Codependency & Bullying
Our Narcissistic/Codependent Society
In today’s show we continue our discussion on bullying and offer some ideas of why it happens and how to make it stop.
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Check Out the Article Kim Mentions in this Show Here:
STEVE: Hi and welcome to our Narcissistic-Codependent Society. In these short podcasts, Kim and I discuss how narcissism and codependence play out in our society.
KIM: One way to understand narcissism and codependence is as an imbalance.
STEVE: The narcissistic view on life believes that the winner takes all, and nice guys come last.
KIM: While the codependent feels that giving makes them a good person, and expects that if they give others should automatically give something in return.
STEVE: In our last show, Kim and I discussed narcissism and bullying, and in this show we will discuss codependence and bullying.
KIM: This is a sad subject for me, and a bit embarrassing.
STEVE: You were bullied at school, Kim?
KIM: Yeah, I was. But even worse than that, I can now see that I think I often made the bullying worse for myself than it probably needed to be.
STEVE: Right. So you think that codependent people ask to be bullied, in some way?
KIM: No, certainly not. (Laughing.) But I think that the main reason they do get bullied is that they are frightened of having no friends.
STEVE: Hmm. And having no friends is meant to be like the worst thing that can happen to you when you’re at school, right? When you’re a kid?
KIM: Well, I thought that when I was a kid, but I think worse is embarrassing yourself by hanging around people who treat you badly because you don’t know how to stand up for yourself or just be cool to hang out on your own for a while until you actually make some friends who do like you.
STEVE: Right. (Laughing.) So yeah, hanging out on your own when you’re a kid doesn’t seem right in a lot of ways. It’s not like the system really encourages that very much, is it.
KIM: Mmm … well, I think friendship is overplayed in our society. It’s made out to be the most important thing in the whole, entire world. I think now with Facebook and whatever — which, you know, I don’t think Facebook and all that are as bad as people often make out, and in previous shows I have talked about how I think it’s probably wrong Facebook is described as creating narcissism in our society.
I think there are a lot more dangerous things than Facebook — but I think this idea that how many friends you have on Facebook is really important, and makes you a better person than the next person. I think that’s probably a pretty dangerous idea. Because it’s giving that idea that everything is about how many people like you, where I think friendship is pretty overrated, actually.
STEVE: Yeah, so you think friendship is really sort of pushed upon us in the school system. We really are encouraged and almost bullied into hanging out with our own peers, our contemporaries, people our own age. But that doesn’t always feel comfortable and doesn’t always feel right . . . and Kim, you and I have talked, written, and recorded over many years about the role of vertical attachment in our families and in our society, and how important that is. That is to say vertical attachment which means that a young person also needs to learn from older people — older siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and a young person and can even learn a lot about life and connection by hanging out with younger people — infants and toddlers as well. That vertical attachment of different age groups, we learn a lot even though it’s not necessarily math or the rote language at the same rate as people our own age, but we are still learning a lot about ourselves and how to interact with people of different ages.
KIM: Mmm. This sort of class system, I could call it, as a bit of a joke, but it is like a class system where we are grouped into these classes of kids that are all the same age, and a really big deal is made about that — about hanging out with the kids that are the same age as you. But as we spoke about in the previous show, really it’s much more important that we learn about the world from people that are older than us. That’s who we really need to be getting instruction from when we are young, and not necessarily from our peers.
Our daughter was a fantastic example. You probably remember when she started at a new primary school, and there was some fairly socially competitive girls at that school that it ended up, we discovered, were two groups of girls, and there was some pretty fierce rivalry between the two groups of girls. Our daughter, when she came into the school, of course knew nothing about this, so she just found a little piece of the playground that she claimed as her own. She didn’t isolate herself, and that’s really important that you don’t isolate yourself. I can’t even remember whether we taught her or whether she taught us —I think it might have been a little bit of both — but I know I certainly learned a lot from this experience. She would just play on her own, and be very happy to play on her own. Every recess and lunchtime, she would skip rope and she had all sorts of games she would play. She would sing and she would have a really lovely time. Eventually, the other girls started to approach her and ask her to be friends and say to join our group, but if you join our group you are not allowed to hang out with the girls in the other group. And our daughter would just say, “No, I don’t want to do that. I want to be friends with everyone.” And eventually, she was. And not only did she make friends with everyone, but she was actually quite instrumental in healing the rift between the two groups of girls. By 6th grade, they were all friends. And she still sees a lot of those girls now.
STEVE: So I think the trap was that our daughter was possibly in a situation there where she could have been inclined to become a people pleaser or somebody who was codependent in the sense that she wanted to please a certain group or a certain section of that group with people-pleasing, codependent behavior that would give her an initial kind of connection with some people, but that wouldn’t be sustained over a long period. But I guess this situation occurs where it’s very easily to ostracize people. We talked about that last week. And it’s all about an unhealthy understanding of what it means to be a friend…or, we are taking this through to what that means to be a husband or a wife as well. We are talking about a school context at the moment, and about bullying, but obviously how you relate to the people closest to you and what that means, and what you should be expecting and what you shouldn’t be expecting in return.
