Compulsive controlling — a.k.a. codependency, a.k.a. addiction to control — operates much like an infection, one we pass back and forth between us.
Say we’re friends, and I’m not honest with you about what I feel or what I really want. It may be over something insignificant, like where to have dinner or which movie to see. Maybe because I want you to like me, or agree with me, or I’m afraid of your disappointment or anger. Or maybe I just grew up in one of those families that taught me to lie even when lying was unnecessary. Whatever.
I may fool you for a while, but eventually you come to know this about me. This is inevitable. It’s hard not to sense when someone is in hiding.
So you respond in kind. You stay in hiding, too. You avoid being honest with me about what you think or feel or want.
And all this seems innocuous at first. We spend so much time hiding from other people that it becomes our default position, the place where we feel most comfortable and safe. Why not lie and pretend I want Italian instead of Chinese? Why not hide opinions that might cause conflict or hurt feelings?
So I rationalize my fear and dishonesty, and maybe you do too.
And maybe we transfer this to our other relationships.
Maybe I stay in hiding with other friends, and teach them to see me as you do. And you do the same. And we and they become part of a network of half-real, half-hidden connections where true feelings and motives are never permitted to come into the light.
This network is permeated by the whole array of half-conscious maneuvers people employ in the absence of honest communication — denial, projection, minimization, transference and the rest. And the truth of who we are gets buried under progressively deeper and more tangled layers of obfuscation.
I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen it spread from one codependent individual to infect entire families, and then everyone who comes in contact with their members. It comes to feel so normal to the people in these networks that they have no idea why they feel anxious and alone so much of the time. I’ve been part of this myself.