Chapter 4: False Self Image

The Dance

“Learning what healthy behavior is will allow us to be healthier in the relationships that do not mean much to us; intellectually knowing Spiritual Truth will allow us to be more Loving some of the time; but in the relationships that mean the most to us, with the people we care the most about, when our “buttons are pushed” we will watch ourselves saying things we don’t want to say and reacting in ways that we don’t want to react – because we are powerless to change the behavior patterns without dealing with the emotional wounds.

We cannot integrate Spiritual Truth or intellectual knowledge of healthy behavior into our experience of life in a substantial way without honoring and respecting the emotions.  We cannot consistently incorporate healthy behavior into day to day life without being emotionally honest with ourselves.  We cannot get rid of our shame and overcome our fear of emotional intimacy without going through the feelings.” – (Text in this color is used for quotes from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls)

When I came to recovery, I took great pride in what an honest person I was – my ego strength was based in part on being better than other people because I was such an honest person.  I saw myself as this righteously honest person – and I could not consciously acknowledge that I had ever felt fear in my life.  I was completely twisted and dishonest with myself emotionally – which made me incapable of really being honest on any level.  My conscious self image was twisted and dishonest in reaction to the lie that I was shamefully defective as a being.

I would present myself as – and truly believed I was – a sensitive, caring male who was so different from all those macho clowns that were not in touch with their feelings.

But I was talking about feelings on a theoretical level – I was not connected to them directly.  I was not actually feeling them personally.  I had feelings certainly, but I had no permission to own them as being personal, as being mine.

I think acting saved my life because it gave me an emotional outlet.  I would express my feelings in my acting – they were my feelings, but I was attributing them to my characters.  It never occurred to me to wonder why the characters I liked to play the most were very intense, in a great deal of pain, and usually suicidal in some way.  Junkies and drunks, psychos and outcasts, the desperately lonely and terminally emotionally wounded, were my specialty.  I called it method acting – really getting into my characters skin and living their emotional reality.

Twice in acting personalization exercises on camera – where one would take a monologue from a play and do it in a very personal way – my acting teacher took me aside afterwards to ask if I was okay because she was so concerned about how much pain she was seeing in my performance.  I thought this showed what a great actor I was – that she had so believed my characterization.  Those on camera exercises were really a glimpse at my true emotional state.

One that I did several years before getting sober, was Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be . . .” where he is considering suicide – which most actors do with some kind of a knife as a prop to fondle as the character considers the benefits and deficits of suicide, “To die, to sleep.  No more.”  I did the monologue as an alcoholic actor who was using Shakespeare’s words to express his own personal dilemma – and used an alcoholic drink as my prop.  Brilliant creative inspiration, I thought – like, duh, talk about personal.

I would feel the feelings while I was rehearsing and performing – which allowed me to give my emotions some expression and release without owning them as personal.  I saw the characters I played as being driven by their gut level fears, but I personally was not afraid of anything – because my subconscious programming dictated that a real man does not feel fear.

I would appear to be a sensitive, emotionally honest person in real life, but I was really just performing then also.  I was not actually being in my body and personally owning my feelings.  I was acting as if I were in touch with my feelings in my day to day life whenever I had an audience – and when there was no one around, then I was caught up in some internal trauma drama about the future or the past so that I could stay unconscious to the present moment.

I was playing a character in my life – trying to live up to the self image I wished to present to people.  I was expressing and exhibiting the feelings that I thought I should be feeling to match the self image I was trying to present to you.  I was unconsciously being manipulative emotionally so that you would like and accept me if that was my goal (usually women) – or so you would be a little scared of me if I didn’t want something from you (usually men.)

My intentions, my conscious motivations, did not match my actions because of my emotional dishonesty.  The concept of self I presented to you did not match the reality of my behavior if you got personally involved with me.  The conscious self image that I invested so much energy into – the false self, ego self – which I felt gave me worth, was a twisted, distorted view of myself.  It was not possible for me to look at my self with any objectivity, because of the subconscious intellectual paradigm that was defining my relationship to self and life included the beliefs that being afraid was shameful, being “wrong” was unacceptable.

