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Codependency, Human Nature & Abuse

Codependency, Human Nature & Abuse

March 10, 2000

Dear Dr. Irene,

My question:
In the past several years I have had a problem with "sneaky anger" people.  They make plans with me, most often they initiate the suggestion, then they make plans with other people and don't tell me until the last minute, if they tell me at all.  They "forget" to show up, or go with someone else as if we had never made any plans.  I never do this to people and I was wondering if this is modern behavior or if there is some motive to it? This is not modern behavior - in fact, this is an age-old problem!  It happens too often to be an accident yes, although they make it appear that someone or circumstances beyond their control are responsible. Yes. The old getting-away-with-it technique!   

I felt I wasn't important to them or they must be trying to get rid of me so I backed off and avoided them. GOOD!  To my surprise, they came after me, bringing little presents, being nice. Yes. When I tell them that I feel let down and disappointed and I don't like being stood up, they become indignant and act like I am victimizing them. Yes. Sound familiar? This is exactly what the abuser does to the victim who confronts them.  But I am the one who has been let down and I know they do not like it when someone does this to them.  Yes.  I don't know what to do or say. Apparently, you knew exactly what to do. What is this behavior supposed to accomplish besides making me very angry? Nothing. It's not done on purpose. But if your friends don't get it and the back-and-forth cycle continues, you may want to consider making these friends more peripheral. Note: I am not suggesting your friends are up to no good or are abusive. You may simply have different ideas, values, or expectations of each other. Bottom line: their behavior bothers you.  
        Thanking you in advance, Mahrah

Dear Mahrah,

You bring up a very interesting point about human nature, and the social pecking order. 

Some people are very nice to others all the time, no matter what. These people have codependency traits: they seek to please. Others are more predatory and take advantage when they find people who let them get away with it. We "test" each other all the time, to see how far we can go. This is not "good" or "bad," it is just the way things are. We test each other to find out our limits.

When you were putting up with your friends' mis-behavior, they learned that you would tolerate switched plans, whether you were calling them on it or not. Try to understand, your friends did not wake up in the morning and say to themselves, "OK, how are we going to dis Mahrah today?" But by not backing off, you were essentially saying "It's OK to treat me this way."

Once you backed off, they came after you - because they never wanted to hurt you in the first place. You just were not taking care of yourself, and its not their job to take care of you! Look at it this way: Some people prefer making semi up-in-the-air plans. It's up to you, not your friends, to determine what best serves your purpose.

Codependency and abuse can be seen as pecking order continuums, with most people falling somewhere in the middle.

We allow ourselves to be stepped on in far more ways than we realize, and we will step on others in far more ways that we realize. Even "nice" codependent types step on those who let them (this is what passive-aggressive anger is about). And predators (abusers) allow themselves to be stepped on.

Your question is pertinent because it addresses the codependency-abuse issues this site focuses on.  My underlying philosophy, which is repeated over and over and over again, is one of personal responsibility & self control: It is your job to take care of yourself. If you don't like how you are being treated, put a stop to it by changing your own behavior. That is what you did with your friends. And it worked!

We need to take care of ourselves in all life areas: with friends, family, at work, school, etc. The most difficult place to do this is with matters of the heart. It is amazing how many people who have their life together in all areas fall flat on their face in love matters! The purpose of this site is to help them learn the skills they need to care for themselves there too.

Thank you for asking this question. My very best wishes, Dr. Irene