““In order to become aligned with Truth so that we can stop the war within and change life into an easier, more enjoyable experience, it is vitally important to become clear in our emotional process and to change the reversed attitudes that we had to adopt to survive. Those reversed attitudes are what cause our dysfunctional perspectives – which in turn, have caused us to have a lousy relationship with life.
I am going to quote from a book now, and again a little later, that is my own personal favorite book of Truth. I feel a great deal of Truth in this book. It has guided me and helped me to remember my Truth and to become conscious of my path. It was a very important part of my personal process of enlarging my perspective – of being able to see this life business in a larger context.
It is a book called Illusions by Richard Bach. This is one of my favorite quotations from that book.
The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy.
What a caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.
The “depth of your belief” is about perspective. If we are reacting to life emotionally out of the belief systems we had imposed on us as children we will then see change as tragedy and feel that being forced to grow is shameful. As we change our attitudes toward this life experience, when we can start viewing it as a process, a journey, then we can begin to see that what we used to perceive as problems are really opportunities for growth. Then we can begin to realize that even though our experiences in childhood have caused to think of ourselves as, and feel like, lowly caterpillars – we are in Truth butterflies who are meant to fly.
We are all butterflies. We are all Spiritual Beings.” – quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
When I was only about 3 months into recovery, one day while I was in a grocery store shopping, I glanced over at a rack of books that was in the store. My attention was immediately drawn to a book with the title of Illusions The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by an author named Richard Bach. That was a paradigm busting, life changing moment. I felt a strong impulse to buy that book. I had no idea why – but I knew I needed to buy that book.
I quote Illusions (the books and authors that impacted my recovery are listed on my Recommended Books page) several times in my book – and mention it periodically in my writing. I bring it up here because of a chapter in which he addresses something that was vital for me to start understanding in relationship to my codependency.
In the book, Bach is barnstorming through the Midwest in an old biplane – selling rides to the people of the towns he happens upon. In the course of this adventure he meets another barnstorming pilot. This other pilot turns out to be a messiah who has resigned because he got so disgusted with people not listening to him when he told them (paraphrasing the book), “These things that I do, you can do also.” He was trying to get them to own their own inner connection to the Divine, and their own power as Magnificent Spiritual Beings – and instead of hearing his message, they wanted to worship him and have him do miracles for them. He kept telling them that they could do miracles themselves if they would just connect with their Higher Self and let go of the limitations of their ego programming. (My words again, paraphrasing the book’s message.)
In the particular chapter that came to mind while I was writing this article, Bach corrects something the messiah says – and tells him that he forgot to add that we need to avoid hurting other people.
Suddenly there is a noise in the underbrush near the spot they are camped beside their biplanes. (This messiah character had a way of teaching by materializing examples to help Bach understand.) A lean fellow with a wolf like look to him, dressed in formal evening clothes and wearing a black cape lined in red satin, emerged from the darkness.
The fellow seems to be frightened and shy, so Bach wants to put him at ease and invites him to join them by their fire. And he asks if he could help this strange looking fellow.
The caped mystery man spoke in a strange accent saying yes, he did need help. Could he please drink some of Bach’s blood as he needed it to survive.
Bach immediately jumped to his feet and started yelling at the intruder. In the course of the interaction, the messiah reminded Bach of what he had just said about how it was important not to hurt others, and that by not letting the fellow drink his blood he would be hurting him.
Once the point was made, the vampire vanished. The point being that allowing another person to hurt us in the name of trying not to hurt them is dysfunctional.
If a vampire came up to you and told you that he would die if you didn’t allow him to drink your blood, most likely you wouldn’t have any problem telling him no. In our codependency however, when we do not know how to say no to other people, how to have healthy boundaries, we are set up to react to – and swing between – the extremes of the black and white, 1 or 10 spectrum of codependent behavior. Those extremes are: to build huge walls against connecting with other people – which sets us up to be emotional anorexics; or to offer ourselves up as sacrificial lambs to the type of codependents that are overt emotional vampires.
I say overt because all codependents are emotional vampires to one degree or another because of our emotional wounds – our emotional anorexia. And we are set up to be emotional vampires as long as we are looking outside of ourselves for self definition and self worth. In this chapter and the next few, I am going to use the emotional vampire / anorexic theme to try to shine some Light upon both the dynamics of codependency and the process of recovery. I am going to be talking about the roles of emotional vampire, emotional anorexic, and sacrificial lamb that we are set up to play out in our disease – and I will discuss the need to end emotional enmeshment and take emotional responsibility as a vital elements in a healthy recovery process.