The punch line to this dysfunctional joke is that I really am a sensitive, caring person.  I tried real hard to convince you of it because I was trying so hard to convince myself it was the truth.  I was trying to trick you into believing I was who I wanted to be, but I didn’t really believe it in the depths of my being.

codependency = a ridiculous, dysfunctional, tragicomedy

“A large part of what we identify as our personality is in fact a distorted view of who we really are due to the type of behavioral defenses we adopted to fit the role or roles we were forced to assume according to the dynamics of our family system.”

This is part of what makes codependency such a ridiculous, dysfunctional, tragicomedy.  The character I was playing, my false self image, was not really false.  It contained a great deal more Truth in relationship to who I really am – to my personality, my essential character in this lifetime – than falsehood.  But I was incapable of seeing that because I was focused externally to keep from having to look at myself and admit how defective and shameful I felt.

“At the foundation of our relationship with our self – and therefore with other people and life – is the feeling that we will die if we reveal ourselves to other people, because then they will see our shameful self. . . . . . Our lives have been dictated by an emotional defense system that is designed to keep hidden the the false belief that we are defective.  We use external things – success, looks, productivity, substances – to try to cover up, overcome, make up for, the personal defectiveness that we felt caused our hearts to be broken and our souls wounded in childhood.  And that personal defectiveness is a lie.  That feeling of toxic shame is a lie.

It was so painful that we had to lie to ourselves about it.  We were forced to be emotionally and intellectually dishonest with ourselves by the codependent defenses we adapted. . . . . . . We built up a dishonest self image to try to convince ourselves that we had worth based upon some comparative external factors:  looks, success, independence (the counterdependent rebel), popularity (people pleasers), righteousness (better than others, right to their wrong), or whatever.  That false self image was not completely dishonest because it was formed in reaction to some basic aspects of who we Truly are – but it was a twisted, distorted, polarized perspective of our self adapted in response to toxic shame, for the purpose of giving us some ego strength, some reason we could feel better than others.

That false self image, the masks we learned to wear, is something we invested a lot of energy into convincing ourselves was the truth.” – Fear of Intimacy – caused by early childhood trauma  

One of the payoffs in codependency recovery, is that as we strip away the layers of denial – the twisted distorted perspectives and false beliefs – we learn that we are the person we always wanted to be.  As we start to uncover and discover the lies and distortions in our subconscious intellectual paradigm and become willing to get emotionally honest with ourselves by owning the grief and rage, we start to see ourselves clearly for the first time.  Codependency is about having a dysfunctional relationship with our selves as human beings – and the key to unraveling the puzzle of self, to stripping away the distortion and the lies, is to get emotionally honest with self.

“It is important to note that we adapt the roles that are best suited to our personalities.  We are, of course, born with a certain personality.  What happens with the roles we adapt in our family dynamic is that we get a twisted, distorted view of who we are as a result of our personality melding with the roles. This is dysfunctional because it causes us to not be able to see ourselves clearly.  As long as we are still reacting to our childhood wounding and old tapes then we cannot get in touch clearly with who we really are.

The false self that we develop to survive is never totally false – there is always some Truth in it.  For example, people who go into the helping professions do truly care and are not doing what they do simply out of Codependence.  Nothing is black and white – everything in life involves various shades of gray.  Recovery is about getting honest with ourselves and finding some balance in our life.” – Roles In Dysfunctional Families

One of the things that is so confusing in a relationship between two codependents, is that we can see into the other person enough to see their inner beauty, their potential, their pain – and they often say the things we want to hear to confirm that what we are seeing is Truth – but their behaviors do not match what we are seeing and hearing.  (So, of course, being good codependents our selves, we fluctuate between feeling like it is our fault and the we have to work harder or change somehow – and thinking it is our responsibility to get the other person to see the light, to realize who they really are.)

“Intimacy is about allowing another person to see into us – in to me see.  When we allow another person to see into us deep enough, what they are going to see is a Magnificent Spiritual Being.  If we are not doing our healing – are still allowing our relationship with ourselves to be dictated by the shame of the child who felt unlovable – that means they will be seeing something which we cannot see.

One of the really difficult thing in relationships, is that often we can see how beautiful the other person Truly is – but they cannot see it in themselves.  So, we hang onto relationships knowing how wonderful the other person really is, and what potential they have, but they react to us out of the defenses they adapted to push us away, or run away from us.  If they are not in the process of healing and recovery, of getting in touch with and changing their patterns, then they are not going to be available to us in the way we want them to be.  We can learn a lot about ourselves by relating to them – but ultimately will end up feeling like a victim of their inability / unwillingness to change.

