by Dr. Irene Matiatos
When we talk about “codependent,” we are commonly referring to the victim: that poor person who does not take care of them self, and who allows other to take advantage. What is less recognized is that the angry person is codependent too! Not terribly different from the codependence of the victim, the angry person doesn’t take care of him or her self either. Burney points out that this form of co-dependence has been called “classical counter-dependence.”
I received the following email from “Mark.” Originally I was going to publish his account in the “My Story” section. But Mark’s letter was so insightful and candid – as well as illustrative of the angry person’s codependence, I decided to make it a feature article. Mark’s observation of his thoughts, feelings, and behavior personify important aspects of anger addiction and codependency – the loss of the soul. -Dr. Irene
Mark’s Email & Dr. Irene’s Comments
Date: August 31st
To: Dr. Irene
“I ran across this site by accident, I was going somewhere else. I am glad I saw it, however. It has left me with a knot in my stomach.
You see I am aware that I have been a very subtle verbal abuser. Would still be probably except that I stay away from relationships now days. I don’t want to destroy any one else. Your site opened my eyes to some of the things I have done, sometimes not even realizing what I was doing. Here’s a story!
I had a lady I was pursuing for years, 9 years. Never got very far. She’d be off with some one else. I’d give up. She’d be free, I’d start pursuing again. At one point in a fit of self pity I promised myself that if I ever managed to get very close to her, I’d really give her a kick; let her feel what it felt like.
Finally, about 4 years ago, a bit down on her luck and not feeling too healthy, she let me into her life. I sent her care packages, coffee, toys , clothes, etc. She said she was getting over an abusive relationship. She was also living with another abusive person – another female. I was working in an adjacent state and began to visit her. She told me that I was probably her soul mate. I’d kind of suspected I was for some time. I figured that we would build up just a wonderful life together.
She told me that she needed time to get over the previous abuse. I assured her that I would work with her as long as it took. Did I say that I have a bit of an anger issue? I do. I set out to care for her, visiting every week end. Brought flowers, remembered birthdays, brought her breakfast in bed, bought her food and medicine, took her on trips to her favorite city, supported her artistic endeavors, cheered her on. A real saint, huh? The goal behind all this was that she was supposed to fall in love with me. It’s the way I’d always heard that it was supposed to work. Look Mark: in trying to make her fall in love with you – you are trying to control her. Also, watch how you do it: not from a sense of inner-derived impulses, but from something you “heard” would work… Big mistake. You cannot live a successful life unless you are willing to let go and allow your inner life to lead the way. You imposed a framework upon yourself, made yourself play the part – for a whole year (God bless your perseverance), and wonder why it didn’t work!
A year later I saw I was getting nowhere. I’d managed to get one hug out of her in the year, and not even a kiss – it was just too early. No, it was not too early. If you allowed your intuition to clue you in, you would have cut out long ago, realizing that she just didn’t feel the same way about you, or that something else was in her way. I was getting a bit irritated at not having things go my way or even some improvement – a little anger here. Of course there was anger. Anger is the most natural feeling in the world under the circumstances. That’s why if your gut were working properly, you would have cut your losses and gotten out.
Now she is talking about an ongoing perpetual platonic relationship with me. Assures me that is the best. Perhaps it is, for her. Either you accept what is offered (which would be very, very hard), or be on your way.
One night I decide that I’m going to either get this thing over with – blow it up and leave it in ashes on the ground – or get it going another direction. She is asleep on the couch, so I start fondling her. Come now, did you really think this would work? I guess you were just sick & tired of doing, doing, doing and didn’t know how to leave with your dignity. She is an incest and rape survivor. Even worse. Guaranteed failure. But you knew that. You must have been sooo angry with her!
She wakes and asks me what I am doing. I say that I am messing things up. I figure that I will be asked to leave and never return. But no, I was allowed some leeway. Now I am supposed to regain her affection. Which I proceed to do in the manner described at first – attention and care taking, though now laced with a good portion of sullenness, threats to leave and let her fend for herself, and pouting. Can you see how you disrespected not only her, but more importantly yourself in your acting out and refusal to accept the writing on the wall? You were so hell bent in winning her over – i.e., controlling her affection, that you persisted despite your rage. Even though you knew your methods were clearly not working, you proceed bit-by-bit to cut off your nose to spite your face .
