Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Let's Have A Conversation About Codependency: Day 3 - Now What Do I Do?

Last time we learned what is means to be codependent, and we examined  a couple of reasons as to why we are codependent. I want to stress that codependents are really caring, good people.  This is a strength! However, it becomes a weakness when we over-invest into others to the degree that we are spent! I also want to impress upon codependents that knowledge is power. By understanding what is going on with us and why, our healing begins!  Let's get started with two steps as we answer the question - Now what do I do?
Shift in Thinking!

First step - Shift in  thinking or mindset. This  may sound obvious but in order to begin your healing, it is critical that you make a shift in your thinking or mindset - acknowledging that what you are doing isn't working for you! If you still believe that you are responsible for saving someone else and that if you stop doing what you are doing, the other person won't make it on his/her own, you probably are not ready to get well.  I know this  may sound harsh, but I want you to know that I speak from personal experience.  Let me explain.

I am a CC, a Classic Codependent! My codependent characteristics - people pleaser, care-taker, rescuer- were part of my being for as long as I can remember. However, it wasn't until I was older that I learned how harmful those characteristics were to me. As a young woman in college, I entered into a highly unhealthy codependent relationship with an alcoholic. Oh yes, he was bright and funny, and often times charming. But he was sick, and I thought I could help him or change him. After three plus years of relational turmoil, DUI's, legal and financial woes, and countless additional resources spent on rescuing him, I remember very clearly one day saying to myself, "I can't do this anymore. I just can't. And I won't." The shift in my mindset took hold. For me the pain of staying in the relationship far exceeded the pain or difficulty of getting out of it. That shift in my thinking propelled me into step two.


Step two - Detachment. All of the experts whom I have read and studied on the topic of codependency agree that in order to begin the work of recovering, it must begin with detachment. Although there is much to share on this concept, for the purposes of this blog I will give you a couple of insights as you move forward.

  •  Turn your focus inward. As codependents, our focus remains outward (toward the person/s we are controlling or saving). How we are feeling typically is measured by or reflective of what the other person is doing or not doing or how the other person is feeling. Slowly but steadily, begin detaching from this outward focus.  Every time you start worrying about the other person/s, stop and recenter your thinking on you! And start asking yourself what you feel, need, and want. This is hard work, I know! It feels unnatural to think about ourselves. In fact, it feels quite foreign! And, you might feel fearful or anxious, uncertain as to what might happen if you aren't available to save the other person! Remember this - when you were available to rescue, control, or take charge, it did not produce lasting change, if any change at all. Now it is time for you! Turn your focus inward!  
  • Separate your worth and identity. Because we have invested so much of ourselves into someone else, much of a codependent's worth and identity are strongly connected to the other person/s. Our thinking is "If she fails, I am a failure."  Or,"If he doesn't make it, I haven't done my job." Wow!  Read those statements again!  We are pretty powerful people if we can control what someone else does or doesn't do! I know I'm being a little sarcastic here, but I want to make a point. Our worth and identity have nothing to do with what someone else chooses to do or not do. Each person has free will, including us. And we must begin to detach - separating our worth and identity from the other person/s and begin investing in ourselves Allow me to return to my story as an example.
Once I shifted my thinking, I turned my focus inward. Don't get me wrong, this was hard! I asked myself what I needed and what I wanted. I knew that I needed to get out of the relationship, but my financial resources were null mainly because we were so in dept. I started working three  jobs, I applied to go back to school to obtain a teaching credential, and I put together a 1-2 year plan that would help me! There were struggles and obstacles along the way, but as I slowly accomplished my goals, I could feel my rediscovered worth and identity take root and grow! It felt so good knowing that my sense of worth, value, and identity had nothing to do with my partner and his failures but had everything to do with separating myself from him and them. 
Keep Going!!

There is so much more to learn on detachment, and so again, I want to refer you to author/expert Melodie Beattie.  As we close, I want you to remember that recovering from any issue - not just codependency - is not an easy walk down a straight path.  It is a hard fought climb up a mountain road with many peaks and valleys! We take a few steps; we often times fall back here and there; then we pick ourselves up and keep going! I know. I do it every day!

Next time - more steps for "Now what do I do?"

For  more work on detachment - Codependent No More by M.Beattie.
And for more understanding and exercises - Chapter 4 - Betrayal and Codependency - Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within 2nd Edition by Holli Kenley.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Let's Have A Conversation About Codependency: Day 2 - Am I Codependent? And Why?