Mad Dogs and Skunks
The world is full of wounded people. Civilization has been dysfunctional for a very long time. We are surrounded by the mad dogs and skunks that I referred to in the last chapter when talking about the warning I received from the Universe.
“The Universe used my “looking for her” longing to teach me some very vital lessons in my recovery in the later part of 1988 and through much of 1989. This was a crucial time in my codependence recovery after I had gone through a 30 day treatment program that spring. . . . .
That summer had given me a huge wake up call that caused me to see that life wasn’t going to be all sweetness and light now that I had been through treatment and learned how to do my grief work. I had spent most of that summer in Sedona Arizona, and had gotten a very interesting warning from the Universe when I first moved up there. One day I was walking in the desert surrounded by the beautiful red rock mountains of that area. I was thinking about how wonderful it was going to be now that I had done so much deep emotional work and learned so many new tools. I was day dreaming about how exciting it was going to be able to have healthy relationships. All of a sudden from out of the underbrush burst this mad looking dog barking and snarling and hurtling right at me – and then right past me. I hadn’t even caught my breath after that scare when the strong odor of skunk wafted by.
The message from the Universe: I may be a lot healthier, but I still need to watch out for mad dogs and skunks. The mad dogs in my understanding are the abusive, aggressive codependents – and the skunks are the martyr, victim codependents. In other words I needed to learn to be discerning about who I open up to, who I invest time and energy in, because the world is full of wounded people – including, as I already knew, some that claim many years of recovery.” – Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life Chapter 7: Multiple levels of selfishness
There are any number of perspectives that can be used to describe the varieties and flavors of codependency – as I mentioned in the first chapter of this online book
“In my article Roles In Dysfunctional Families I describe one way of looking at them (family hero, scapegoat, etc.) – while in the excerpt from my book on the page just quoted The Evolution of the Term “Codependence”, I describe them in relationship to the terms aggressive and passive (ranging from bulldozers to martyrs.) The bottom line however, is that the different varieties of codependency are reactions to the same basic emotional wounds from childhood. They are defenses designed to help us survive. They are the ways we learned to try to control and manipulate our environments to protect us from emotional pain that felt life threatening.” – Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life The codependency movement is NOT ruining marriages! Chapter 1
That description of aggressive and passive behavioral defenses – that I use in my book when talking about the evolution of the term codependence – is something that I developed while speaking. Audiences would nod in agreement with, and laugh in recognition of, these defenses. I used them to make a point about how the definition of codependence had evolved and grown to include counterdependent behaviors. I was trying to demonstrate how the aggressive type of behavioral defense – the counterdependent – was just as much a part of the condition of codependence as the earlier classic, traditional view of codependence as the passive victim / people pleaser / rescuer.
I was also making the point that our cultural prototypes / role models were dysfunctional – and that I was not just talking about some dysfunctional families when talking about codependent behavioral defenses. Here are those descriptions:
“The Aggressive-Aggressive defense, is what I call the “militant bulldozer.” This person, basically the counterdependent, is the one whose attitude is “I don’t care what anyone thinks.” This is someone who will run you down and then tell you that you deserved it. This is the “survival of the fittest,” hard-driving capitalist, self-righteous religious fanatic, who feels superior to most everyone else in the world. This type of person despises the human “weakness” in others because he/she is so terrified and ashamed of her/his own humanity.
The Aggressive-Passive person, or “self-sacrificing bulldozer,” will run you down and then tell you that they did it for your own good and that it hurt them more than it did you. These are the types of people who aggressively try to control you “for your own good” – because they think that they know what is “right” and what you “should” do and they feel obligated to inform you. This person is constantly setting him/herself up to be the perpetrator because other people do not do things the “right” way, that is, his/her way.
The Passive-Aggressive, or “militant martyr,” is the person who smiles sweetly while cutting you to pieces emotionally with her/his innocent sounding, double-edged sword of a tongue. These people try to control you “for your own good” but do it in more covert, passive-aggressive ways. They “only want the best for you,” and sabotage you every chance they get. They see themselves as wonderful people who are continually and unfairly being victimized by ungrateful loved ones – and this victimization is their main topic of conversation/focus in life because they are so self-absorbed that they are almost incapable of hearing what other people are saying.
The Passive-Passive, or “self-sacrificing martyr,” is the person who spends so much time and energy demeaning him/herself, and projecting the image that he/she is emotionally fragile, that anyone who even thinks of getting mad at this person feels guilty. They have incredibly accurate, long-range, stealth guilt torpedoes that are effective even long after their death. Guilt is to the self-sacrificing martyr what stink is to a skunk: the primary defense.
