Friday, December 29, 2006

Overcoming the Trap of the Co-Dependent Maze by Breaking the Rules

By Patricia Lefave, D.D. (P)

1. Talk openly about boundary violating behaviour. Abuse of any kind is not to be denied or ‘overlooked.’

2. React emotionally without acting out physically but if it is too strong go and blow off the excess energy somewhere to release it safely. Physical release works wonders. Reality based anger helps all people to develop boundaries. I think of it as a signaling device which is very accurate. Speak in the first person rather than, “You blinkety blankety **#!” The other may well BE a blinkety blankety **#! But yelling it will only cause you problems. Still, anger in the right amount indicates the violator that you are aware you boundaries are being violated and that THEY are out of line.

3. Find someone safe to discuss this with OUTSIDE the dysfunctional family or group; preferably someone who will not repeat it to others. Since you are not talking about the one to whom you are relaying the information, he or she is lees likely to feel the need to stop the conversation. It does have to be someone accepting of your reality though for this to work well.
If the family or other dysfunctional group will not talk about it, then accept that they won’t and stop trying to ‘get through to them’. If you don’t, you may still be trying to ‘get though to them four decades from now and nothing will have changed. Instead, learn how to detach emotionally from the group dysfunction.

4. If you suggest psychological help for the abuser/violator and it is refused, ACCEPT the refusal, and instead of trying to tell them they are doing something wrong, tell them only what YOU will not be accepting from them. Again, use “I” statements. Be prepared to accept attempts to make you change your mind after that. Manipulative ploys and head games are all part of well entrenched dysfunctional relating. Many psychiatrists are excellent examples of that also.

5. If the group will not support you emotionally in your quest to self define, then look for emotional support OUTSIDE of that group. It may be a good idea to connect to others who are working to detach from dysfunctional relating and practice the first person singular way of self definition.

6. Express ‘negative’ emotions as legitimate feelings because they ARE legitimate feelings. It is HOW you express them that matters not the fact that you have them, or that you express them. All humans feel so called ‘negative’ emotions; even psychiatrists, whether they admit it or not. Emotions which are expressed don’t build up. Before rage exists it was already there as anger or frustration. If we get it out while it is still manageable, we won’t blow up. Learn to verbalize then such as, “I feel….’ Then express the feeling. Don’t intellectualize ABOUT emotions. That’s what psychiatrists tend to do.

7. Defend yourself verbally against attack but in calm, yet assertive, ways. Use no weapons other than word. Words can be very powerful but it depends upon how they are used. The choice is not to either blow up or be silent. It is the middle ground that helps us create and reinforce personal boundaries. Personal empowerment while respecting the rights of others to do the same comes from the comfortable space between self restraint and self determination. It can feel very roomy in there; but BOTH sides of that have to exist at the same time. One side of it without the other simply doesn’t work.

8. Object to abusive behaviour; name calling, teasing, bullying, mocking, ridiculing, hitting threatening etc. all qualify as abuse but don’t abuse back. Instead, talk about the abuse why it is abuse, how you won’t be told you are just having a perception or reaction problem and state specifically what the problem is and that you want it to stop. Resist the urge to play ‘you blankety blinkety **#! , no matter how tempted you may be. You don’t have to be ‘perfect’ yourself to have the right to object to being treated badly by others who try to use your lack of ‘perfection’ (whatever that is) as an excuse to treat you badly.

9. Be aware of what is being done to you psychologically. ‘Sensitivity’ can be a good thing even if everyone around you treats your awareness like it is a ‘symptom’ in need of eradication. It is more often true that it is the insensitive types who tend to behave badly. Start learning to think of the opposite phrase though it is rarely heard and currently sounds strange to most, “You are just too insensitive.” Do you see how odd and unusual that sounds? We need to be asking ourselves why that should be the case.

10. Know that your feelings matter just as much as anyone else’s feelings. Not more or less nut just the same. Don’t allow yourself to be talked out of that.

11. Be aware of family or group dysfunction. Identify it for yourself. Examine it closely like you would have examined a bug as a small child. Learn about what you are experiencing. Your growing awareness will help you to stop playing a role in it. Everyone must make judgments based on SOME standard of thinking or behaviour. Remember that the next time you hear a dysfunctional person refuse to examine anything by stating, “I don’t like to judge.” That line is an escape from reality. The fact that they do not want to talk about it is based on a judgment of something. What is it? Dysfunctional relating does not deserve your loyalty. It’s like keeping a live grenade from World War One because your great grandfather brought it home with him as a family heirloom and no one would get rid of it for fear of hurting his feelings.

12. Stop the abuser with the words of revelation but be careful when and how you do this. Only you, as an individual, really know if you are in any physical danger so please take that into consideration before you try this. If you are going to err, please err on the side of caution in order to take care of yourself and your own safety as your first priority. It can enrage abusers if they can’t use you to release their anger for they then will have to be responsible for their own feelings and that is what they do NOT want to do. The best move for some people may be to remove oneself physically from the situation.
Those who just don’t want to understand, whether your protagonist or the supporters and enablers, WON’T, no matter what sound arguments you may have, so stop trying. If you don’t, you will find yourself in an endless exercise of futility.

13. If you don’t identify the error in dysfunctional groups, families or otherwise, then you are more likely to repeat them yourself. There is something in us humans that knows we need to find a balance of power. Unfortunately, in dysfunctional groupthink, that ‘balance’ is often of a perverted variety. What is done to us we tend to pass on to others. Either that or we accept what is done to us as beyond our control, comprehension, or resolution. BOTH of those ideas tend to keep dysfunction going….and going….generation after generation.