About the ONLY thing that makes ANY sense here IS your anger! You should be angry! Your affection was not returned. Your anger should have been your signal, not to act out, but to be on your way. But, no. Instead you choose to hang around and make her love-hate you. Your behavior makes absolutely no sense, does it? It is purely irrational and impulsive acting out at this point.
A real joy to be around. In the process of all this, I was supporting her (And, I’ll bet, getting angrier by the second) – she was not working due to health problems-and living in a hovel. I’d moved all my possessions to her place and was getting real edgy. I’d stopped coming up every week end. She took on a roommate to make ends meet. I couldn’t afford as much as she needed. Now you couldn’t afford her, whereas before you could? Could there have been a little angry withholding going on?
I was accusing her of having affairs, lying to her about what she told me – as if she would remember. She was telling me that I was the most abusive person she had ever met and if I’d just get counseling she’d keep trying to make this thing finally work. Why didn’t you take her up on her offer? Or were you afraid that she did not truly love you and just saw you as a meal ticket? You may never know know if she really loved you because your internal radar is broken. Thinking you always get the short end of the stick (and you do, since you bring it upon yourself with your poor choices and behavior), you are likely to believe the meal-ticket hypothesis.
Finally , my work ended and I was relocated back to where I could no longer visit her. Best thing that ever happened to you. I went and got my furniture. She never said a word to me, but I’ll never forget the hurt and devastation in her eyes. Maybe she really did love you; maybe she couldn’t understand why you would not try counseling… Since I’ve gone, she has realized some of her dreams, and, I hope, is much healthier. Now if I do anything for her, I do it completely anonymously – and that isn’t often. She’d have me arrested for stalking. This situation is so sad…
I noticed that today while talking to my mother about her travels that I went into a state of just shutting down. I apologized to her and explained that tuning another person out is a form of abuse. Yes. Odds are you are really, really mad at mom. You know, I don’t really believe that I can get cured of this behavior. I know you feel that way. However, you and I disagree strongly here.
If you are really committed, you can modify this pattern. It would take a while, would require perseverance, perseverance, perseverance (which you have) and would probably be the most difficult thing you ever did in your life, as well as the most rewarding. The difficulty is not in terms of feeling pain, although there is some of that. The difficulty is in the confusion and imbalance you feel as you give up your old way of operating – and don’t know which end is up!
I manage to not use it too often on my daughter and grand son. Good. By the way, self-awareness and lack of self-deception are about 50% of the battle. I try not to use it too often at my work. It slips out a bit at times, but they are all men and can handle a bit of aloofness. Mostly they think I am OK. I have decided that I don’t need to hurt any more women with it. Or hurt yourself, the more appropriate and honest motive. I just have a lot women I am casually friendly with. I tease them and was told yesterday that I am the richest man they know – I have so many friends. Good! But you don’t have a companion. Alone time is good for the soul; your letter bears testimony to that. I hope you continue to use your alone time productively.
Incidentally, I am an alcoholic trying to find a way to live in recovery. Incidentally also, in my addiction work, I find these underlying codependency – loss of soul – anger issues more often than not. I am convinced that treating the anger issue treats the core addiction issue. Continue with whatever you are doing in recovery, but take a look at the anger/codependency stuff too. You’ve got nothing to lose and no better way to spend your time, right? Who knows, you may even get healthy…
My very best wishes. Thank you for your honesty and candor. I hope this helps. -Dr. Irene
As with everything, it’s- what can I do today- that really matters. I have ordered that Dance of the Wounded Souls. Have noticed that there is an EA group very close to me. I am familiar with 12 step programs and really do think that they work. I do appreciate that link.
Incidentally, I have been through the bats and pillow therapy, might be why I was not so keen to get into therapy when she suggested it. Well, Lets see where it goes from here.