These are all defense systems adopted out of a necessity to survive. They are all defensive disguises whose purpose is to protect the wounded, terrified child within.
These are broad general categories, and individually we can combine various degrees and combinations of these types of behavioral defenses in order to protect ourselves.”
Both the passive and aggressive behavioral defenses are controlling – they just employ different strategies. As I said in the last chapter, in talking about selfishness:
“Then I could start to see that the reason that I was being nice to someone was not just because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings – it was much more about protecting myself. It was what I learned to do in childhood to: avoid confrontation; keep someone from getting angry with me; keep from being abandoned; try to earn love; etc. My defense system was set up to protect me from doing things that I thought would cause me pain – like: setting boundaries; speaking my Truth; asking for help; being vulnerable; etc.” – Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life Chapter 7: Multiple levels of selfishness
If I am not speaking my truth, not setting boundaries, as a form of manipulation to keep someone from getting angry at me, keep from being abandoned – that is controlling behavior. I would hold onto my ego self image of being a “nice guy” and judge those people who were aggressively controlling as being mean and heartless. I got ego strength from looking down from the moral high ground at people who were aggressively trying to get their needs met because I could not be honest with myself about how I was passively, indirectly, manipulatively trying to get my needs met. This is a form of emotional vampirism, nurturing myself emotionally by comparing myself to others and feeling “better than.”
We all have a spectrum of reactive behavior that we adapted to protect ourselves and try to get our needs met – to try to suck emotional sustenance from other people. In a general sense the aggressive defenses / bulldozers, use fear and intimidation to get what they want – while the passive defenses / martyrs use shame and guilt. But the bulldozers also blame their victims for their abusive and controlling behavior – thus using guilt and shame to try to get others to do things “right.” And the passive martyrs can also be abusive and explode in rage (including silent rage) – when their victims are not acquiescing passively to being controlled.
Some of us combined these types of defenses. It is possible for instance, to be an aggressive bulldozer in our career – but a passive victim in our romantic relationships. Some of us even swung between extremes in romantic relationships: being the aggressively controlling bulldozer when involved with someone we had no real intention of opening our heart to, someone who we were just using temporarily; but becoming the passively controlling martyr when involved with someone we wanted to open our heart to, someone who felt like a soul mate.
In truth, anytime we set the other person in a romantic relationship up to be our drug of choice / higher power / the prince/princesss who was going to rescue us (Toxic Love) – we were being emotional vampires. I will discuss different flavors of vampire behavior, the spectrum of our reactive behavioral defenses in coming chapters. In this chapter I am going to get into a specific example of mad dog / skunk / emotional vampire behavior.
The terms “mad dog” and “skunk” are pretty harsh terms, that in the normal course of events I would only apply to the most virulent extremes of the passive to aggressive spectrum of behavioral defenses. These extremes cases are narcissists who are incapable of anything but egotistic self involvement and self obsession. I will discuss narcissists further in a coming chapter.
The warning that I got from the Universe to watch out for mad dogs and skunks, certainly included a message to stay away from narcissists, but I also understood that it was referring to the amount of power I was giving to certain other people. People whom I experienced as mad dogs and skunks because of my emotional wounds – because of enmeshment between my feelings and my self worth in my codependency, in my unconscious reactive behavior. In other words, normal types of codependents whose behavior I would interpret as having the power to rip me to shreds, or to induce great shame and guilt in me. Conversely, it was also possible for another person to experience me as a mad dog or a skunk if I was codependently trying to get them to do the “right” thing, or trying to manipulate them with guilt.
I gave this kind of power over my self worth to certain people – set them up to be mad dogs / skunks in my life – because of my wounds. For me, those people included: my parents; anyone in authority or whose approval I sought; and of course, anyone that I was romantically attracted to in a strong way.
One of the great gifts of doing my inner child healing work was to learn how to not give that kind of power to other people. In my world today, I know enough not to engage with the true mad dogs and skunks, the narcissists (because they can be vicious and cruel, because they pollute any atmosphere they are in, not because they have any power over my self worth), and to not give power over my self esteem to any person – even in a romantic relationship. What an incredible freedom! Talk about empowerment.
