Quit Punishing Me

Submitted by on Monday, July 31, 2006No Comments

“So I guess you’ll punish me.” or “Why are you punishing me?” or “Will you punish me?” or “You always punish me.” or “Why are you torturing me?” or … These phrases may sound familiar.

Earlier this morning I was in conversation with a friend who had just realized she had been punishing her significant other after not facing the things that had her angry. Standing in new resolution she had decided, instead of punishing him, she would face her situations honestly. I relayed to her what I am about to relay here.

When I think I am the center of the universe I do think everything is done and motivated because of, and due to, me. When I am trying to control a situation and you do something for the good of yourself or threaten to do something for the good of yourself I will assume you are trying to hurt me or are punishing me. When conflict arises and you don’t see things my way and do what it is you want to do anyway I may think you are punishing me or teaching me a lesson.

Or what about when I see someone trying to control me by punishing me. What if they really are trying to teach me a lesson or make me suffer? What about that? Is there such a thing as righteously thinking or really knowing someone is trying to punish, hurt, shame, blame me?

What it was Like: I’ve taught lessons before. I’ve punished you for being who you were or wanted to become. I’ve punished you for doing, god forbid, what it was you wanted or needed to do. I have silently scorned and made decisions with the motivating factor to teach lessons, scorn, blame, shame, or punish. I learned this in my upbringing. It was what I saw and I learned it. Then, one day I decided it wasn’t working for me. People in my life still did what they wanted and I was a miserable wreck. I couldn’t wrest enough satisfaction even if you did learn your lesson I thought – I was still unsettled. So I tried forcing you to understand. I wanted you to just really prove to me you had learned your lesson. Knowing though, this was not working even on a rudimentary level I acted in a lot of behaviors that numbed me from the negative ramifications of the world hurting me. Short of having a successful solution I had to do something. So I eventually chose isolation, other sick relationships and staying numb. It was not unusual for me to keep the phone unplugged. If I didn’t, the world may come in, put a burden on my shoulders, and rock my boat. I was very sick.

What Happened: In a phrase, I learned to take care of myself. I did not learn this new “trick” on my own and tomorrow I will be closer to my ideal than I am today, for every day I do grow in a little more understanding of my self. After I learned to quit numbing myself with alcohol for example I began to feel the pain to the extent I couldn’t live successfully with it. It was as if I had turned 14 again. I turned back into a people-pleaser. I reverted back to being fearful of people’s behaviors. I began another form of “being okay” by way of starving and gravitating toward sugar. I really understood why it was I felt it necessary to start drinking every time I had stopped. People and their behaviors or thoughts really did dominate me. I really did not know where they ended and I began. It was the same pain I had experienced as a teenager that had helped me to fall in love with alcohol.

But because this time I had entered into a recovery program, I had friends who had been where I was and had a support system. I was, therefore, introduced to Al-Anon. It could have easily been CODA because the message was and is the same:

That the reason I was so miserable was because I thought if I could manage the world well I would manage well. And because the world is its own, I could not manage the world. Did I know I was powerless over other people? And if so, then what? That seems bleak doesn’t it? The solution is Self-Care. I needed to learn or re-learn [whichever the case] how to take care of myself. And all throughout Al-Anon literature we read, learn, or discuss that taking care of ourselves is no overnight matter. For some, it may be but for the fully entrenched person – and this was me – it started off as very confusing.

I had been taught consistently to do what other people wanted me to do. If I didn’t I was in trouble or would be punished or they would not like me anymore. I was taught that endless self-sacrifice was the only way to have relationships. I thought if I exerted my own wishes or ability to do something I would be labeled as selfish. Your needs came first and if I had time and if no one was watching, then I could do what I wanted to do.

My mom relays the story of a friend she has who has no kids and is her age. She will call her selfish or will speak about her as if she is a less than desirous person because she hasn’t had to sacrifice, as my mother has, due to children. My mother’s portrait of her friend angers me. Because I, too, sit here with no children. I sit here with no children for no one’s business but my own and the deeper issue remains that society still values the sacrifice of self as if martyrdom is the ideal. This bothers me because it kept me sick. It kept me codependent and with my energies misplaced.

What It’s Like Now: Some people may still think I am punishing them when I do a thing. It happened this morning when my beloved thought I was punishing him. I applaud his courage in saying it to me but I don’t applaud the fact he thinks that the many times I am taking care of myself he thinks I’m punishing him. Motive is a big deal in codependent recovery.

What looks like as running away from something may really be running toward. Cooking for someone because I want to is a lot different than cooking for someone because I feel it to be expected. Taking care of someone is a lot different than care-taking. And taking care of myself may look exactly the same as punishing someone. So. With all that said, “How do you know when someone is taking care of themselves versus punishing you?”

It’s none of your business. That’s right. A person’s motive is not your business. You’re asking the wrong question if this is where your thinking is. YOUR business is to take the person at face value and do good for yourself anyway!

If you’re still in “mind-reading” mode I would like to suggest you are probably not God. I might be wrong but you may not be because if you really were God and are NOT powerless over other people then why are you reading this article? All you would need to do is will them to be happy, will yourself happy, or will them to do what you want. I really doubt that God needs to manipulate and use tricks to force certain outcomes. :)

If you need to ask the question, you’re still trying to align yourself to act in accordance to their motives and you’re behaving codependently. “Let’s see. If she really is punishing me I need to punish her back. If she is taking care of herself I can still be nice to her. Let me think… Well, just to be safe, let me assume she is punishing me. I mean, I made it perfectly clear I wanted this and she is doing the polar opposite. What a bitch! How dare she try to punish me!” Whoa.

Codependent Recovery: My personal thorn has always been the control freak. My recovery has always seemingly been focused on people who wanted to control me. That was my personal problem; the allowance of one person’s controlling nature to dominate me. I’m no martyr so please don’t make that mistake. I just had my intolerance well hidden where it went inside and injured myself with it. Unable to cope with the world I hid from it. Had I thought for a moment I could have been successful in controlling people I would have done that. Now we arrive at the conclusion of what I do with people who assume I am trying to punish them.

Really believing that they felt that way and because they had honored me with such power in their lives and I had abused them with it, I would end up doing what they wanted. In other words, I would have believed that they were correct of my motives – that I was punishing them. [This often did lead to lower and lower self-esteem and greater and greater self-hatred.] The old me would have been easily persuaded into believing that that was what I had been trying to do all along. (After all, surely you know more about my motives and me than I do!) The new me can still do that.

So again, what is it I do with those relationships in which the person thinks I am trying to punish them or teach them a lesson?

Because I have learned that sometimes standing in my truth… Because I have learned that being my authentic self… Because I have learned that my life may not align itself with the ideas or motives of other people… Because I have learned I am neither responsible for your thoughts or feelings… Because I have, with great pains, discovered I cannot control your thoughts… Because of these key points and others… More often than not, these days, the new me let’s them feel that way.

Today – and it’s not easy all the time or on all days – I choose to honor the ability in other people to think and feel for themselves even if it does not line up with my truth.

These particular books have been paramount in my recovery


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