You know, I’ve been writing about tropes in Romania for a while in an effort to understand the mentality of the people in this country. Yesterday, a few unrelated events suddenly “clicked” something in my head and I had a blinding flash of insight.
The first thing that happened was that I was watching the Romanian news channels, literally all of which were focused on Gigi Becali. Certainly it’s a topical subject as he’s currently in jail and is facing charges in another case. But the question I had to ask myself was why is he always the topic of so much coverage in this country?
Yes, I realize he’s the owner of a popular football (soccer) club and yes I realize he’s a wealthy baron and (technically) a politician, but that still doesn’t explain why there’s so much coverage of all of his antics. I first saw him years ago at a Steaua-Cluj CFR game (match) where he was halfway up a chainlink fence and shouting at the players. Frankly I thought he was some drunken goon until my friend told me he was the owner of one of the teams. So yes, I’m aware his buffoonish behavior is “entertaining” footage but there are lots of clowns in this world so why focus so much on Becali?
The second thing that happened yesterday was a friend of mine asked me if I planned on getting the SMG pregnant. He advised me (in Romanian) that if I got her pregnant she would “stick around” and I’d be “assured” that she wouldn’t leave me. It almost seemed like something out of a telenovela. What kind of mentality was that? Surely if our relationship is working (which it is) then I don’t need to “trap” her by getting her pregnant. Why would I even want to manipulate her into staying with me (against her will) anyway?
The third thing that happened was that my “adopted son”, about whom I’ve written about before (and some exciting news on this front to come soon) is having a problem in that although he is now gainfully employed, he is sticking to his beggar tendencies. Standing on street corners and begging for money and cigarettes has just somehow become ingrained behavior and he’s having a hard time giving it up.
The reasons for this are fairly complex and have to do with his childhood but what’s been surprising me is that so many people continue to give him money even though they know he has a job. Why? He’s healthy, he’s employed and he has clothes and food to eat so why continue to give him money? Mind you, I’m referring to people who know him and know he has a job but continue to give him handouts. Why do they do this?
And suddenly it clicked in my mind. I realized that according to classical psychological terms, most Romanians regularly show symptoms of codependency.
Here’s a cheerful quote from psychcentral.com:
The term codependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, researchers revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had been imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, you’re likely codependent.
Don’t feel bad if that includes you. Most American families are dysfunctional. You’re in the majority!
There is absolutely no doubt that there are millions of alcoholics in Romania but what’s interesting here is how many psychological websites refer to codependency issues related to chronically ill family members.
In fact, according to here, one of the causes of codependency is:
Over the years, codependency has expanded into a definition which describes a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed during childhood by family rules. One of many definitions of codependency is: a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing great emotional pain and stress.
Hopa! If I had a dollar for every Romanian I’d ever met who had at least one family member who regularly experiences great emotional pain and stress, I’d be quite rich.
Now for a few symptoms and signs that you are a codependent person:
- Low self-esteem: Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
Oh my gosh! How many times have I written about how Romanians are obsessed with having a “perfect” house or clothes (or car, etc) or constantly fretting over what “everyone” will say or think about something?
- People-pleasing – It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.
I cannot even count how many mothers (and grandmothers and sometimes fathers too) in Romania I’ve met that go on and on endlessly about how much they’ve sacrificed for their children (or husband, etc).
Furthermore, this “saying no causes anxiety” is precisely how beggars (including Gypsies) in this country keep making money even though so many people dislike them. I’ve noticed that “professional” (or habitual) beggars are incredibly persistant, asking you over and over and over again, essentially pressuring you to give them something instead of saying “no”.
Even my “adopted son” has learned this persistence and regularly tries it with me, asking me for something and then when I say “no”, asking me a hundred more times. It’s strange because I have no problems saying no (including to him) but he’s already learned this pattern because with other people it most definitely succeeds.
- Poor boundaries – Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs.
That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else.
Holy moley! I’ve often wondered why so few Romanians are capable of admitting responsibility for wrongdoing (whether minor mistakes or serious criminal acts). Now it all makes a lot more sense. Here in Romania it is always and I mean A-L-W-A-Y-S someone else who is to blame for anything that goes wrong.
It might be Ponta or Basescu’s fault, it might be your neighbor’s fault, it might be your children or parents’ fault, it might be your boss’s fault, it might be God’s fault or “bad luck” that is to blame but it is never, ever you who is to blame. Never!
- Reactivity – A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.
One of the reasons Romanians are such big snitches, going behind your backs to go tattle to someone else on something you (supposedly) did wrong is precisely because they feel threatened by disagreements. In Romania, it’s almost impossible to disagree with someone. You are expected to be a snowdrop and submit to whatever is going on.
