Co-dependents and control freaks August 13, 2014 – Posted in: Relationships, Uncategorized – Tags: bath magazine, co-dependency, Life Coaching, mindfulness, Personal Development
I’ve just started writing my first book and realised very early on that I need to devote an entire chapter to this thing we coaches call, ‘co-dependency’ otherwise known as ‘victim mentality’ and/or ‘control freakery’. It’s a weighty subject, one I know only too well and something I constantly need to check in my own life. It deserves a whole chapter because I think we all suffer with it to varying degrees and yet we suffer needlessly. So, here’s my shorter-than-it-will-be-in-the-book take on co-dependency and why it’s a healthy thing to avoid if you can.
In essence, co-dependency centres on the belief that you are responsible for the feelings of other people and that they can ‘make’ you feel a certain way. Taken to extremes this belief then causes co-dependents to try and force reactions or feelings in people and control their emotions either through people pleasing, threats or bribery. No one quite knows where he or she is with a co-dependent because of the subtle games they (unconsciously) play. Children of people with addictions can often end-up with crippling co-dependency because they learnt early on that if they, for example, kept quiet about their needs when Mum was half way through her second bottle of wine that they would avoid her angry outbursts. This is a subtle and utterly understandable form of control but it is control nonetheless.
Other people use ‘feel sorry for me’ as a way to control others – falsely believing that if someone pities them then they won’t leave them or let them down. Still others believe that someone ‘won’t cope’ without them if they left or said ‘no’ despite the fact that the relationship has been over or dying for years. Both stances are based in fear and untruth and therefore stunt the emotional and spiritual growth of the people involved.
So, what’s the way out? For me it was learning to be brave enough to ‘own’ my response to any situation despite what others might do or say as a result. I don’t mean that I didn’t care about other people (quite the opposite) but that I decided to honour the truth inside me more than keeping others happy. I saw that people pleasing was inauthentic and controlling because I was hiding what I really wanted or needed. Once we can ‘own our truth’ we can then engage in healthy relationships based on love, truth, robust boundaries and compromise.
A client of mine grew up with a mother who controlled the entire family through instilling a fear of ‘don’t upset me because I might not cope and if I don’t cope then what will happen to you all…?’ My client grew up believing this, then resenting it and then repeating the pattern in her own family. Through coaching she was able to see what she was doing and the anxiety it was causing her and those she loved. Today she practises being clear and truthful in her responses knowing that the reactions of other people are their business and not hers.
If this interests you then you might want to read Melodie Beattie’s brilliant book, Co-Dependent No More.
This column originally appeared in my Life Column for The Bath Magazine.