the four horsemen of control

Man have I been backsliding into my old friend Control. It’s okay though as most of the world seems to be joining me. I’m watching people doing all kinds of things to try to “stay safe”, protect others…and even police the behavior of people around them.

Control patterns are often the first place someone notices their codependent behaviors.  The first four are grouped neatly together and pose a challenge for me in relationships across the board.  I often think they should be bracketed together on the list as I rarely do one without the others.

They are: Codependents often

  • Believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
  • Attempt to convince others what to think, do or feel.
  • Freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
  • Become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.

When I’m controlling, I’m NOT trusting.

I’m not trusting…that the other person can take care of themselves.

I just hate it when people offer ME unsolicited advice.  Why then do I think others should appreciate it from me?  It makes me feel undermined…like they don’t think I can figure it out or the way I’m doing it is wrong. Yet, I think my advice is so helpful that they’d be crazy not to do things my way.

I’m not trusting…that learning comes through experience.

When I prevent someone from experiencing consequences, I’m robbing them of the chance to learn for themselves.  They can’t get the practice it takes to handle disappointments or failures and know how to move on.  I cheat them out of that terrific feeling you get from knowing you can figure things out on your own. As someone in the program told me once, they won’t ever hit bottom as long as I keep throwing a mattress under them.

I’m not trusting…that they have a Higher Power who loves them…and it’s not me.

Their Higher Power’s will is for them alone and because I’m not God, I can’t know what that is for another person. If I act as their Higher Power by attempting to get them to think, do or feel…I can get in the way of that greater will for their life.  Turns out, I don’t always know what’s best.  Even if I think I do. 

In CoDA, I am practicing using tools to counter these destructive patterns. In meetings, I can share about how my control behaviors come out when I’m afraid. I listen to others share about their struggles with control and what works for them. I get support as I practice being uncomfortable with the choices others make for themselves. In service, I get to practice letting go of my need to control and force my will. I get to build my capacity to trust others and see how people can take care of their own problems. I can practice communicating and allowing people to work through their disagreements. I don’t have to be a “right fighter” anymore.

In recovery, I can learn to trust…
That other adults are capable of managing their own lives.

In recovery, I can learn to accept…
the thoughts, choices and feelings of others, even though I may not be comfortable with them.

In recovery, I can learn to give….
my advice only when asked.

In recovery, I can learn to be…
content to see others take care of themselves.

what is detachment? and how do I let go?

The tool of detachment is a powerful way we can deal with situations that could harm us. It is a choice to disengage emotionally from people or situations. We strive to detach with love for ourselves and others knowing that we are not responsible for the behavior of others and they are not responsible for our happiness.

Many of us are dealing with difficult situations. Drug and alcohol abuse, relationship problems, parenting issues, caring for aging parents, job stress, death or illness…

When the other person is making choices that we don’t like, what can we do? When it we are making ourselves crazy trying to control a situation that we can’t control, how do we find sanity?

A helpful way for me to remember detachment is this…
D on’t
E ven
T hink
A bout
C hanging
H im/Her

If I’m not the problem, there is no solution. If the other person’s behavior is the problem, I cannot solve that.

So in the CoDA big book, we can explore the question of what is the difference between detachment and avoidance? or rather, what is the difference between letting go and running away?

Simply put, detachment is a conscious act of self-care where avoidance is often an unconscious, dysfunctional coping mechanism. Detachment is driven by love and avoidance is fear based. As a codependent, I can sometimes swing between the extremes. controlling people and outcomes on one end and neglecting responsibility to others by running away or ignoring them on the other end.

Detachment can be difficult. When I began recovery, letting go was just not possible on my own. With time and my Higher Power’s help, I slowly began to understand things like the fact that other people are capable of managing their own lives and that I can accept the choices of other people even if I’m not comfortable with them.

As I gained more tools like trust in an loving Higher Power, support from recovery friends and of course…boundaries, detachment became doable. Still difficult, but doable.

Recently, my dad who is 87 had his boiler go out in his home. My first action was to go in and try to help. While he didn’t want to come stay with me while he waited for the new one to arrive 10-14 days later, he would accept some space heaters. For my own sanity, I had to use detachment because while I didn’t like his choice to remain in his Minnesota home in January, I had done all I could do to help. Old behaviors of trying to manipulate, control or shame him into changing his mind would have just harmed both of us. Detachment allowed me to love and respect both dad and myself. When I feel the worry rise up, I trust the outcome to his Higher Power and make the choice to detach again. Of course a bit of added self-compassion for how hard it is also helped me to detach with love.

I love how Melody Beattie put in in her piece on detachment from the Language of Letting Go… “Today, I will take actions that appear appropriate. I will let go of the rest. I will strive for the balance between self-responsibility, responsibility to others and letting go.”

I’d love to hear how the tool of detachment has worked for you. Leave a comment or question below.