“ “I spent most of my life doing the Serenity prayer backwards, that is, trying to change the external things over which I had no control – other people and life events mostly – and taking no responsibility (except shaming and blaming myself) for my own internal process – over which I can have some degree of control. Having some control is not a bad thing; trying to control something or somebody over which I have no control is what is dysfunctional.” – quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
Self-honesty is the foundation of the Twelve Step Recovery program – the principle underling the first step. There are many different levels of honesty, including “cash register” honesty, emotional honesty, being honest in interactions with others, etc. All levels of honesty are important in various ways but early in my recovery process I learned a great deal about being honest with myself from Dr. Paul’s chapter in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous – “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict.” That level of honesty had to do with being honest with myself about my expectations.
There is an old joke about the difference between a neurotic and a psychotic. The psychotic truly believes that 2 + 2 = 5. The neurotic knows that it is 4 but can’t stand it. That was the way I lived most of my life, I could see how life was but I couldn’t stand it. I was always feeling like a victim because people and life were not acting in the way I believed they “should” act.
I expected life to be different than it is. I thought if I was good and did it “right” then I would reach ‘happily ever after.’ I believed that if I was nice to people they would be nice to me. Because I grew up in a society where people were taught that other people could control their feelings, and vise versa, I had spent most of my life trying to control the feelings of others and blaming them for my feelings.
By having expectations I was giving power away. In order to become empowered I had to own that I had choices about how I viewed life, about my expectations. I realized that no one can make me feel hurt or angry – that it is my expectations that cause me to generate feelings of hurt or anger. In other words, the reason I feel hurt or anger is because other people, life, or God are not doing what I want them, expect them, to do.
I had to learn to be honest with myself about my expectations – so I could let go of the ones that were insane (like, everyone is going to drive the way I want them to), and own my choices – so I could take responsibility for how I was setting myself up to be a victim in order to change my patterns. Accept the things I cannot change – change the things I can.
When I first started realizing how much my expectations were dictating my emotional reactions to life, I tried not to have any expectations. I soon came to realize that it was impossible to live in society and not have expectations. If I have electricity in my home I am going to expect the lights to come on – and if they don’t, I am going to have feelings about it. If I own that having electricity is a choice I make, then I realize that I am not being the victim of the electric company I am just experiencing a life event. And life events occur for me to learn from – not to punish me.
The more I owned that I was making choices that caused me to give away some power over my feelings and that those feelings were ultimately my responsibility – the less I reacted out of a victim place – the more serenity I had about events that occurred. To believe that unpleasant stuff should never happen to me was a truly insane, dysfunctional notion. The reality of life is that ‘stuff’ happens.
Of course, getting to the place where I could accept life on life’s terms was only possible because I was working on letting go of the belief that it was happening to me because I was unworthy and bad – which I learned growing up in a shame-based society. It was essential for me to stop blaming myself and feeling ashamed of being human so that I could stop blaming others and always feeling like a victim. In other words, it was necessary to start seeing life as a Spiritual growth process that I couldn’t control in order to get out of the blame them or blame me cycle.
I found that there were layers of expectations I had to look at. I wanted to feel that I could be a righteous victim if someone told me they were going to do something and didn’t. But then I had to own that I was the one who chose to believe them. I had to also realize that falling in love was a choice and not a trap that I accidentally stepped into. Loving is a choice that I make and the consequences of that choice are my responsibility not the other persons. As long as I kept buying into the belief that I was being victimized by the person I loved there was no chance of having a healthy relationship.
The most insidious level of expectations for me had to do with my expectations of myself. The “critical parent” voice in my head has always berated me for not being perfect, for being human. My expectations, the “shoulds,” my disease piled on me were a way in which I victimized myself. I was always judging, shaming and beating myself up because as a little child I got the message that something was wrong with me.
There is nothing wrong with me – or you. It is our relationship with ourselves and life that is dysfunctional. We are Spiritual beings who came into body in an emotionally dishonest, Spiritually hostile environment where everyone was trying to do human according to false belief systems. We were taught to expect life to be something that it isn’t. It isn’t our fault that things are so screwed up – it is however our responsibility to change the things we can within our self.
God/Goddess/Great Spirit, help me to access:
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (life, other people),
The courage and willingness to change the things I can (me, my own attitudes and behaviors),
And the wisdom and clarity to know the difference.
(adapted version of Serenity Prayer)
Serenity is not Freedom from the Storm – it is Peace Amidst the Storm. (unknown)”
I have a series of articles about the Serenity Prayer on my website – the first one is Discernment – The Wisdom to Know the Difference in Serenity Prayer
There are ways that I say things when doing my workshop or talking to a phone counseling client that are not exactly the way I have written things. This joke about the neurotic and psychotic is one of them. What I say when speaking to someone is this.
