Ever have the feeling you are standing in a lineup with a bright spotlight glaring at you, just waiting for someone to take aim and tell or show you what you have just done wrong? This state of anxiety may be occurring because of our co-dependency…because we are dependent on the good will, opinions and even the moods of others. And we know that eventually someone is not going to be happy and that not-happy feeling will get expressed in body language, attitude, tone of voice, style of speaking and /or verbal expression. So MANY ways for someone to communicate their displeasure! And if we are co-dependent, we will feel vulnerable to all of them even if we have nothing to do with the reason for their appearance. If we are in the vicinity, we may, nevertheless, end up feeling guilty or responsible and, for sure, worried and unsettled. And that is because co-dependents think they must keep everyone satisfied and happy so they can feel feel safe and protected. And that is a VERY vulnerable place to be.
Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs tells us that safety and security are very basic to our welfare. So it is no wonder that, if we have missed some important steps in our personal development, we may become very vigilant, always on the lookout for evidence of trouble (waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop) and jumping into action whenever we sense someone is distraught. What a heavy price to pay to secure self-protection. So unpredictable. And unrelenting.
But someone has to be the guardian of our happiness and so we assign ourselves the task of keeping everyone happy, eliminating discord and frustration, fixing problems as soon as they appear and even changing ourselves, if necessary, in an effort to keep the landscape quiet and peaceful. That is the approach we use to protect ourselves. And it is exhausting.
There's a better way. And it's cutting edge. The reason it is cutting edge is it only involves us. No babysitting others and tiptoeing around their issues and concerns. No need to solve THEIR problems.
I have come to believe that co-dependent individuals are so vigilant about taking care of others and feeling responsible for the well-being of others because they have not yet learned that their first and most important job is to take care of themselves. First and foremost. Before everyone and everything else.
If we have not paid attention to our needs and not set boundaries for our involvement with others...and held to those boundaries...we have not protected ourselves and made ourselves feel safe. Without that safeguard in place, we intuitively know that ANYONE can come into our space and disrupt things. That is why the words and actions of everyone around us are a potential threat and why we keep occupied trying to assuage their frustration and discontent. That is why whatever frustrating things they say or do feel personal...as if they are judging us and seeming to imply we didn't take care of them.
But this caretaking we have assigned to ourselves by default is NOT OUR JOB and in spending all of our energy on this misguided assignment, we are dishonoring ourselves.
What if we were very clear about what WE needed and preferred and we deemed ourselves worthy of this attention? And, what if we clearly explained to others our feelings…what we have the energy for, what we choose to walk away from? What if we protected ourselves in this way and made it our life practice to take care of ourselves in every circumstance, making changes as needed, CAPTAINing our own ship?
Once we step up to this responsibility, it actually becomes possible and, ultimately, easier to flow with what is transpiring and envision how we may want to contribute to the outcome, free from the anxieties about others that have drained our energy previously.
The captain of a ship, the person responsible for how the ship functions, holds an empowered position. He does not wait for others to decide what will happen next on board. He sets the protocol and amends it as needed.
So how do we become this empowered CAPTAIN? By giving ourselves the right and responsibility to determine where and how we take action...or not. By letting others know the state of our energy and our willingness or lack of willingness to act. By granting ourselves the space to say uncomfortable things, if needed, to express ourselves and by also granting others the right to say uncomfortable things to us as they, in turn, speak their truth.
We do not have to "make happy" in every moment. We just need to be real and act authentically, expressing things the best way we know how and accepting that others have the right to captain their ships in this some way as we do. When everyone feels worthy of speaking their truth, it becomes very clear that just as we take care of ourselves, they, too, are doing the same. Now their voice of displeasure or look of dismay doesn't compute to something we are responsible for.
Just as we have decided to take care of ourselves in every moment in our new way of thinking, we clearly see that the things they say or do are merely the evidence of them taking care of themselves, too. Their non-verbal behavior, tone of voice, words or actions are not an indictment of us but rather they are an expression of what is happening in their lives and how they feel about it. And we are are now free to see that. We have protected ourselves by stepping up and into the role of assuming personal responsibility for how we wish to interact with what is happening to and around us. There is no longer any need to constantly search for evidence of someone else's displeasure, no need to protect ourselves in this way. These people are just doing what we are doing and we can hear that in this light because we have already spoken our truth. This is merely their turn to speak theirs.
It is cutting edge work to reframe a difficult and frustrating situation. It is cutting edge work to release a habit of old standing. It is cutting edge work to feel worthy of expressing our needs and to do so. And it is cutting edge work to honor the declaration of the needs expressed by others. Everyone gets to say what they need or prefer. Everyone gets to decide their response to the declarations.
Truth speaking. Honoring of self and others. No more traveling the well worn path of saying yes to what feels like no. Freedom. Independence. Cutting edge.
image from pem.org