KIM: Mmm. That’s right. Because these patterns play themselves out over our lives if we don’t learn better patterns. And our daughter didn’t display codependent behavior; she actually displayed healthy behavior. Unfortunately, myself as a child, I didn’t fare so well. See, I would have been absolutely mortified to not have somebody to eat my lunch with or to be on my own in the playground, and that led me to force myself and I guess become a pest around people who really clearly showed that they didn’t like me, and they didn’t really want me hanging around. This really did, I think, exacerbate the bullying that was happening to me, and really damaged my, um, social standing and my status at school definitely, to the point where really it was actually just probably leaving California and coming to Australia that saved me, because I had a chance to start over again.
STEVE: That’s really sad, Kim.
KIM: Well, at least I got that chance to start over again. But I didn’t leave my codependent habits behind, see?
KIM: So, I still ended up in trouble later on forming relationships, and hey — eventually I did figure it out, and I figured out better ways of behaving.
STEVE: So, let’s just say you’re in a situation where there is some people around you, whether it’s in a school, a workplace, in a family, in a church group, in a sporting group — whatever it is, you are in a situation where you don’t feel like you have a large enough segment of people you are in good rapport with. You might be new to the group, you might be in a relationship where you don’t have a good quality connection with your children and your partner, your neighbors, or whatever it is — put yourself there, and what does it feel like? It feels awful. There is nothing worse than this.
I have a couple of stories where I was in large groups with people that were my peers, and I was absolutely horrified I was on my own. I didn’t know how to deal with it.
STEVE: But, you are only who you are, and all you have is your own resources at the time. At that point, it’s very important not to become codependent or narcissistic in your approach. I know it’s easy to throw caution to the wind and just go, “Okay, I’m just going to do my best and rely on my narcissistic flare and charm.”
STEVE: Or, “I’ll be polite and give a lot of praise to somebody for what they are wearing or how they look or whatever, and maybe they will owe that to me in return?”
STEVE: But our society isn’t like that. Our society gobbles up people in vulnerable situations like that, so we have to proceed with caution. The codependent tendency to try and give praise, give gifts, or be overly generous, is really a very dangerous move.
KIM: Mmm. Or even plead for people to be nice to them, try and convince people that they should be nice to them.
“Why are you being so mean to me.”
“Can’t you see that you are hurting me.”
“Be my friend.”
It’s very sad. We mentioned the book in our last show, Hold Onto Your Kids. A very sad book, but really a book we recommend if you have been bullied or you are dealing with bullying particularly with your kids. There are some terrible stories in there of kids who were bullied to the point where they were even murdered, and the whole while witnesses (other kids) watched these kids saying, “But I just want to be your friend; I just want you to like me”.
KIM: Now, why would you want somebody to like you, or say that you want to be friends with somebody who is in the process of drowning your or is in the process of, like, killing you. I mean, this really just shows how abhorrent this pattern of behavior is with codependents.
So what you were mentioning before, Steve—you know, you are alone, you are in a situation where you don’t know anyone at the school. So, I guess the narcissistic tendency would be to say:
“Well, I’m better than all these people anyway.”
“Who are these people? They think they’re so great.”
And to sort of puff yourself up and try to attract attention to yourself by boasting or bragging, or by maybe picking on somebody else that appeared vulnerable, putting somebody down, trying to get a laugh and trying to win the crowd over to give you attention through that.
KIM: While the codependent way of behaving, as I just mentioned, may be pleading for attention, trying to please people, giving compliments (as you just mentioned), or really trying to be really nice and say, “Look, I am going to be really nice to you; you should be nice to me in return.”
So, both of these patterns of behavior, in terms of trying to attract friends or trying to form a connection with other people, are unhealthy.
The healthy way of behaving in that situation is to just understand that, hey, we are not always in a situation where we have people around us who we are friends with or who we know. And it’s actually okay to be by yourself. As long as you hang out fairly close to the crowd, don’t isolate yourself, and you stay cool about being on your own and just get about your own business, it usually won’t be long until someone who is interested in making friends with you is going to come and say hello. As long as you don’t do anything to mess that up by being arrogant or by being too people pleasing. That’s where the pattern starts going wrong.
STEVE: Understanding that we, as individuals, have a fair bit of narcissism and codependency, depending on the situation — but our society is completely full of it! And the other individuals in this world are going through the exact same anxiety in a lot of cases.
So knowing yourself is one thing, but knowing that the situation can often call for you even more to know yourself and just be prepared — and not try and jump into something that is narcissistic or codependent is really going to support you in building a solid connection.
So, we have a situation like it’s at school or it’s the same with your relationship — it’s exactly the same. It’s very important not to try and jump in too soon with the old habits that we have formed.
Kim and I have been together for many, many years. We both learned terrible, terrible habits before we got together, and we reinforced those habits in the first 12 or so years of our marriage (laughing), where we both had to come to terms with where we have this behavior, and it wasn’t really generating a better relationship, or any kind of closeness.
KIM: We mentioned in our last show about our son and how he really had a difficult time being bullied at school, to the point where we actually took him out of school and you schooled him at home for a year or so.
