Are you a victim of verbal abuse, threatened emotionally, psychologically and/or physically? Or are you a volunteer who chooses to remain in a victim position?

When we are growing up we often learn to assume blame for any interaction that doesn’t work. As we get older we may switch to the persecutor position in which we assume that all the blame belongs to the other person.

Maturity requires switching from blame to self-responsibility. Responsibility means that I have contributed to a situation and I can change what I’m doing in an attempt to change the situation. If these changes don’t work I can then decide what to do.

Sometimes just changing the words we use to think about a situation helps us see how we have contributed to an ongoing problem. Once we have an understanding of our own contributions we then have the groundwork for a plan to make effective change.

Gail reported these common complaints: “My spouse is always telling me what to do,” and “How can I live with a person who tries to control everyone?”

Many of us have days when we might say this about our relationships. In co-dependent relationships, however, this happens regularly. For some people this situation occurs at home; for others possibly at work.

  • Does someone else seem to control your life now?
  • Did someone else try to control you before?
  • Have you had at least one person like this in your life for as long as you can remember?

To effect a lasting change in this part of your life, the real issue is to discover how you are cooperating in maintaining such an unproductive relationship. Only then can you explore your options for change.


Practice with some of your most common “complaints” and rephrase them. See yourself as a fully functional, mature individual who is a participant in the discomfort of the relationship. Since you are probably sure that the other person needs to change first, this may be a difficult task. Stick with it. This is a process to move beyond blaming anyone.

Just observe the mechanics of how you and the other person have played out some agreements that you may have never recognized before. Here are examples to work from: (You do not have to like the restatement, but see if it holds true).

“My husband rules our house with an iron hand.”
This could turn into “I have agreed to be ruled by my husband in our marriage. I have done this by doing what he has told me to do (probably) since the beginning of our relationship. I have also taught our children to follow his instructions directly or by setting an example for them.”

“He makes all the decisions. He tells me what I will do.”
This could be: “I ask him for his guidance before I choose to do anything. When I want to do something on my own, I ask permission; then when he refuses, I do not do what I would like to do.”

“How can I learn to live with a person like this?”
might become:”I choose to live with this man because he provides things for me that I want and need, even though I sometimes resent the cost. I am afraid to stand up for what I want because I feel I’ll risk losing the emotional and physical security he has provided for me all these years. I am also not sure I could make it on my own without him. I have very little confidence in my own ability to take care of myself (and our children).”

Building a New Belief

Look at the way each of these problems have been restated. As frightening and unfamiliar as this new perspective may be, keep translating these common complaints.

Each restatement is another building block to move to a position of responsibility. You develop an attitude that you can solve this part of the problem — just like exercising builds and tones muscles.

Even if the other person does not participate, there is a great deal you can do. Look to other people who are taking positive, directed action in their lives. Changing a belief you have lived with for so long may take the active support of a counselor, therapist, AlAnon and/or a co-dependency support group.

Many people progress from a victim position to an autonomous position in their relationships. They have changed their belief that they need to relate to their spouses as if they were controlling parents who have the right and responsibility to control their lives.

Once the basic belief system is changed (and this is the hard part), then the steps of re-establishing your own responsibility and autonomy can proceed.

Gail worked with this procedure for several months. One day she triumphantly reported to her support group,”I told my husband that I am registering for two classes at the Junior College. He said I needed to spend more time with the children. I repeated that I was starting school and asked what problems he saw with the children. He backed off and we didn’t even argue.”