In the morning, my friend said she wanted to talk to me more about the uncomfortable situation, so I am waiting for that other shoe to fall, in a sense. I don’t want to talk more about it. She said what she needed to say. All I can think of to say myself at this point is if you don’t like how this turned out, maybe you ought to make a mental note to yourself to think things over a bit more before acting. Or, it also comes to mind to simply ask, “What did you expect to have happen?”

Neither of those responses seem either helpful or kind. It’s up to her whether she wants to connect those two particular dots that when you feel absolutely you must do something, you probably need to calm down first. Maybe you ought to go for a swim or take a walk. Maybe the thing to do isn’t to try to determine whether you can be blamed or not, and then attack your relationships if you can safely get away with it. That’s not my work to do.

I wonder about it. But I don’t want to talk about it.

I didn’t mention where the incident seemed to begin–at least in my mind it did. The dryer broke. Neither of us use it–we always hang our clothes on the line. Her son and daughter both use it exclusively. They never hang anything out to dry in the sun. My room is next to the laundry room, and on hot days, I get really annoyed by it, especially if it’s fairly late, and I am trying to sleep. It’s just hard to sleep when it’s hot.

But I do also know people own dryers so they can use them, and I will get used to the heat again. Y-town is cooler, and actually so is Los Angeles.

If I want to live in a world with other people in it, I need to let them do laundry even if it’s hot.

Anyway, it broke one morning. Her daughter was using it, and she put a load in and the dryer completely quit on her a few minutes into the cycle. She was washing her workout clothes, in preparation for a yoga class. Daughter approached her mom rather childishly–little, needy voice. The dryer was broken, she had nothing to wear. My friend suggested some ways to get clothes dry in an hour. I fiddled with the buttons on the dryer.

My friend mentioned the circumstances of owning the dryer, which had to do with a man she did a house-swap kind of thing with, which basically went badly for her. He was charming, and because of his charm, she trusted him, but he got the better end of the deal. At least in her mind. I’ve never met him personally.

In the course of it, she said that she thought he was a charlatan, and at the time she had had this thought about her relationship with him being somewhat more better than other relationships, because he wanted to please her. He wanted something from her, so he gave her the attention she wanted.

I don’t know what my expression was when she said that. I felt a bit shocked, but I don’t know if that showed. What she said revealed a transactional sense to her relationships. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. She said she had thought that in the context of a friend who was not trying to please her.

She had this sparkly-eyed look of rage at that point. I don’t know how to describe it, but I know it. The matron ran into me at the bus stop in Y-town, looked that way, asked something about C, and when I got to my destination, I got a very outraged message from C about being punished by the matron. VP Ma’am, if you remember her, had that same look, took a breath, and then told me every bit of mean gossip anyone had told her about C.

It’s not a good look.

An hour or so later is when I got the message on Facebook from my friend, I was not entirely surprised.

I don’t know what happened in that conversation for my friend, if it was the memory of being in an exploitative relationship with a house-swapper, or if she was angry at her daughter for being the one present when the dryer broke, or if she said that to me and then realized maybe that was too revealing a statement to make about how she sees relationships.

But it was revealing. It said to me, “The only way I know how to get the attention I need is to allow someone to exploit me.” It’s true she pushes attention away. She might accept it when she feels it is earned. I am giving you this, so it’s okay for me to get something back from you.

When we talked, one of the reasons she wants me to leave is that she wants to spend time with Daughter, so that she can keep her from leaving and setting up her own household when only her husband is working. My friend is paying attention to her daughter, because she wants something.

I wonder how it feels to her daughter when her mom no longer wants something from her and all that attention gets suddenly directed elsewhere?

I feel sick thinking about it.

I was reminded of C, because it feels to me she pushes me away a lot harder than other people. I don’t leave, so she has more to push against, but if Coach Ma’am says come to my house and help clean it, she comes. Getting her to come to my house was anything but simple.

Maybe because it’s not so simple. I don’t want her housecleaning skills. I want her. If she has always been involved in transactional relationships, then this is so much of what she has experienced: cater to someone and they meet your needs, but they also abandon you without warning because their attention has wandered on.

It gives the message very strongly: you are not in and of yourself worthy of interest. Trust? I don’t think so.

I think I mentioned C blocked me, then unblocked me after (I presume) getting a message sent via her cousin that I love her unconditionally.

It made me think someone used to transactional relationships would do that in order to manipulate C into unblocking them. I knew I could say that and it was C’s choice what to do about it. I sent it, thinking she must be feeling really stressed. When she pushes, she is stressed.

I asked someone to send the message knowing C might reject me, and if she rejected me I would feel sad, but because it might help C, I did it anyway. I risked rejection. But C doesn’t really know if I care or not when I do things like that, or whether I just want something. She doesn’t know if it’s just a trick.

When she unblocked me, I saw she had taken the picture of herself and her boyfriend down. It’s a fairly innocent picture. I hadn’t said anything about it to her. They are just standing next to each other. They might be touching, but not more than being shoulder-to-shoulder. It does make it clear that he is her boyfriend.