I’ve known hundreds of couples over the years here and it’s astonishing how few of them argue or argue boisterously or “enthusiastically”. Most of the time if there are disagreements, resentments are just kept bottled inside or else leaked out slowly in a passive aggressive manner. Openly disagreeing with your (romantic) partner almost never happens here.
However what is quite common is this hyper sensitivity to the comments that other people make. Not only is it nearly impossible to argue or strongly disagree with someone here but it’s almost impossible to criticize them without causing them enormous stress and anxiety.
Years ago I made a young woman cry on a Bucharest bus only because I was “asking too many questions” about her studies (she was about to become a psychologist for goodness’ sake). I literally could not understand that but my Romanian friend who was with me assured me that I was to blame.
Now I understand why. Me asking too many probing questions (I was genuinely curious) was perceived by this woman as a kind of criticism and she was “absorbing” it until she couldn’t any more and then began to cry.
- Caretaking– Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help.
Not only does that describe about 99% of the mothers I know here but quite a few girlfriends/wives as well as some men I know too. The martyr levels of self-sacrifice that go on supposedly in the name of “loving” someone is astounding in Romania.
- Control – Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings.Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people.
I heard a story not too recently from a young (Romanian) woman who broke up with her boyfriend after a lengthy relationship. Her ex-boyfriend in turn started going over to her mother’s house daily and the two of them are apparently moaning and weeping over what an insensitive jerk the daughter/ex-girlfriend is and how, if she had a heart, she would resume the relationship with the (ex)boyfriend.
Both of these two people (the mother and ex-boyfriend) are obviously trying to control this young woman because they have a need to feel okay in this manner. I’ve known dozens of similar cases (becoming allies with the parents of the ex after a breakup or divorce) as well as many, many cases where parents and other relatives here in Romania exercise unnecessary control over their children solely because they (the parents) are clearly codependent.
Let’s put it this way: if your son or daughter is over 20 years old and you’re still telling them what to eat, how to dress or interfering with (or endlessly commenting on) their romantic life, you are almost indisputably in a codependent relationship with your child.
- Dysfunctional communication – Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear.
Oh my lord have mercy this is so typical with Romanians. There is a metric ton of pretending that things are okay and a complete inability to communicate one’s own feelings.
Don’t believe me? Turn to the nearest Romanian (or ask yourself, if you are one) and say, “What are you feeling right now?” Chances are extremely high that they won’t know “where to begin” or “how to describe it” or just simply don’t know.
Romanians are never encouraged to be introspective or empathetic and thus are largely blithely ignorant of how others as well as they themselves are feeling at any given moment unless it’s some extremely obvious emotion (like laughing heartily).
Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of Romanian parents ask their children what foods they want to eat or what toys they want to play with but never, ever “how are you feeling right now?”.
And then there’s the more evil side of being codependent, which is constant lying and deceit in order to manipulate someone else by playing on their fears. I’ve certainly had Romanians try this with me but I just laughed it off because that kind of weak bullshit doesn’t work with me but I can see how a less secure person could be bullied and intimidated by someone intent on establishing a codependent relationship.
- Dependency – Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own.Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
There are a few Romanians who can spend any significant amount of time on their own but only a few. The vast majority not just prefer but need other people around with them at all times.
Living by yourself in an apartment or house is virtually unheard of here, even when it’s financially possible. And I know quite a number of both men and women who immediately seek out a new relationship the moment the last one ends, solely because they “need” someone around.
- Denial – One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation.They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem.
Add in there “keep switching votes from one politician to another” and you’ve essentially got an explanation for why the Romanian government is perennially so goddamn incompetent. The typical Romanian voter chooses a politician, complains when the politician fails, does nothing about it personally (since it’s “the politician’s fault”) and then votes for a different incompetent buffoon. And so this codependency cycle repeats itself over and over again.
Again, it’s never the voters’ fault that these parliamentarians, ministers and presidents are fucking things up. It’s always the politicians alone who are to blame. And yet somehow year after year more dickheads keep getting elected by the very same voters. Insanity!
- Painful emotions – Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.
I’ve written before about widespread apathy in Romania. Well now we know where it comes from. When you’re a codependent (and thus largely helpless) person, it makes sense that you’re going to feel like a failure and be depressed, hopeless and despondent and then finally numb and indifferent. Wow! Took me long enough to figure where all that apathy was coming from.
So now we know why people feel pressured into giving money to beggars (even ones with jobs) and why my friend tried to advise me to manipulate my girlfriend into staying with me by getting her pregnant. But what is the connection to Gigi Becali? He’s not exactly codependent in the way we’ve been talking about today.
Becali comes into play because the behavior that complements this codependent, helpless need for the approval of others is narcissism:
Codependency is a kind of caring; you will see its opposite in people who just pathologically don’t give a damn (about, seemingly, anything), or narcissism (which is probably “pathological anti-codependency”).
