Codependents just want you to be happy. They want to fix all your boo-boo’s and kiss all your ouchies. Make everything sunny in the garden so you can be happy, happy, happy.
But it’s not as simple as that. On the surface, codependent “fixing” seems so kind, so empathic….so unselfish. But is it that simple? Is it truly that straightforward?
Does the codependents’ mandate to fix and rescue stem from unconditional, agape love for you…or is it because they can’t be happy, happy, happy unless everyone around them is first happy, happy, happy?
In the end, the Hell of Perpetual Happiness that was forced onto me by codependency made me HATE my own negative emotions. I don’t know what to do about them. I’m filled with shame for being unhappy about anything. It is emotional torture to undergo the pain, the guilt, the frustration of not knowing what to do with a negative emotion, thanks to decades of codependent fixing and rescuing that made me HATE my own emotions.
Neutral is Not Okay
“You change,” my husband told me. “Whenever [the codependent] is around, you change. You get extra smiley. Extra happy. Extra hyper. I watch you work yourself up into a happy lather before they even arrive.” Oh, how I welcomed his neutral, outside observation. Looking back, I realized how true it was.
Around an extreme codependent, you can never let your hair down. It’s not good enough to be bland, monotone, neutral, relaxed. Heck no! You gotta be happy, smiley, over-the-top cheerful all the time. How I remember the nasty look they sent my way when, in a moment of extreme business and fatigue, I answered a question in a monotone.
So why is this? The answer came to me one day when my codependent asked me to fold a load of towels. “Okay,” I replied. My tone was neutral. Not excited, but not negative either. It just was.
Well! The codependent told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to fix my attitude, blah, blah, blah.
Then it hit me. They felt guilty for asking me to do anything. They were assuaging their guilt by demanding that I be happy about everything. By forcing me into unnatural cheerfulness they were attempting to sooth their own false guilt for asking someone else to actually work. The responsibility for keeping the codependent happy by being perpetually happy yourself is a very painful and unfair burden to foist on anyone. That’s why I see codependency as being extremely selfish.
I learned to cope by acting out a charade in private. I’d grit my teeth in a huge false grin and say to myself, “I’d love to fold these towels. It’s such a privilege. I can’t thank you enough for this thrilling opportunity!” Might not have been nice, but it helped diffuse my anger at the constant pressure to be happy, happy, happy.
Negative Is Not Okay
While I realize that a codependent trying to sooth, calm and comfort may appear kindly, there’s a darker side to their ministrations.
They’re sending the message that
having negative emotions is not allowed.
It’s not okay.
I’d call that INVALIDATION.
There’s a semblance of empathy as codependents comfort and coo. But when they move on to the rescuing stage of the operation, that’s when it turns ugly. By rescuing, they’re basically invalidating our emotions. Oh, they suggest all kinds of mind games. Different ways of looking at the situation. And if they’re religious, there’s a fair amount of preaching and sermonizing too. But boil ’em down and the message is, “You shouldn’t be having that emotion. If you’d only do XYZ, you wouldn’t be having it. Now snap out of it!” Like I said, invalidation.
It’s bad enough to feel the original pain, but the need to escape that emotion is even worse. Wouldn’t it be better if we could wallow in how we feel, experience it fully, drink deeply at the cup of pain with no shame or guilt!?
We can’t wallow at all. The guilt is palpable. We cast about in every direction trying frantically to escape the pain we’re NOT supposed to have. This frantic need to escape our pain is actually much worse than the original “invalid” pain.
For years, I’ve sought the validation I needed online. And you can always find it, especially on message boards and blogs where writers like me spill our proverbial guts. But it’s helpfulness is limited.
Oh, how I admire people who accept their emotions without guilt. It must be amazing! They wallow in their feelings without demurring or pretending. I often see it in kids who came from large families, where they grew up au natural, without too much codependent parental inference. Their connection with their emotions is visceral. Raw. Direct. Immediate.
They don’t beat around the bush. Make no bones about what they’re feeling. They just let it all out, without filter and without guilt. I aspire to that kind of emotional honesty and acceptance!