Why Can’t I Say—NO? Part 1

Several years into my second marriage I discovered that some of my marital problems had nothing to do with my husband, Steve, or his kids. I dragged colossal emotional baggage into the marriage that I didn’t even know existed. In His perfect timing God gently and patiently pulled back a dark curtain of distortion, and revealed the lies that resided in my head.

For the first time I saw the truth hiding behind my anxiety, fear, and the ever present sense that doom was lurking around the corner.

This revelation exposed a belief that my value, worth and significance hinged on rescuing others. This affliction has numerous names including: enabler, people pleaser, fixer, rescuer or co-dependent. I falsely assumed that I couldn’t possibly be codependent because I have a strong personality. I assumed enablers and codependents were timid, shy, fragile and weak.

I was wrong.

Introverts can be people pleasers, but so can those who are gregarious—like me. The predicament is related more to childhood than personality type. After studying how enabling and people pleasing embeds itself in a child, and alters a teen and/or adult, I realized that I could be the poster child for Codependency Anonymous.

In my book, When ‘I Do’ Becomes ‘I Don’t’—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, I share a definition of codependency by Pat Springle, “Co-dependency is a compulsion to control and rescue people by fixing their problems. It occurs when a person’s God-given needs for love and security have been blocked in a relationship with a dysfunctional person, resulting in a lack of objectivity, a warped sense of responsibility, being controlled and controlling others.”  

A person can become codependent for any number of reasons. Almost all of these patterns can be traced to a problem in the home while growing up. The following list, while not complete, explains some of the most common causes.

  • Alcoholism or drugs anywhere within the family. (This includes grandparents, stepparents, siblings, cousins, etc.).
  • Physical abuse: beatings, spitting, biting, slapping in the face, being locked in the closet, etc.
  • Emotional abuse including insults, intense criticism, being told “you were never wanted” or “you are stupid”, etc.
  • Sexual abuse by a relative, neighbor or a close friend of the family.
  • Parents with extensive mental disorders.
  • Parents who were physically ill and unavailable.
  • Parents who were emotionally unavailable.
  • Parents who were absent due to a divorce or workaholism.
  • Parents who were unpredictable and yelled, screamed, and accused with no explanation.
  • Parents who used the child as a substitute for a mate.
  • Parents who coddled or over-protected the child.
  • Parents who expected perfection and unrealistic standards.

It makes sense that when our needs were not met as a child we gravitated toward someone or something to fill that void.   “The more deeply one has been wounded, the higher the probability that one will be codependent. The pain from the past leaks into the present,” states John P. Splinter.

In my late 30’s I finally woke up and got help for my enabling issues. That’s when I became a better wife, stepmom, daughter, sister, friend, etc. I’m not completely cured. There are still times and issues which can activate and launch my people-pleasing cycle. But now I’m able to identify the problem.

Are YOU a People Pleaser?

In the life coaching sessions I offer there are four simple words which help me to discern and identify whether my client is battling the destructive beast of enabling. The words are, “How can I get?”

Examples: How can I get

  • My husband to stop drinking/porn/abuse/cheating… ?
  • My stepkid’s mom to stop saying horrible things about me?
  • My in-laws to accept me?
  • My husband to spend time alone with me?
  • My kids to appreciate all that I do for them?
  • My husband to see my pain and loneliness?

The answer is the same for the entire list—YOU CAN’T.

When a sentence begins with, “how can I get” there is a good chance it’s coming from someone who struggles with co-dependency or enabling. It’s an indication they are attempting to control a circumstance that they cannot. Those of us who battle codependency loathe when we can’t be in control. It’s a fear issue, that we instinctively learned early on.

The reality is I can’t force anyone to do anything they don’t chose to do. I do not have that much power.

Now that we have uncovered the issue, Laura’s next blog will address insights on how to overcome codependency, enabling and people pleasing.

To hear her audio CD of, “Why Can’t I Say—NO?” click here.


Copyright © 2016 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.

Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal, 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Her website is www.LauraPetherbridge.com