Becali is a fairly classical narcissist – he only gives a damn about himself and what he wants. I’ve seen him on the sidelines of football matches, kissing pictures of Orthodox saints in a fevered attempt to get God himself to intervene just because that’s what Becali wants. In fact, he’s in prison right now because he couldn’t resist bribing some football players (with a shitload of money) just because he, Becali, “must have” another win for his team and the rules (and laws of this country) are irrelevant.
He’s not just a buffoon or a clown, he’s also incredibly narcissistic and that’s why so many codependent Romanians love and admire him and let him get away with so much of his oafish behavior and outrageous statements.
And once you start looking around, you begin to see that nearly all of the “barons” and bigwigs in Romania are classic narcissists. Ponta has a stupid grin on his face every single time he is speaking in public, brazenly dismissing charges of plagiarism from respected academic journals and laughing off questions from the BBC about future Romanian immigration in Britain.
Ponta only gives a damn about what he personally wants and anything and anyone else (including the Constitution) has no importance to him. Same for Adrian Nastase, who faked a bizarre scene when he was about to be arrested, putting out the story that he had nearly succeeded in shooting himself (and it turned out to be nothing of the sort) and then endlessly writing on his blog about how he was suffering while in jail.
And now that he’s a free man, he’s back to his swaggering, bombastic ways, trying to tell the judge in his other ongoing corruption trial that she isn’t “fit” to rule in the case. Ponta is infamous for telling the EU Council (and its president Barroso) and other senior European politicians (such as Angela Merkel of Germany) that they are in the wrong and not themselves (Ponta and Nastase).
Other powerful narcissists in Romania include Ion Iliescu, who doesn’t give a damn that troops under his command killed some peaceful protesters, Dan Voiculescu, utterly unashamed and unapologetic about being a snitch for the Securitate (Communist-era secret police), Serban Huidu who never once apologized for causing the death of an entire family, Mircea Badea, who likes to pose half naked and belittle other people including the Romanian Olympic team, Sorin Apostu, the dipshit (former) mayor of Cluj who felt he was entitled to bribes and kickbacks, Elena Udrea, who is constantly trumpeting her “achievements” when in reality she’s done nothing except buy designer clothes for herself, Crin Antonescu, who firmly believes he has a “right” to the presidency of this country despite coming in third during the last elections and who recently expelled two members of his own party for the “crime” of disagreeing with him, Stefan Banica Junior, who thinks a mediocre singing talent and good looks gives him license to abandon his wife and treat people like dirt and Monica Pivniceru, who flaunts any rule she feels like in her quest to become first the Justice Minister and now a judge on the “Supreme Court” (CCR).
All of these people clearly and demonstrably only give a shit about themselves and yet they continue to receive votes, support and sometimes adoration from a codependent Romanian population that is always ready to give them yet another chance or to do nothing to stop them, in effect tacitly supporting them.
The people in Turkey are in the streets at the moment to protest against their government but you’d have to catch Ponta on live TV eating a dead baby before anyone here will bother to do anything to stop him despite the fact that jobs are scarce and salaries are in the toilet, the government is billions of euros in debt, prices are continuously rising, corruption and bribery is endemic and the bureaucracy here is stiflingly onerous.
Meanwhile on a personal level millions of Romanians struggle with a parent or family member who cultivates this helpless codependency, criticizing and complaining and perfecting the art of being a victimized martyr, doing their goddamn level best to make others feel ashamed and guilty on a daily fucking basis.
Luckily, if you or someone you know can recognize that they have codependent tendencies and want to make a change, there is something you can do:
- When you’re tempted to think or worry about someone else, turn your attention back to you.
- Pay attention to how you talk to and treat yourself. Much of low self-esteem is self-inflicted. Train yourself to speak gently and encouraging rather than telling yourself what you should or shouldn’t be doing or what’s wrong with you.
- Have some fun and pursue hobbies and interests of your own.
- Start a spiritual practice where you spend time alone with yourself. Meditation is an ideal way to help you become more calm and self-aware.
- Start looking for the positive in your life and what you do. Make a grateful list each day and read it to someone.
- Stand-up for yourself if someone criticizes, undermines, or tries to control you.
- Don’t worry! That’s not easy, but most worries never come to pass. You lose precious moments in the present. Mediation and talking things out with someone who knows about recovering from codependency can help you.
- Let go of control and the need to manage other people. Remember the saying, “Live and let live.”
- Accept yourself, so you don’t have to be perfect.
- Get in touch with your feelings. Don’t judge them. Feelings just are. They’re not logical or right or wrong.
- Express yourself honestly with everyone. Say what you think and what you feel. Ask for what you need.
- Reach out for help when you feel bad. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re self-sufficient and can manage alone. That’s a symptom of codependency, too.