Last time, we started a discussion on codependency. We learned the following: Codependency is when we over-invest into someone - all in an attempt to rescue, control, or to change that person and his/her behavior. We also acknowledged that with most relationships, there is a natural give and take, and there are often circumstances or crises where one individual must move into a care-taking role for a period of time or for extended periods of time. However, when one person continues to forfeit his/her well-being, identity, and worth at the expense of another's lack of responsibility for their own well-being - this is codependency.   Today, we want to answer two questions - Am I Codependent and Why?
Drained and Depleted

I think we would all agree that it is good to be a caring, giving, and compassionate individual.  However, when we find that we are repeating a pattern of behavior that leaves us depleted and drained, we typically have crossed the line into codependency. If you are codependent, you will probably relate to the following three phase cycle of behavior. *

First, someone in our lives whom we care about very much begins to falter or fail. For example, an individual relapses or regresses into a behavior or mindset that is harmful to him/her. We enter into phase one - rescuingWe  feel, as codependents, that this individual needs us - and - it feels good for us to be  needed! Let me say that again - it feels great to be needed - to become the fixer, the peace-maker, the rescuer, or the one who is going to make it all better! And so, we jump in and do everything we can to save this person! We take charge; we are in control!

Secondly, some time after the rescuing phase, usually when we see that our efforts have made very little sustainable change - if any change at all, we enter into the persecution phase. We feel incredible anger and resentment, first at ourselves and then at our partner or the individual whom we are rescuing. To make matters worse, it is during this phase when the person we are helping feels controlled by us. Their anger quickly turns into blame - persecuting the codependent for the breakdown in the relationship and for their problems!

A Very Low Place
And,thirdly - shortly after feeling anger and resentment over the failed rescue, the codependent moves into the victim phase. This is important.  When we first rescue, we experience a high of needing to be needed; now, we are in a very low place - feeling used, unappreciated, helpless, mad, hurt, depressed, anxious, and shame-filled. Our resources (emotional, psychological, financial, relational, etc.) are spent. Once again, we have over-invested into another individual - with little or no return on that investment.  And, as this pattern of behavior repeats itself, time and time again - we hope that the next time it will be different.  And it isn't.

Why do codependents do this? Although the answer can be very complex and vary from individual to individual, I believe there are two underlying principles that explain causation.

  • Childhood history and background. Many of my former clients who are codependents came from homes and environments that were highly chaotic, alcoholic, and/or abusive. As children, these individuals took on the roles of care-taker, parent, peace-maker, protector, etc. It was a learned behavior that was needed in order to survive, to help their siblings, and to control their uncontrollable surroundings. It became a way of being that enabled them to manage their lives. 
  • Voids become needs.  As we grow older, the voids that we experienced in our youth become needs. Because codependents do not receive unconditional love and nurturing as children and instead are taking care of others and their surroundings, they carry with them into adulthood a deep need - to be needed. This is what they know. This is what feels good, at least in the moment. And because investing into others at the expense of their own well-being feels normal and natural to codependents, they typically aren't aware of the toll it is taking on them. At least not until they are in a really painful place. 
We Care Too Much About Others!

I want to close with this.  Codependents are really good people - I mean really good people. Yes, you are!! You are so good that you take care of others before you take care of yourself!  And that is where we will start next time!

* Note - The three phase cycle of codependency has been adapted from author/expert Melodie Beattie - Codependent No More - an excellent resource!

Next time, Now what do I do?  Shift and Detach!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Let's Have A Conversation About Codependency:Day 1 - What Is It?

This week, I was going to write about Relapse and Codependency as it applies to partners in a relationship. However, because it is a complicated topic, I thought it  might be helpful to do a series of blogs on it and have a more in-depth conversation! There is a ton of really good information on codependency which I will reference in our discussion, but I want to give you some basic principles that I believe will  help you to understand codependency and will assist you if you are a codependent person and/or are in a codependent relationship with someone.  Let's get started!

First, what is codependency? When we love or care about someone, we invest ourselves and our resources into that person. This is natural. How do we know when this becomes unhealthy? This is important. Let's take a look at this explanation of codependency.
Over- Investment

Codependency is when we over-invest into someone. Read that again. Codependency is when we over-invest into someone - all in an attempt to rescue, control, or change that person and his/her behavior.

The three words that differentiate healthy caring and loving from codependency are the motivations behind our over- investment - to rescue, to control, or to change another person. The following example illustrates this. (The name has been changed to protect confidentiality).

Rick was an extremely nice man, quite successful, and very codependent. In his third marriage. Rick spoiled his wife, giving her anything she wanted and spending large amounts of money on her and his step-children. Even after Rick found out that his wife was stealing money from his business account, he continued to forgive her, justifying it because his wife had some serious health issues. Over time, Rick tried desperately to control and change his wife's addictive behaviors and take charge of her chronic health issues.  He thought he could save her - rescue her - and keep the marriage in tact.

As you are thinking about this example, it is important to note that codependency is not a one time occurrence. It is a pattern of behavior that continues to repeat itself. There may be respites or reprieves in between situations or crises, but because of the dynamics of the relationship between the unhealthy individual and the codependent, it will continue. And as the pattern of behavior continues, the outcome is threefold:

1.  The codependent is drained and depleted (emotionally, psychologically, physically, 
2.  The unhealthy partner or individual in relapse is unchanged as behaviors continue or worsen.
3.  Both individuals or partners are angry and resentful. The codependent is angry because all the resources spent trying to control, rescue, or change the unhealthy person are not working. The unhealthy person is angry because he/she does not like being controlled!  