I had been angry at her boyfriend for the pictures on his page, because they were documentations of him pressuring her into physical closeness she knows will be frowned on by others–partly, it looks like fodder for emotional blackmail later. Partly he didn’t look happy. He looked smug. She was happy, but he did not. I want her boyfriend to glow with pleasure at her existence.

Anyway, I thought, “She’s trying to figure out what I want.” She knows I didn’t like the other pictures, so she took down this picture. The thing about letting someone’s perspective into your mind like that is you have to feel that person’s point of view is safe to keep in your mind, and it isn’t bent on destroying your uniqueness or your soul.


Codependence and Exploitation

What I see in this diagram are methods of control common in exploitative groups. Punishment, withholding, and bribery (with affection, attention, or kindness) are the only ways to get anything done, because no one does anything except out of self-interest. Fairness doesn’t enter into the question, nor does genuine concern. It’s easy to imagine that fixing whatever problem seems to be at the center of all of this might end the exploitation, but it won’t, because exploitation has become the only way members know how to interact.

Codependency has been in our lexicons for four decades, but I wonder what it means still, and I wonder if we’ve misidentified some of its most important features.

The reason I wonder this is that its most important feature seems to be a lack of appropriate autonomy for individuals in relationships, and yet I’ve spent time in cultures where really no one ever attains the degree of independence that has been normal in mainstream American culture for a long time–and maybe most Western cultures.

Outside of WEIRD societies, people continue to seek their parents’s advice and guidance so long as their parents are alive. The idea of following a career or even entering a marriage your parent doesn’t approve of is unthinkably painful to many people–and although some people might do that anyway, it isn’t common. But these families are quite as happy as any other.

But people in codependent relationships are clearly not happy. And so I wonder if the pain that accompanies codependence has nothing to do with dependence or autonomy at all.

In joint families, individuals have little autonomy and even less privacy. Elders make most important decisions, and with more people living in the house, there is little room for individual preferences to play a role in small decisions.
In joint families, individuals have little autonomy and even less privacy. Elders make most important decisions, and with more people living in the house, there is little room for individual preferences to play a role in small decisions.

If you look back at my post on exploitative groups, what stands out very clearly is that those with the greatest power are able to extract the most value out of other members and are therefore the most harmful to others, but that nearly everyone in the group is engaged in some degree of exploitation with others. Most members are both exploited and exploitative of others.

What seems to arise out of that is a value system organized around exploitation. You might see “good,” as my father did, in being the person who has the most power, is exploiting others the most, and is therefore doing the most harm.

Or, you might see “good” as having the least power, exploiting others the least, and therefore doing the least harm (but being harmed the most).

It seems to me codependence is based on the latter understanding of virtue: Codependent people are usually trying to help others, but they help at their own expense, and they often help more than anyone can reasonably reciprocate. So you don’t see interdependence or reciprocity. You see individuals giving without getting much in return–either giving to someone who only takes, or giving in ways that require a great deal of effort by the giver but don’t actually provide that much benefit to the recipient. In other words, what’s being given is depleting, but the gift doesn’t recharge the recipient to the extent that he or she can return the favor.

Basically, codependence starts out as a leech problem. But the exploitative pattern of relating continues even after you rip off the leech.
Basically, codependence starts out as a leech problem. But the exploitative pattern of relating continues even after you rip off the leech.

Sometimes, what’s being nurtured in these relationships is a grandiose self-image or someone’s desire for constant attention. Other times, it is the tremendous demands of an untreated and possibly undiagnosed disease–like alcoholism or borderline personality disorder. But maybe that isn’t the problem either. The problem is exploitation and that far more is being given to someone or something than anyone is getting back.

Exploitative relationships are exhausting. They don’t meet your basic human needs and they don’t leave you with time or energy to meet your own.

And that is why, in Western societies, we notice the absence of meeting one’s own needs first. That isn’t really the defining feature of these relationships. Their defining feature is the drain on the time and energy. In more interdependent cultures, you would notice the failure of other supportive, nurturing relationships as codependent people lose the time and energy to maintain these relationships in the way they normally would.

I don’t know, but I wonder.

New Rules

the_rulesDysfunctional families of all kinds are rule-oriented families. They rely on rules instead of principles. Cults are the same way.

If you look up the 2x2s–the cult I was raised in–you’ll see a reference to all kinds of rules, although the rules varied from place to place, region to region. But there were most definitely rules. Rules replaced compassion and common sense. Rules were there to help you settle things without needing to feel or think.

It can be helpful to devise new rules for oneself as a part of the healing process. These are mine.

1) Don’t hurt people (or animals). Especially not on purpose or when you can help it.

2) Try your best.

3) Know when to let go.

4) Know when to quit.

5) Feel.

6) Stay in touch.

7) Speak up. But use “the three gates.” (Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is it true?)

8) Take care.

You’ll notice some contradictions. That’s because there’s a time and place for everything.

What are your rules?