The angry person’s codependency is evident in how Mark goes about his attempt to “acquire” this woman. He has little inner sense of what to do, where to go. He kills her with kindness because he’s “heard” that it works. How codependent. How disconnected from self. He persists and persists, even when it is obvious that he is hurting himself. He does not heed his own anger, the one emotion he is connected to. Of course life doesn’t work. His hands are nowhere near the steering wheel. Mark is like a leaf in the wind, subject to the whims of the wind. What’s a guy to do?
I believe that anger issues require a two-process treatment approach. The easy stuff is about acquiring the requisite anger management skills. Not exactly a piece of cake, but “easy” because there are many, many resources that spell out exactly what to do. See the synopsis of the easy stuff.
The hard stuff is not particularly hard. It is intangible. That makes it difficult to understand what is being asked of you. “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”, and all that sort of fun stuff.
Self-Control Vs. Imposed Control
Angry people impose control where they shouldn’t and don’t impose control where they should.
The level of sensing. In order to stop imposing external control on yourself, you need to recognize the difference between internal and external stuff. In order to hear that which wells up from within, you need to remain still long enough to allow the internal whisper, your “radar”, to arise.
My phrasing is very important. The angry person imposes external directives upon him or herself. Think about selecting an arbitrary template or map for the purposes of guiding your way. (Mark killed his lady with kindness, since this is what he had “heard” worked.) This is very different from allowing your very unique internal whisper to arise and guide your way step-by-step. You need to accept your inner sensory directives, even though you may like them. These things just “are.”
For example, the sky is blue. You can fight this all you want and even play neat tricks (The sky is black at night, etc.), but you accomplish nothing. You cannot change the fact that the sky is blue. It is OK to positively hate blue, but nevertheless blue it is. You can twist your perception so much that you become convinced that the sky is really make of green sea weed. But now, all you have accomplished is a distortion of your own reality. Allowing internal impulses to arise is about acceptance, not control. This is the level of sensing, feeling, intuiting. Angry people try to block their internal impulses and impose control at this level. They are lost souls.
The level of action. The place to appropriately apply self-control or self-discipline (both terms are used interchangeably) is at the level of action. Once you are fully aware of what your internal radar is telling you, you can control how you will handle the situation. This is where you make choices. This is where you have the opportunity to steer your life, as opposed to living a life run by raw emotion (the wind) and self-imposed “rules and reasons.”
Choices. Let’s say that you have accepted your internal whisper that the sky is blue at the level of sensing. You have also accepted that you absolutely hate blue! At the level of action, you examine your available options and choose what you will do.
Make the sky green. Not an available option. You can however make believe the sky is really green at the expense of distorting your reality. Go here if you want, but nature extracts a high price for distortion. Try it and see!
Scream bloody murder that the sky is the wrong color. Choosing this option is likely to get you as far as the nearest nut house.
Bemoan the awfulness of a blue sky. This option will likely lead to depression – and it won’t change the color of the sky.
Hold your breath till the sky changes color. You’ll drop dead.
Accept that the sky is blue, accept that you hate blue, know there is nothing you can do about any of this, so on to the next issue… Accepting what is and moving on when you have no power is the only healthy option. This option requires imposing self-control over behavioral and cognitive aspects of the self. This option is the only one that works.
Angry people tend to impose self control at the sensory level and not impose self control at the level of action. This unhealthy state of affairs needs to be reversed. Passive acceptance is necessary at the level of sensing. Self-control is necessary at the level of action.
Loss of inner direction, disconnectedness from within, loss of soul – is the anger-addict’s brand of codependency. The angry person implicitly, and falsely, assumes that the conquered partner can sooth and fix their internal pain, boredom, emptiness, anger, whatever. They can’t. Nobody but the self can. The most powerful book I’ve ever encountered on codependency is Robert Burney’s Codependence: Dance of the Wounded Souls. Read it and reread it. Then read it again.
Your internal work can be done alone, but is best accomplished with guidance. There are lots of forks in the road. You may take the wrong path and lose your way. Not a bad thing – you will learn about yourself – but it is slower. Reading really helps. You can gauge your progress by how much you understand the more esoteric books you read. You can expect to achieve greater and greater understanding of the same material over time.
Burney’s book provides a fine entry to the realms inside, the home-base of all that is uniquely and wonderfully YOU! There is no other way out. Promise. -Dr. Irene