We cannot control or change the other person.  Our first priority – our responsibility – is to learn to be more emotionally intimate with ourselves.  Other people come into our lives as teachers to help us learn about ourselves.

In order to start changing my patterns, I had to learn to start being emotionally honest with myself.” – May 23, 2001 Joy2MeU Update  Newsletter 3

I was investing an incredible amount of energy into projecting an image to other people.  That image had much more Truth in it than falsehood – but I didn’t know that.  I was doing it to try to get the Love and respect and validation that I was so starved for.  But I didn’t believe it, so when I did get love and validation it did not work to make me feel good about myself deep inside.  It did not change my core relationship with myself.  I could not truly accept / take in / own the external validation because I thought I was living a lie.  I thought I was a fraud and was fooling you when you liked me.

This is part of the ultimate dysfunction of codependency.  We put so much energy into reaching the goal, earning your love, doing what we think is necessary to “fix” our self, and if we get that which we have been pursuing, it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t make us feel the way we thought it would make us feel.  It does not get us to “happily ever after.”

“You can get all the money, property, and prestige in the world, have everyone in the world adore you, but if you are not at peace within, if you don’t Love and accept yourself, none of it will work to make you Truly happy.”

Looking outside to fill the hole within is dysfunctional.  As long as I was still reacting to the toxic shame I felt about my self from early childhood, then what I was doing in my interactions (inter-reactions) is being dishonest and manipulative.  It did not matter if most of what I was saying was the real Truth about who I am – I didn’t believe it.

I was trying to get what I wanted from you by trying to be who I thought you wanted me to be, and since you could see in my eyes that which I could not see, you believed me.  But then I couldn’t accept your acceptance so I ended up sabotaging the relationship with my behavior.

“The way the dynamic in a dysfunctional relationship works is in a “come here” – “go away” cycle.  When one person is available the other tends to pull away.  If the first person becomes unavailable the other comes back and pleads to be let back in.   When the first becomes available again then the other eventually starts pulling away again.  It happens because our relationship with self is not healed.  As long as I do not love myself then there must be something wrong with someone who loves me – and if someone doesn’t love me than I have to prove I am worthy by winning that person back.  On some level we are trying to earn the love of our unavailable parent(s) to prove to ourselves that we are worthy and lovable.” – Codependent Relationships Dynamics Part 4 – Come Here, Go Away

 My behavior did not match my words because my behavior patterns were driven by my emotional wounds.  As long as I had no capacity to be emotionally honest, my codependency defended me based upon the programming it adapted in reaction to the emotional trauma I had experienced in early childhood.

Opening our hearts

My codependent defense system is set up to try to keep me from being abandoned, betrayed, and rejected by someone to whom I have opened my heart.  As a little child, my heart was completely open to my parents.  They emotionally abandoned and betrayed me because they were programmed to emotionally abandon and betray themselves.  It felt to me as a child as if they had rejected me because something was wrong with me.

My ego adopted an emotional defense system – codependency – to try protect me and keep secret the fact that I was a shameful and defective, a pitiful excuse for a man.  Since I felt unlovable and unworthy, and I thought I was the only person who felt that way, I had to keep what a loser I was secret.  I had to be emotionally dishonest with myself to try to stay unconscious to how I felt at the depths of my being.  I had to be emotionally dishonest – and therefore dishonest to some extent on other levels – in my relationships with other people because it felt like anyone who found out my secret would run away screaming in horror.  If anyone could see who I really was, they would reject me – they would abandon and betray me like my parents had.

“Fear of intimacy is at the heart of codependency.  We have a fear of intimacy because we have a fear of abandonment, betrayal, and rejection.  We have a these fears because we were wounded in early childhood – we experienced feeling emotionally abandoned, rejected, and betrayed by our parents because they were wounded.  They did not have healthy relationship with self – they were codependents who abandoned and betrayed themselves – and their behavior caused us to feel unworthy and unlovable.” – Fear of Intimacy – caused by early childhood trauma

The way codependency works, is that what we want the most – Love – is also what scares us the most, because we feel like we will screw it up if our dreams come true.  My codependent defenses were designed to keep me from being rejected by someone who could Truly Love me.  The way this manifests behaviorally is, that I was attracted to unavailable people in an attempt to protect myself from making the mistake of opening my heart, of believing that I was Lovable.  (This of course, is not in any way a conscious thing.  It is an energetic dynamic that results from repressing emotional energy.)

