Steps eight and nine of the Twelve Step Program are to list everyone we have harmed with our addiction, and make amends wherever doing so would not bring more harm to the person.
When it comes to parenting, and even our general desire to control those around us, we can be quite self-centered. We often hurt others when we overlook their needs and feelings in favor of our own wants. In the case of Ellen Sue Stern, she says, “I treated my children like projects, efficiently managing and orchestrating their lives, often as the expense of their feelings.” This treatment stems from our addiction, our need for perfection, and our confused thinking that we will be perfect if we can control every moment of our and everyone we love’s lives. It’s time we recognize our harmful behavior and make amends to those we’ve wronged.
On this topic, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“As we begin to look at the effects of trying to control everything and efficiently manage and orchestrate our lives and the lives of those around us, we realize that, just like the alcoholic, our disease has seriously damaged those we love the most. They are victims of our disease as much as the family of an alcoholic or a drug addict is a victim of the disease.
We begin to see that in our confused, diseased way of thinking, what we thought was good for our children and those we love was really a self-centered way of trying to stay in control.
Seeing what we have been doing is the first step toward recovery. We need to admit what we, perhaps unwittingly, have done to others, and, where possible, without harming them, make amends.”
Throughout my life, I have hurt people I cared about with my addiction to work and my need to control things so they go exactly perfect and according to my plan. I have missed major milestones and events in my friends’ and family members’ lives because I wanted to earn some extra money, and I feared that if I were to turn down an opportunity to work, I would be replaced. I forgot that I was not the only one in the equation that could easily be replaced though.
Many parents are controlling, and while it comes from a good place—they want their children to have the best life, to not make mistakes, to turn out well—they often end up hurting their child by ignoring the child’s wants and desires. I’m very fortunate to have not had this experience with my parents.
We can do this to our friends and spouses as well. It’s easy to have a very particular idea in mind of how our lives are going to go, including fun events we plan together. When we are self-centered and try to control every minute of an experience so that it goes exactly how we want, we can tend to step on the other people around us and ignore their feelings. They might want to do something different. Our need for perfection and control is not only unrealistic, but also harmful and hurtful to people we love.
Once we realize we need to make amends, we must also consider whether reaching out to this person would do more harm than good. We can’t simply confess our wrongs and apologize just because a clear conscience makes us feel better. Will our apology help them?