Fear of the Future

Rick fell into this pattern. The  more he attempted to change his wife and control the situation, the more resentful she became. And because Rick felt used and unappreciated, he too felt resentful. However, Rick remained overly-invested into the relationship, fearing that if he stopped rescuing or care-taking for his wife, she might not get better and/or the relationship might end.  

In closing for today, I want to say that healthy relationships do involve a give and take.  And, there are situations and circumstances in marriages, partnerships, and in other relationships where one individual does more of the care-taking, one carries more responsibility, or one takes charge much more significantly than the other for a period of time or for extended periods.This is normal and to be expected.

However, when one person continues to forfeit his/her well-being, identity, and worth at the expense of another's lack of responsibility for their own well-being - this is codependency.

Next time, we will discuss Am I Codependent?And Why?  Until then, think about our explanation of codependency. Does it resonate with you or does it sound like someone you know?  Remember, recognizing and understanding what is going on with us is the first step in moving forward!

Understanding Brings Healing

* Note - an excellent resource is Codependent No More- by Melodie Beattie!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

When One Partner Relapses, How Do Couples Move Forward?

When I am discussing relapse, it is important to clarify that I am referring to any individual who falls back into or regresses into to a previous pattern of unhealthy thinking, behaving, or feeling. In other words, I am not speaking solely of issues of addiction;  I am talking about letting go of current healthy habits, rituals, practices, or ways of being and replacing them with thoughts, behaviors or emotions that are harmful to us. With this broad definition, it is not uncommon for most couples to struggle through a relapse episode of some kind. I'd like to touch upon two healing insights into how relapse impacts couples and then close with an informative and restorative interview I did recently with Dr. Karen Sherman, host of "Your Empowered Relationships".
Hiding in Shame

The first insight I want to share or to remind couples about is that when an individual relapses, regardless of the type or kind, there is an incredible degree of shame. This is important to note for two reasons. First, many times it is this debilitating shame that keeps the partner in relapse from disclosing the relapse. The individual is over-whelmed with self-hatred and malignant embarrassment for falling back into an unhealthy place. Thus, the individual feels stuck and helpless. Secondly, in order to lesson the pain of shame, it is very common for individuals to continue the exact behavior that created the shame. In simple terms, individuals will turn to self-soothing behaviors while actually exacerbating the relapse. If partners can realize the important role that shame plays in relapse, it can be very helpful when it comes to addressing the relapse and in communicating about it.

The second insight I want to share, I believe, will also help couples as they understand how relapse interrupts and disrupts the relationship. When one partner relapses, he typically moves into denial. Denial serves to assuage the shame and also to minimize the relapse. When the relapse partner is questioned or confronted by his partner or by loved ones, a pattern of lying and blaming starts to develop. Tensions build, excuses are made, and promises are given. Many times, although both partners are feeling fear and anxiety about their relationship, it is expressed in the form of anger and resentment.

Shortly after denial, disguise and detachment set in. As situations become more difficult to manage, the partner in relapse must disguise the truth about what is going on. A tremendous amount of energy and a myriad of resources go into pretending that everything is fine. Situations are covered up, lied about, and eventually uncovered. This, of course, creates deepened mistrust and distance between couples. Very often, arguments escalate and resentment builds as couples struggle to communicate.

Along with disguise is the presence of detachment. The partner in relapse is highly uncomfortable facing the people whom he has let down, again, or who remind him of what is true. Again, in order to numb the shame and justify the unhealthy behavior, the relapse partner pulls away from any reminders of accountability. At this point, there is an incredible degree of distrust, disappointment, and despair on the part of the healthy partner who also detaches further from their relationship. Communication breaks down as couples move further away from one another.  This is understandable.

Denial, Disguise & Detachment

By understanding how these three forces - denial, disguise, and detachment - invade and impact the relationship, it can help couples to intervene more quickly and interpret or re-frame behaviors in healing ways as they learn how to communicate effectively and to move forward. 

Dr. Karen Sherman and I discussed the insights I've shared with you, and we discussed how couples can
Heal & Move Forward

move forward in healthy ways.  Please, take a listen.  This is for adult audiences only.

                Next time - Relapse and Co-dependency: Helping Both Partners

                For more on the topic of relapse and understanding the key role 
                that shame plays, consider reading... 
                            Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way 
                                       Back...One Breath at a Time

Featured Post

Protecting Our Youth Against Campus Sexual Assault: 3 Key Strategies

Today's blog is for mature audiences: ages 18 and over. Today's conversation is not an easy one to have, but it is critical.  Wha...