Codependency, anger, and control all go hand in hand. Today, I’m happy to welcome my colleague Michelle Farris, LMFT, as guest blogger. Michelle is a psychotherapist specializing in anger and codependent relationships. In her post, Michelle explains how three common codependent traits contribute to feelings of anger and how we can free ourselves of these dysfunctional patterns.
A hallmark of codependency is when seeking approval becomes more important than self-care. Over time this creates a pattern of control. Melody Beattie, the author of Codependent No More, defines a codependent as: “Someone who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
This article focuses on three common traits of codependency: control, people pleasing and the lie of being “fine.” Here you’ll learn how to transform these traits into relationship assets.
Trait #1 – The illusion of control
Trying to change someone else’s behavior is exasperating. If you keep trying to help, you assume that the other person will eventually change. Even as a therapist, I cannot make anyone do anything. People change when they’re ready.
In addictive relationships, the alcoholic is addicted to alcohol and the codependent is addicted to the alcoholic. This means that the codependent’s happiness is wrapped up in the alcoholic. If their partner is happy and sober, life is perfect. But, living with an alcoholic is far from perfect.
This control fuels unrealistic, unspoken expectations. You don’t express your needs but assume they should be met. This can lead to years of resentment and anger until you finally realize you don’t have control.
Admitting that you can’t change others is the first step in recovery. It takes effort to take the focus off of others, but this is how you learn to let go. When trying to control, you lose sight of your priorities. Learning what you need takes time and a willingness to let others be.
The antidote for control is acceptance. Accepting people as they are is a big task, not just for people struggling with codependency.
Al-Anon is a 12 step program that teaches how to let go of control while increasing self-care. The group is a gentle support to the harsh reality of addiction and self-neglect.
Trait #2 – Being a superhero
At the heart of each codependent person lies a generous soul. You have a sincere desire to ease suffering. It’s uncomfortable when your partner is hurting. Helping feels like its own reward – until it stops working.
For instance, you find that you’re a people-pleaser and can’t say no. Doing favors for friends and family now feels overwhelming. You can’t ask for help because you have the belief that you should do it by yourself. Saying no is considered selfish rather than good self-care.
You are the superhero because you do it all without breaking a sweat. Internally, you’re getting sick and tired of it. You keep up the smiles until it finally starts to leak out. Sarcastic comments are made that you didn’t mean to say. This gets scary because you’re beginning to lose control. You can no longer say yes and mean it.
The anger of being the hero is in feeling unappreciated. Wanting recognition but never asking for it sets others up for confusion and you for resentment.
The antidote to being the superhero is being honest about your limits. Family, physical health and leisure time get tossed aside when you try to be everything to everyone. This creates an intense level of stress both mentally and physically.
Trait #3 – The lie of being FINE
Being a superhero means that on the outside you look really good. You’re known for being invaluable and generous to a fault. If you give at your own expense it starts a pattern of resentment. You think nothing of it because it feels good to say yes.
Soon people start expecting continued favors. You feel indispensable which reinforces that people pleasing behavior.
Saying “I’m fine” instead of admitting overwhelm creates resentment. Ignoring your own feelings in order to be liked becomes a bad habit. You hope these feelings of resentment will go away but they don’t.
It doesn’t even occur to you to ask for help. But you’re getting tired and it’s beginning to show up in emotional outbursts. You may start getting sick. Expecting others to step in just doesn’t happen. You end up stewing all by yourself.
The antidote for the lie of being fine is to admit how you feel. Let it out! Admit to yourself that you want a change. Write in a journal. Talk to a trusted friend and share your overwhelm. Start counseling if you need more support.
How to recover
Don’t expect others to anticipate your needs. Ask for them directly. By doing this you’ll see if your relationships are reciprocal. If they aren’t, you might reconsider how much you want to participate. You may choose to leave. Either way, these relationships can be great teachers for practicing self-care.
Once you start setting limits you’ll be surprised at how easily most people accept the answer no. However, family and friends may not like it. It takes time to reestablish a new, healthier connection. Start with the people you feel most comfortable with and practice saying no or expressing your honest opinion.
Being codependent often means putting all of your emotional eggs in one person’s basket. That makes it tough when things start to unravel. Instead, increase your support system. Al-Anon is a great way to do that.
Remember that most fears never come true. In 12 step programs, the acronym FEAR is known as False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s just your mind trying to get you not to change. Those negative thoughts within ourselves are powerful but if we let them rule us, we don’t heal.
Being sick and tired of doing the same thing and expecting different results is Al-Anon’s definition of insanity.
Be willing to do something different. You’ll be glad you did.