Thursday, July 15, 2010

Distorted thinking

I seem to be posting a lot of heavy stuff this week.  I do plan to lighten up for the weekend. Yesterday's post brought about some good comments.  I want to address one by Mary LA who wrote: "But what about the distorted thinking and voice of the codependent who is obsessed with that alcoholism? That makes me equally chilled. Those who don't want the alcoholic/addict to get better."

I think that co-dependency is something that starts at a very young age.  It probably starts with repression of feelings in which a child has to "walk on egg shells" around a dysfunctional family member.  For me, that was my dad.  My mother covered up and denied there was anything wrong. So there was really not much honesty in feelings or trust within the family.  Everything seemed to be "swept under the rug."

Consequently, the stress mounts and the child learns to be anxious.  And along with the stress and anxiety, some unhealthy ways of survival are learned.  One of those ways to survive is to deny one's own feelings.  So instead of basing self-worth on my own feelings and actions, I began to base my self-worth on the opinions, needs, and moods of the person I wanted to please.  In my case, it was my father. 

As Mary noted in her comment, the co-dependent person may actually feel more depressed and unhappy once the alcoholic is sober.  I think here of Lois who was so angry that Bill W. was attending AA meetings. She finally threw her shoe at him in a fit of rage and yelled, "Damn your old meetings." 

This type of crazy thinking, fueled by anger, was what got me into Al-Anon.  I knew that I was angry, empty, worn out, and emotionally bankrupt.  I was using very unhealthy thinking to relate to other people.  These included:

Denial--I deny my own needs and feelings at the expense of others.  I don't know what I feel and can change or minimize my feelings in an instant.  I can be who you want me to be.   

Low Self Esteem-- What you think of me is more important than what I think of myself.  I don't feel worthwhile or lovable.  I am afraid to say what I want to do because it may not be what you want. I judge myself fiercely and come up short.  I feel undeserving of compliments and nice gestures. I give sex when looking for love.  I am loyal to the point that I stay in destructive relationships.  I don't assert my own values because I want to avoid the anger and rejection of others.  I am overly sensitive to what others feel and adopt their mood as my own.

Control-- I resent it when my offers to help you are refused.  I use sex to get your acceptance and love. I offer suggestions and advice without being asked.  I have a need to feel needed before I can have a relationship. I go overboard with gifts and help for those I care about, thinking that the gift will extract a promise from you.  I think that others aren't capable of taking care of themselves.  I tell others how they should think and feel.  I offer suggestions and advice without being asked.

So the distorted thinking of the co-dependent in the relationship is very sick.  The behaviors that are adopted from living around alcoholism are self-defeating and hurtful.  We learn not to feel, not to express our opinions, and not to trust. It is only if we are lucky enough to get to such a low point that we are isolated, feel unloved and alone, then there is a chance that we will seek help through a 12 step program such as Al-Anon or ACOA.  If it hadn't been for my wife's alcoholism and my own sickness, as well as God's grace, I would still be a walking shell.  I am grateful to be where I am today--in recovery and still moving forward with a deepening understanding of myself and my Higher Power.


  1. and i would say we are grateful for you as well...your thoughts prick even those of us outside of the touch of alcoholism...

  2. great post - I could identify with everything you said. My codependency started at a very young age since both my parents are alcoholics. We had to "walk on egg shells" around my dad, too. I still struggle with anxiety today in all areas of my life as a result of childhood stress and its subsequent negative effects on my nervous system and coping behaviors. I denied my feelings, what you thought of me is what I thought of me, I used guilt, praise, anger, and various other manipulation techniques to try to change your behavior,and I used sex in an attempt to gain acceptance and love. Because of Al-Anon, today I get to feel my feelings and I am learning how to express them lovingly and honestly without fear of what you may think of me afterwards. Because of Al-Anon, I waste less time and energy on trying to control other people's behavior. Because of Al-Anon I can better accept myself and others right where we are. This denial of feelings, low self-esteem, fear of what others think of me, not accepting and trying to change other people's behaviors, are all stuff I used to drink over and because of AA I don't have to do that anymore either. It's ironic (although not unique) how I started off as a "codependent" only. Then after I became an alcoholic, I was a person on whom others became codependent (while still being a codependent myself.) I was a double loser, for sure. So, I can see why they refer to those of us that are active in both Al-Anon and AA, "double winners" (smiles)

  3. Thanks Syd, I enjoy the way you set this out -- I'm busy reading Karen Horney -- from whose work on 'neurotic needs' the theory of codepoendency derives -- and I may post something on my own experience with this. 'Emabling' is a highly complex issue -- not unlike denial -- and the ambivalence felt by partners and family members towards the alcoholic in recovery is something I see quite often.

    I do know how much unhealthy 'satisfaction' I derived from my alcoholic mother's dependence on me over many years and how I enjoyed trying to outwit and control her drinking as if I was the adult. Unlearning those dynamics has not been easy.

  4. Excellent post on distorted thinking, Syd. It's a heavy topic, yes, but an important one

  5. You always give me a lot to think about, Syd. You face things head-on and I love that.

  6. Interesting post, Syd. Thank you.

    Have a terrific weekend.

  7. Before I went online and read much about codependency, I was not attending recovery meetings and did not know too much about them. At the time my then boyfriend who became my hubby was attending twelve step meetings for the addictions in his life. There were times I was pretty sick and tired of his going to hang out with those people and then go to meetings. Then one day I announced that I would be attending a meeting for me and then we were off to the races. It was not smooth sailing but it was a progression.

  8. Hmmmmm - - - This blog sounds like a very 'potent' 4th step to me! Provokes much thought. Thanks, Syd.

    Anonymous #1

  9. I always found Syd when I was younger everything was safe and in control both my mum and dad were firm non drinkers.
    I did everything my dad wanted me to do, went to uni to please him here i discovered drink and even solvents and went crazy
    got lots of low paid jobs still in one today but feel like i only really woke up and started living so recently and its good learning have a relationship with my higher power...
    sorry just rambling loved your post syd made me wonder why i ended up the way i did i had a good childhood just messed my life up after

  10. That was amazing. So was the post prior to that one. WOW! That is all I can say. You nailed it.

  11. yep, I can relate to most of that Syd... I discovered some interesting things about myself during my time in al-anon

  12. "I am overly sensitive to what others feel and adopt their mood as my own."
    This is one area I am trying to work on in my day at a time
    Detachment, oh it takes time to unravel the past behaviors

  13. Good post, never quite felt at home in al-anon, then discovered coda and things made more sense so I really enjoyed this codependency post - thanks!

  14. And you just described me perfectly. I'm working on it, and being away from the alcoholic helps, but I still struggle with some of those old patterns with emotions. For example, anger is ALWAYS followed by guilt. I can hold onto resentment, but I can't hold on to anger. Here is an example of my illness: My ex gambles and is unable to keep an apartment or house, or even pay rent as a roommate for very long. He has had 6 residences in the past 4 years. This week has been traumatic due to another eviction and a Constable showing up when my children were there. I am angry. I am angry that my children have a front-row seat for such madness. And yet, the co-dependent part of me feels guilty for being angry, guilty for having a home and a stable life, guilty for thinking ill of him, guilty for once again having to explain to my children that their father is an alcoholic, compulsive gambler because that might seem like bashing him. I should be angry, but I don't know how.


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