Self-Control is Not Only For the Abuser

By Dr. Irene

Blaming is a big issue these days. Particularly in our litigious society, “somebody” is always to blame. That somebody “made” you do something is common usage, and it underlies the way most of us think and act. But we don’t have to. Unless we are litigating attorneys, blaming makes little sense.Have you met Kristin and Pete yet? If you haven’t, you don’t need to go there now (unless you want to). The long and short of it: Kristin is a young lady who loves Pete. Both are recovering addicts. Both are codependent. Both are angry. Pete is angrier and is into control. He is great at provoking Kristin. She doesn’t notice the provocation. But she does get angry. Very angry. So angry, in fact, that she acts out. She can be really, really rotten towards Pete: loud, nasty, accusing, etc., etc., and she can stay that way for days, even when he is trying his very best.

Too bad she reacts to his provocation. She just makes things worse and gives Pete the opportunity to look good – since she looks so bad. Kristin cannot control Pete, but she has options regarding her own behavior. She can blame him for making her…

bulletYell and scream at himbulletCry and feel sorry for herself over her predicament.bulletDefend and explain herself, which will do little but put her in a “one down” position.bulletWaste her time and energy complaining to anybody who will listen about how mean and rotten Pete is.bulletAvoid him and be icy cold.bulletShe can get a migraine and lie in bed.bulletEtc., etc., etc.

Or, she could realize that though she has no power over him, she can control herself:

bulletShe can calmly acknowledge Pete’s feelings, whatever they are, own her own behavior, and make whatever request or demand she wants to make. For example, she could say, “I understand you are very angry with me, and given my recent behavior, I can’t blame you. But I need you to stop doing (whatever) because it is hurting me. Let me know when you are ready to talk.”

To do this, Kristin has to put the lid on her own impulsivity and turn on her self-awareness cap. Then she has to articulate her request. Good assertion skills are not inborn. They are learned, and Kristin, like most people, has yet to cultivate them. This is a lot of work, but well worth it.  Notice that much time and energy will be spent figuring out what to say, and how to say it. She is more likely to get Pete’s cooperation if she does than she is if she engages in the “easier” acting-out stuff mentioned earlier.

While Kristin is the codependent victim in her relationship with Pete, she is not off the hook with self-control. The codependent needs to cultivate self-control skills every bit as much as the abuser. She needs to control her tendency to act out in response to Pete’s provocation. Reacting is the easy way out. It feels temporarily “good.” There is a sense of relief and vindication. But it doesn’t work. Where is the relief when all that has been accomplished is an exacerbation of the situation?

Taking control is hard work. First, Kristin has to recognize that she is acting out. Then she has tostop it and sit still long enough to chill out. Once she is calm, she needs to systematically examine the specifics of what is bothering her. Then, she needs to figure out what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. This is not easy! Especially when you are not used to doing it. Think of it as learning a foreign language, and be prepared to spend as much energy learning assertion as you would learning Swahili.

Each time you blame somebody for your behavior, you give away your personal power.


Looks easier said than done. True. But, with practice and persistence, self-control skills are   very do-able.

What gives the Pete the right to provoke Kristin? The issue is not whether Pete has a right to provoke. The issue is that he does it. This is clearly not OK. If Pete could help it, he would not do it. The question is how can Kristin best deal with the problem she has in her relationship with the man she loves.

Why should Kristin put up with the provocation? She shouldn’t. Kind of hard to walk out though when you love the guy and you are working on working it out.

It’s not fair that Kristin has to put up with Pete’s verbal abuse. No, it is not fair. Life is not fair. Life is what you make it.

Golden Rule: Spend 5% of the time moaning and groaning over how awful/unfair/whatever your problem is and the other 95% figuring out how you are going to deal with it.

Wouldn’t it be easier if she just left him? Easier? Sure. But there are some mitigating factors:

bulletIf Kristin doesn’t get her act together with Pete, she will carry her lack of control with her everywhere she goes. She needs to get a handle on herself for her own benefit!bulletAlso, Pete, though angry and controlling, is working hard at fixing it. And doing pretty well even though he still falls into his usual traps a lot. Besides, she loves him.

Moral of the story: Its not only the angry controller who needs self-control skills. The codependent needs them just as much. It is about taking your power.


Courtesy of Irene Matiatos, Ph.D., copyrite.gif (84 bytes)1998-99 The material on this website may be distributed freely for non-commercial or educational purposes provided that author credit is given. For commercial distribution, please contact the author at

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