How my fear of anger and co-dependence are intertwined.
Fear of Anger thru Co-Dependence
My fear of other people’s anger can also be called just plain old anxiety. Anxiety comes from a threat of some kind and for me would mean that I would worry about getting hurt, suffering or even dying.
I’ve always said that the reason I developed these issues in the first place was because as a kid I realized that my survival depended on the two creatures that were responsible for me. These two creatures weren’t neutral humans or lifeless robots that would just obey their programming and take care of me regardless of what I did.
These two creatures were emotional and at times irrational. I noticed that my father would be angry much of the time and directed it at me for no apparent reason. This taught me that I needed to shut myself down and make sure that I became whoever was least likely to get that lashing out of his anger.
If I felt that my father wanted quiet then I became a quiet boy. If I felt my father wanted a clean house and children who do homework then I became a responsible boy etc. I was rarely ever myself.
I noticed my mother on the other hand would be passive aggressive – which is just another form of anger. I noticed that she would pull away from me emotionally if I wasn’t who she needed me to be.
If I felt that my mother wasn’t happy with my mood, then I would stop feeling certain emotions and be cheery for her. If I felt that my mother was looking for some attention, then I would make sure to give it to her and mirror what she wanted to see reflected back to her.
Once again I was rarely ever myself and I quickly adapted to my environment which had me putting on different masks, or different faces depending on what the environment was asking of me.
I became what other people wanted me to become. I did what other people want me to do.
I was codependent, not born but raised.
I mentioned threats before. This is the glue that binds me to my codependence today. Nobody is codependent because they simply want that nice, warm feeling that comes from other people’s approval. That is part of it but in my opinion the nice warm feeling is there because having other people think well of you, or approve of you takes away the underlying anxiety which is incredibly stressful, even if we aren’t aware of it.
When I was younger I knew that I needed to be in good standing with my parents, those creatures who made sure I stayed alive.
I never consciously thought this but I think all children grasp this intuitively. They realize that they are incredibly vulnerable and are at the mercy of these two people, literally.
This sets up such a power imbalance and relationship dynamic where the child is so easy to exploit and manipulate. I don’t think most parents do this on purpose, I think their own issues get in the way and they pass on their trauma to the next generation.
In any case I knew that my life depended on the stability and reliability of these two creatures, and yet they weren’t always stable or reliable. In many cases they were threatening and so I must have felt a deep, visceral anxiety that had to be regulated or managed at all costs.
This meant that I had to regulate or manage my parents at all costs, and so that’s what I did. I managed them in order to manage myself. I acted in such a way (co dependently) so that I could continue to get my needs met.
Needs such as getting fed, getting face time and just overall being taking care of. Those are needs that I must get met to survive, or at least not be too damaged or stressed.
And that’s how I was for my entire childhood, and much of my adulthood.
I had no idea that I was codependent until just a few years back. Like everybody else I thought my childhood was normal, and that’s just the way things were in families. It’s the fish being surrounded by water metaphor – the fish doesn’t really know what water is because he’s enveloped by it 24 seven starting from birth.
What alerted me to finally being codependent was first just feeling anxious, depressed and that something was wrong. So I went to therapy and it took a while to realize that I had some repressed anger and even rage.
It was repressed because as a child I had to shut it down to please my parents, in order to feel like I would survive. It was shut down so long that I didn’t even know it was there, and even after many years of therapy I still wasn’t able to dig it out so to speak. That’s how deeply buried it was and how unaware I was that I even had anger.
But that deeply buried anger was a big part of what was making me feel uncomfortable and even ill at times. It was a signal from my body letting me know that something was wrong and that I had to fix it. That something was codependence.
It was me not being me, and not saying what I wanted to say, and doing what I wanted to do.
So the simple solution is just to start saying what you want to say and do what you want to do. Simple really if you read any of those self-help books that sell millions copies a day telling you to seize the moment start changing your behavior. But all those books are forgetting one thing …
… that that underlying anxiety, you know the fear of death thing, is still there and so to stop being codependent would mean getting in touch with another equally, viscerally powerful emotion that I had been avoiding my entire life – dread (anxiety really).
