This article by Annie Highwater was originally published on The Sober World January 30, 2021
We hear a lot about Serenity in recovery programs. For me personally, developing Serenity meant no longer being codependent to four dynamics when they show up around me: Jealousy, spitefulness, moodiness and rudeness.
It was no small thing to recover from the tendency to take those vibes personally. In fact, it was hard work. Even still, if I don’t monitor myself, I can get pulled in.
Not that I haven’t at times veered in and out of those emotional behaviors myself, but more often than not I was a sponge when it came to anyone else exhibiting them.
As an adult growing up in a chaotic, competitive, dysfunctional environment, I tended to draw people into my life who were as jealous, spiteful, moody and rude as my struggling parents and siblings could sometimes be.
And then…I would fight with those people about it. Just as I did as a kid. It’s a toxic cycle of madness, and I know I’m not alone.
A family member of mine was once married to someone who bounced from mood to mood. His paralyzing silences and frightening eruptions usually revolved around her time with family or friends. She would prepare for days before holidays and social events, dreading how he might somehow ruin them, as he often did. When the day came, she couldn’t enjoy herself apart from him either. She would fret the whole time, worried about going home to his bad mood, often taking several containers of food back with her, in an effort to cut his mood off at the pass.
Another friend described the mood-swings she dreaded when her husband came home from work. She never knew what to expect as he regularly walked in the door with steam seeming to come from him, after a stressful day on the job. She could tell by the look on his face if he was in a toxic mood, which meant he was sure to take it out on everyone around him.
No amount of perfecting the cleanliness, order, or atmosphere of the home mattered. He would turn on her on a dime, lasering in on a sound, or smudge somewhere. He’d then boil for an hour, and work himself into a tantrum. Later returning to a pleasant mood as if nothing had happened (though the members of his household were all throbbing in his wake. Still hurt, fearful, and on guard, or sometimes fed up and furious).
* * *
A father wrote me about his son and daughter who are “dueling banjos” when it comes to having toxic moods that affect the home. They were notorious for spoiling dinnertime, weekends, car rides and vacations.
Their frequent fights, competitions over grades and sports, and all out wars in the mornings caused misery and dread for everyone around them. Eventually, healthy peaceful friends and family members began to drift away from the behavior (and them as well), in order not to be consumed.
It’s toxic stress, and it scorches everyone around it.
* * *
~ If you are prone to jealousy, spitefulness, moodiness, or rudeness: Stop it! Face it. Work on it. Get on top of it. It’s miserable, turn it around.
Turn inward and seek the root of it, so you can heal and be free. Those around you will thank you for it, and life can begin overflowing with peace and positivity. Trust that you are making an impact and causing more hidden problems than you know. It will return on you. No one is at fault for your life. Your moods and attitudes belong to you and you alone, so work on them.
If you feel you can’t predict or control your emotions, you may need to visit your family physician, or seek out a therapist.
~If you have kids prone to jealousy, spitefulness, moodiness, or rudeness: Address it! Govern the behavior and reroute them to process through it toward peace, empathy, and gratitude.
You want to raise strong, kind adults! If you don’t address those emotional behaviors, they will show up in their friendships and relationships. And more than likely, cause them to attract toxic attachments.
Note: being competitive can perpetuate these behaviors. However, there is such a thing as being talented and excellent—yet humble, mindful, and considerate, while putting in an effort to stabilize moods and responses. It can all coexist together.
It takes effort to achieve balance and stability, but it’s more than worth it.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a helpful tool for stabilizing high stress moods and emotions. Learning these methods at a young age can produce life-long benefits.
~If you are living, working with, or codependent to someone who poisons the atmosphere with jealousy, spitefulness, moodiness, or rudeness: Let it be! Unhook from it as much and as often as possible. Walk away. Breathe. Look out for yourself. Be your own advocate.
Know that nothing you say or do will eliminate this person’s highs and lows. There are no perfect conditions. You can’t get it right enough to keep someone else in a pleasant disposition. Nor should you have to. That’s codependency. We need never take the blame or responsibility for someone else’s moods or attitudes. Even if they tell you it’s your fault – especially if they do! That’s all the more toxic.
Say this with me: IT. HAS. NOTHING. TO. DO. WITH. ME. (the part of you that believes otherwise is where recovery work is needed.)
It’s not your fault, it’s not your project. Repeat it until you believe it!
If you are going through this, arming yourself with support and information can be absolutely life-saving.
Recovery is a broad sweep of all things problematic—including dealing with those who are jealous, spiteful, moody, and rude (and dealing with ourselves when it’s us).
Peace is possible. We can all strive to be more pleasant, humble, kind and considerate.
We can all put in effort to choose our way out of mean-spirited moods and attitudes.
It’s a process. Choose recovery. Choose health. Choose serenity.
I’m still learning!
Annie Highwater is an Author, Recovery Writer, Podcast Host, Speaker and Family Advocate. She is a life-long researcher of Behavioral Science with particular interests in family pathology and concepts of dysfunction, addiction, alcoholism and conflict. In 2016, Annie published her first book, the memoir, Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction. Her story is especially relevant in helping us all understand the personal challenges facing the affected parents and family members, and how family dynamics both help and hinder the recovery process. Annie’s second book “Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Alcoholism and Addiction” was published in 2018