Have you ever had the experience of trying to communicate with someone who really doesn’t like to talk about anything that has depth or substance? Rather, they are quite happy to talk about the weather, gossip about others, or wax endlessly about politics… but if you bring up emotions, their family, their personal history or illness, you’ll get a blank stare, silence, an eye roll, or sometimes….hostility. They seem to prefer to float around in some sort of stressed-out bubble, somewhere between fear/uncertainty/self-righteousness and close-mindedness, that disallows them from being a true friend or a true and helpful family member…an enabler, and also, a narcissist. They are masters of distraction, filling their time with alcohol, food obsession, drugs, or the problems of other people (but never their own- cause they don’t have any!) Whether this person is making excuses, or lies for a friend, or remaining silent as a family member cries for help- either literally or with their actions-an enabler or a narcissist is a very destructive person to have within your midst. And oftentimes, each of us have many.
When, exactly, did the definition of what it really means to help and support a friend, change? When did folks begin to choose this lazy, non-confrontational, closed-off, dismissive, disingenuous approach to relationships, so that the perceived ideal outcome is to just stand idly by, and watch your friend or family member self-destruct or implode? Because, hey! At least you didn’t cause any disruption for them along the way…you didn’t upset the status quo…you didn’t warn them of the danger signs… that would have been too messy! You might have had to cry, or have real emotions, or express truths that are uncomfortable….you may have needed to leave your safety zone. The friend or family member might become mad at you for stating the truth, calling them out on their crap, and you might cause permanent damage to the relationship if they refuse to deal with their problem. There is a word for this type of situation, and it is called codependency. And it is rampant. It tears apart families and dilutes friendships to the point where they are unrecognizable. But, every single one of us has problems and issues and garbage and hurts and traumas that need to be dealt with. None of us is above this humanity. To go forth in life, refusing to work through the tough stuff, not only stifles your soul and dims your light, but it hurts all the people around you; all the people whom you love.
Codependency happens when there is no honest communication, because if there were honest communication- there would be no co-dependency, and the codependent, enabling “rescuer” would be face-to-face with their own scary, big, real emotions and problems, and they would forced to have to do something with them! They would have to deal with their past, work on their self-esteem, and walk through the fire on their own, which many people, frankly, lack the courage to do. They would have to deal with their own reality. The codependent person feels “needed” if there is still conflict, trouble or despair but if these things are honestly dealt with and obliterated and healed- where are they going to derive their own self-worth? If they continue to enable destructive and dysfunctional behavior, then they are still needed, as they draw their self-worth from the chaos of others, regardless of the cost to their troubled friend or family member.
Being a true friend to someone means being able to be a mirror to hold others accountable, cheering them on to be their best selves. It means being able to crawl into the depths with them when things are not going well for them, and they’ve had a trauma or are dealing with the aftermath of a poor decision, and just be with them. Hold them, literally, in your arms- or just hold space with them. Sit with them. Give them your time, your love, your presence.
Being a true friend does NOT mean turning the other way when you know that your friend’s husband is abusing her. It does NOT mean ignoring your adult child when they are purposefully ignoring signs that their own child is in very real trouble. It does NOT mean laughing and sitting by just watching as your friend, who drinks too much, gets more and more drunk, and becomes painfully lost in your presence. Holding space for someone going through a dark time does NOT mean trying to tell them how to solve their problem. When you minimize, dismiss, ignore, or tell them they are over-reacting or are too sensitive, you are a part of the problem. When you launch into an immediate story of your own about how you know just how they feel, or how you knew someone once who went through a similar thing and they turned out just fine…that really, truly, does NOT help. That is selfish and shallow, and you take away the power of the good that could happen as your friend works through the tough stuff- sifting through it all to find the nuggets of truth in the darkness. It is not okay for us to control and compartmentalize the emotions of other because it makes us uncomfortable. That discomfort is about YOU, not about them, and it’s a good sign that it’s time to work on figuring out some “stuck” places within yourself.
The Bible says that “the sins of the father” will be passed down for generations (Exodus 20: 5). Hurt people, hurt people. Those who refuse to deal with their own problems, or seek help, in order to break the learned patterns of dysfunction in their life, will continue to be a source of chaos and hurt for their children, grandchildren and friends… all under the disguise of “helpfulness” while extending to others, so that they don’t have to truly care for themselves. This is NOT a healthful way to live or relate to others, and it is not honest to yourself. God created us to grow through trouble, strife and change…not to stay the same, stuck and mired in a cage of angst and old patterns. He wants us to walk through the fires of life, so we can come out renewed and reinvigorated and energized on the other side- ready to do what HE wants for our lives. Armed with information, honesty and and incredible, unmistakeable, new-found strength. Here is a great article on what things might look like if you were raised by a narcissist.
