Living One Day at a Time: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
The scene: A 12 Step meeting, a person sharing begins to cry, the Kleenex Box Super Hero arrives with a flourish.
Recognize the scene? You may have played one of the starring roles. What is really going on here is an excellent example of unhealthy co-dependent and manipulative behaviour. What?! Let's examine the dynamics of codependent behavior.
When a person shares in a room full of 12 Step peers, they are often getting in touch with feelings that have long been buried. It can take considerable effort for a person to feel safe enough with feelings of vulnerability to really allow themselves to express their emotions. You've seen it, after a lot of talking, a person may begin to tear up, perhaps to really cry, or even sob. One of the wonderful things about 12 Step Rooms is that when a person is sharing, everyone is paying attention, and respectfully listening, probably empathizing and relating. There is a sacred focus in the room, where the person is being held in love and fellowship by the others present. Most people are intently connecting with what the speaker is conveying through words and emotions, and the speaker has an opportunity to feel this connection, and feel enough trust to continue with their painful process.
Almost inevitably what happens when the speaker starts to cry, most especially if the speaker is female, is that someone somewhere in the room, rises from their seat. All eyes and attention leave the speaker, and move to the KBSH who has stood up. The Hero then does whatever he/she needs to do to find the Kleenex. Maybe they can easily locate a box of tissue, maybe they need to enter the bathroom, and come back out, maybe they start to whisper and ask if anyone else has a tissue, maybe they activate the noisy paper towel dispenser. Whatever they have to do to find the paper product, they will.
Once the product is procured, then comes the processional walk to the speaker. At this point, everyone in the room is aware of the KBSH, their struggle to find the tissue, and the flourishing hand off to the speaker. Sometimes the speaker is so deep in sharing and emotion they are the only ones who don't notice the approaching hero until the tissue is thrust into her their hands.
Often the speaker is startled, and thanks the KBSH, who then returns to his/her seat, mission accomplished. By this point, the sacred focus of the room has been completely broken. The speaker dries his or her eyes and, wipes her nose, looks embarrassed, takes a deep breath to stuff the feelings back down, thanks everyone for listening, and shuts up. The only satisfied person in the room is the KBSH.
Growing up in a dysfunctional home, children are taught that exhibitions of emotions are not to be tolerated. Tears and raised voices often are connected to violence and fear. The care-takers of the family learn to do whatever they need to to keep these messy emotions in themselves and others at bay. One of the most difficult things to learn for a care-taker is to allow another person the respect and vulnerability they deserve to feel and express whatever they are feeling. The care-taker wants to make everything better, or at least encourage the other person to pretend that everything is better.
When that crying speaker is handed a tissue, what the KBSH is really saying is, "Dry your eyes. Clean yourself up. Stop crying. What you are doing is not ok. You are making me and other people in the room uncomfortable". And as a bonus the KBSH themselves become the center of attention, an admired caretaker.
When small children are crying, it may make sense to get them a tissue and even to help them to blow their nose. When an adult is crying, whether in a 12 Step Room or other-wheres elsewhere, allow them the dignity and respect to express what they need to. Just listen to them. Be there with them. Show them love and recognition in your eyes. If that crying speaker wants a tissue, they will ask for one.
We learn that most everything we were taught or have learned is counter to emotional and spiritual health and wholeness. But once the truth is pointed out and illuminated, it is fairly impossible to go back to old ways of thinking and reacting.
Watch for her sister hero, Rub Your Back, Pat Your Knee and Hug You While You Are Sharing. When it is appropriate, and in a loving way, you may have an opportunity to share what you have learned about the subtle manipulation of this care-taking behavior.
Live and Let Live!
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