“Emotions are a vital part of our being for several reasons. . . . . . . .

4. We are attracted to people that feel familiar on an energetic level – which means (until we start clearing our emotional process) people that emotionally / vibrationally feel like our parents did when we were very little kids.  At a certain point in my process I realized that if I met a woman who felt like my soul mate, that the chances were pretty huge that she was one more unavailable woman that fit my pattern of being attracted to someone who would reinforce the message that I wasn’t good enough, that I was unlovable.  Until we start releasing the hurt, sadness, rage, shame, terror – the emotional grief energy – from our childhoods we will keep having dysfunctional relationships.” – Feeling the Feelings

My conscious desire and intentions were aligned with finding love, but my subconscious programming / codependency caused me be attracted to unavailable people who could not possibly Love me in a healthy way, because they did not Love them self.

Anyone who is not in recovery from their childhood programming is incapable of really Loving them self in a healthy way – is unavailable.   This is true rather they are unavailable because they are being counterdependent and denying their need for connection, or because they are so classically codependent that they do not have a sense of self and feel an urgency for connection in order to have any worth.  The extremes of codependency in regard to romantic relationships are the enmeshment of toxic love (wanting to merge with the other person because we have no boundaries or self worth – which sets us us up to accept crumbs and abuse in order to stay in relationship) or keeping them at arms length because we are so afraid of opening our hearts (in which case our behavior sets us up to create self fulfilling prophecies of abandonment and betrayal.)  Both extremes are unavailable for a healthy relationship.  

I was defining myself by the image of myself that I was holding in my consciousness – but how I behaved was being dictated by the subconscious programming.  My subconscious programming dictated that, as a man, the only emotion it was acceptable for me to feel was anger – but that it was not ok to be angry at women.  Talk about a narrow emotional spectrum – emotionally crippled indeed.

I saw myself in alignment with the conscious self image that I was projecting – a sensitive, caring male who was so different from all those macho clowns that were not in touch with their feelings – but my behavior in intimate relationships was dictated by the subconscious perspective of emotions that I had learned from my male role model in childhood.  That paradigm dictated that a man could not feel sad or hurt or afraid – a man only felt anger.  In other words, I saw myself as, and talked the talk of, a sensitive caring male but when anyone got too close emotionally my behavior was that of a macho clown.

It was not your typical macho clown however, because I had been programmed that it was not acceptable to be angry at women.  A person who does not have permission to own anger, is set up to be passive aggressive.  The anger is not expressed directly.  It is expressed indirectly, it comes out sideways.

“Passive-aggressive behavior is the expression of anger indirectly.  This happens because we got the message one way or another in childhood that it was not OK to express anger.  Since anger is energy that can not be completely repressed it gets expressed in indirect ways. . . . . .

Passive-aggressive behavior can take the form of sarcasm, procrastination, chronic lateness, being a party pooper, constantly complaining, being negative, offering opinions and advice that is not asked for, being the martyr, slinging arrows (“whatever have you done to your hair”, “gained a little weight haven’t we?”), etc.  If we don’t know how to set boundaries or will go along with anything to avoid conflict, then we often will agree to doing things we don’t want to do – and as a result we will not be happy doing them and will get back at the other person somehow, someway because we are angry at them for “making” us do something we don’t want to do.” – Emotional abuse is Heart and Soul Mutilation

Anyone who does not have permission from their subconscious programming to own their anger, is set up to be emotionally dishonest with self and with other people.  I was set up to be emotionally dishonest in romantic relationships because I did not have the right to be angry or set boundaries.  A codependent often feels like the person they are in relationship with “should” be able to read their mind to know what they want – and then is set up to feel like a victim.  Being direct and honest was a risk that I did not know how to take.  I was afraid if I said “no,” if I disagreed, if there was an argument, the other person would leave.  My fear of abandonment and rejection set me up to be dishonest and manipulative in an intimate relationship with a woman.

Men I could get angry at.  But even then I wasn’t being angry in an emotionally honest manner.  I hated the way my father raged, and vowed not to be like him.  This resulted in me stuffing my anger.  Repressing the emotional energy of anger does not work.  It manifests somehow, someway.  With other men, the common way that this came out was with sarcasm.  Of course, the society that I grew up in, taught me that this was the acceptable way to relate to other men.  “Hey dirt bag” – or something similar (with cuss words being the coolest form) – is the way men say “I love you” to each other in an emotionally crippled society.  It is passive aggressive and emotionally abusive.

