What To Do When You’re Embarrassed By Their Behavior
What To Do When You’re Embarrassed By Their Behavior
We’ve all been there. If you love someone suffering from addiction or struggling with alcoholism, you have probably been embarrassed by their behavior at one point or another. Feeling embarrassed for others’ actions can be a sign of codependency that we need to continue to work on so we can be free from guilt over our loved one’s choices.
Listen to the podcast episode here:
Read the transcript and find more details here:
I’m getting into a routine every morning where I come downstairs before the kids wake up. I light a candle. I put on jazz, and I pick up this book. And this book is amazing. It’s called Facing Codependence, and it’s by a woman named Pia Mellody. What I do is I come downstairs, and I always read with a highlighter and a pen. And then, I highlight the sentences or paragraphs that really stand out to me.
I usually write in the margins and often get interrupted by one of my gazillion children. So the next day, because I have a terrible memory, I will start reading the sentences that I have highlighted from the day before.
It really helps me remember.
Because how often do we read these self-help books and so many steps and reasons, and your brain goes a million miles a minute because it’s pulling up stuff that you’re having epiphanies over? It’s a good book, but then you put it down, and you can’t remember a darn thing that you read. I don’t know. Maybe that doesn’t happen to everyone; I am in awe of those that can remember.
So I always read with two different pens in my hand. Maybe that technique will work for you regardless.
I’ve got two stories for you today. The first one is about my friend. So she was reading one of our newsletters that I send out because she’s a good friend like that. And she subscribes, even though her husband is not even close to being an alcoholic or having addiction problems, she’s just a great supporter. And she’s been subscribed for ten years. One day she told me, Michelle, normally to be truthful, I don’t really read your emails.
I’m like, of course, you don’t. Why would you?
But she said this one email, the title caught my attention, and I opened it. And so she said, I was looking at one of the books by Pia Mellody that someone in your community said she was reading; I know I’m definitely codependent. So I went out and bought it, and I’m going through it.
And then she pulled it out of her bag. She had all these highlights and notes, and it was really exciting. I’m thinking to myself, gosh, that’s great. And I don’t really need to get that book because I used to teach a class in codependency; I’ve got this covered. I know what I’m talking about here. I don’t suffer from codependency anymore.
And then she started reading me some of the things in the book, and I was so quickly humbled. And I thought, oh, wait a second.
I might need to revisit the topic of codependency.
Because here’s the deal, even if you leave the one you love, you still have issues and baggage. You need to work on that. You’ll take it into your next relationship if you don’t deal with them. This is the big aha moment I had recently: that once a codependent, kind of always a codependent, no matter what relationship you’re in.
And so, I learned and mastered codependency skills as far as it pertained to my relationship with my alcoholic or substance abuser. But I have not used or mastered my codependency skills as far as past pains or trauma from my childhood or how I’m handling my friendships or even my relationships with my kids. I’ve never really examined codependency under that umbrella.
So I figured why not go on this journey together? We can apply it to all areas of our life. I’m going to revisit it, and you’re going to learn more about it, cause I’m going to be teaching it and we’ll do it together. So here’s the excerpt. It’s only one sentence. It says, “Damaged boundaries could cause a person to take responsibility for someone else’s feelings, thinking or behavior such as when a wife feels shame and guilt because her husband insulted someone at a party.”
We have a whole course on boundaries because if there’s one skill that we have to learn, all women and men need to learn: it’s boundaries, boundaries, and boundaries. Boundaries are the best gift you can give to yourself. Mastering them is key to a happy life.
The idea of having damaged boundaries and applying them to taking responsibility for or feeling embarrassed by someone else’s actions resonates with me.
And I think it’s going to resonate with you. It reminds me of when I was married to my ex-husband, who we all know suffered from addiction in a major way and still does. He was very successful, smart, and good looking. The whole package. He was pretty high up in a fairly large company and climbing the ladder because he was very likable. He’s very charming; some might even call it manipulative. At his core, though, he was just a really nice guy who was very funny and had it all.
So he says, Michelle, we got to go to this Christmas party for work.
I knew his boss was some very, very wealthy man with one of those super fancy houses that you drive up to and you’re like, oh my lord.
So I sit there, and I realize I need to be the good wifey and use my manners and dress appropriately and do all that stuff. Why do I mention dressing appropriately? Because I have a problem with dressing appropriately. I know how to dress nicely. Let’s just say that for some reason, I am cursed with never appropriately dressing for any event. It’s a constant theme that I show up for events in completely the wrong attire. So, for example, we were in Kiawah at a wedding, and there was an evening cocktail hour, and I’m thinking, okay, Kiawah, South Carolina, you know, preppy, whatever.
Everyone’s not going to be that dressed up. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I told my ex-husband to wear shorts and a button-down, with loafers. I actually went on Pinterest, to be truthful, and Googled it: what do people wear?
He’s the only one wearing shorts. The only one. Everyone there was wearing suits. Everyone. I show up with just a casual, simple look, and every other woman is wearing a cocktail dress.
Why do I bring this up? Because we pull up to this house and it’s a mansion. And I get out, and my ex-husband said, oh, it’s casual. It’s casual. You know, they’re very laid back. Please don’t roll your eyes, but I wore jeans.
Okay. Yes. I am aware it was a terrible mistake. Who wears jeans to a Christmas party? I get it now. Back then, I did not. So I show up in jeans with a nice top on. So I walk in and immediately I’m like, I did it again.
I totally did not nail the attire. I was so embarrassed.
The hostess walks up to me with her open arms, and she says, welcome. She’s adorable, beautiful, she’s wearing sequins, and she looks amazing. And I said immediately because I’ve done this before, I’m so sorry. I must’ve misread the situation and I apologize for my jeans. I am completely not dressed appropriately.
