Opinions Are Like Assholes - Codependent Edition
I have a confession.
I have exactly three flaws:
My eyes are almost *too* blue;
I’m, like, sort of *too* great;
And I have a frustratingly embarrassing habit of not letting people grow and change.
Obviously, on paper at least, I want the people I love to live their best lives, and to continue to search, seek, and attain all of the things that bring them true and sustainable happiness. I understand, again in theory, that we all make mistakes on our quest, and that each bump in the road only brings us further along the path…
Or whatever it is that I’m supposed to think.
The reality is that it’s really hard for me to allow people in my life to move forward.
I know what this sounds like. I really, really know.
It’s that I think there might be few things more gut wrenching than thinking you know better than someone you love. It's a helplessness. And there's no worse feeling than helplessness.
Well, I should say, I have yet to experience a feeling worse than helplessness....and I certainly hope it stays that way.
Being constipated on vacation might be worse, I'll give you that one.
The feeling of knowing - just knowing - that someone you care for is making a mistake can make the best of us crazy with anxiety. You feel that you might as well have a crystal ball, because you know the future, and if they would just listen to you....just this once....
That helpless feeling is a cocktail of desperation and anger and fear and even a longing that you can't quite put your finger on. It'll make you queasy and you lose sleep, then you'll end up eating an entire large DeFazio's pizza and stay up all night thinking about how you can fix everything. I speak from experience.
Hi, I'm Erica....and I'm a fixer.
Well, at least that's what the business cards I print once a year say.
The reality (when I get real and come to the tiny baby Jesus about myself) is that I've never actually fixed anything in my life, and my persistent worry and frustration about other people's actions has lead to nothing but indigestion and tears. Not necessarily in that order.
I think the sad and brutal truth is that when I find myself in the middle of being frustrated at someone I love’s decisions, it’s because all I really want to do is cuddle right up to my codependency. I’m always the big spoon.
I guess I can’t speak for you, but I’ve known myself almost my whole life, and this Broad knows how much I like habits. I like the comfort of the familiar, even if the familiar is that someone around me is a mess in my overly judgmental eyes.
There’s something very soothing when you believe you are the voice of reason. It’s the same kind of comfort that I get from a box of donuts: cloyingly sweet sometimes; a fleeting fullness; unsatisfying.
I’m thankful that I’m learning in my old, old, crotchety, old silver years that I don’t even like being that person any more. I see, most of the time, that I don't get to berate someone for their immaturity, then actively try to keep them there. And I see too that there’s something so much deeper when you get to look your favorite people in the face and say, “Me too. I’ve been here, in a different way, and I know how hard this must be. What do you need?”
That’s different from, “Jesus. You are the same person you were ten years ago. You’re impulsive and pig-headed. You’ll never change and I’m going to have to clean this mess up.”
Sometimes our sentences aren’t that harsh. Sometimes it sounds more like, “Honey. You’re not thinking...again. You’re being very selfish with your choices. This sounds like the old you. And I didn’t like the old you. It’s time you stop being selfish.”
Sometimes people make choices that negatively affect us directly, sure. That’s when we have hard conversations and set boundaries.
But what if we’re forcing ourselves into the crosshairs of someone’s choice which would normally not affect us, and then we’re crucifying them for crushing our hopes and dreams? What if they are trying to articulate to us that our opinion is not valid or warranted, and that we are very much damaging the relationship with our 'tude?
That’s the part I’ve had to really reflect on lately.
Almost ninety-nine percent of the time people's choices have absolutely nothing to do with me.
It’s ME who is making a mountain out of a molehill most days.
It’s MY expectations that aren’t being met….no matter how valiant and morally just I’m telling myself they are.
What if the person I love is making a choice, and it truly has nothing to do with me?
I mean, sure, they might ask for help some day. Or maybe need a shoulder to cry on when things go tits up. I think that’s when I usually say, “I told you so.”
It’s time for some hard questions.
Am I not a safe person for the people I value so much?
Did I make this person feel judged and scolded when she called me and wanted to have an open conversation?
Am I holding this person hostage using both my love and my judgements as a codependent prison?
