We all like to place blame for things that go wrong in our lives – the public transit being late on your morning commute, your employee who didn’t finish a report in time, a partner that doesn’t pull their weight in the relationship, and sometimes… even ourselves. If you use the Personalizing Codependent Strategy, “it must have something to do with me!” is likely your daily mantra.
Personalizing Codependents tend to blame themselves for something that was actually caused by another person, or something that was otherwise completely outside their control. They distill everything down to themselves being at the core of the issue. It’s a notion that everything must be about me, and I must be at fault to be in control. This leaves other people having to submit to their version of reality.
Others can also fear saying anything about themselves because the Personalizing Codependent will hijack the conversation, putting themselves in the starring role of being to blame with the other having to make them feel better about themselves. If someone shares a success with them, they can quickly pass it over and move on to something more interesting. Themselves.
However, when something is actually their fault, they don’t take responsibility and will blame others instead. It’s okay when they blame themselves, but no one else is allowed. They are defensive and operate in “fight” mode most of the time. Instead of owning their errors, they accuse others of being confrontational and hurtful. This way of personalizing or “taking things personally”, means that he or she is predisposed to believe the other person has the intention to hurt them. Rather than listening to what the issue is, they focus on how they feel (embarrassed, ashamed, disappointed) and blame the other person for making them feel bad. If someone is upset because of something the Personalizing Codependent has done, they believe everyone should be understanding and never say anything about it. If anyone should bring it to their attention, they have done something wrong, they manipulate, bring on tears, or use other ways of disarming the other person.
This strategy is used when we aren’t willing to take real responsibility or when we use it as a defensive tactic. When we blame others for our circumstances it lets us off the hook. In essence, it means we don’t have to take responsibility for our lives, our choices, and our decisions. In a codependent relationship, Personalizing Codependents may even blame their partners for not having the kind of social life they would like to have, even though they play a role in it.
Personalizing Strategy #1: Make others feel sorry for them
When you blame yourself, you are taking the ability to accept responsibility away from others. It’s an interesting way to get attention and go into ‘poor me’ or feeling sorry for yourself mode which disempowers others. It is a manipulation that works. It forces the other person to feel sorry for you, and because you are so willing to take the blame, they hold back from kicking you when you are down. It’s an indirect way of usurping power in the relationship and acting weak so that others back off or take care of you. Telling yourself when a friend is struggling with feeling lonely, “I should be a better friend. It’s my fault he feels that way. I should have called him more often.” and believing that because you didn’t is why they’re struggling. It doesn’t help the person who is struggling when you silently withdraw and feel guilty because you have made it about you.
Personalizing Strategy #2: Control the narrative and other’s emotions
While this isn’t necessarily conscious on the part of the Personalizing Codependent, claiming responsibility is manipulative. They constantly get in the way of the other person directing the conversation, exploring their own contribution to the issue, and sympathizing with them for having to deal with such a loser, to make sure they get mad at you or leave you. If we always take the blame, then we don’t have to deal with resolving the actual issues. If someone is upset and you immediately take the blame for it, they have nowhere to go. You now control the narrative. So effectively, claiming ‘it’s all my fault’ ends up being a way to have power over another.
Personalizing Strategy #3: Over-Apologizing
Over-apologizing refers to saying “I’m sorry” when you didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, someone may have wronged you, but you reflexively say I’m sorry to diffuse tension and stay in control. This could be because you’re taking responsibility for someone else’s mistake or a problem that you didn’t cause. Accepting someone else has perhaps wronged you (even if not meaning to) can mean you must allow yourself to feel hurt and vulnerable. Using self-blame means you can resort to shame instead of vulnerability. One of the most common examples of this is when you order a meal in a restaurant and the server brings you something that’s cooked wrong. You say, “Oh, I am so sorry. I thought I ordered rare. This is medium. I must have not spoken loud enough.” It’s confusing because it sounds like it’s your fault when it really isn’t, and it leaves others to jump in and figure out what to do.
