Consider these scenarios:
1) A mother buys an expensive birthday gift for her daughter, then becomes angry when said daughter is not effusive enough in her thanks.
2) An emotionally distant, passive-aggressive husband, when confronted with how his behavior hurts his spouse, responds, “At least I don’t hit you, or cheat on you, or come home drunk. You should be happy.”
3) A second date buys dinner, then becomes angry when his date won’t sleep with him in return.
4) A boyfriend goes out of his way to meet his girlfriend’s emotional needs, even when it’s out of his comfort zone, then becomes frustrated when it seems she is never happy with his efforts, that they are never enough.
In all these stories, there are strings attached. I did something for you, and now I expect you to do something for me.
Strings become attached to our loved ones’ actions when they have mixed motives for what they say and do. For example, one may truly believe that she’s buying someone a gift because she loves that person and wants to make her happy with a gift. However, she may be overlooking other motives, perhaps a need for recognition as a good mother
These strings can wreak havoc on people in recovery for codependency, because we like to dance at the ends of them like marionettes. The daughter will try hard to figure out how to be appropriately grateful for any gift her mother gives, constantly seeking approval from mom and never receiving it. The woman will sleep with her second date, and in turn attach strings of her own, now expecting more emotional intimacy than her date is prepared to provide. The girlfriend will succumb to guilt feelings and resolve to never complain about hurt feelings. This behavior will lead to her collecting resentments, further damaging the relationship.
I have been each of these four women at one time or another in my life. I have, without fail, chosen to dance on the end of those strings. This morning I ask myself this question: how can someone in recovery respond to the strings in a healthier manner?
I need to shut my mouth, put away my hurt feelings, and continue to enjoy the company and activities before me. An elder at a former church used to say it this way, “Amy, you need to get that relaxed feeling.” Later, in private, I can check in with myself, with Father, with my sponsor or a trusted friend, and decide what, if any, action to take. When I practice this, I usually find that the only action I need to take is within myself.
A good way to “get out from under” some of our daily problems is to stop reacting to everything that occurs. Some of us have a constant drive to do something about everything that happens, everything that someone says to us.
There is a time to act, of course, but the action should be based on careful thinking out of the factors. It should not be triggered by every wind that blows. When something displeases us, it isn’t a threat to our lives, our safety, or anything important. If we keep it in perspective, it will help us to “let it go.”
I will try to overcome my tendency to react to what people say or do. I can’t know why they do it, because I cannot understand their inner unhappiness and compulsions, any more than they can understand mine. When I react, I put the control of my peace of mind in the hands of others. My serenity is under my control, and I will not relinquish it for trivial occurrences.
“I pray for the tolerance and the wisdom to avoid reacting to what other people say and do.”
~One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, Page 259, September 15
Recently, when I reacted to something, I was told, “your timing sucks.” My first and only thought was, you did the action (I was reacting to), how is it my timing? This happened on your timing!
Now, I know better. I know that when I react, my timing always “sucks,” because there exists no good time to react.
Just because I do not react in the moment, I must not make the mistake of never addressing the emotions the moment invoked. Pretending the emotions never happened leads to an impressive collection of resentments, in turn leading to a whole host of other problems. I must take time regularly to think.
The simplest–and most difficult–of all our slogans is the word THINK. We seem to be thinking hard all the time, but it is mostly about our troubles, and who’s to blame for them. We can’t seem to get around to thinking about what we may be doing that damages us. . . .
. . .If a person hurts me without being aware of it, and I can overlook it my reward is an inner glow. . . .
Before I take any action–or speak any hot words–I will think about what provoked me into this impulse. If I can persuade myself not to act or speak, I can quietly and inwardly rejoice that my Higher Power gave me the grace to be silent. . . . ~One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, Page 208, July 26
While I do not want to collect resentments, rather than speaking up about every little hurt, I have had some success recently with trying another way. When someone hurts me, I can 1) acknowledge that hurt to myself and to my Father, and also to my sponsor or a trusted friend, 2) think about my part in bringing on this hurt, and take steps, if possible, to avoid it in the future, and 3) trust Father to bring my hurt to the person’s attention, and to help the person become aware of and change any behavior patterns that may have contributed to this hurt. I am humbled when I realize that every time I am adamant that someone else was completely in the wrong and I was completely in the right, a good night’s sleep and a check-in with Father always reveals just how wrong I was. I never expect it, and yet it always happens.
I am often amazed when I remember to follow these steps and let go of a hurt, only to hear My Love apologize for something I’ve never complained to him about and have already forgiven! When I try to fix it instead, I am interfering with recovery and spiritual growth Father wants to perform in him. How quickly I forget that I can trust my heavenly Father to work these things out, and My Love to work his own program and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit! How easily I slip back into the codependent dance, expressing my hurt, demanding immediate contrition and amends, and being surprised when it ends in an argument and more hurt feelings! Back to dancing at the end of the strings.
. . .I must teach myself to leave my partner to God and to his friends in AA. I must learn not to expect or demand. I will look for, and appreciate, his positive and desirable actions, and not concentrate on the negative. I must, in other words, do something constructive about my own attitude.
I will not look for perfection in another person until I have attained perfection myself. Since I know this will never be, let me learn to accept things as they are, and stop manipulating them into changing. Let me look for a wiser approach to life from myself, not from other people.
“Thou must learn to renounce thy own will in many things, if thou wilt keep peace and concord with others.” (Thomas à Kempis)
~One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, Page 225, August 12
Someone said something unkind about me. Are my feelings hurt? Yes. Should they be? No. How do I overcome my hurt? By detaching myself, “turning it off,” until I can figure out what lies behind it. It it was retaliation for an unkindness I did, let me correct my fault. If not, I have no responsibility in the matter. Should I ignore or challenge? No, I will let it go; least said, soonest mended. Nothing can hurt me unless I allow it to. When I am pained by anything that happens outside of myself, it is not that thing which hurts me, but the way I think and feel about it. ~One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, Page 7, January 7 (emphasis mine)
I cannot even give you one example where I’ve been successful at this. I still ride the emotional roller coaster with whomever will ride with me. I still have so much to learn from this program.
Next time I believe someone is attempting to put strings on me, I don’t want to embrace the strings and dance at the ends like a marionette. I want to remember, by Father’s grace, to not react, to think, and to detach.