If we spend our lives avoiding, denying, hiding in the shadows from all of these wonderful gifts that we have been given- gifts in the form of trials, illness, abuse, trauma- if we stuff them in our metaphorical backpack and never deal with them, we lose out on so much growth, never get past dysfunction, and can’t grow into the person we were intened to be. We grow angry, bitter and become stifled in the process, and it becomes so far gone in some, that it is impossible to see a way out. And, in the process, we continue to hurt those around us…this is the piece that many don’t even realize; that they are causing so much hurt-because they have trained those around them to walk on eggshells. More than anything, they don’t want people to upset them, or tell them the truth.. and heaven forbid you speak your own truth to them and tell them how much they have hurt you…you are very likely never to receive an apology. But having said that…DO NOT STOP SPEAKING YOUR TRUTH. It is your right, and your duty to your soul, as a child of God, to stick up for yourself! Break those unhealthy family patterns, and bust through the barriers of negative self-talk and the stuffing of emotions that have become the norm in this broken world! When you speak your truth with love, how your friend or loved one responds is NOT your responsibility, nor is it any of your business. Let that settle in for a moment…
The more that we walk on eggshells around the dominant, codependent enablers in our lives, the smaller we become. Ruled by the codependent person’s passive-aggression, we cower and detach, out of fear and eventually, a broken will; and when we allow them to use blame-and-shame patterns to rule us, it chips away at us slowly, damaging our own self-esteem in the process if we let it. Only when we decide that we are worthy and deserving of being loved and treated in an acceptable fashion- one that is free of emotional manipulation, abuse and torment- will we be able to fight these patterns within our families, and within our friendships. When we decide that we matter- to God, and to ourselves, we are free. We can easily begin to communicate with others and be honest when someone hurts us, we can be better equipped to say “no”, and we can actually begin to feel good about doing it, and not guilty for speaking up. But, it has to be a very conscious decision. Nobody chooses to just become codependent and destructive to their friends and family, but rather, this is learned from their own family of origin- a pattern passed from one generation to the next. Part of why this type of dysfunction is so readily passed on within families, is that the dysfunctional family unit believes that if you speak up, or express your feelings regarding a problem or go and seek help, that it is actually a sign of weakness. That is just another form of manipulation within a co-dependent family, and it could not be further from the truth. They mostly just don’t want you to get better, because of the implications to them. For all of these reasons, it really takes a strong person to break away from this sort of dysfunctional enmeshment within families. You have to believe that you that you can do it!
Growing up in a codependent family creates untold hurt and a very dangerous setup for the future, if the children don’t awaken to the destructive, soul-sucking patterns that are at play. Oftentimes, counseling or therapy is needed to help the person to help them to learn to feel emotion again, express themselves healthfully, and to break these incredibly destructive patterns for their future, and that of their children. Both myself and my spouse grew up within such family units, and I’m here to tell you that healing and growth is so tremendously possible. The work is really difficult. Because these patterns are set from childhood, you often have to dig into very painful events and traumas from many years ago in order to become “unstuck” from them. You’ll get through it, and you will rise from the ashes completely renewed. Make every effort at this time to surround yourself with like-minded people. It is extremely difficult to make forward progress if the majority of those closest to you are practically clawing at you, hanging on so tightly, trying to hold you back as you try to heal and grow.
But, be prepared. When you start drawing boundaries for your own little family, apart from the dysfunction of the extended family of origin, they’re going to get a little bit ugly for a little while. Or a lot ugly, for a long time. And, as a bonus, if your family is really stuck in this web of enmeshed codependency, they will try very hard to make you feel like YOU are the one with the problem, as you make changes, try to heal, and begin to understand how to communicate and feel healthy emotions. DON’T LET THIS STOP YOU. Talk to like-minded friends, lean on your counselor or therapist to help strengthen your resolve and motivation, and bask in the glow of your new-found resolve to take care of yourself and leave the hurtful, cruel, and misguided destruction behind. You cannot make other people change. But, you can do such a massively impressive job at becoming who God intended you to be, that others may just want to begin the journey to healing for themselves. What a tremendous gift you have given them, just by being honest and working hard at becoming and being authentically you! Do not let others stop you from creating the best life you can and continuing to grow within the freedom that is truth, and the expressing of healthy emotions, and the practice of self care-which is vital. As you start to become healthy, people who don’t want to deal with their own problems can be very threatened by your forward progress. And you will become extremely irritated by their resistance. It’s the same as the old analogy of the alcoholic who has his drinking buddies. If the alcoholic stops drinking, are the old drinking buddies still going to be their friends? Are they going to be operating on level playing fields? Likely, no. But that doesn’t mean you go back and start drinking again. You keep moving forward, keep on with this beautiful new trajectory that is full of good things and bad things and scary things and hard things, but at least it is full of real things. And you no longer have to answer to those who refuse to grow.
We were created to encounter difficulty. We were created to heal. We were created to seek camaraderie, encouragement and love. At this time of year, when so many of us are going to be spending time with extended family and friends, I want you to know that we will all be together in spirit, standing strong and being present in love, but with a strengthened resolve to guard our own hearts. Do not walk on eggshells, do not hide in the shadows, and speak your own truth. Otherwise, you are an enabler as well. And nobody has time for that! Life is fleeting. When we can grow in beauty and rest in God’s plan for our lives, we remain steadfast in our confidence and in our resolve to grow and to heal.
The Mint Pixie
All photos copyright The Mint Pixie, 2016