You may have recognized one of the above strategies as your own or your partner’s behavior. If so, here are a few tips for making sure you dismantle this codependent dysfunction in your relationships.
Tip #1: Know yourself and your codependent strategies
For every dominant codependent, there is a submissive counterpart. If you have the tendency to shift to submission when someone takes what you say personally, you need to make a commitment to yourself to stop enabling them for the sake of the relationship. Being submissive and letting someone accuse you or blame you for something they believe you did leads to a sense of powerlessness and depression or anger and resentment toward the person. If you find yourself apologizing for something you didn’t do because they have blamed you and it’s easier to submit, take a breath, recognize you have been pulled into the projection of the Personalizing Codependent and come back into the conversation using non-defensive communication skills, and finding out what the issue actually is.
Tip #2: Bring the conversation back to you
Personalizing Codependents have a way of taking anything you say and making it about them, often taking responsibility for being the cause or contributing to what happened to you. You might tell a story of a recent illness or difficult event and instead of empathizing, they say they are sorry and start to talk about how bad they feel about not being there for you. How irritating. Another example is when you mention how you are feeling (I am pressed for time) and they accuse you of not wanting to spend time with you. Meanwhile, you were talking about your schedule, and not about them. There is an underlying belief that they are the center of the universe, everyone is orbiting them, and therefore everyone’s behavior has something to do with them. If you are walking on eggshells around your Personalizing Codependent, don’t respond to their attempt to make the conversation about them and continue with what you are saying. If they turn on you and accuse you of doing something you are not, say a corrective statement like “Sounds like you have interpreted what I said as not wanting to spend time with you. I actually love spending time with you and am happy to schedule something. Right now, I am really pressed for time and have to go.” Don’t apologize, direct the conversation.
Tip #3: Stay in reality
With a Personalizing Codependent, there is a distinct feeling that you are being pulled into something that isn’t real. And you are right. You are being pulled into their projection. It is up to you to put the brakes on and choose not to be an actor in their drama. You can either keep walking on eggshells around the person or hold your ground and not react. Because their defenses come from a self-protective place, should you become defensive or argue with facts (like, I did not, yes you did, did not dialogue) you will be further blamed for being angry and mean. Boundarying the behavior from a place of kindness and understanding “I see that you’re upset, and you believe I caused it. Let’s take a breath and see if we can resolve the issue.” If they become inflamed by your calm response, let them know you are willing to talk to them, but will not be talked down to, vilified or blamed. If they are unable to shift, leave because you won’t get any traction when they are on the defensive. Wait for them to come to you.
You have the power to decide how to feel and how you will continue behaving in your romantic, personal, and work relationships. Becoming aware of the behaviors you need to shift from is the very first step that leads you on your way to becoming your authentic self and living the life you are meant to live.
Curious to Learn More?
We invite you to learn more about the Codependent Personalizing Strategy and how to overcome it on Episode 47 of our podcast, ‘Dismantling Dysfunction’:
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What Can I Do If I Am in a Codependent Relationship?
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Anne and Heather are organizational and leadership development experts at Caliber Leadership Systems, a boutique consulting firm specializing in dismantling of dysfunction in organizations. They are dedicated to empowering individuals, leaders, and organizations to achieve their potential by leveraging their expertise in the neurobiology of human development combined with system thinking approach. They wear many hats – Consultants, Executive Coaches, Trainers, Speakers and Authors – adapting their expertise and solutions to meet the needs of their clients. They bring a unique depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that gives clients the benefit of all of our disciplines to help them achieve their goals
As experts in human development and behavioral change, leadership and organizational transformation, interpersonal dynamics and the achievement of potential, Anne and Heather have worked with thousands of leaders and individuals from around the world, been featured in dozens of publications, spoken at professional conferences, and written several series of books on personality type and the brain based on the Striving Styles® and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.
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