I starting going to a 12-step group for codependence about a month ago. What started me was reading the book “Facing Codependence” by Pia Mellody and recognizing myself on almost every page. I’ve tried other 12-steps before (Al-anon, SLAA), but none of them really seemed to ‘fit’, until this one.
I want to share a little excerpt from Pia’s book here. I think it’s a useful insight into our culture, no matter if you struggle with self-esteem or codependency issues or not (although in our culture, it’s hard to not be affected by either of these issues).
WHAT OUR SOCIETY SAYS ABOUT FEELINGS
“Our culture divides our feelings into two kinds: “good” and “bad.” Anger pain, fear, guilt, and shame are labeled bad or negative. Joy we consider good or positive. Unfortunately, this sort of ‘black or white’ categorizing is erroneous and dysfunctional.
“One dysfunctional message our culture gives us is that most of the time it’s not acceptable to have “bad” feelings listed above. The message to children is that mature, well-controlled, successful adult people stay ‘rational’ at all times, which means staying out of ‘bad’ feelings. By the time one is an adult, the message often is, ‘If you’re really mature, you don’t need to have ‘bad’ feelings.’
“Parelleling that message is one that says that if a person does own and express any such emotions, that person is immature. I fthe feelings are moderately intense, the person is labelled ’emotional’ (as opposed to rational). And if the feelings are extremely intense, the person had moved into the realm of craziness. Since of the major symptoms of codependence is ‘feeling crazy’ because our emotions seem to be out of control, we codependents feel a lot of guilt and shame for being who we are.”
I want to pause here — the last three paragraphs personally gave me so much freedom because I have always felt that I am fighting to not feel guilt & shame for who I am and have spent much of my life angry at others for ‘not getting it’. As you can guess, I am used to being labelled ’emotional’ and ‘feeling crazy’ and on some level had come to accept this about myself – but hoping that others could accept me also. Acceptance was something I didn’t feel much of when I was younger …
The next two paragraphs I think are quite insightful about gender and feelings. The text is a bit dated, but I think the core message is still true:
“Another cultural message is that even if it is acceptable to our family and friends for us the have some feelings, there are still certain feelings that we’re not to have. for example, in our society, men must not have fear. If a man is afraid, he’s a coward. It’s acceptable for a woman to be afraid, because she’s supposed to be weak and vulnerable. But woman must not be angry. If a woman is angry, she’s a witch. But a man’s anger is his male right; he’s just exerting his power.
“Pain is not acceptable for either sex. The message is, ‘You have a right to not have any pain, so take whatever you need to numb it.’ Since wisdom and maturity come from facing pain and learning from it, I believe we are a nation of very immature people who don’t have a willingness to experience the pain that leads to authentic wisdom. We haven’t learned how to tolerate pain and deal with it as an agent of positive change.”
– Pia Mellody, “Facing Codependence.” pp. 92 – 93
Bravo, especially to the last two points. Pia Mellody is absolutely right on the count of Americans being immature, running from and covering up their pain. I think it’s rare to find people now who take time away from their technology, jobs, busy lives, whatever, for spiritual reflection & authentic expression … well, maybe they do, but I’m not sure where that dialogue is occurring. I know during my childhood in several Christian churches, I didn’t hear much of authentic dialogue going on … It wasn’t until I got into a secular self-help seminar and then a Unitarian church that I felt there was an environment that encouraged and supported people in facing their pain and moving through it – with an understanding that on the other side is … FREEDOM.