And she says, oh, well, I’m the hostess. So I want to stand out with my attire and look extra, extra fancy. You’re dressed fine, great even. You’re perfect for the occasion.
I was not. I was not at all. But she came up with that on the fly, which I thought was really impressive and so kind. Everyone else came in dresses and cocktail attire.
This party had a poker night theme. They hired a gambling company and had a full bar with waiters, the whole nine yards. And then they had all these poker tables set up. They had the whole basement set up like a bunch of Vegas tables.
Immediately I see the open bar, and I think, oh no.
This is going to be a very, very interesting night. Remember, I don’t drink because I hate alcohol because it’s ruining my family. And I’m hoping my husband will take my lead and be inspired by my non-drinking and join me, which never worked in 10 years, by the way, not once. And so immediately he goes right to the bar and orders his first drink.
I start to feel the pit in my stomach and start to get completely worried and all in my head. And I’m experiencing what I learned to be codependent behaviors, and I’m suffering from anxiety. I’m taking it on already. My husband’s poor choices and the results that I know are going to happen. So you know where I’m going with this, the night goes on and he’s drinking more, and I’m counting the number of drinks.
And I’m looking like I’m having a fun time and I’m laughing. But in the back of my head, I’m going, oh my gosh, he just got drink number four, where is he? Who’s he talking to? What’s he saying? Is he embarrassing me? What is he doing? Is he flirting? Throwing up? Is he just leaving without me? All of which have happened at parties before.
I’m not having a good time. I’m being his babysitter.
And this brings me to the quote in the book and boundaries, which is, I was constantly, at many, many public occasions being embarrassed and humiliated by my ex-husband’s ability to get wasted and taking it on as if I had something to do with it. As if somehow, my responsibilities as a wife were being neglected because my husband was misbehaving, which is such a bunch of BS.
Instead, I am a grown woman showing up at a party as an individual. And if he chooses to misbehave or embarrass himself, then my only job is to stay in my own lane and let him behave accordingly. My job is not to make apologies for him. I don’t need to feel embarrassed for him.
I don’t need to go around pulling him aside, saying, I think you’ve had too much, honey. You might want to slow down. I don’t need to walk up to the waiter and say, listen, you’re over-serving; would you mind he’s got a problem. Would you mind just slowing it down?
I don’t need to go around cleaning up behind him, all the conversations, and apologizing for him or making sure everything’s fine. I don’t need to do any of that. None of that.
What I needed to do and what we need to do when our loved one is displaying obnoxious behavior or embarrassing behavior or whatever is this. We need to sit there and watch them for a second and remind ourselves: you know what? That is not me. I love that person, but that person is not me.
I am a separate individual from the person I love.
They are not a part of my limb. Although it feels like they are, they’re not my arm. They’re not part of my leg. They’re not attached to me. They were not created by me.
I do not own them. I do not take responsibility for their behavior and sit back and watch them behave on their own. We need to remind ourselves constantly that we need to have a sense of humor. Right? We can look at this and laugh a little and go, good lord. How the heck did our lives get here? This is nuts. If you can laugh a bit, do it. But if you feel like you can’t, that’s cool. I respect that.
Maybe you look back and watch them and just go, you know what? That is sad.
That must feel really, really sad. I feel embarrassed for that person’s behavior, not my behavior. And then you check yourself, you check your behavior. You make sure that you are staying in your own lane. You make sure your conversations don’t include them, or you’re not apologizing for them.
And if you’re uncomfortable, you leave. You grab your keys, you leave, and you say, you know what? This isn’t making me happy. I’m taking responsibility for my own feelings, and I’m not going to storm out and make some big scene or even grumble and gripe about it. I’m just going to go back to my house, have a bowl of ice cream, watch a British murder mystery show and enjoy my night because I am a grown human being that gets to make my own choices. And I don’t owe anyone an explanation.
I don’t owe anyone an apology, and I don’t have to clean up anyone else’s mess. And I don’t have to take responsibility for anyone else’s decisions on whether they get sober or better or not. And if they did something super embarrassing or humiliating, and I know my friends are feeling uncomfortable about it, let them clean up their own mess.
This applies to children too. I know that this is going to be painful to hear, but it’s one of the biggest life lessons I’m learning with my kids: my kids have their own agenda. And I’ve got so many of them. They were each born as very different people. All of them have very different personalities. I can’t take ownership of this. I can’t sit there and control my children. And I’ve learned that because I was married to an alcoholic and substance abuser and realized I couldn’t control them.
Trying to control somebody else, anybody else other than yourself, is a waste of time.
And it means that we are unhealthy. And it means we have to focus on ourselves and do self-care and personal awareness and growth. Right?
If you want to know the end of the story that night, he was getting wasted. I was feeling very uncomfortable. So I threw myself into poker. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t playing for real money. You got tickets when you walk through the door. And so I was like, I don’t know how to play. And I don’t care. I’m betting big. Go big or go home, right?
What have I got to lose at this point? I felt like my world was falling apart, anyways. So I started betting big. And y’all, I started winning.
I started winning and winning and winning all these tickets. So I got all these Chucky-Cheese-like tickets. At the end of the night, they had a big raffle for all these prizes. There were four prizes, and I won three of the prizes, including a new camera. I gave back two of the other prizes so that everyone else could win, which was, now, looking back on it, kind of codependent of me.
But anyway, I had a ball. I had a ball in my jeans. I was sober, not drinking, and in my jeans winning prizes.
Honestly, beyond winning, I don’t remember what happened with my ex-husband or anything else. I just remember being the big winner of the evening and having a good time despite his behavior. So that is my story. I love you, and I’ll talk to you next week.
Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.
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