I will be talking about the path to that kind of empowerment in future chapters of this online book. In the rest of this chapter I am going to focus on one particular kind of dynamic. One area in which some of us find ourselves being sucked dry by codependents that either are the overt vampire type, or are set up to be emotional vampires because of the power we give them. We give them that power because of the dysfunctional cultural myth of families. That one should honor thy father and mother even if they abused and abandoned you, even if they never showed you any respect or honor, is a very dysfunctional belief. We can honor their being, but allowing them to keep abusing us with their codependent behavior is not showing honor for our Self – and is enabling them to stay unconscious. They may never become conscious in this lifetime, but that does not mean we should be doormats to their disease.
The dynamic I will be focusing specifically upon, is relating to aging parents.
Emotional Vampires and Sacrificial Lambs
At our local CoDA meeting here a couple of weeks ago, the woman who started the sharing gave me a perfect example to use in this chapter. I wrote most of the section about emotional vampires in the top part of this page months ago, thinking I would be using it quickly. As with all of my writing, my process unfolded perfectly so that in the last couple weeks as I got closer to the actual time for writing this chapter, the Universe manifested examples and fed me information relevant to this topic. As has happened throughout the process of writing this online book, I am getting a chance here to explore and explain levels and facets of the of codependency in ways a little different than I have ever done before – and to use some specific examples.
One of the nice things about Co-Dependents Anonymous is there is a little more flexibility in the format than other twelve step programs. There are only two readings that are required to be read as written (the Preamble and Welcome) – and other readings, that are not just CoDA approved literature, can be read by consent of the group conscious. Since the twelve steps and twelve traditions of CoDA were taken almost exactly word for word from AA, they contain the same shaming language that the AA twelve steps contain. In CoDA meetings that I start, and serve as secretary for, I like to use readings at the beginning of meetings that have more capacity to stir up emotions. (Unfortunately as CoDA has evolved and developed more approved literature of it’s own, it has gotten less flexible in some places, like here in San Diego where it has become very anal and rigid. The decline of Co-Dependents Anonymous )
The format for these meetings is also set up so that, when it comes time for sharing, I ask (in my role of secretary of the meeting, thus the one that reads through the format) who would like to lead the sharing today. Many twelve step meetings designate the person to lead the sharing in advance – which often gives the person plenty of time to get very intellectual in their sharing. The goal in opening the sharing to whomever is willing to go first, is to attempt to get the person who is the most emotionally vulnerable at the moment to start the sharing. It has been my observation at twelve step meetings over the years I have been in recovery, that the first person to share often sets the tone for the whole meeting. If that first person to share is coming from an intellectual place, or is story telling, then often the whole meeting stays on an intellectual level. (I talk about some common emotional defenses in my article The Journey to the Emotional Frontier Within and a follow up article to it – which includes discussing story telling as an emotional defense.) If the first person to share comes from a raw emotionally honest place, then it is more likely other people in the meeting will be able to share on an emotionally honest level. This is something I talked about in one of the latest entries to my personal journal in the Joy2MeU Journal.
“Among the out of towners that sometimes come to the CoDA meeting are three women who go to a meeting in a town 65 miles away – two of whom live almost a hundred miles away. They come up to a meeting here about once every 6 weeks or so. I am always really glad to see them because they have a level of recovery that allows them to share in a very open and honest way – and laugh a lot in recognition of the issues of others. Those are the best meetings – lots of honesty, lots of laughter, and some tears. There aren’t many people here locally who come to the meeting that are at that level of recovery unfortunately.” – Joy2MeU Journal My Unfolding Dance 11 – posted July 2002
The woman who started the sharing in the meeting I am referring to, is some one who does not have a lot of recovery. She was in the midst of emotional trauma, but was not able to be emotionally honest. The whole time she was sharing, she kept smiling. This is the type of smile that I have heard called the ACA smile – although I don’t think it is exclusive to Adult Children of Alcoholics. It is the type of smile that in a clinical setting would be referred to as an “inappropriate affect” – in other words, the expression on her face did not match the emotional content of her sharing. It is said that it only requires a fraction of the number of muscles to smile as it does to frown. That is not true with this kind of smile. It must take an incredible number of muscles to keep this type of smile – which appears to be set in concrete – in place while in so much emotional pain. One of the handouts that I found helpful over the years in my recovery is a list called The Personal Bill of Rights. One of the items on that list is “There is no need to smile when you cry.” This type of smile is something that some codependents do without having any awareness that they are doing it. It is part of the mask they wear – the disguise they learned to put on in childhood when they were forced to learn to be emotionally dishonest and manipulative.