That anxiety feels like death is coming.
That’s why those books are wrong and why we can’t change. That fear of death stops us from listening to any motivational speaker, book or life coach. We try to take a step forward and feel too uncomfortable (anxiety) and shut down.
So when you see these weak looking characters in movies or on television stumbling over their words and shaking as they walk up to assert themselves to somebody, you’re seeing somebody getting in touch with their deeply entrenched anxiety that’s telling them that they’re about to die.
I’m not kidding. I feel this too. I feel like confronting people with my own truth will put my life in danger somehow.
The first time I told my parents about the resentments I had toward them from childhood, I couldn’t think clearly or even stay still the entire day leading up to the conversation. I was in a brain fog and was as anxious as if I was about to walk into a cage with an angry tiger in it.
Sounds crazy but it’s true. Intellectually I knew that talking to my parents about resentment wouldn’t lead to any kind of catastrophe, but my heavily entrenched relationship patterns reminded me that speaking up for myself, or making other people uncomfortable may put my life in danger.
I absolutely hated it though. I felt like such a wuss and I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I had such fear. I was like a five-year-old going up to an older woman that I could knock out with one punch,, and talk to her about resentments I had toward her about the way she raised me.
But I have to accept that that embarrassing anxiety is there. It’s there when I stick up for myself at the store, when I ask the neighbors to be quiet, when I have to defend myself when someone’s angry with me, or when my boss is yelling at me and everyone can see that I’m nervous.
Yes, everyone can see and everyone might think I’m a scared little boy. That sucks.
But that’s what’s at the root of my codependence. That’s why codependence is so prevalent in our culture and why it’s so difficult to stop doing. This is why everybody does what they’re asked, why they don’t stick out from the crowd, and why they sacrifice themselves and their children even to the whims of what other people want.
So that they don’t risk of death. So that they avoid that anxiety that is way too strong to ignore.
It signals a huge threat, and so you better avoid it at all costs. You better avoid being yourself. Just smile and nod and do what other people want, and then you can go home and rant and rave about how horrible other people are.
Of course now that I’m grown that survival threat is no longer there. I can take care of myself clearly, but some threats remain. The biggest is that people aren’t going to like me, and may even hate me if I stop pleasing.
And that’s going to be difficult and even be painful. And scary. What will happen to me if the world pulls away (like my mother). Can I survive on my own? Will everybody pull away? Will I have any friends at all?
Unfortunately this is my reality. I get to choose to stay a slave to what everybody else wants ( staying codependent) and have lots of people like me, or at least pretend to like me, or I can be free and own my own soul but pay the price of having many more people than I’m used to, not like me.
I’ve chosen the latter not because I’m a better person than everybody else, but because the pain of not being myself, that deeply buried anger I talked about before, got to be so bad and affect me so much, that I’m starting to change the way I am slowly, so that I could rid myself of my need for other people’s approval and finally be free.
Most of that work is me trying to be as authentic as I can with my parents and create a new relationship with them. But I’m also doing this with everybody else in the world. At least as much as I can anyway. I fail lot and then kick myself, but then try again next time..
It’s a five-year process where I get better and better at being myself in front of people, at tolerating the anxiety that comes with it, and I have about two more years left – hopefully. It’s slow but is moving in the right direction.
That may seem like a long time and it is. It’s also a lot of work but really I don’t feel that there is an alternative because without psychological health, nothing else will go well in life.
How about you?
*** If you’re going through something similar then I hope this helped. If you are, I invite you to share it with me and everybody else who visits here by typing it up and emailing it over. I’ll post it on the blog which would benefit everyone; you for writing it up – which gets you in touch with your unconscious more and with this issue of yours specifically – and us for relating with it and perhaps seeing our own issue from a different angle
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