STEVE: Mmm-hmm, yep.
KIM: He is doing really well at school now. He is in high school, and he is playing team sport and he is really very popular. Although we taught him the skills he needed to learn to stand up for himself and to turn that situation around, from being really at the bottom of the pecking order socially, to now being one of the kids that is much closer to the top— he is still very frustrated because he sees other kids that are going through the same thing that he was going through. And although he himself learned, he isn’t actually able to teach them, he doesn’t have the resources to teach them. And he is very frustrated that the school system isn’t teaching them.
It was only just last week that he mentioned to me in the car when we were on our own that he just couldn’t believe that all they learn at school over and over is, “don’t be a bully, don’t be a bully, don’t be a bully”, and he said they just have it drummed into them constantly that being a bully is bad.
KIM: But, what he said to me is, “You’re not going to stop people bullying other kids! As if that’s going to work! Why are they not teaching the kids what you taught me, mum?” And he was angry, but he was also so frustrated about it, because it really hurts him to see other kids going through what he went through. And it was very hard for me to answer that. I don’t know why.
STEVE: Yeah (laughing).
KIM: I surely can’t be the only person on the entire planet that has come to see this in a different way, and understand that of course the problem really needs to be dealt with by empowering the kids who are being bullied to learn to stand up for themselves better. I mean, obviously that needs to be the solution, doesn’t it? I mean, you can’t leave the solution in the hands of the perpetrators, can you?
STEVE: No, absolutely, Kim. That’s so important. And our son was talking about a friend of his who was getting targeted and felt he couldn’t help him.
But that brings us, Kim, to your article called, “The Myths of Bullying”. After reading that, I think you could say, you know, the system does really need to have some questions asked of it. It’s a bit like asking kids to stop taking drugs. It’s kind of like, yeah, you can ask them to stop, but of course there is some allure in that. But with bullying, it’s something different. There is a response that can be taught to kids and they can deal with it, and it comes from a point of understanding.
Learning about ourselves is only one simple starting point.
STEVE: Learning to be able to deal with it is an ongoing process.
KIM: Because on one hand, they are saying, “Don’t be a bully”, but on the other hand, they are also teaching this competitive system that really pits kids against each other and says that having the right answer and being the best, and beating everybody else in your test results, and being the winner is the way to succeed in life. So we really end up with these two very different ways of looking at life that are being taught to us. And society is pushing both of these world views on us all the time. And really, depending on who you are, you tend to get one world view pushes on you more than the other.
On one hand, we are not meant to offend anyone and we are told we need to keep other people happy, particularly girls are raised that way. Don’t offend anyone.
On the other hand, like you mentioned before, Steve, we are also told that nice guys come last.
STEVE: Yeah, yeah. So they are really unsustainable models that are impressed upon us (laughing) . . .
KIM: Mmm . . .
STEVE: That of course lends to bullying. So, what are we meant to do?
I think we need to together as parents, as teachers, as educators, as friends — we need to be looking at this and we need to say, okay, well look — we’ve got this performance-based school system, which does lead to people beating each other, whether it’s beating them in a math contest or beating them on the football field, or beating them in some kind of result-based paradigm that they are learning in — all of that leads to bullying. It’s just implicit in it.
STEVE: We can’t pretend we can talk about it with pretty words. And that’s the other thing I’ve got about the school system — particularly here in Australia. They like to use pretty PR words to sort of dance around subjects. They don’t necessarily like to jump in like we do, Kim (laughing).
KIM: These two different world views really directly come into conflict with each other. They create this imbalance that just naturally creates this conflict that arises. And, I mean, obviously, there needs to be some kind of scoring and testing system in schools, but I think that we really need to be focused a lot more on this vertical attachment idea, that the teachers need to be allowed to give a lot more time to the kids, smaller class sizes, is something that is very important. But also that kids are actually encouraged to better their own performance. So it’s really about them challenging themselves and them stretching themselves. Because if we look at research it shows — well, one of the biggest research projects that was ever conducted of people who reached old age and also felt like they had had a successful life that they felt was meaningful, and more than anything else these people felt like the secret to that was knowing yourself. And that really the secret to happiness is actually to be challenged in your life — to actually have challenges put to you that you are able to accomplish, but that do stretch you a little. But that really doesn’t have anything to do with comparing yourself to other people. That is really about comparing yourself to your past performance, and saying, “Okay, well, I am going to push myself to go a little bit better this time.”
So, you know, if you have struggled working with others as a team in your life, and especially at home. Or if you were bullied as a child, or you feel that maybe you are bullied now in your home, or you don’t feel you have completely gotten over being bullied as a child, or you are dealing with this with your own children at the moment, I really, really encourage you. Please look below for the link to my article on “The Myths of Bullying”, and please just have a look at these ideas. Because this really is something that you can do something about. Really, the problem can be healed probably quicker than you might even imagine.
STEVE: Thanks for tuning into Our Narcissistic/Codependent Society. I am Steve Cooper. This is my wife, Kim. Please keep an eye on our YouTube channel. We will have another podcast out before the end of the week.
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Check out Kim’s article on The Myths of Bullying here: