Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thinking of others

One of the things that I hear a lot of alcoholics say is that they are selfish and think mostly about themselves.  And one of the things that I hear a lot of Al-Anons say, including me, is that we spent most of our time thinking about others instead of ourselves.  I think that this is the nature of co-dependency.

So the question then comes to mind: If one has spent most of a life time thinking about others, isn't that also a selfish act?  From what I understand now,  I was conditioned from a young age to think more about others.  I was told to not be selfish and to share.  That may have been okay when I was a child, but it set the stage for my dysfunctional behavior later in life.

I realize that by doing for others and thinking only of them,  I was actually being selfish.  I became wrapped up in self-pity and approval seeking.  I gave in hopes that others would love me.  I wanted others to think that I was doing for them, but I was actually more conscious of how I could get my emotional needs met by being around the other person. 

This is the sickness of co-dependency.  I had a need for acceptance and validation from others.  I can see after being in Al-Anon the selfishness of that behavior.  I know that some of those feelings of self-pity still surface.  But I can also say that most of what I do now is done because I want to freely give to someone else.  I truly care about other people and enjoy seeing their joy when I love without expectations.

I don't know if the codependency ever completely goes away.  Likely this is something that I will struggle with for the rest of my life.  But it helps to be aware of the problem, to understand detachment and boundaries, and that over-functioning in relationships doesn't work.  My work on focusing on myself and finding out who I am continues.  I can see though how far I have come in meeting my own needs.

These days the good deeds that are done for people are done for sheer joy. I don't see anything wrong about doing a good deed for others. After all, isn't the important thing that a good deed was done?

I'd like to read your thoughts on how you achieve balance in your relationships when it comes to giving and thinking of others.


  1. Aw - Sweet Syd!

    I have taken the liberty of 'copying' one of your paragraphs in this blog - - - and placing it here (helps me keep focused on what I want to say) - - -

    don't know if the codependency ever completely goes away. Likely this is something that I will struggle with for the rest of my life. But it helps to be aware of the problem, to understand detachment and boundaries, and that over-functioning in relationships doesn't work. My work on focusing on myself and finding out who I am continues. I can see though how far I have come in meeting my own needs.

    The professional term - codependency - though accurate - is not totally true for one who works the program of 12 steps diligently; i.e., learning who I am (step 4), becoming honest with another (step 5), giving it freely to HP because He can handle the 'stuff' better than I can; amending my wrongs, no matter how big or small (step 9); and giving away all that I have received from the program (step 12). These are the principles of the program, and helped me to accept myself as a giving person - the only difference today is that I give for the feelings I receive - - - not for the expectations of approval, etc. In short, I do the same things I have always done, for different reasons today.

    Thanks for letting me take advantage of your blog; thanks for allowing me to speak of me!

    Hugs to you - - - some things take time - - - You are finding your way very nicely, I think. Keep coming back!

    Anonymous #1

  2. I didn't grow up in an addictive environment, other problems but not addiction- but definitely have tendencies you describe here- I have a need for acceptance, approval, self pity. At first I was going to say I can't see why that is selfish...but I think I 'get it' now. The trouble is no one is perfect and I am sure you are a whole better person than the majority of the population.Is it necessary to iron out every flaw that we think we have? Sorry I didn't answer your question...your posts always open up a whole lot of questions for me. ;0)

  3. exactly...I like to make others happy...and seek approval...however this time around (hopefully) I will also be thinking about what makes ME happy and remembering that I am someone too and not forgetting who I am, who I want to be, etc.

  4. For me it's a balancing act. It's selfish to act purely for myself. And it is selfish to act purely for the approval of others.

    Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. My grounded self acts because an action brings me into right relationship with myself and my higher power.

  5. I think that once a co-dependent always a co-dependent except now we have the program and are more and more aware of our deeply in-grained, knee-jerk
    behavior, have accepted it for what it is and know we can make changes -- or not. Or give it up entirely to our HP and do nothing until moved by our HP to do something. We also know we have choices and the benefit of other's experience, are learning how to stop and think before we commit what we may think is an 'unselfish' action.

    I too was taught to think more highly of others than I did myself from an early age. I think that some of that teaching was and is good but that it would have been better had we learned Balance; that there are occasions when the right thing to do is to do for others and that there are other times when the right thing to do is to care for oneself.

    I shudder to think at some of the 'unselfish good' I did unto others just for the sake of my ego.

  6. Great post Syd. I am new to reading your blog and am grateful you are sharing your journey. And I certainly can relate to your experience. It was an awakening to realize that my "giving" nature was motivated by my own need to feel "ok". I could only have seen this through my inventory and sharing it with my sponsor. It IS something I struggle with, some days harder than others. I have found that when I am feeling anxious and formulating ways to be nice to the person I am obsessing about, that feeling has become a trigger for me to read my inventory. The second I see it my motivation becomes so clear and I remember that I am recovering and usually will make a better choice. It is okay to be nice to people but my motivation is paramount. My sponsor helps me with checking that too. I am reminded that this is simply how I am affected by the disease, it isn't that I am bad or a mistake, just knowing that I am still learning to do things differently in recovery makes it easier.
    I like that you wrote about meeting your own needs because that is the crux of it isn't it? If I am meeting my own needs, I have no need to "love" you into doing it for me.

  7. Syd,in order to keep it you must give it away.the selfish person that does not is a train wreck waiting to happen,in my view.

  8. man we are connected though aren't we!! i was just like you said, i did for others all the time. so when i read that self centered ego was at the core of my disease, i really had a problem with that!! i thought, i am not self centered!! I did EVERYTHING for everyone else but me i did everything and wasn't appreciated!! How dare you suggest i am self centered!! I stole for others , i went to jail for others!! the list goes on and on..

    and i don't know when it happened but at some point in my early recovery i found out i was truly self centered and egotistical.

    the same is true today i find my balance in service work. that is where my healthy relationships are and that is where i most check my motives and do His will and not My will. that is where i am at peace with myself. the rest falls into place when i simply take it with me.

  9. I don't have too much of a problem with strangers and doing good. It's my own family that I can't separtate myself from them. AlAnon has helped me a lot with that. But that does not mean I don't do anything for them. On the contrary..I do out of love, instead of obligation. And I'm better able to know which it is because I have learned to trust my feelings.

  10. Syd: well said and I can add nothing.

    I think some "in recovery" think so much of themselves in their recovered states that their resulting narcissism makes them intolerable, at least to me. I notice a lot of them hang together so it must be more tolerable to themselves.

    What I learned in AA is to "think of myself less." What that means is that my best days come when my constant thoughts are of God and others. What that has afforded me as a result is an amazing life. On a really great day, I don't even notice me - like, I'm not in the room. Were I to look for me, I would, for a fleeting second, see someone who's undeniably happy - but then, a moment later, I would see either that someone was happier than me or some other reason to doubt my own happiness.

    That's the sickness I know.

    Blessings and aloha...

  11. Really great post today, Syd. I really enjoy reading your posts and learning from you. Your insights have helped me tremendously so thank you!

  12. I'm very new to this - only been in Al-Anon a year - but I still have to take baby steps and be very elementary and say, can this person do this him/herself? Then I let them. I stop there.
    I don't see that the codependency is going away at all for me. But I do see that I am more aware and so my feelings are getting hurt ALOT less.
    My next part to work on is to do things for myself for me. And let others do the same.
    Thanks for asking these questions. I have really enjoyed reading others comments, lots of ESH on your blog here, as always!

  13. I don't have anything to impart here, Syd, but I wanted you to know I read the post and found it interesting. You are an honest and good soul.


  14. I think it's critical to know the difference between being self centered and centering on self. If we do not have a healthy concept of our self worth then it seems that it would be impossible to give to others.

  15. This week I've been thinking about the obsessing about my frame of mind or others as a block between myself and HP which is ideally my focus. When I notice my mind dwelling on myself or others I give it the 'leave it' command and direct an apology to HP and my perspective is improved.

    That might sound harsh but spinning the same stuff around my mind is not good for me and I blow things out of proportion.

  16. As CoDA is my primary program I have to double dip, especially after reading the comments, I just want to make the point that by nature, we humans survive better in packs than separately in isolation. Community living does require adjustments to behavior etc for the greater good (sound familiar?!) which makes practicing boundaries part of the human condition.

  17. Hubby and I always say that codependency is trading respect for approval. Through working the twelve steps I develop self respect and self approval. Very good post!

