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Codependent Decision Marking: Damned if you Do, Damned if you Don’t

“Follow your heart” people advise when you’re struggling with a difficult decision. “What will give you peace?” they prompt. Aye, but that’s the rub. As codependents, peace lies precisely nowhere.

If we choose the path that we secretly want, we risk displeasing other people and that will make us miserable. If we choose the path that will please others, we’ll also be miserable. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

It seems like an impossible situation. But perhaps not all misery is created equal. Perhaps there’s lack-of-peace and then there’s lack-of-peace. Similar emotions yet different.

Take a moment to remember the last time you were faced with a difficult decision, particularly one where your decision was sure to displease one or more people. People whose good opinion mattered to you because, let’s face it, as codependents our self-esteem lives or dies with other peope’s good opinion of us.

Some of the most difficult decisions I’ve faced were…

  • Leaving my IT career and over-worked, stressed out coworkers of eight long years to fend for themselves
  • Leaving my cult-like family and going No Contact

In both cases, I faced severely disappointing people whose good opinion I absolutely relied upon for my self-esteem. My husband encouraged me to do what would bring me peace. Good advice, perhaps, but advice that made exactly and precisely no sense to me at all. I was miserable in my family and job yet I also knew I’d be miserable and guilty if I left them. I was damned either way, lacking in peace either way, guilty either way. Only recently I’ve lately realized that the misery and the guilt have different flavors.

As codependents, false guilt is our old “friend.” We’ve lived with it all our lives. It’s our normal, an uncomfortable normal, but normal nonetheless. You could almost say that we’re addicted to guilt.

But the heart knows. Or rather, the conscience. There’s a subtle difference between the true guilt of breaking a moral coder versus the false guilt of, well, merely displeasing someone else’s idea for how our life story should read.

Stories are important things. When I was a child, my favorite time was Saturday night. Dad would sit at the kitchen table, a massive bowl of popcorn lovingly embraced in one arm while he told us stories. Often, they were stories from his childhood or years as a teenage athlete. Sometimes he told stories about the Civil War or World War II inspired from his passion for reading history books. I hung on every story he told. Stories are so important, that the Smithsonian Institute has an exhibit simply called American Stories. Historical societies are all about collecting the real-life stories that define who we are as a nation and as individuals.

Difficult life decisions, and the inevitable false guilt and misery, come when the story we are writing for our lives diverges from the story our family and friends are writing for themselves, for us and for the family unit.

When I began writing Narcissism Meets Normalcy, that’s exactly what happened. My family had written one story about our family for almost forty years. Perfect couple! No fights! Perfect daughter! Happy, happy, happy. I dared to contradict that Happy Fiction by telling the true, behind-the-scenes story. Worse yet, I began to behave in accordance with the True Story instead of the Happy Fiction, i.e. I walked away from them all.

When you think about it in terms of Fiction vs Honesty, that takes a lot of the guilt out of decision making. How can you fault yourself by behaving in accordance with reality!? There’s a word for that: sanity.

But even going with reality and following your true desires doesn’t necessarily bring peace. Those who say it does are making things oh! so simplistic! But perhaps, like guilt, there are different kinds of peace.

Forget for just one blissful moment about other people’s Story for your life and ask yourself, “Am I happy having made the unpopular decision?”. I hope you are…because I am. Were I to entirely forget about Other People and stop clairvoyantly imagining their expectations, demands, disappointment, anger, yada, yada, yada in me, I’d be really rather happy and peaceful.

Now I’ll let you in on a little secret: You’re not nearly as important to other people’s happiness as they have led you to believe. To your face, they may make a hullabaloo because you’re not doing exactly and precisely what they want you to do. But behind your back, they’re probably living quite happily themselves. Both I and others have realized that other people are able to live quite nicely without us, even if they raise Hell claiming otherwise. We’re simply not as important to anyone else’s happiness as we imagine.

Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, there was a woman who considered herself to have the God-given responsibility for being her mother’s emotional support. Almost every day they yackety-yack-yack-yacked on the phone. Her mother complained, belly-ached, victim-played and gossiped about her son, her daughter-in-law and her husband. Triangulation galore! This led her daughter to naturally assume she was something of the Golden Child (or would have if she’d known that term.)

Years passed. Then her mother’s husband died. Suddenly, everything was reversed and this woman realized she’d been the Scapegoat all along. It was actually her brother who was the Golden Child and probably had been the entire time. Her mother’s lack of empathy, since her childhood, should have been her clue. Suddenly, she realized her utter lack of importance. Instead of trying to make her Mommy happy, she should’ve “leaved and cleaved” to her husband only and built a life solely with him, letting Mommy to stand on her own two feet, emotionally speaking. She’d been played for a sap!

That goes for everyone who tries to convince us how irreplaceable and essential we are to their lives in an effort to control our decision making. Bosses, coworkers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors, friends. If they really loved you, they’d encourage you to make the decision that will make you happy and peaceful. Full stop.

I hope this article has helped with your decision making processes.
If you liked what you read, please visit my website to learn more: Thanks!

Codependent Decision Marking: Damned if you Do, Damned if you Don’t

Lenora Thompson

Lenora Thompson is a syndicated Huffington Post freelance writer and food blogger. Her readers call her the "Edward Snowden" and "Wikileaks" of narcissism because of her no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners approach to writing about narcissism. “Narcissism Meets Normalcy” is the real-life, ongoing story of her healing journey from being held “hostage” by a multi-generational, cult-like narcissistic family. It's gritty and real, bloody and bruised, humorous and sarcastic. Lenora Thompson considers herself a “whistleblower,” shining a spotlight on narcissistic abuse so others can also claim their freedom and experience healing. To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael's heroic battle with Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to read her writings about food, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2018). Codependent Decision Marking: Damned if you Do, Damned if you Don’t. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Oct 2018
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