Although many might suggest that codependency is a curse, I prefer to believe that it is - at least in part - a gift. There are many wonderful pay-offs for individuals who receive from the codependent - gifts of undivided attention, one's needs pre-empted and ministered to, one's thinking done for one... that kinda thing. Oh wait... erm... what was that last one? Oh yes... 'one's thinking done for one'.... hmm.
"Help..." someone once said, "..is the sunny side of control" and this would appear to lie at the very heart of the problem with codependence - and let's face it, there's a lot of heart in it. The more the codependent feels out of control, the greater she attempts to regain some control, some firm-footing... and the only sure foothold she seems to find is when her feet are planted firmly in someone else's business. "They need to be taken care of... I know what's best for them... I can fix their problems... if only they'd listen to me, their life would be so much better...". She is unable to stay in her own business or 'fix' her own problems - that's way too painful... and she's undeserving of all that attention. Any attention she might give to herself means less time given to others and well, quite frankly, she's not worth that because... she's not good enough.
All this giving and over-caring and the codependent often cannot see that they're actually taking.... Taking away an individual's right to make his/her own decisions, meet their own needs and yes... do their own thinking. When the gift of giving is given to oneself, the rewards are indeed bountiful. And what the actively addicted codependent doesn't realise is that she has more to offer those around her when she begins to meet her own needs and allow others to take responsibility for meeting their own needs too.
So if help really is the sunny side of control... Does it follow then that with self-help begins self-control...? Getting a handle on those chaotic feelings and behaviours and letting go of feeling solely responsible for others' well-being... Wow... I have a feeling this could be a greater gift indeed...
Have you reached saturation point yet? Maybe you don’t know you’re there yet because you’ve been living – or existing – this way for so long that you are uncomfortably unaware that there might be an alternative. I’m here to tell you that there is – an alternative way of being, of reacting, of behaving… of feeling.
If you keep on giving and giving and giving to your partner and feeling worse about yourself by the day (whether that’s financially, physically, sexually, whatever), to friends and/or family, this all takes its toll on your emotional strength until eventually you’re zapped… and you snap. Where there are givers, so there will be takers. Thus sayeth the law of give and take, cost and reward. But what you need to figure out is… What are the pay-offs for you in staying miserable? What are you actually getting from this? Often we think that we are giving without reward; only cost to ourselves. We are playing the martyr. The costs are, of course, more obvious – sleepless nights, appetite changes, anxiety, depression, self-medication using alcohol or food (or other drugs) to make you ‘feel better’ by blocking out the pain and anxiety.. only leading to more pain and anxiety. But how could there possibly be rewards for all of this hard emotional labour? This sounds like garbage, right? I thought so too until I examined my own pay-offs for ‘overcaring’. I got to stay in my familiar place – the place I grew up in on the inside – there is comfort in discomfort, for many of us. At least we know that place – feeling free of anxiety, free from others’ expectations of us, free from others’ opinions of us, free of obligation, free of the responsibility for others’ happiness… that’s unfamiliar and more uncomfortable; more apposite than their opposite. And somewhere along the way, the growing up on the inside kinda stopped short.
For many of us in recovery from ‘overcaring’, we come to realise that, although we appear like fully-functioning adults and able to juggle many responsibilities, the truth is that we have some kind of arrested emotional development. The music stopped inside at a certain age. So how do we move away from saturation point and begin to grow up? Without some kind of external input, this process will invariably be slower and self-awareness is absolutely paramount in this process. Recognising that you’ve had enough – that you’re all out of love (almost) – is a good start. From there, the journey begins… to retrace the steps to your authentic self. What does your authentic self really want? From my own experience both as an ‘overcarer’ and a recovery coach, when we get down to it, material things don’t matter. They will never fill the void inside which has existed for all of us who give too much. The road to recovery begins with the first step to self-love. I love and respect myself. I am good enough. Powerful words when you say them aloud. Even more powerful when you say them and begin to believe them. That takes practice.
Are you willing to begin your practice and start to find that love you’ve been searching for?
It seems that, from an early age, many of us are encouraged to be caring, considerate and selfless. We’re taught that our biology pre-programs us for taking care of and nurturing others. But what about when nature and nurture conflict – when the way we’re brought up somehow interrupts healthy development and affects the way we attach to others emotionally? All sorts of problems can occur as a result… but when does taking care of others become codependency?
Having experienced the overwhelming gravitational pull of codependency myself – that need to be needed, to control events, that attraction to problematic relationships, in the hope of creating a happily ever after – after much soul-searching, I began to realise that the person who really needed help was me… The codependent’s lot is Groundhog Day – doing the same thing over and over again until we “get it right”. We attempt to finish unfinished business, to create a happily ever after. But it just doesn’t happen. No matter how hard we try, life becomes evermore chaotic – a series of challenges to be met. We begin to expect and accept chaos as a necessary and everyday part of life. For some, professional life can replicate this; for example, work becomes impossible to leave – social engagements are broken; every waking thought and sleepless night focuses on that “more important” something – or someone.
My training and background in understanding and accepting the different ways we live, attachment theory, and latterly coach training (with CTI) and addiction recovery coach training (Crossroads Coaching USA), have enabled me to assist others in moving forward in their own lives; to learn about codependency and begin to understand how to free themselves from it. Unlike therapy, the focus within sessions is on today and tomorrow – not yesterday. In recovery coaching, we’re mining for diamonds – not for coal. But accepting that yesterday forms a significant part of who we are today, affecting our thoughts and actions, is important to moving forward. We focus on a topic of the client’s choice each week – areas of their lives often neglected as a consequence of giving too much of their energy, time and self to something (a job) or someone (a partner, friend, family member). I assist individuals who are looking for space and time to explore what they really want from life – perhaps for the first time. Living their own life and meeting their own needs is a pretty radical and new idea for someone who experiences codependency.