What she was sharing about was how her mother was treating her. Her mother was staying with her and her husband for a few days while her brother – who is the mother’s normal caretaker – and his wife went on a trip. She said that her mother and brother had always had a very close relationship – almost like husband and wife. I don’t think she had any clue that this is descriptive of an emotionally incestuous relationship.
Victim Martyr, Emotional Vampire
Her mother is a codependent of the overt emotional vampire type. What happens with many overt emotional vampire type codependents is that as they get older their symptoms become more blatant and obvious. They increasingly display the wounded king/queen baby part of them – the desperately needy inner child who demands attention constantly. Any attempt to set boundaries with some one like this is met with accusations and threats. The accusations are ones designed to push the emotional buttons that will allow manipulation, that will produce guilt in the accused. In the case of a parent, these emotional wounds / buttons were installed by them and they are expert at pressing them. One of the most potent accusations these completely self centered codependents use to control another is “You are so selfish.” Others include messages such as: “You don’t think of anyone but yourself.” “I sacrificed my whole life for you.” “How can you treat me like this after all I have done for you.” “When I think of the agony I went through in labor to produce such an ungrateful child . . .” and the like.
The threats include overt threats of suicide, or some variation such as: “I might as well be dead.” “Nobody loves me, I don’t have anything to live for.” “I will die if I go to a nursing home.” etc. It can also include actions such as allowing you to catch them lining up their pill bottles, refusing to eat, refusing to take medication, etc.
This type of codependent is incapable of direct, honest communication. Their inner child wounds cause them to be very manipulative. They like to say things like, “I don’t want to be any trouble to anyone.” or “I don’t want to be a burden.” while constantly demanding attention by whining and complaining, sometimes being sickly sweet in their blatant manipulations. When they don’t get what they want they lash our viciously – like mad dogs. These people are one extreme of the martyr flavor of codependents.
Both the self-sacrificing (passive-passive) and militant (passive-aggressive) martyr types of behavioral defense fall into what could be considered the skunk variety of codependent. These martyrs use guilt and shame as their primary defense. Some of the martyr victims spray guilt around quite aggressively, while others are more subtle – use stealth. In the quote above I describe both types of martyr as being on the passive side of the aggressive to passive spectrum – but there is a spectrum of behavior within the martyr category itself.
On one side of this spectrum is the type of behavioral defense that I am calling an overt emotional vampire – and it can be a quite aggressive defense. The people who fall into this category are the narcissists. They are completely self involved, and react to anything that happens based upon how it affects them. (Many of the bulldozer types are also narcissists – and can in old age, or because of some illness or external “tragedy” that robs them of their external ego crutches, transform into martyrs.)
On the other side of the martyr spectrum are people with no sense of self. I refer to this type of codependency in the second article on emotional defenses that I refer to above.
“Some people tell stories about other people. This is the stereotypical Codependent of the joke about when a Codependent dies someone else’s life passes before their eyes. They will respond to an emotional moment by telling an emotional story about some friend, acquaintance, or even a person they read about. They may exhibit some emotion in telling the story but it is emotion for the other person, not for self. They keep a distance from their emotions by attributing the emotional content to others. If this type of stereotypical Codependent is in a relationship everything they say will be about the other person. Direct questions about self will be answered with stories about the significant other. This is a completely unconscious result of the reality that they have no relationship with, or identity as, self as an individual.” – Further Journeys to the Emotional Frontier Within
I wrote this paragraph about 6 years ago, and I would expand upon it now. This type of codependent does tell stories about them self in a certain way – to try to get sympathy. They are always looking for allies that will confirm for them how horribly and unfairly they are being treated – or how nobly they have acted in the face of ingratitude and injustice. The stories they tell are always focused on their abuser – about their significant other, or parent or children or whomever, (doesn’t have to be a person, can be the system, etc.) – and are told to demonstrate how badly they are being treated. They will attempt to use guilt to manipulate also – but do it in subtler ways, with big sighs, or wringing of their hands, or crying out of self pity and self recrimination, or rattling of the dishes as they slave away in the kitchen, etc.
The selfless martyrs don’t attack in the direct manner, or with the frequency, that the narcissistic martyrs do – but they will explode on occasion and do a Nigysob. Nigysob is a term from transactional analysis which stands for “Now I got you, you son of a b_____.” That is when the person trots out their list of all the ways the other person has wronged them in the last 6 months or however long it has been since the last blowup. These selfless type of codependents do not know how to have boundaries but they do know how to keep score. They are constantly keeping lists in their mind of all the ways that others are wronging them – and are more than capable of carrying resentments about ways they were victimized years or even decades earlier. What little ego strength they have comes from a sense of moral superiority – of their own nobility and kindness in the face of injustice and abuse.
