What is New?


June 23: edited my post on Gaslighting to insert a link to a very good video by psychologist, Ross Rosenberg, explaining how gaslighting starts in childhood, and how to heal from parents who gaslight.

June 6: PBS's Frontline takes on the issue of human sex trafficking of abducted teenage girls in the Phoenix, Arizona area. Click HERE for that.

May 17: Turpin parents get 25 years to life for abusing their children. Final words from children and parents at sentencing. Click HERE for that.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

co-dependent no more in the abusive family

name of art: "Followers as Zombies"
image is © Lise Winne
digital art, 2015
(for questions regarding use of images or to contract an image for your next article
contact: LilacGroveGraphics (att) yahoo.com)

Someone asked me once what co-dependency meant. I told them that in short, it is a dependency on a dysfunctional unhealthy relationship or person. However, that is a simplistic version. For the sake of better clarification, I'll focus on an encyclopedic meaning (from Wikipedia):

Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.[1] Among the core characteristics of codependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and identity.[1] ...

... In its broadest definition, a codependent is someone who cannot function from their innate self and whose thinking and behavior is instead organized around another person ...

... Codependency has been referred to as the disease of a lost self.[12][17] Codependent relationships are marked by intimacy problems, dependency, control (including caretaking) denial, dysfunctional communication and boundaries, and high reactivity ...

The article also talks about what it is like to be a co-dependent of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (two disorders that show high rates of abusiveness -- and yes, alcoholism can mimic Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

I thought this post by Melanie Tonia Evans from her blog, described what it was like to live with a narcissistic abuser and how she eventually got free from it. And, by the way, all of the things that work in normal relationships like asking to be heard, arguing your points, pleading, expecting decency, expecting the other person to meet you half way, does not work in abusive relationships. In fact, sometimes the more you try to work at resolving conflicts, the more the abuser tries to continue to hurt you, and the more severe the PTSD symptoms become. Your emotions and your life unravels. The abuser gets a high from all of it, all the pain and anguish you are feeling (they looooove all this drama, after all: all of your fussing to be heard and considered, all of your working, all of your overtures, all of your efforts at understanding, all of your emotions, and compromising, and pleasing, and pleading -- it is just delicious for them and makes them feel sooooo self-important!). It is disgusting, but unfortunately, it is the way it is. Here is part of the post from Melanie Tonia Evans:

As with all narcissistic abuse the ex-narcissist targeted my weak spots, my unfinished business, profoundly ...

... But rather than accept how his many abusive behaviours were diminishing me piece by piece … I stayed, I argued, I prescribed, I lectured … I fought back ...

... And I stayed even though there was no change or resolution that ever lasted ...

... My reactions got worse and worse … and I didn’t realise that this was wonderful for a narcissist – it granted him tons of attention. The knowing that he existed and had the power to affect another human being so significantly ...

... All of this drama was keeping him distracted from his own tormented inner being and alive ...
... The more I was hooked onto trying to get him to change his behaviour, the more I lost the ability to detach and look after myself, and as a co-dependent I had never mastered this skill previous to him anyway ...

... In this severely dangerous state of me being separated from being anchored in my own body able to create my own sanity, safety and peace, he was able to swiftly pull out the rug from beneath me, with violent threats and actions, intimidation and or abandonment – with me not letting go ...

Co-dependent relief, I believe, comes from being with others who are willing to share the power with you. And believe me, relief after being through this kind of hell is the right word.

In musical band terminology, sharing power is called "not having an ego."

Egomaniacs are bad for bands because they jockey for attention away from the other performers in order to get the audience to have eyes on them. They often play too loudly, or take too many leads, or they try to play a lead line when someone else is playing a lead, or they dance too frenetically and bump into the other musicians, or they always want to play their songs. One of the reasons why bands break up or go through a lot of members is because of problems with egos. As Alison Krauss said in this interview by Piers Hernu about performing with her band, Union Station:

I’ve been working with Union Station for 26 years now and with all the differences in personality, not being family, being raised all over the country and having different tastes, it is amazing that we’ve stayed together. The secret to working with the same group of people for a long time is lack of ego – no one person rushes to the front and is self-serving.

All long term relationships are like Union Station.

Just as in a band, if your voice is being drowned out by one, two, three or more voices in an abusive family that desperately needs co-dependents, you aren't really part of that family except in your genes. Abused members of families tend not to have voices. Or, to take the band analogy, their voices are drowned out; it is like playing a quiet acoustic instrument like a harp with no sound reinforcement while one or more of the other members are blasting their sound with neon electric guitars through huge speakers. And by the way, the harp analogy is a good one because many of the victims of family violence tend to be doves (and doves flock together, and are the symbols of peace and co-operation). 

If you leave your family, your contributions, your expertise on your instrument won't be missed, because it was barely audible to begin with. You could be playing your heart out, and be superbly talented, and be playing along note for note, adding tasteful flourishes here and there, but no one notices, and furthermore, they don't care how talented you are because they are EGOs: they only care about showing off their own talent ("and by the way, don't listen to that harp player way in the back; she's a nobody"). If you are a family scapegoat and act up in the back with your harp, and try to bring attention to the fact that you have something to contribute, it will be like your family will put a glass box around you and your harp, contain you from breaking out of the soundless role they want you to fulfill and the glass box they have put you in (and yes, being in an abusive family makes you feel like a prisoner). Furthermore, the whole band will be told to stand in front of the glass box so that no one in the audience will see you. And often when the family is done performing for others, it will expect you to be a Cinderella and clean off the stage like a stage hand. If the family performance was less than stellar, they will tell you, the harpist, that it was all your fault that the family sucked in their performance and that the audience wasn't pleased. And by the way, sucked is the right word: abuse tends to be crude in its vocabulary. If they are really abusive they'll call you names, spit at you, and kick you around.