Certainly, when our lives become unmanageable, having little or no self-control, there can be some comfort in handing over the reins of our lives to someone else. It doesn’t make for happiness but there can be comfort in discomfort – when being uncomfortable is a familiar feeling. When we’re asking someone else to take responsibility for our feelings – we’re feeling by proxy. The silent question of the codependent is: “Could you tell me how I’m going to feel today?” If their partner or friend feels down, they feel down; if they’re angry, they’ll feel upset – what did they say? Sometimes the pendulum can swing the other way. When a person gives so much of their time and energy to someone or something and the results they hope for just don’t materialise, she can become frustrated, angry and sometimes depressed. Attempting to control events – or people – can form part of this behaviour.
Often those who experience codependency have grown up with doubts about their self-worth, their own abilities and strengths, and look to others to fill this emotional void and sense of self. Filling this void is often transient – through a compliment or maybe even a qualification. It can empty again within seconds – a chance remark can bring the house of cards crashing down. So… what’s the answer? It lies within us – it can’t be found ‘out there somewhere’. As many who have trodden this path understand, external validation – looking to something or someone for reassurance about who we are and what we’re about – just isn’t enough. The answers must come from within ourselves and they’re often so deeply buried and entrenched in habit and self-loathing that we can’t see them. We have an idea there’s something that doesn’t feel right, that we’re not really relating or behaving in a healthy way but we’re just not sure what to do about it. Sometimes we have glimpses that we can be ‘something better’ – that anything’s possible… I help you to get in touch with that strong, confident and magical part inside each of us, which often lies buried under fear, indecision and anxiety. In a relatively short space of time, the feeling of ‘something better’ can become a reality – a new way of being. Clients often report positive shifts and changes after just a few sessions.
Counselling and therapy can and do help, of course – particularly if, as often happens, severe anxiety or depression have taken hold. This has certainly been my own experience. Codependency is often described as an addiction to a person – or maybe even a feeling – and can sit alongside other addictions and remain untreated. It is also pretty common for people who experience codependency to become involved with people who are also in an addictive cycle.
Recovery coaching can ease the arduous journey of moving forward and offers you the potential to create a calmer, more confident, authentic and relaxed way of life, free from chaos, confusion, indecision and a feeling of not being good enough.
Please do share this post with anyone you believe might find it useful.
How can we truly love another when we don't love ourselves first and foremost?
We seem to take it for granted that the word "love" is understood to mean the same thing for all people. But what if you've been brought up in a chaotic household? What if "love" had conditions attached to it? "If you behave in this way, then you are worthy of my love...". Those beliefs often go unquestioned right into adulthood and so the way we relate to others will invariably have some aspect of this to it. It could be that we're drawn to those who attach conditions to their love... It could also be that we attach conditions to our love. At the heart of these controlling and manipulative behaviours is fear... and, as a codependent, searching around for crumbs of affection is the norm. Trying to get people to like you by over-caring... by being the best partner/lover/friend/daughter/ son/workmate etc, we stand a chance of securing love. Is that true?
When we don't love ourselves, first and foremost, a huge chasm is felt inside and someone who experiences codependency will attempt to fill it by giving their all to someone - or something - leaving nothing for themselves. Low self-esteem, a lack of self-confidence and little or no self-belief are symptomatic of this behaviour.
What one thing could you do for yourself today?
Try one of the affirmations in this photo, as an "I am.."
"I am awesome!"
"I am appreciated!"
"I am loved!"
"I am enough!"
"I have enough!"
How does that feel? If you're having trouble even saying this, let alone believing it, maybe you could benefit from recovery coaching and start to work on your most important relationship - the one you have with yourself. In relearning love and letting go of conditions (the opposite of being a doormat!), your life becomes more joyful and less stressful, as you become more accepting of others and begin to let go of the need to control.
I would urge you to see your Doctor (if you haven't already) if you are feeling overwhelmed and have considered hurting yourself - or others.
Someone once asked me if I believed there was some kinda “cure” for co-dependency. I answered that I didn’t believe so. To date, after years of extensive research and practice, I have not – as yet - come across a one-size-fits-all cure for a given addiction… but I do know of many, many methods which can offer a way back from the brink and a step towards the peace and contentment which follows many of us in recovery, once the chaos of addiction is quietened, soothed and put back in its box . A customised lid can be found to contain it. Sometimes our triggers will lift the lid. Sometimes they’ll blow the lid right off and it’s Groundhog Day all over again… feeling those Codependent Crazies… people-pleasing… going along with things but feeling that old familiar resentment… over-caring… over-committing… over-working….over-analysing… overdoing it… over and over and over again. I know I've said it all before... ;)
The difference in recovery? We know that the chaos can be held in abeyance – that it can be contained again. That we can put a lid on it… when we learn how. Today I’m the Comeback Coach… coming back healed and restored after a long break, some of which was spent, admittedly, in a codependent cycle. I fell into it. I climbed out of it. It’s been tough, as great loss and resultant grief were in the mix but I didn’t pick up… I didn’t return to my drug of choice… and that’s thanks to healthy relationships which support my recovery, combined with the tools I've come to know and love, which help me to know and love myself once again. Each time codependency strikes, the gaps between episodes become wider. Peace is louder and the volume is turned down to a whisper on crazy... And I remind myself each and every day… It’s a great life in recovery!
Hey-la! Hey-la! It’s good to be back! :)