“We live in a society where the emotional experience of “love” is conditional on behavior. Where fear, guilt, and shame are used to try to control children’s behavior because parents believe that their children’s behavior reflects their self-worth. . . . . . .
In a Codependent society we are taught, in the name of “love,” to try to control those we love, by manipulating and shaming them, to try to get them to do the right things – in order to protect our own ego-strength. Our emotional experience of love is of something controlling: ‘I love you if you do what I want you to do.” Our emotional experience of love is of something that is shaming and manipulative and abusive.
Love that is shaming and abusive is an insane, ridiculous concept. Just as insane and ridiculous as the concept of murder and war in the name of God.”
“What we traditionally have called normal parenting in this society is abusive because it is emotionally dishonest. Children learn who they are as emotional beings from the role modeling of their parents. “Do as I say – not as I do,” does not work with children. Emotionally dishonest parents cannot be emotionally healthy role models, and cannot provide healthy parenting.
Our model for what a family should be sets up abusive, emotionally dishonest dynamics.”
“When we say “I have to” we are making a victim statement. . . . . . . When we “have to” do something we feel like a victim. And because we feel victimized, we will then be angry, and want to punish, whomever we see as forcing us to do something we do not want to do – such as our family, or our boss, or society.””
(All quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls)
In last month’s article I talked about shutting up the critical parent voice – and mentioned that among the messages that are coming from the critical parent are “shoulds” and “have tos.” In last months articles I started with the quote from my book about saying “have to” – and then went into different ways we express ourselves in relationship to our emotions that affect our relationship with our own emotions.
I decided that for this months topic I would discuss the “shoulds” and “have tos” in more depth, in relationship to setting ourselves up to feel like victims at this time of year. In my article Happy Holidays, Sad Holidays that I republished at the beginning of this month, I talk about how trying to live up to the fairy tale / fantasy that everyone is happy and cheerful at Christmas time – and judging myself for not feeling what I thought I “should” – caused me to feel depressed and suicidal during the Holiday Season. This is the time of year when the most suicides occur – because people are feeling despair that their lives aren’t what they “should” be.
It is so important to take the “shoulds” and “have tos” out of our vocabulary – both externally and internally in our mental process. “Should” and “have to” come from the critical parent voice in our head that is judging us according to false criteria from a black and white / right and wrong perspective – and we learned that programming from our parents in our family of origin (as well as from teachers in school, ministers and priests in church, etc., etc.).
You don’t “have to” spend the Holidays with your family. If you are going to spend time with your family over the Holidays because it is what you “should” do, what you “have to” do – then you are set up to feel like a victim and feel resentment. Feeling resentful and victimized is not a good ingredient to add to the Holiday emotional mix if you want to connect with some of the Spirit of Love that the Holiday Season is supposed to represent.
As I point out often in my writing, one of the major components of empowerment is owning that we have a choice. Unless you own that you have a choice to not spend time with your family during the Holidays, then you haven’t made a free choice to be there. Anytime we feel stuck in a situation, feel that we don’t have a choice – to leave a marriage or a job, to do something or not do something – we have not made a choice to stay. It is impossible to consciously commit to something if we don’t own that we have a choice not to do it.
So, if you spend time with your family during the Holidays because you “have to,” you are not being Loving. You are not being kind, you are not giving anything, unless you are doing it by conscious choice – which involves owning that you have a choice to not do it.
The other major component of empowerment is seeing reality as it is and making the best of it – instead of being the victim of it, wishing it was different, thinking it “should” be different. This includes seeing the reality of our families clearly. The families we grew up in were dysfunctional and emotionally dishonest because society is emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional. (In the latest chapter of the online book I am publishing on my web site right now, I discuss why normal is dysfunctional and how the conditions that caused that have changed in recent years. Normal Families are Dysfunctional)
We grew up in families / societies where our experience of love was shaming and controlling, because that is all our codependent parents knew – due to their childhood wounding. Unless our families are in recovery from codependency then their behavior is still manipulative and shaming. They want us to be there for the Holidays to support their ego image of themselves as parents – their fantasy about having a happy family that gathers lovingly for the Holidays.
Love is a verb. Love is defined by action. If the way someone treats you does not feel Loving, then it is not healthy Love. If the way your family treats you, if the way you feel when you are with them, does not feel Loving, it is important not to deny that reality. That is one reason why the Holidays are sad for many people. It is important to see that reality and own that sadness – instead of denying and rationalizing. Denying our feelings is harmful to us. It is not healthy.
When you look at their behavior and recognize the dishonesty and dysfunction, then you can also recognize that they are doing the best they can do. You can know they are not in recovery, may never be in recovery – and that they think they are demonstrating love when they use guilt and shame to try to get you to uphold their fantasy about the Holidays.
Once you recognize the reality and own that you have a choice, then you can make a choice to spend some time with them out of kindness. You can then make a choice that is Truly Loving, that is Truly giving.
And you can set boundaries with them that are Loving for you. There are not just two choices – the black and white extremes of the disease – there are choices in between 1 and 10. You can make a choice to spend some time with them, but limit the time so that you are not subjected to the dysfunction for too long.
One of my phone counseling clients yesterday shared with me a perfect example of making this kind of choice. In the past few years she had chosen not to be with her family because it was so painful. This year she was choosing to spend some time with them, with a very distinct boundary in place. Her boundary was that they would not start drinking until the evening, and that she would leave when they started drinking. In this way, she was taking care of herself and her family by not putting up with too much of the dysfunctional behavior of her family of origin.
Love is a choice. When we “have to” we are not making a choice, and not being Truly Loving. The most Loving thing we can do for ourselves in this emotionally charged time of the year is to see reality clearly and own our choices in deciding the best way to celebrate the Holiday. We can best honor the message of Love that Christmas symbolizes by being Loving to our self. (Which of course includes not judging yourself if you are spending time with them this year out of belief in “have to.” We need to become aware that it is okay to own our choices before we can make a choice. If this article is presenting you with a new concept, it is important not to judge yourself for your programming, for your codependency.)
This article is part of a 9 part series of articles focused on the Serenity Prayer. The first article in the series is Applying the Serenity Prayer – Wisdom through Discernment (mobile friendly version.)
I have a special Holiday 2018 Offer Page available now, with special offers on my first two books – and on my Life Changing telephone / Skype counseling and Workshop.