The selfless martyr victims are the sacrificial lambs I refer to in the heading above. They are the people whom the narcissistic emotional vampires – of both the aggressive and passive types – feed upon. They are set up to think it is normal to have someone sucking the life blood out of them – constantly draining them energetically and emotionally.
A note about the reference to crying out of self pity. Someone told me once that if I feel sorry for a person when they are crying then they are in self pity. I am not sure if that is universally true – but there is some truth to it. Once I started to get emotionally honest in recovery, I noticed there were times in meetings where someone would be crying while sharing and I would get bored. To do a reality check I would look around the room and see that other people were bored also. When someone is crying from a place of emotional honesty, when they are sharing their grief and pain, they have my complete attention – and everyone else in the room who has any capacity for emotional honesty. Some of the people in the room may be very uncomfortable if they are not willing to feel their feelings – but for the most part people in meetings are at rapt attention when someone is sharing in an emotionally honest manner. There is a big difference between empathy and sympathy in my experience. I can empathize with another persons pain because I can relate to it. Sympathy is more about looking down on somebody in a condescending, ‘you poor unfortunate thing’ kind of way. Sympathy was something I used to feel for someone who was coming from a victim perspective – now I just feel sad for them.
(I am talking about CoDA or ACoA meetings here. One of the unfortunate things about many Alcoholics Anonymous meetings – like the ones locally where there are many people with decades of sobriety but no codependency recovery – is that some recovering alcoholics who haven’t done their emotional healing will, out of their own fear of feelings, tell a person who is being emotionally honest to “get off the pity pot”, while other recovering alcoholics who are the unconscious “kind, compassionate” codependents, who have no emotional discernment, will give lots of sympathy and support to someone who is in an emotionally dishonest place of self pity.)
Self pity is not emotional honesty. It is an emotional state that is caused by dysfunctional beliefs. Of course, one of the button pushing accusations that recovering codependents often get thrown at them – by others or their own critical parent voice – is that they are in self pity. It is important to own our right to our grief, to feel sorry for the child we were, and for the ways we have set ourselves up to be abused and abandonment, but recovery and emotional honesty also includes learning to take some responsibility – which a person in a state of self pity does not do. Self pity is all about shame and blame from a black and white perspective, of self – the self flagellation of “I’m such a loser” – or others, “look what they did to poor me” helpless victimization.
“We are talking about balance between the emotional and mental here again. Blame has to do with attitudes, with buying into the false beliefs – it does not really have anything to do with the process of releasing the emotional energy.
Worry, like blame (and such things as resentment, despair, and self pity), is a negative emotional state that is created by the intellectual paradigm that we are filtering our life experience through, that we are allowing to interpret and translate life for us.” – Discernment in relationship to emotional honesty and responsibility 2
Although the narcissistic martyr victim is the overt, obvious emotional vampire (that anyone with any objectivity can see is draining the life out of the people around them) the selfless victim is also being an emotional vampire in a way. By allowing ourselves to be run by our damaged ego programming and childhood emotional wounds we are victimizing ourselves out of denial and emotional dishonesty – we are being selfish in unhealthy ways as I mentioned in chapter 7.
“I needed to realize that, yes those people who I was judging for not being nice, were very often abusing me out of the selfishness of their wounded ego – but that in allowing myself to be abused I was also reacting out of ego selfishness. Both the abuser and the abused are reacting to the programming of their wounded ego. Both are being a victim of their codependency. Both the bulldozer who is running over other people and the doormat who gets run over are being selfish out of damaged, dysfunctionally programmed ego self.” – Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life Chapter 7: Multiple levels of selfishness
The passive behavioral defenses of codependents who do not set boundaries or speak their truth, are just as controlling and manipulative as the overtly controlling codependents. It was painful for me to realize that in reality some of the flaming jerks who I hated so much because they were such controlling, abusive, bulldozers/mad dogs – were in some ways being more honest than I was with my passive manipulation as “Mr. sensitive nice guy.”
“As little kids we were victims and we need to heal those wounds. But as adults we are volunteers – victims only of our disease. The people in our lives are actors and actresses whom we cast in the roles that would recreate the childhood dynamics of abuse and abandonment, betrayal and deprivation.
We are/have been just as much perpetrators in our adult relationships as victims. Every victim is a perpetrator – because when we are buying into being the victim, when we are giving power to our disease, we are perpetrating on the people around us and on ourselves.
