Hello everyone, this week I’ve thought about the “mess” codependent behavior causes in our hearts and minds. It’s so confusing to live in abuse, confusing when you want to leave it, and confusing once you are free. Confusion causes us to act unlike ourselves, distrust ourselves, and try to manipulate for the greater good (which doesn’t work). Our best intentions seem to turn into the biggest mess possible. When drama rules the day, it’s time to check ourselves for codependent behavior.
So, I hope this newsletter helps straighten out something you’ve struggled with, lessening the confusion. You deserve clarity. Sometimes we have to look at ourselves to get it.
Love, light, and laughter,
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Codependent Behavior Makes Abuse Victims Manipulative, Too (What to Do About It)
During my abusive marriage, I learned a disordered and negative coping mechanism. The coping mechanism made me behave manipulatively. It sometimes made me wonder if I was the abuser. This coping mechanism kept me blind to the real danger I lived in but very aware of how much I blamed only myself for causing so much pain. Some call this particular disordered coping mechanism codependency.
After only a little time of living in abuse, I noticed changes in myself that I didn’t like. Back then, I didn’t know about codependency. I didn’t understand manipulation, control or abuse because I’d never experienced it. I only understood that people could have marital problems and such problems were the faults of both parties.
But, looking back, it’s obvious that I manipulated my abuser as best I could. I thought that if I worked it right, I could make my abuser behave lovingly, or at least less hatefully. I could make him be a better man. Codependency made me think I was powerful enough to control my abuser. And well, isn’t the idea that one person can control another the very evil behind the abusive relationship?
Although it is true that I manipulated to keep the peace, controlling behavior used by an abuse victim is as unhealthy as it is for abusers.
Similarities Between Abusive and Codependent Behavior
I wanted my ex-abuser to behave differently, just as he wanted the same from me. I wanted him to behave as if he cared about my feelings and thoughts as much as he cared about whether or not there was food in my belly. He thought his job was to go to work and put food on the table. Period. I thought that was but a portion of his responsibility as a husband and a father. I wanted him to drastically change and become the man I thought he should be.
I attempted to manipulate his moods, primarily to keep him happy. He manipulated my moods to keep me off balance and therefore easier to control.
If I thought I could teach him a lesson about how to be the person I wanted him to be, I would jump on it wholeheartedly, confident that he would see the light this time. He reacted with abusive anger that flooded our home, he’d storm about, bemoaning how I was always trying to change him.
I’d self-righteously think to myself, “You’re damn right I’m trying to change you! It is for your own good.”
No, changing him would be for my own good. He liked who he was; I am the one who didn’t want to accept the truth. I am the one who chose to stay with someone I did not like. I chose to martyr myself for a cause no one else in my family understood.
Manipulation is bad for everyone. Controlling behavior makes you think you could succeed in changing the abuser. Having even a little success in using manipulation and control– even for the greater good–is part of the reason victims stay in abusive relationships. Call it taking the power back if you like, but it’s false power. No one has that kind of power.
Differences Between Abusive and Codependent Behavior
The major difference between abusive and codependent behavior is remorse. When you’re abusive, and especially when your control methods have worked, you feel better. Your world is in order. Any apology you make is calculated to be necessary for the win, not because you feel bad about abusing. So long as your abusive behavior accomplished a goal, you feel justified, not remorseful.
When you’re codependent and you think you’ve behaved horribly, usually you feel bad. Maybe not in the moment of your ass-iness, but soon after you’ve calmed down. Codependents feel remorse and heap more blame upon themselves than anyone should. Hurting someone else feels bad, even if the person you hurt blacked your eye or ripped your heart out. Forgiving yourself for hurting someone else is almost impossible, and codependents go out of their way to make things right–we even accept more abuse as punishment.
To help me learn to forgive myself, my therapist said, “Kellie, look at your motives behind your actions.” My motives defended my psyche; they didn’t attack his. My nastiness toward him came out when I was backed into a corner (verbal or otherwise). I felt ashamed of myself after reacting to him with anger and name-calling. Unlike my ex-husband’s abusive actions, my abuse toward him ceased as soon as I felt free from the corner, and it was quickly followed by remorse and my apologies.
In my remorse, I thought that he was right about me. I was a horrible person, I deserved to be treated poorly because I treated him poorly. I stuck around way too long in my abusive marriage because I did not realize that I was fighting for my freedom. I thought I was fighting because I was a witch with a capital B. But if I had examined my motives honestly, I would have seen that although I was an imperfect human, my motives for wanting to hurt him were, unfortunately, justified.
How to Free Yourself from Codependent Behavior
You can ask this question of yourself whether you’re in an abusive relationship or not to help free yourself from other people’s will.
Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” to help you clarify your motives and thereby expose underlying truths.
For example, when I would panic 15 minutes before his homecoming because the house wasn’t clean, I’d ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” The answer was “To avoid his anger.”
I couldn’t accept that if my abuser wanted to rage (solidify his control over me), it didn’t matter how clean my house was. It didn’t matter what I did or said, so attempting to avoid abuse by doing things to appease the abuser is pointless.
On the other hand, if my answer was, “Because I am sick and tired of looking at this mess!” then that is a valid reason to clean the house. And don’t try to “punish” the abuser by not cleaning the house if you prefer to have it that way too! (Codependent behavior hurts you as much as you hope it hurts someone else. Note: It never hurts someone else as much as it hurts you.)
The point of this question is to ensure you are doing things that you want to do or feel responsible for doing versus what you feel others want you to do.
If you move closer to doing what you feel important and necessary and further from what you think others want from you, you’ll benefit yourself because you’ll do things that give you a sense of purpose. You’ll behave in ways that make you feel proud of yourself and be better able to handle your abuser’s nonsense concerning what he or she prefers you do.
Check your motives for doing anything. Make sure your motive is sound. If your motive is to somehow control another person’s behavior only, forget it. That’s codependent behavior.
More posts describing codependence:
Try this DBT Tip. It’s Good for You
Negative, overwhelming emotions pop up for abuse survivors at unpredictable times. If you’re not careful, these emotions could make you do things you don’t want to do. Maybe you overreact at work because a sudden rush of fear came over you. Or maybe you yell at your kids due to an angry feeling coming from out of the blue.
These are not actions we want to take, and we can prevent them from happening with this tip from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT):
Try to experience your emotion as a wave, coming and going. Concentrate on the feeling of a quiet rush of air blowing on your face and then lessening, then strengthening, now lessening. Imagine that rush of air is your emotion. How do you feel when it rushes over you? How do you feel when it passes?
Remember it will always pass. Feel the emotion rushing over you completely, and allow the rushing air to fade to a quiet breeze until you feel better.
(See Positive Psychology Program for more DBT tips on emotional regulation.)