There’s Things Inside Without a Care

I have a monster in my head.

He has a keen sense for weakness. He watches the people around me, and perks up when he catches a whiff of brokenness, a hint of emotional vulnerability. He watches for mentions of past trauma, suicidal tendencies, recent breakups, self mutilation, neediness. He prods me when he senses it, saying “there is an opportunity!”. He always lets me know when he sees a possible opening through which to gain someone’s affection.

He gets dissappointed when a friend tells me about finding healing and stability. He sees that as one less potential opportunity.

He is a master manipulator. He knows how to string someone along like a fish on a hook. He gives me unasked for advice on how to keep them constantly at a low level of nervousness and guilt around me, but never so much that they run away. He pounces on weeping admissions of responsibility and shame for hurting me, storing them up for use as ammunition. He can make anything seem like someone else’s fault, or, when that fails, he can always distract from my culpability by drawing attention to something they did which was even worse. He exults in bringing people to their knees and then being their loving, forgiving comforter – setting the hook in good and deep.

This is what being the child of a codependent family is like. I can’t express the depth of the shame this monster brings me. Imagine holding your crying lover in your arms, and feeling something inside you exulting, even as you sympathize. Imagine seeing pain as opportunity. Codependence is the art of constantly playing good-cop/bad-cop to the ones you love the most – trying to milk as much as you can from them.

My only comfort is that I know the monster well. I know his voice, and I understand his wiles. And I choose, usually, to ignore him. I choose consciously to act as a healthy person would – refusing to act on hints of weakness, refusing to play his guilt games.

But still I hear his voice in my head. And I feel ashamed because of it.

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  1. Scary Monsters

    It is good that you were able to find and face your monster. Most people never have the strength. Do you ever find yourself, while above perhaps causing or relishing it, seeking out people for contact who are already broken or needy?

    1. Re: Scary Monsters

      maybe a little, but normally I don’t need to. They flock to me.

  2. I know this monster well. I think I have my own personal one just like it. It causes me no end of pain and shame. And I think no less of you for having admitted this.

  3. This is something most women have inside, as a survival mechanism. Makes sense that sensitive guys do too.

    1. I don’t believe it is a natural survival mechanism in me. It is the result of being raised by parents who existed the sickly symbiosis of codependency, and learning their games by heart before I ever became aware that they were anything other than normal.

      1. It’s not a natural thing for anyone, women included. It’s a way we learn of coping that is ostensibly nonviolent and it takes a while to learn that the violence is just more subtle. It’s a way of dealing with other people by saying “OK, I will give you enough rope to let you hang yourself.”

        There are places and situations where that is the best one can do, but it’s bad for intimacy. As well as women, passive-aggressive codependency is epidemic in the male gay world. (Though when I am being honest I know I am a birth lesbian, I was also a fag hag for a while and still am proud to bear that title. I met a lot of gay men with massive codependent issues. I don’t know what explains this, either–too simple to say “it’s the feminine side.”)

        Codependent parents will do it.

  4. p.s.

    I think one reason why I have denied being a woman for so long is that I hate this manipulative side of women. I have two very manipulative sisters, and it bugs me.

    But by the same token, don’t beat yourself up too much about it. All things come with a price. A person who is very caring has to put up the defenses somehow, and if that person has a hard time setting boundaries directly, he or she will do so indirectly. The answer is probably to get better at maintaining a sense of centeredness-in-relation, as opposed to total isolation or total absorption, and better at maintaining boundaries in an open fashion/encouraging others’ independence. You can do that and keep your ability to be clued into others. It is partly society’s fault for not allowing a person who is very other-oriented and sensitive to also be human (insecure, needing boundaries, needing others to be there) without implying it is somehow stepping out of character. It’s not. One has to be strong to be gentle.

    Take care.

  5. I have a monster too, and some parts of it are very similar to yours.

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