So part of breaking out of the family prison and co-dependent role is to find a band of like minds (like Union Station): a band of people whose members can take leads and then be in the background when someone else needs to take a lead. It takes awhile to build a family of choice, because it is not always easy to tell if someone is going to dominate the group, until you've played with them for awhile. Therapists generally suggest one or two years to assess the situation correctly.

It is the supporting professions and the helping professions where one finds the most team players, and the least egos. It is not always the case, but it is mostly the case.

So back to our harp analogy: harps do not really go in a band of loud obnoxious electric guitars anyway, even when they are more audible. So, if you are a scapegoat and leave your family, whether that is forced upon you through shunning or it is your voluntary decision, one of the first things you will feel is that you "didn't belong in that family anyway." You feel different from them. It's like you were born to the wrong species. The idea of them prancing around on stage like a bunch of peacock GODS competing for guitar riffs makes you feel disgusted, sick to your stomach. The audience is just as craven and unsophisticated as the band is: all those drugged glazed zombie eyes in the audience seem to think that just because something is loud, neon, screaming to be heard, and that when one of the players amps up the sound on his guitar, that it means the music is good. In fact, to any critic that happens to come around, it sounds like a discordant mess (and yes, a lot of toxic families are loud and discordant). There are always fist fights breaking out in the mosh pit. There are usually arrests and a lot of illegal substances. The audience they attract seems as out of control as the band. In fact, the members of the band are now all turning on each other, especially since they don't have the harpist to blame any more. It is almost like they needed that harpist to keep themselves unified. They fight amongst each other about who is better, they shout over each other to give each other advice and commands, they are all in disagreement about who needs to stay in the background, and who needs to clean up the bloody mess after the show! It is an angry, gnarly situation which is attracting negative attention from the press. Venues stop hiring the band because they bring trouble.

So, let's just say your new band of choice has a cellist, a classical guitarist, an acoustic bassist and a multi-instrumentalist who plays recorders, penny whistles and a flute. Your harp sounds exquisite with these instruments. The audience you play to might be smaller, but they are attentive, respectful, quiet (they want to hear your music after all, and not just get shit-faced and throw empty beer cans at the stage). The seats are more expensive too than they were for your foul family band, so in the end you are making more money with a whole let less stress. You actually can sleep better at night because your ears aren't buzzing from the after-effects of ungodly decibels, watching near-murders in the mosh pit, watching the egos bump into each other and give each other dirty looks when the audience seems to prefer one over the other. Most of all, your life seems more serene because you made a definite choice (because making choices in a voiceless, hopeless, desperately toxic-to-your-health situation makes you feel in control of yourself and your own life, and takes the control out of your prisoners' hands). The press says "Where has this talent been hiding out?" When the reporters find out, you tell them, with embarrassment, that you made a big mistake in thinking your past band was a good fit. Finally, you have arrived at the peace you deserved all your life, and all along (if only you had been confident enough to know that your voice should have been heard sooner ... so you see, this was the problem all along: your family taught you that you weren't worthy of being heard, that you only deserved to be in a small glass box, and ignored).
In a nutshell, you leave a co-dependent role by being independent of abusers and finding a family of choice. If it takes awhile, then you can work on it little by little until you can escape. 

And sometimes it feels just like an escape too: you might escape with no money, with just the clothes on your back; you might be in as much danger from your abusers as escapees from kidnappers; you might feel they will try to do their damnedest to give you bad press (slander you); you might feel they will never stop at trying to stuff you in that glass box again; you might feel that they'll try to make you comply with the same toxic family rules and guilt trips every time you bump into them (and to this I say that even many child sex molesters pummel their victims with guilt trips! -- yes, it is true); and they might always be scheming at how to effect you negatively. 

It sucks being in an abusive family and it is hell when you are co-dependent with a family like this. But like all hells, they are like caves: there will be a way out eventually, especially if you search for the light and work hard and intelligently for the escape route.

One reason why a family becomes a bullying family (using one scapegoat as its punching bag) usually has to do with co-narcissism, which I'll talk about in another post. Basically there are generations of narcissists: junior narcissist became a narcissist to survive the abusive tendencies he or she saw from senior narcissist(s). Often it is the favored golden child (or children) in a family who carry on the tradition of being narcissists and perpetuating narcissistic abuse for future generations. 

Being a family victim of co-narcissists is totally unendurable for most people. It is like any abusive relationship except it is x 2 (and sometimes x 3, or x 4, or more). Having one abusive spouse or parent is hard enough on most people. Being abused by a bunch of co-narcissists all drooling to take pot-shots at you is like a singular person trying to fight an army. Don't do it. Find a way to escape.

If any of you are wondering, I do play the harp (a Celtic harp)
I also have a lot of dove paintings. Some are here in my Artfire shop.

also note: 
for more information on how I made the art/illustration above, 
I have written about that extensively on my art blog here.

The article where I found this graphic has some good advice as well:

Codependency can be very difficult to deal with unless you seek qualified help and support. The good news is that through counseling, recovery literature, and support, these codependent patterns and their origins can be recognized, faced, and overcome.

This wonderful post by Annie Reneau is a love letter to parents who keep minimal or no contact with their abusive families in order to bring up their own children in loving homes without dysfunction and abuse. As the article says, it isn't easy for the parent to renounce their family, but your kids will thank you for it.

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