  18. I’ve had to learn to double check myself. Before I do something for someone else, I try to check on why I’d really want to do it and how I’d feel if my efforts are not recognized in some way by the person I’m doing it for. If I honestly can say, I want to do it whether they thank me or not, whether they make a big deal out of it or not.... those are things I check. And I think I’ve really begun doing some things just because I enjoy doing them. Another test I sometimes put things to, measure against, I whether I’m trying to do something that someone else can do for themselves. If it is truly something someone else probably should be doing for themselves, so that they learn or are able to feel good about themselves for doing it...I try to leave it to them to do it. Let’s face it, my first instinct may always be to want to do things for others. I’d probably run myself to the poor house, buying things I think other people would want. And I've certainly run myself to exhaustion doing so much for others. So I have to learn to stop and think before I do those things. If its something they should probably learn to save their own money for, I should leave it alone. If its something they will value and take care of more if they buy it themselves, I should probably leave it alone. If its something lower on their priority list than it is on my priority list, I should probably leave it alone. It is often a relief to do this. I’m much less busy doing other people’s things and buying other people’s wants. Now I can have time to learn to enjoy my own interests and desires. I’m not always getting involved in ridiculous situations where I’ve maybe slighted someone because I overdid for someone else. Or did something for someone that takes a ton of planning to pull off. Or have to face those expressions of confusion about why I would have done something for someone. Now I'm learning to let it go, not build a situation to create resentment. I can let it go before I create resentment! I’m not perfect, but I’m glad I’m learning this new perspective. Thank You, God! And thank you, Syd, for this blog. I look forward to it and learn from your experiences and thoughts.

  19. Hi, Syd. Your comment on my blog said you would write about simple things this weekend and help me get the word out on your blog. Will you please post it early on Saturday morning, with the link to my blog? You have so many followers, and the more posts I get, the more money my family sends to Haiti.

    I'm trying to think of others today instead my own small self. It makes me feel better immediately. A sure-fire way to get out of self and stinking thinking.

  20. I think you're right Syd. It never goes away but the awareness is key. Giving someone a ride home from church because their car broke down is a good deed. Following up to make sure they got the car and are getting it fixed? none of my business.

  21. It took me a few years into Al-Anon til I realized how my caring for others was really selfishness to the extreme. On the outside I looked like a martyr!! (and felt like one too ;).

    But in reality, I was doing for them so they would love me and not leave me. I didnt know others could love ME, not the do-gooder me.

    I balance with my internal
    "Gut-mometer". IS my gut saying my next action is motivated by love and not obligation, and will it harm anyone, especially me?

    I do when I can, if I can, but not when I cant and if I shouldnt.

    Hope that makes sense. and thanks for another great post!

  22. instinctively i too rather give and think of others. that is co-dependency. i'm aware of it now though, so i can curb it when it gets out of hand, but i don't think it'll ever go away completely. i think its important to know why you are doing something. if the reason is right, surely the action will be too...

  23. When I was still drinking I thought only of myself but since I've been sober I think more of others.

  24. Everyday I am looking at my motives of why I do what I do. I am always aware that if I do, it's not for me. I don't try to fix anyone. This I am learning. We had a meeting where someone spoke up and said they only have until July to live. My immediate feeling was I wanted to lay hands on him. Then I slapped myself, who do I think I am? All I can do is pray that God/HP/Universe provides for him with just what is needed in his life.

  25. For me, when I start my day with gratitude, quiet time, prayer, and meditation then I am centered and serene. This is the place where I can help or give or be there for others with my whole heart. It is a daily thing with me and so easy to slip. Vigilance and practice.


  26. You described me and my husband pretty acurately...I thought of me and he thought of me.

    It's been just as hard for him to accept me doing things for him as for me to learn to think of doing things for him.

    You know those little daily things that he would for me in a heartbeat and I just took for bringing me a cup of tea out of thoughtfulness. Now, when he wants something and I get up to get it he often protests.

    One day I told him that he was robbing me of the joy of serving him when he wanted to get up and get whatever it was himself when I was more than willing to do it for him. He got instantly teary and accepted my offer.

    It's work for both of us to change long held behaviours and we continue to work on it.

    Great post.


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