There is a joke that someone told me at a perfect point in my recovery that really helped me. The joke is “What is the difference between a neurotic and a psychotic.” When I tell the joke, what I say is, “What is the difference between most of us codependents and the really crazy people?”
The really crazy people – people who are schizophrenic or psychotic – will tell you that 2 plus 2 is 5 and truly believe it. Codependents know it is 4 and can’t stand it.
What this helped me to see is that I could see how life is and I can’t stand it. lt is not fair. It is not just. People aren’t nice. We are destroying the planet and have all this violence and wars and it shouldn’t be that way!
Well, that was just making me a victim. I was a victim of reality because I couldn’t stand how it was. Being a victim wasn’t serving me because when I am buying into the belief that I am a victim then I am not owning that I have choices.
What I learned is that I need to accept reality as it is – which doesn’t mean I have to like it, acceptance doesn’t require me to like whatever it is. But by accepting reality as it is, then I can see it more clearly and I can make the best choices for myself instead of being the victim of it not being what I want it to be – of another person not being who I want them to be. I often didn’t want to accept that the reality was that someone I loved was not available to me, was not trustworthy or whatever – because if I accept reality then I need to own that I have a choice to let go of the relationship instead of focusing on trying to change the other person and being a victim of them not changing. As the quote from my book above states, trying to have “some control is not a bad thing; trying to control something or somebody over which I have no control is what is dysfunctional.”
Here is another quote from one of my articles about how important acceptance is to – not only learning to have some serenity in our lives – but to owning our choices so we can become empowered to change our relationship with our selves into a more loving one.
“Recovery is a process of learning to accept reality. Empowerment is about accepting reality as it is and making the best of it. In order to accept reality, it is necessary for me to be honest enough with myself to realize that I am not in charge of this process. I cannot make life do what I want it to – so I need to continuously surrender to the plan of The Great Spirit rather than try to force my plan on the Universe (and feel sorry for myself, or blame others, when that doesn’t work.) It is not bad or shameful for me to try to make things happen the way I want – it is just human, dysfunctional, and painful. The sooner I catch myself not accepting reality as it is, the sooner I can let go of my picture of how I think things need to be, the more serenity I have in my life.
Melody Beattie says “Learn the art of acceptance – it is a lot of grief.” She is right. Many times the reason I am not accepting reality is because I do not want to own the feelings involved. The grief and anger over a loved one self-destructing. The grief over having to let go of something or someone that means a lot to me. The grief over accepting that life – from my perspective – is not fair or just. One of the reasons that I try to control life is to protect myself from having to see someone I Love in pain. I cannot protect others from the reality of life, or from themselves, – and if I think that I am trying to control someone else just for their sake I am lying to myself.
The principle behind the first step, and the foundation of the twelve step, or any Spiritual program, is self-honesty. If we are not being honest with ourselves, then we are not capable of being honest with anyone. It is vital to start stripping away the layers of denial, self-delusion, disassociation, magical thinking, victim thinking, blame, resentment, and dishonesty that we learned to protect ourselves with in childhood. Again, it is not shameful or bad that we have used these behavioral and emotional defenses to protect our self – it is because we were wounded in a variety of ways in childhood. Some of those ways include being: abandoned, betrayed, rejected, invalidated, shamed, discounted, deprived, degraded, abused, violated, damaged, put down, spiritually broken, emotionally raped, intellectually dishonored, hurt, humiliated, diminished, heart broken, molested, etc.
It is only by stripping away the defenses and false definitions of self that we had to adapt to survive that we can start getting in touch with our True Self. There is absolutely nothing wrong with who we are – it is our relationship with ourselves that got so screwed up in childhood. By learning how to be honest with ourselves we can change our relationship with our selves – and with our Self.” – The Miracle of The Twelve Step Recovery Process: The first three steps
Reading my book Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls (links to all of my books in both hard copy, ebook, and audiobook format are on that page) would really help you take your understanding to a whole new level. Understanding codependency is vital in helping us to forgive our self for the dysfunctional ways we have lived our lives – it is not our fault we are codependent / that we learned to do life backwards.
In the last few years I have also published two more books that can be very helpful. Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light Book 1 Empowerment, Freedom, and Inner Peace through Inner Child Healing and Romantic Relationships ~ The Greatest Arena for Spiritual & Emotional Growth. I have special offers for either or both of these books (or for all three of my books) on this page.