Backbone Tools: From Codependency to Dignity
If you grew up in a family with lots of dysfunction e.g. alcohol, anger, illness physical or mental, Borderline/narcissistic (it is all about me) or any other phenomena other than adult people being normal loving parents to their children you may have developed the symptoms of codependency. Quick test for you to ask yourself if you subscribe to any of these: “don’t rock the boat”, “everyone needs to like me,” “I hate conflict”, “asking myself what is important to me” is selfish,” if people really knew me they would know I was a fraud”. If the answer is YES, heads up and read on.
Backbone Tool One: Say No when you mean No
When we rationalize, using one of the above messages we sell out on ourselves. Are you worried about the holidays and “Uncle Harry” coming because he always gets drunk and then the chaos and drama start? This is your home; your rules/boundaries, your holidays and you can act with dignity or be codependent. If codependency is running the show you will say, “but it is the holidays, but Uncle Harry may not have many more holiday’s with us, but who am I this is how he celebrates the holidays, but there is always drinking at the holidays.” And I would invite you to ask yourself, “What kind of holiday memories are you giving your family, what are you teaching your children, and how does all that resentment before and after the holidays feel? It is your choice! If you want to celebrate with dignity a simple phone call before the holiday and Say No to alcohol.
You, “Uncle Harry we are so looking forward to having you for our holiday dinner and we wanted to share with you a new tradition we will have for this year: We will be having an alcohol free holiday dinner. Uncle Harry, “Well that is the stupidest tradition I have ever heard we always have alcohol and it’s the holidays.” You, “I know and this year we are having an alcohol free holiday dinner.” Uncle Harry, “ Well I just might not come “. “We will miss you and hope you change your mind and join us.” The best holiday present you can give yourself is to say No to toxicity and drama and you just did! Congratulations! (PS when Uncle Harry comes with a bottle of alcohol thank him and quietly put it away.)
Backbone Tool Number Two Make those Requests
You, “I always overspend at the holidays and then I spend the next year climbing out of debt and not being able to do the things I had on my list to do for our family.”
Evolving you, “Well what are we going to do about that? You know you always say you are going to do something different and here we are again you don’t have a different plan of action. So what is it going to be this year? “
You, “ But everyone always compliments me on how great my gifts are and how much they love coming to our home for the holidays.”
Evolving you: “I would compliment you too in order to get you to keep giving me great gifts.” “And I can’t believe I still get away with giving you the IOU I always bring.”
You: “Remember the resentment all last year and here I am again. What do I do?”
Evolving You: How about calling everyone and making this request, “This year the children and I have put all the names in a bowl and we have drawn one name for each of you. Everyone only has to buy one gift for one person. We are so excited about this new tradition we hope you will join our excitement. “But we liked it the old way, it’s the holidays can’t we do it the old way?” Actually thanks for the compliment and we are calling this the 2013 Holiday Request Bowl! See you on the 25th.
Backbone Tool Number Three Speak Authentically
“How am I going to handle our holiday dinner this year? Two of our cousins are going through very messy divorces. We want to support the children and our cousins even though we don’t necessarily support what they are doing and how they are handling things. “
These are messy situations with no real one size fits all solutions. Many people in this situation go silent and never address the breakdown, they just avoid. No call, no acknowledgement of a long-standing tradition just no invitation issued. Obviously, I don’t recommend this way to handle this breakdown. I do recommend having an authentic conversation.
“Hi cousin, I want to tell you how sad we are for the difficult challenges you are going through and now we have the holidays. We don’t want to contribute to any more difficulty so we would like to ask you how to best handle our holiday dinner. We want the children to have the most normal holiday possible so are you comfortable if we invite all of you and you can figure out between yourselves what to do. We love you all and just want you to know you are welcome at our home. If you are not comfortable all being in the same room, we will trust that you will do what is best for you.”
It may “feel” better to set up the “we hate you” camps regarding ex’s but it is not in the best interest of the children who as you know live in both camps. Take the high road and always do what is best for the children. Have a holiday with dignity this year!
For more examples, exercises and understanding of the importance of these three Backbone Tools go to:
Backbone Power The Science of Saying No
Dr. Anne Brown
©2013 Anne Brown Permission needed for reproduction in any form.