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.

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