We need to heal the wounds without blaming others. And we need to own the responsibility without blaming ourselves. As was stated earlier – there is no blame here, there are no bad guys. The only villain here is the disease and it is within us.”
When we are reacting to dysfunctional ego programming that causes us to rationalize being a doormat, not having boundaries in the name of “not wanting to hurt them,” we are getting our ego strength from codependent feelings of superiority – we are being emotional vampires of the covert variety.
A note to people with an aging parent (s)
One of the things I have heard about from 4 or 5 different sources in the last several weeks, were situations where someone was care taking an aging parent – and being abused. Taking care of an aging parent in the last years of their life can be an incredible opportunity for Karmic settlement and healing – if the decision to do that is a free choice. If you are doing it because you “have to,” because you “should” do that for your parent – that is unhealthy and codependent. It is being a doormat, a victim, and a sacrificial lamb.
“Unconditional Love does not mean being a doormat for other people – unconditional Love begins with Loving ourselves enough to protect ourselves from the people we Love if that is necessary.”
When we allow a parent to abuse us without having healthy boundaries (and exploding in nigysobs occasionally is not setting a boundary, it is reacting) we are enabling them. It does not make us noble – it demonstrates our codependence. We cannot make a choice until we own that we have a choice – as I talk about in my empowerment article.
“In order to become empowered, to become the co-creator in our lives, and to stop giving power to the belief that we are the victim, it is absolutely necessary to own that we have choices. As in the quotation above: if we believe that we “have” to do something then we are buying into the belief that we are the victim and don’t have the power to make choices. To say “I have to go to work” is a lie. “I have to go to work if I want to eat” may be the truth but then you are making a choice to eat. The more conscious we get about our choices, the more empowered we become.
We need to take the “have to”s out of our vocabulary. As long as we reacting to life unconsciously we do not have choices. In consciousness we always have a choice. We do not “have to” do anything.
Until we own that we have a choice, we haven’t made one. In other words, if you do not believe that you have a choice to leave your job, or relationship, then you have not made a choice to stay in it. You can only Truly commit yourself to something if you are consciously choosing to do it.” – Empowerment and Victimization – the power of choice
When we say, “but she’s my mother / he’s my father” I have to take care of them – we are not owning our choices. The fact that they are our parents does not mean we owe them the right to abuse us. Does not mean we have to sacrifice our lives for them. Their codependency may cause them to believe that they sacrificed their lives for us – but like all unconscious codependents they were acting out of ego selfish reasons. We do not owe them some debt we “have to” pay back to them at the expense of sacrificing our self.
Our parents wounded us out of their codependence. Our families were not safe, warm, Loving sanctuaries. The warm fuzzy cultural perspective of families is a myth. It is a fairy tale – just like happily ever after in romantic relationships is a fairy tale. Empowerment is seeing reality clearly and owning our choices to make the best of it. In order to see clearly we need to stop giving power to fairy tales and myths.
One of the things that we all need to let go of, and grieve, is the fairy tale we have carried about our “loving families.” Love is not abusive, controlling, and manipulative. (The True Nature of Love – part 1, what Love is not) Our parents were not capable of Loving us in a healthy way because of their codependency. We can Love their beings but stop allowing their behavior to wound us. Buying into being a victim of “have to” to keep from having to own the pain of letting go of the myth of family is dysfunctional behavior. It is not a Loving thing to do to ourselves.
We learned to have dysfunctional behavior patterns, to set ourselves up to be abused, abandoned, and deprived in our family or origin. We did not have a choice when we were children, when our hearts were broken and our souls wounded by their behavior. We do have a choice now. We have not made a choice until we open up to the possibility of a choice. Allowing your self to be abused by a parent who is acting childish in their old age is not an act of Love if you haven’t owned your choices, if you are buying into the belief that you are a powerless victim.
Death is a transition
One of the things that was mentioned by several of the sources that brought this topic to the forefront for me in the last several weeks, was people being told that to put their parent in a nursing home would decrease the parents life expectancy. This may be a statistical reality – I don’t know for sure. Rather it is true, or something HMO’s tell people to decrease their expenses, it is still not a reason to allow yourself to buy into being a victim.
Consider that maybe an emotional vampire will die sooner because they don’t have anyone to suck the life out of. If a vampire is going to die because you won’t let them suck your blood, is that reason to let them suck your blood?
