations and positive thoughts all the time.
“Equivalent to a recovering alcoholic hanging out in a bar” so absolutely true. I needed to divorce to recover.
Tasharuu, phew, I’m grateful for your comment! I am in exactly the same place, emotionally, as you.
I have only just realised how emotionally fragile I am. Which, surprises me, why? I don’t know as it should have been as clear as crystal to me! Nevertheless, it is another small achievement and the knowledge of it, is in itself empowering. Last week a social worker made a huge mistake with an appointment for me and instead of apologising she turned it around, mocking me in front of another social worker and accusing me of not taking the necessary steps. Steps which I didn’t think I had to take as I believed the appointment to have been organised for me. It scrambled my brain and I was unable to state my case. It left me feeling so angry and I mean angry! Now, having just read the post and your comment I realize that it was exactly the kind of behaviour I expect from my sister and an ex friend! I wasn’t expecting it so her rediculing me took me unawares and I wasn’t in a self loving place to calmly state my case and put matters straight. Pity!
Great Article Savannah. Thanks again.
This Saturday will be 3weeks No Contact from her, and because of her recent spell in hospital because of her mental problems, and her sister contacting me to tell me she was okay and not to contact her…Fuck.
When will this pain ever go away. I should be happy that I am not the one dealing with this, I dealt with it for 9 years.
Codependancy is a horrible thing, but your article is great. I can’t thank you enough.
I hope I get better soon, because the feeling of loss from the absolute love of my life is fucked. I know she won’t and can’t change, and at this point she doesn’t even want me.
Reading your article has validated the attitude that I have adopted over the last few months. While going through my divorce for the past year, sometimes feeling at my wits end and emotionally wrecked, I realized that I accept other people’s opinion of me as fact. I also apologize, when in fact, it is not my fault and I try to keep the peace at the expense of my own self esteem. I woke up one day and decided that I was done. And it didn’t matter who it was that was making me feel this way, my soon to be ex, my family, my friends, I was done. I have pushed back, stood up for myself and learned to let go. If my actions and feelings offend or frustrate them, that is their problem not mine. It’s taken me 50 years to come to this conclusion, and to put into practice, but it feels amazing. I feel lighter, happier, and more confident with who I am. And it wasn’t just with my ex-husband, it was within my own family. The people who are supposed to be your support, your motivators, your cheering section. Sometimes they are the loudest voices in your head when you doubt yourself. But after a lifetime of being the “the good girl” I am done accepting it, apologizing to everyone who demands it, and being relied on to be the peace keeper, just to make them feel good about themselves and to tear me down once more.
I think I have finally grown up.
As always, perfect timing and perfect reminder. You really must have some kind of psychic powers Savannah, to deliver what I need at the exact time. After months of no contact, ex found me to settle his outstanding child support issue. It hit me hard that saving his face in front of his employer and avoid garnishing his wages meant more to him than saving his face in front of his child and his ex spouse combined. It also opened some almost healed wound of ending the dysfunctional marriage. It hit me hard. I should’ve been happy that I’ve got the money that my child lawfully and rightly is entitled to and I am not. I went into a dark hole of thinking what did I do wrong to reduce the 18 years spent together to legal money battle. Was there really nothing else? Did I really waste 18 years of my life? Why the only thing that’s left is money? Why does he hate me so much? Did I hurt him so badly that he can’t be civil? I know, I know this too shall pass but in meanwhile I hanging dearly to your posts. Thank you!
This is the most informative well articulated co-dependent behaviour explanation I have ever read ..and will be following future posts
Brilliant. What I find most challenging is not changing the behaviour (altho this is difficult) its the fallout. That is dealing with and eliminating people – pariticularly close relatives e.g. my mother, because of the totally toxic reaction given even when the message has been deliviered in an appropriate and rtespectful way. Its an ongoing learning curve.