15 October 2012

We Teach People How to Treat Us

Before I dive in here, thank you so much everyone for the love and support.  I've been feeling so lonely lately and your words help so much.


My counselor told me once that "we train people how to treat us." I knew what she meant but for some reason it didn't resonate with me.  She says a lot during an hour and I usually only walk away with one or two things to focus on. But it came up as we were discussing an "argument" I'd had with my mom where my mom was using guilt to try to change my point of view.

I've been thinking about it much more lately, about how we teach people that they can get what they want/think-they-need from us by treating us a certain way.  In other words, they find our achilles heel and exploit it to get the validation/attention/forgiveness they think they need.  It doesn't really work, it's a total lose-lose for both parties, but I'll get to that in a minute.

When I was a teenager I fought often with my younger sister.  I'm not the type to throw out cruel, cutting remarks in an argument, but my sister was. 

[By the way, I KNOW that at least on a subconscious level I manipulate the people I love most to get what I want.  For example- a conversation with my sensitive little boy where I pout and say "It makes Mommy really sad when you don't obey.  Do you want to make Mommy really sad?"]


My sister would hurt me terribly in our arguments.  My entire family knows that I am prone to guilt, I need words of affirmation and I have a sensitive conscience.  After a big fight my little sister would come to me and say "Why are you mad at me? I hate it when you're mad at me."

I'd melt like chocolate and we would reconcile.  There was rarely an apology, just a sly maneuver on her part to get me to concede.  But the truth was, I didn't really forgive her, in fact I resented her. But because I tolerated her behavior, I was in a way responsible for her repeatedly using this tactic against me.  No, I'm not to blame for her selfish choices, but I'd at least led her to believe that this method of hers worked.  

I had a painful realization the other night that I've trained Pete too.  He knows me better than anyone.  He knows how effective guilt can be in getting me to concede. 

This is really hard to write because I know he will read it and I know it might make him hurt or angry. 

The other night it was two days post relapse, Pete was grumpy, stomping around the house a bit.  He came to me looking for validation, he tried to hug me and I turned him away.  It was a boundary.  I couldn't hug him when he was acting like that.  He got mad.

At first I wanted to say

"I'm sorry. Come back.  I'll hug you! I'm sorry!" 

in a crazy codepedent way. Don't make him mad. Don't hurt his feelings.  It's YOUR job to love and support him, cheer him up, etc.

This post is getting long so I'll cut to the chase.

It was scary when I realized that it's not okay for people to talk to me the way my little sister used to talk to me.  It's not okay for people to guilt me into anything.  I have to teach people to treat me with respect. I have to teach them a new way to treat me that is non-coercive and accepting.  This means saying things that my whole life I've been so scared to say. 

"You can not talk to me this way." 

"I can not do that for you.  I'm sorry."

"Thank you for sharing.  You might be right.  We can talk about it later."

But even harder still, being able to walk away.  No more begging.  No more pandering.  No more sobbing to manipulate back. 

Manipulation might provide immediate results, but it feels hollow because it is so insincere.  It is desperate and forceful.  It fosters resentments and makes communication unclear.  Last night at group meeting a friend told me

"Now that my husband has been sober for two years he says that when he looks back on the way he treated me it's like those Claritin commercials.  All of the sudden it's so much clearer.  He didn't know that he couldn't see clearly, until he saw clearly."


  1. Thanks Jane! Once again another post I needed to read. I am the same way. This codependency thing is so hard for me to grasp. Step 11 says it's an addiction.

    It's nice knowing I am not alone in my struggle.

    I like what you said about teaching people to treat you with respect. I fail miserably in that department. Thanks for giving me confidence.

    You are in my prayers.

  2. Your words about this have given me a lot to think about (both here and I think in the forum in response to one of my posts). I'm starting to realize how much MY REACTION just feeds behavior that I don't want. In some cases, I'm so quick to want to comfort and help my husband feel loved, even if I am hurting by his actions. Instead of letting him literally have to turn to God for comfort, I think sometimes I rush in and try to take his hurt away. Meanwhile I'm running around thinking, "Why does he not realize how serious this is?! Why is he not doing EVERYTHING he can?! Why has he not hit "rock bottom" yet!?" I get in the way SO often. And it's also so easy for me to get defensive instead of just walking away when he plays the blame game. I REALLY wish I had handled our disagreement the other day better. I think it could have been a good learning experience rather than one where we just "kissed and made up" and moved on.

    Thanks for your blog. I always love your thoughts. Also, sorry you are hurting so much right now. :( *hugs*

  3. Whoa this is really interesting! I never thought about it so clearly like this. Thank you! I definitely agree that because of what behaviors we TOLERATE, others learn exactly how to manipulate us.

    I definitely think that I do NOT tolerate certain behaviors, but I have hard time figuring out the line to draw. Do I just ignore that behavior? Do I try to correct them?

    Because I really don't think people mean to be manipulative (some do), but I think most just acquire it without even realizing. And to be blunt, most people are not capable enough to UNDERSTAND the fault in their behavior, so try to explain it won't work. By with no understanding comes no correction, so do I just have to grit my teeth and bear it? Like with your sister for example, how do you handle people who manipulate you? With Pete, do you just retract yourself from a deeper relationship for awhile? I just feel like I have a personality where I'm either a complete push-over and allow myself to be manipulated, or I just cut people out of my life cold turkey because I don't know how to deal with their manipulations anymore. I have no idea how to be in the middle and draw boundary lines.

    (I think that is why I am drawn to you so much, because you have an impeccable ability to self-actualize, and that is a trait I really admire.)

    1. *But. Sorry for all my grammar errors. I didn't re-read my comment before I posted it.