"We don't have to react. We have options."

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Episode 35 -- August 13, 2020

Detaching: Taming Our Reactions for Our Own Health

We are under so much stress. We're snapping at each other, we're worried about each other. We are living in unfamiliar times and conditions, not getting out as much as we used to, and we're reacting to each other and our situations in ways that aren't our usual reactions. Or are they? Some of us have relationships with people that could be considered codependent. Years ago, in Codependent No More, Melody Beattie gave us this term as meaning: "A codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior." The other person might be a child, an adult, a lover, a spouse, a sibling, a grandparent, a parent, a client, a roommate, or a best friend. The person could have a substance use disorder, a process addiction, a physical ailment, a mental illness, or just somebody who occasionally has sad feelings. But, whoever the other is, it all comes back to us. How we interact with them.

So, how does this play out during the pandemic? How can we manage the stress we're under with the people we're with¿whether or not we're codependent? We can turn to coping with circumstances, starting with our own reactions.

This excerpt is from Codependent No More by Melody Beattie and has been edited for brevity.

An interruption, someone else's bad mood, sharp tongue, bad day, negative thoughts, problems, or active alcoholism does not have to run or ruin our lives, our day, or even an hour of our day. If people don't want to be with us or act healthy, it is not a reflection on our self-worth. It reflects on their present circumstances. By practicing detachment we can lessen our destructive reactions to the world around us. Separate yourself from things. Leave things alone, and let people be who they are. Who are you to say that the interruption, mood, word, bad day, thought, or problem is not an important and necessary part of life? Who are you to say that this problem won't ultimately be beneficial to you or someone else?

We don't have to react. We have options. That is the joy of recovery from codependency. And each time we exercise our right to choose how we want to act, think, feel, and behave, we feel better and stronger.

"But," you might protest, "why shouldn't I react? Why shouldn't I say something back? Why shouldn't I be upset? He or she deserves to bear the brunt of my turmoil." That may be, but you don't. We're talking here about your lack of peace, your lack of serenity, your wasted moments. As Ralph Edwards used to say, "This is your life." How do you want to spend it? You're not detaching for him or her. You're detaching for you. Chances are everyone will benefit by it.

We are like singers in a large chorus. If the guy next to us gets off key, must we? Wouldn't it help him, and us, more to strive to stay on key? We can learn to hold our part.

We don't need to eliminate all our reactions to people and problems. Reactions can be useful. They help us identify what we like and what feels good. They help us identify problems in and around us. But most of us react too much. And much of what we react to is nonsense. It isn't all that important, and it doesn't merit the time and attention we're giving it. Some of what we react to is other people's reactions to us. (I'm mad because he got mad; he got mad because I was angry; I was angry because I thought he was angry with me; he wasn't angry, he was hurt because...)

Our reactions can be such a chain reaction that frequently everyone's upset and nobody knows why. They're just upset. Then, everyone's out of control and being controlled. Sometimes people behave in certain ways to provoke us to react in certain ways. If we stop reacting in these certain ways, we take all the fun out of it for them. We remove ourselves from their control and take away their power over us.

Sometimes our reactions provoke other people to react in certain ways. We help them justify certain behaviors. (We don't need any more of that, do we?) Sometimes reacting narrows our vision so much that we get stuck reacting to symptoms of problems. We may stay so busy reacting we never have the time or energy to identify the real problem, much less figure out how to solve it. We can spend years reacting to each drinking incident and resulting crisis, completely failing to recognize that the true problem is alcoholism! Learn to stop reacting in ways that aren't necessary and don't work. Eliminate the reactions that hurt you.

Some suggestions follow to help you detach from people and your destructive reactions to them. These are only suggestions. There is no precise formula for detachment. You need to find your own way, a way that works for you.

First, learn to recognize when you're reacting, when you are allowing someone or something to yank your strings. Usually when you start to feel anxious, afraid, indignant, outraged, rejected, sorry for yourself, ashamed, worried, or confused, something in your environment has snagged you. (I'm not saying it's wrong to feel these feelings. Probably anybody would feel that way. The difference is, we're learning to decide how long we want to feel that way, and what we want to do about it.) Using the words "he or it or she made me feel" often indicates we are reacting. Losing our sense of peace and serenity is probably the strongest indication that we are caught up in some sort of reaction.

Next, make yourself comfortable. When you recognize that you're in the midst of a chaotic reaction, say or do as little as possible until you can restore your level of serenity and peace. Do whatever you need to do (that is not self-or other-destructive) to help yourself relax. Take a few deep breaths. Go for a walk. Clean the kitchen. Go sit in the bathroom. Go to a friend's house. Go to an Al-Anon meeting. Read a meditation book. Take a trip to Florida. Watch a television program. Find a way to emotionally, mentally, and (if necessary) physically separate yourself from whatever you are reacting to. Find a way to ease your anxiety. Don't take a drink or drive the car down a side street at 85 miles per hour. Do something safe that will help restore your balance.

Then, examine what happened. If it's a minor incident, you may be able to sort through it yourself. If the problem is serious, or is seriously upsetting you, you may want to discuss it with a friend to help clear your thoughts and emotions. Troubles and feelings go wild when we try to keep them caged inside. Talk about your feelings. Take responsibility for them. Feel whatever feeling you have. Nobody made you feel. Someone might have helped you feel a particular way, but you did your feeling all by yourself. Deal with it. Then, tell yourself the truth about what happened. Was someone trying to sock it to you? (If in doubt about whether to interpret something as an insult or rejection, I prefer to believe it had nothing to do with me. It saves my time and helps me feel good about myself.) Were you trying to control someone or some event? How serious is the problem or issue? Are you taking responsibility for someone else? Are you angry because someone didn't guess what you really wanted or what you were really trying to say? Are you taking someone's behavior too personally? Did someone push your insecurity or guilt buttons? Is it truly the end of the world, or is it merely sad and disappointing?

Last, figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself. Make your decisions based on reality, and make them from a peaceful state. Do you need to apologize? Do you want to let it go? Do you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with someone? Do you need to make some other decision to take care of yourself? When you make your decision keep in mind what your responsibilities are. You are not responsible for making other people "see the light," and you do not need to "set them straight." You are responsible for helping yourself see the light and for setting yourself straight. If you can't get peaceful about a decision, let it go. It's not time to make it yet. Wait until your mind is consistent and your emotions are calm.

In conclusion: Slow down. You don't have to feel so frightened. You don't have to feel so frantic. Keep things in perspective. Make life easier for you.

Read more about codependency and becoming your own person in Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.

About the Author:

In addiction and recovery circles, Melody Beattie is a household name. She is the best-selling author of numerous books, including Codependent No More, Beyond Codependency, The Language of Letting Go, More Language of Letting Go, and 52 Weeks of Conscious Contact. Her first book, Codependent No More, was published by Hazelden in 1986.

Melody's compassionate and insightful look into codependency--the concept of losing oneself in the name of helping another--struck a universal chord among families struggling with a loved one's addiction. Twenty years later, the concepts continue to ring true for millions worldwide, as the book has sold more than four million copies and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Melody currently has 13 titles with Hazelden and several more with other publishers. One of Melody's more recent titles with Hazelden is, The Grief Club, which was published in 2006. This inspirational book gives the reader an inside look at the miraculous phenomenon that occurs after loss--the being welcomed into a new "club" of sorts, a circle of people who have lived through similar grief and pain, whether it be the loss of a child, a spouse, a career, or even one's youth.

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