Soon after I entered S-Anon, someone said to me, “It sounds to me like you don’t know who you are.” My eyes widened as I processed this, and then I just sobbed. It was true. I had spent much of my life as a chameleon, adjusting my behavior, speech patterns, and opinions to what I thought the other person wanted from me. This was exhausting and ultimately unsatisfying as I felt that my efforts to meet (what I thought were) other people’s needs didn’t result in meaningful friendships. On the other hand, I felt that the few people with whom I had been authentically “me” had ultimately rejected me. So what option did I have? I felt that there must be something wrong with me, since I couldn’t be accepted as myself or again when I morphed into what other people wanted me to be.
Though I didn’t know it when I started S-Anon, my program has been a process of learning who I am and being OK with that person. I have had to learn how to lovingly detach not just from the sexaholic, but from every human being, and instead attach myself to my Higher Power and His perception of me.
A turning point for me was a relatively recent interaction with someone from my childhood. This relationship was indicative of many hurtful relationships in my youth — someone who was in and out of my life (mostly out) and I felt she had rejected me because of who I was. She reached out to me to reconnect a few years ago, and I reluctantly allowed the connection. In the course of interacting, she repeatedly brought up a painful instance from my childhood. Through my program work (and unbeknownst to her), I learned this issue was the source of much of my relationship dysfunction. After stewing in my resentment for a while, I chose to address the situation by sharing a little of what I had learned about how that situation had negatively impacted my life and how I was trying to undo the unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns I had used to cope with it. I then asked her not to keep bringing it up.
For someone who avoids conflict, this was a huge step and I braced myself for the expected barrage of criticism. Instead, she responded very graciously, admitting that her behavior toward me in our youth stemmed from jealousy, and she apologized for her treatment of me!
I was stunned by this turn of events, and it showed me two things: 1) we are all on our own personal growth paths and since we’re all imperfect, we’re bound to hurt and be hurt by people along the way; and 2) the “problem” isn’t always me! As I reviewed lost relationships in my life, I began to see that I almost always accepted the blame for what went wrong. I had always accepted what other people said about me as truth rather than filtering it through the knowledge that they are also imperfect and may need to grow in a particular area.
At a recent S-Anon International Convention, I attended a session on “showing up authentically” in relationships. In the session someone suggested viewing another person’s words and actions as objective data which could help both parties know whether their authentic selves were compatible for a healthy relationship. “Can this person handle ME at full strength?” Why would I choose to be in a relationship where I couldn’t be me? And realizing that a person can’t “handle me” doesn’t have to mean there’s anything wrong with me or the other person. It may just be that we are not a compatible match. This mindset has helped me dilute (or remove) the emotion from situations which in the past would have compounded my feelings of inadequacy and fed my unhealthy pattern of being a “chameleon.”
I am still new to this way of thinking and don’t always remember these principles. But when I do, I’m amazed at the freedom I feel and am grateful for one more step forward on my recovery path.
Reprinted from the Fall 2010 issue of S-Anews©.