Am I using sensational language that is meant to elicit a reaction? That way I can say, “See? I told you that you’re unreasonable.”
Am I making demands of this person that make me feel better, but that actually have no consequence on my everyday life?
The answers make me really sad.
My reality is that I hold very tightly to the control I believe I have on my life, that includes the behaviors of everyone around me. I expect that I'll be listened to. I expect that all major life decisions, and at least half of the minor ones, will be run by me first. I expect to know where all my people are at all times, and when someone makes plans without my knowledge or consent, I am furious. I have been known to withhold all communications until that person can see for themselves what they’ve done wrong.
<I feel the strong desire to disclaim myself by saying that I have paid an incredible amount of money in therapy, coaching, and white wine to change these habits, but it’s worth talking in the present tense because I’m secretly a very dramatic middle aged gay man from San Francisco who just #canteven with his neighbor putting up that hideous above ground pool. ABOVE GROUND, CHRISTOPHER? You might as well just drive a stake through my heart, because you’ve killed me.>
Where was I?
My expectations of the way things should happen cloud my ability to not judge the way things are actually happening. You dig?
Just because something is different than what we want for someone else, it doesn't make it wrong. My way is not necessarily the “right” way. And it is a damn shame that I have actually told someone that it was. It’s worse that I’ve told them that my way is the right way, and then shamed them into thinking that they’re ruining everyone’s lives by thinking anything else.
Letting people grow and change and make big life choices without us is so hard to watch. We have no structure to allow people to grow up. There are no rites of passage anymore.
What do we have in our world that allows us to mature? We don’t have ceremonies that signify that we’ve made it, so we have to depend on life events to get us there. College. Weddings. Babies. Downloading Tinder. We need these trying life events to help us mark changes in our lives.
And because we don’t have a tribe any more to help us mark this crap with ceremony, we do the best we can with what we have. Sometimes it’s a big fat Greek wedding. Sometimes it’s one at the clerk’s office. There is no such thing as the “right way” when it comes to something so subjective. What feels right to me is usually the opposite of the people I love the most.
I downloaded Tinder on the toilet one day when I was ready to start dating again.
No pomp. No circumstance. It may not be what someone else would do. Hell, it may not be how I dreamed it would be when I was little.
But I have a very good group of safe people I could talk to, and because they keep their judgment in their other jeans, I even felt like I could finally hear their opinions.
Now, this isn't to say that we shouldn't give our two cents when our experience warrants it. I've lived a full and weird life, and I have a lot of crap that I am more than happy to share with anyone who has a pulse, and many people who don't.
It's the way we go about it. It's the vice grip with which we hold our advice for ransom. You can have my opinion and worldly knowledge, but at the cost of having to field my attitude when my warnings aren't heeded.
What we don't see is what dictating expectations for other's behaviors does to our people.
We don’t see how trust is a delicate tug o’ war, and is removed just as easily as it is built. We’re so busy not trusting the people around us to live their lives that we can’t see that they’re losing trust in us every time we do this crap to them.
I think we add so much of ourselves into places we might not belong that we truly feel betrayed when things take another course. But what about the betrayal of not being heard?
That’s the one. That’s the feeling that is worse than both constipation and helplessness.
Listen, we get to have gut feelings about things, and we get to share those. We get to share those because our people are safe and are holding space for how we feel. But we have to just admit that we’re no where close to doing the same for them.
I’m here to tell you that my gut feelings have never been right once when I’m feeling uptight and anxious about something. Sharing how you feel is never easy, but there is a peace when you come at it with a lot of space, I promise.
Here’s what I’ve learned after becoming, like, *so* enlightened: there are so few things in life that are that big of a deal. I don’t have to cry wolf every time someone calls and says they’re doing something that I perceive as crazy.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to say, “Wow, this is big - how are you? You must be exhausted with having to carry all of this? Not gonna lie, it’s outside of my norm - you know me - but let me readjust while I listen.”
Then repeat the mantra I say every day after checking all of my social media in bed: “Suck it up, man, grow up and either help out or get the hell out of the way. You’re doing no one any good being such a jerk.”