Establishing Equality Is Key to Breaking Down Co-Dependence
By Rhoberta Shaler, PhD.
GOOD NEWS! The biggest A-HA that many folks have is coming face-to-face with their learned co-dependence. Yay!
Co-dependence creeps in when relationships are unequal, when one person has more power and agency than the other. It also happens when one person enters the relationship thinking of themselves as less deserving of attention, respect, and love than the other.
Coming to depend upon the approval, needs, and opinion of others, to determine if you’re good enough, is exhausting. Recognizing that co-dependence is a learned behavior can be freeing. Stepping away from co-dependence is the beginning of a freeing journey to establishing boundaries and re-establishing a strong sense of self. What you see clearly you can change. See it. Own it. Change it. It’s not easy, but it is do-able…and healthier.
If you’re in a toxic relationship with a partner or parent, you have fallen into patterns of behavior. You may even justify or rationalize them; and take far too much responsibility for the poor behavior choices of others. Maybe you can admit that you are even enabling others to continue their downward spirals.
Ever catch yourself saying far too frequently, “I have to make exceptions for them because they are under so much stress,” or “I’m not a nice person if I expect someone to care about how I feel.” (That’s extreme, but you get the message.) Statements like that are probably true occasionally in everyone’s life, however, if it’s happening as a regular part of your relationship, it’s not healthy…or OK!
You can even feel like you’re a “bad” person when you simply step back and observe the poor choices of another. Your immediate self-talk may be “I’m not being fair”, “I’m not nice”, or “I should be more understanding.” Let’s get those out of the way now.
Making excuses for someone’s demands, manipulations, or dismissive behaviors will keep you in service to their dysfunction…and continue the enabling. Yep! That’s what it is!
Are YOU making excuses for the all-too-frequent poor behavior of a partner or parent? You can stop that. It’s in your power. It is NOT unfair to see a person’s behavior for what it IS rather than for what you wish it were.
It is NOT a reflection on whether you are a nice person or not when you clearly see that you are accepting blame for another person’s behavior.
It’s NOT a lack of understanding or compassion to see patterns of behavior. You can see them. Understand them. Recognize that they came by them honestly.
It IS co-dependence when you give the bad actor all the emotional juice and do NOT balance that with seeing how their behavior affects you. It IS co-dependence when you are more concerned with the feelings of that bad actor than with your own.
They are NOT more important than you.
They are NOT deserving of more understanding and compassion than you are.
They are NOT entitled to more fairness, politeness, civility, or airtime than you are.
They do NOT always come first…no matter what they say.
They DO need to take responsibility for their actions.
They DO need to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
They DO need to be accountable for who they are and what they have done.
They DO need to be willing to have conversations that demonstrate equality.
They DO need to hear and respect your boundaries or expect the consequences.
Do you see another pattern here? Narcissists, in particular, and other toxic people are very good at not taking responsibility nor being accountable for their own choices and actions. That doesn’t mean you have to do it for them.
NONE of these things will change, though, until you take that change into your own hands. Yes, it may be unfair that it’s up to you, but a person with toxic behaviors and entitled, abusive attitudes will NOT be the least bit interested in changing. Why? Because it is NOT in their best interests.
Toxic people are all about getting their own way. You’ve noticed that, right? They want YOU to do all the giving, bending, shifting…and giving up, so that they don’t have to. Mostly, making you feel incompetent, inconsiderate, and not good enough in general is what feeds their fragile egos. It’s nasty stuff!
On my podcast episode #115 on Save Your Sanity, I talk about the 3 MUST-HAVES of a Healthy Adult Relationship. The first and most important is EQUALITY.
Hijackals®–my term for relentlessly difficult, power-driven, selfish folks—have zero interest in equality. They must be the one who can exert control over another person at will (power inequality). And, of course, they demand that you comply with their demands if you don’t want to be berated (agency inequality). Nothing you do can ever be good enough for more than a hot minute, and they’ll find reasons to withdraw that approval. Extending equality to you is not an option. It scares them. And, when they are scared, they take it out on you. Not good.
The road to equality from a toxic position of inequality, control, and dominance is certainly not easy. However, the beginning steps are quite simple and you are quite capable of taking them, if you decide to be.
- Consider where your essential boundaries are. What you are no longer willing to accept from them?
- Consider what consequences—real actions—you are willing and able to execute for boundaries that are pushed and crossed.
- Take time to clearly write these boundaries and consequences down, so you can be clear and confident about expressing them.
- Express them in a neutral, kind and direct manner, using my Personal Weather Report technique.*
It’s essential for your well-being to recognize your co-dependent tendencies, be honest with yourself about them, and commit to moving in the direction of equality.
The Hijackal with narcissistic tendencies will not like it, there’s no question about that. For you to thrive and feel good again, you need to care enough about yourself to get help, handle their blame and rage, and emerge empowered. You have the right to do this. Find the courage and persistence!
*Learn more at personalweatherreport.com
Host of the Save Your Sanity podcast, Dr. Rhoberta Shaler helps clients worldwide to recognize, release, and recover from toxic relationships and emotional abuse. She is the author of Escaping the Hijackal Trap and Kaizen for Couples and a regular contributor to the #1 Online Magazine For Codependency, Codependency Recovery.