Also, consider the quality of their life. Is enabling someone to live longer a gift, if they are bitter and resentful, full of terror and rage? Are you doing them a favor to prolong their life of suffering? They are suffering due to their codependence – which they are not willing, or capable, of dealing with. Just as it is not possible to prevent an alcoholic from dying of their disease, so to is it not possible to keep a codependent from dying. You can help to prolong an alcoholics life, and suffering, by rescuing them from the consequences of their actions – but doing that is not Loving. When we rescue someone out of our codependency it is something we do selfishly because we don’t want to live with the codependent guilt – it is not something that we are doing for them. (Meaning that more levels of our motives are about ego selfishness on our part than True caring – more about codependency than about Love.)
Unhealthy guilt and codependent shame are feelings that are based upon lies. In recovery we learn to not give power to those feelings. Those are feelings that are not aligned with Truth – they are reactions to false beliefs.
Allowing an aging codependent parent, or a loved one who is alcoholic and unable to quit drinking, to control our life and abuse us because of our codependency is not a Loving and respectful thing to do to ourselves or to them.
This is another area that it is vital to own that we are doing what we are doing for us – not for them. Keeping them from a nursing home out of guilt is not doing for them – it is selfish out of ego. It is not shameful or wrong – just dishonest and codependent. The length of their life is something that will have much more to do with their attitudes than your behavior. There are nursing homes that are much better than others.
In addition to the myth of family that is subconsciously programmed into the intellectual paradigm that we are allowing to define our lives until we start to own our power to change the programming – we also have dysfunctional ideas about death. We were taught to view death as a tragedy.
“Life is a journey, a process – it’s not a destination. Life is continuous and constant change and growth. We were taught to fight and try to control the change, to resist the growth. We were taught to swim upstream, to go against the flow. No wonder we get tired sometimes.
We were taught that death is a great tragedy and that we should spend our lives fearing and ignoring it. We were taught to fear death and to never live life. That’s backwards.
Death is a transition, a transformation, death is a milestone in the longer journey. It is not a tragedy to be feared – it is an eventuality to be accepted. What is tragedy is not enjoying living while we are here.”
To use the quote from Illusions, is allowing them to transition from a caterpillar to a butterfly a bad thing?
“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy.
What a caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.”
Is allowing your life to be a melodrama of abuse and suffering dictated by their codependent fears and behavior, a Loving thing to do for you or them?
If you are making a clear choice, and have the ability to set boundaries, then you can act out of a place of Love. Buying into “have to” and “should” in a selfish attempt to prove how worthy and noble you are, is not Love – it is really self defeating, very sad, codependent behavior.
I have also heard in recent weeks from several people who did make a clear choice to take care of an aging parent. As I said, this can be a wonderful experience in Loving, and very healing. When someone is making a clear choice and the aging parent has some capacity to communicate it can be a sacred experience. To help someone make the transition, to help alleviate their fear and not feel alone in the dying process, is a blessed gift to both people.
Unfortunately, a narcissistic martyr of the type it sounded like the woman at the CoDA meeting was describing, is not capable of hearing, of communicating. Such a person will be lashing out until the bitter end, wallowing in their suffering and perceived victimization – and abusing anyone near them in the process. On some level that is their choice – we have the right, and the duty, to make a free choice about whether or not we want to be part of that type of experience.” – Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life Chapter 8: Codependents as Emotional Vampires
Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to quote from: Illusions “The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach. Copyright 1977 by Creature Enterprises, Inc. Quoted in Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney by permission of Bantam Doubleday Dell, New York, NY.
Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life is an online book of 15 chapters – 13 of which are only available in a subscription area of the website known as Dancing in Light.
“The content that I have chosen to make a part of this Dancing in Light component of the site, is some of the most sophisticated of my writings – dealing with very advanced levels of recovery and some revolutionary and controversial perspectives on metaphysics, spirituality, and enlightenment.” This subscription area includes two online books:
Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life – which is the third book in The Wounded Souls Trilogy (see below)
and the online book Robert wrote about the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack (which turned into a very personally intimate work) Attack on America – A Spiritual Healing Perspective and Call for Higher Consciousness
It also includes articles from a series on: The True Nature of Love and a special article entitled: My Spiritual Belief System and the New Millennium. Early in 2013 two more works were added to it: The Law of Attraction – Misunderstood & Misinterpreted and The Metaphysics of Emotions – emotional energy is real.
There is now a special sale on subscriptions to Dancing in Light.
Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
A Cosmic Perspective on Codependence and the Human Condition
Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light
Book 1 Empowerment, Freedom, and Inner Peace through Inner Child Healing
Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light
Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life
Book 2 is only available in subscription area Dancing in Light