I would rage on occasion.  Stuffing my anger, swallowing it down, caused it to build up and become explosive.  So, periodically I would explode.  Usually over something that did not really have much to do with what I was really angry about.  The anger that I built up at women often came out at some man.  When I exploded at men, I raged – like my father.  That caused me to feel ashamed and crazy – and I swung back to the other extreme where I was stuffing it again.  Until the next time it exploded.

Rage is not anger.  It is not emotionally honest.  I think of rage as anger that has been steeped in shame for years.  It is the result of seething, festering resentment – victim feelings.  Rage is a twisted, distorted, virulent, mutant magnification of anger.

With women, when I reached the point of explosion, it would sometimes come out as silent rage.  Not the yelling and cursing explosion of my father, but a door slamming, wall kicking, muttering under my breath type of rage.  I would punish you with my sullen silence.

Or I would come from the martyr / victim place, and point out how the other person had wronged me grievously.  I would trot out a list of everything the person had done in the past that hurt me so badly.  I would accuse them of insensitivity, of not caring about my feelings.

“By setting boundaries, we are communicating with another person.  We are telling them who we are and what we need.  It is much more effective to do that directly and honestly than to expect them to read our minds – and then punish them when they cannot. . . . . . . When we stuff our feelings we build up resentments.  Resentments are victim feelings – the feeling that somebody is doing something to us.  If we don’t speak up and take the risk of sharing how we feel, we will end up blowing up and/or being passive aggressive – and damaging the relationship.

Learning to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to communicate in a direct and honest manner.  It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly, and honestly.” – Setting Personal Boundaries 

So, I would get angry at a woman, but it was because of what she was doing to me.  Her appalling insensitivity (meaning she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to do, what I expected) would push me to the point of having to unburden myself by sharing with her how wrong she was.  It would be her fault I was angry, her responsibility because she was forcing me to be verbally abusive.  I – the poor innocent victim who loved her so much – was being forced to tell her the truth as I understood it.  I was not violating my sensitive, caring self image because she was leaving me no choice.  If she would just be reasonable and do what I wanted her to do, then I wouldn’t have to get angry at her.

The lie that is codependent, selfless, martyr, victimization is the effect of not being emotionally honest enough to have healthy boundaries.  It is a defense adapted by my ego in an attempt to keep me from opening my heart so that it can be broken again.  If my heart is broken again, I have to make it your fault because the only other option in a polarized perspective of life is to admit that I am to blame.  To blame myself is to plunge into the abyss of pain and shame at the core of my being – the unendurable, hopeless, want to die, place within me where I feel shamefully unlovable and unworthy.

This is the behavior that I was powerless to change until I started to get emotionally honest with myself.  The intellectual and emotional programming from my childhood set me up to be incapable of having a healthy intimate relationship.

Codependency is very dysfunctional.  It hurts just as much to be rejected by an unavailable person as by an available one.  As long as we are reacting out of our inner child wounds, we will take any perceived rejection as personal – as a reflection of our shameful defectiveness.

Until I started to consciously work on changing the ego programming which was keeping me in denial and emotional dishonesty, I was unable to change my core relationship with self – I was unable to see through the false self image, was unable to see my self with any clarity.” – Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light  Book 2:  A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life  Chapter 4: False Self Image

Sacred Spiral

Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light  Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life is available in a subscription area of the Joy2MeU website entitled: Dancing in Light

A special offer for that subscription (as well as for the Joy2MeU Journal) is available on this special offers page.

The first two chapter of this online book is available through my regular website: The codependency movement is NOT ruining marriages!

I have published some other chapters of this work as blogs including: Chapter 8 Codependents as Emotional Vampires and Chapter 13: Changing the Music: Love instead of fear and shame.

Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light  Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life is the third book of what I think of as the Wounded Souls Trilogy along with Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls A Cosmic Perspective on Codependence and the Human Condition and Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light Book 1 Empowerment, Freedom, and Inner Peace through Inner Child Healing. (This is different from The Dance of the Wounded Souls Trilogy Book 1 – “In The Beginning . . .” which is a Magical, Mystical Adult Spiritual Fable that was in fact the first book I wrote – but have never finished.)

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