14. Expect the abuser to take responsibility for his or her own behaviour. (Do you think I am contradicting myself? I’m not ) What I mean by that is this: Expect them to do so whether they actually ever do it do or not. Don’t enable them to continue to behave the same way by providing them with a list of excuses. They already do that for themselves. In other words, hand the responsibility for the abuse, not the abuse itself, back to the abuser or boundary violator where it belonged in the first place. That will create a psychological separation between you and the abuser and that is the first step towards the kind of healthy detachment needed to begin to self actualize. It will break the co-dependency cycle. The abuser may NEVER change, but YOU can change the way you relate to him or her and stop playing the game.

15. Question ALL the rules to see if they stand up to close scrutiny. You may well find that you have accepted many rules without knowing why you obey them. Find out what you don’t know about yourself and others.

16. Resolve things as they happen and express feelings at the time of the occurrence. I know for the psychiatrized this can be a tricky business but even if you must proceed with caution depending upon who you are feeling angry with, find someone you can trust where it is safe to vent and get the feelings out of you as soon as possible after the event or exchange which bring up theses emotions. Don’t co-operate with the abuser’s agenda by suppressing them. Suppression only makes them stronger, which in turn, makes you feel more distress, rather than less. So find someone who is not trapped in the dysfunctional rules and who knows how to engage in active listening. As I once said to my own ‘voices’, we who are going through this are our own best support group. No one gets it better than those who have been there. Dr. Dan Fisher once told me he agreed with me on this point for those of you who are familiar with his NEC organization. Let’s help each other in ways that no one else, outside the experience, knows how to do. Venting effectively safely blows off pressure without the tragic endings. Let’s go for that result as defined by us and not by others.

17. When someone treats you badly and violates your boundaries in any way, TAKE IT PERSONALLY, even while they are telling you that you should not be doing that. You ARE a person and knowing that and stating that fact is HOW you will develop the boundaries you need to take care of yourself. If you practice ‘taking it personally, ’ you will soon learn how to calmly repel this kind of behaviour in others while validating yourself as an equal human being.
Break the dysfunctional rules and replace them with functional ones. This may take a little thought on your part. Nature abhors a vacuum so you may feel a little lost and unsteady while you go through this transition to good effective boundaries. It is hard work at first but believe you can do it and your fearfulness will begin to disappear as you notice yourself getting calmer and stronger with the passing of time. Know as you are breaking the dysfunctional rules for the first time that the dysfunctional group will survive it, no matter how much whining and complaining THEY do about it.

18. Become fully aware that there is a whole system of crazy rules being followed, without question, which are based sometimes for generations, on ‘tradition.’ This kind of group programming is not easily undone so don’t expect too many miracles as you go through this. You will often be able to identify these kinds of rules by the extreme emotional reactions you get when you break them. If you are not sure abut them, when you get such a reaction from someone in the group, ask them WHY the rules exists. If the person has no idea, won’t, or perhaps can’t, tell you, that is a good indicator that it is one of the rules being followed as a ‘tradition.’

19. Do not enable dysfunction by giving those caught up in it too MUCH ‘understanding’ from you to them. Many of us who end up getting psychiatrized have spent a lot of time ‘understanding’ people who don’t accept responsibility for their own stinking thinking and behaviour. An inordinate number of us have coped by seeing ourselves as ‘rescuers’. Our role often trapped us in permanent dysfunction and though it ‘seems’ like a good attitude to have, when it is used with those who really don’t care about us at all, it only serves reinforces dysfunction and abuse. It also keeps us trapped in situations we really need to escape. There is such a thing as being TOO ‘nice.” Sometimes we become the unwanted and unheard and disrespected rescuers, the Super heroes. We chase after the evil ones, trying to save them, while they are themselves bent on using our commitment to rescue the world to give them an opportunity to slip us a nice big chunk of red Kryptonite for our troubles. (This is a metaphor psychiatry. Hold the chemicals!) They must rescue themselves, if, or when they decide they want to do so. All we can EVER do is support those who decide for themselves that they want to change. If they don’t, all the sound arguments in the world are not going to change that. There is a definition of insanity that we who end up being psychiatrized ourselves would be wise to learn. It is, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, expecting different results.”

20. That applies to our protagonists as well as us. They rarely see themselves that way of course, but WE need to see it, even if for no other reason than to detach from it emotionally. Too much understanding of others and not enough understanding of, and for, us, only enables dysfunction and those who defend and protect it, to keep right on thinking and behaving the same way. That’s what keeps it going to infinite loss, infinite distress and infinite mutual destruction.
We MUST break this cycle. The lives of all the people in the world depend upon doing so.

The way to bring people out of the Shadow is not by going into the dark hunting for them and then dragging them out, kicking and screaming, fighting and frightened, hissing, threatening and hurting. It is by staying above all of that fear and rage and shining a strong light directly into the shadow world so strong and steady that all the Shadows just disappear, as if by magick. Direct sunlight, I have heard, has an antiseptic effect on germs and infections. I think maybe it has the same kind of effect on psycho-spiritual ‘dis-eases’ too. So let us all get together and shine the light of our experience into the Shadows of denial.


Anonymous said...

some excellent information and advise. the organization i work with has provided drop-in and support centers for over 30 years and has needed to suggest professional intervention or require police assistance a very few times. personal safety concerns must always prevail.

Anonymous said...

More excellent stuff Ms. Lefave