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!

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