Let's Talk About Codependency: Day 5 - Now What Do I Do?

For the last several blogs, we have been discussing codependency by focusing on steps in answering the question - Now What Do I Do? If you have not done so, please go back and review Step One - Shift in thinking and mindset; Step Two - Detachment (turning our focus inward and separating our worth and our identity) : and Step Three - Self-Care . Today, we are going to focus on Step Four - Boundary Work. However, before we do, I want to clarify one very important point.

Although we - as codependents - will need to work all these steps simultaneously as we continue our recovering work, I believe it is almost next to impossible to start our healing unless we are ready and willing to shift our mindset and thinking. We must accept that we are not responsible for another person's well- being and that what we have been doing is not working. At the same time, because we are codependents, we will slip back into this thinking, time and time again, and we will need to continue working on this toxic mindset. So, expect movement in and out of all the steps, and work on what you need to in the moment. Now, let's  move on to Step Four - Boundary Work.

The other day I had a nice long phone chat with a good friend of mine.  I will call her Lorie. We've known each other for many years and we are both CC's - classic codependents! We have laughed with each other and cried with each other - over our rescuing and controlling catastrophes! Lorie has worked very hard on her Self Care, especially over the past several years. However, it wasn't until recently that she really started working on her Boundaries. Because Lorie always has been extremely codependent with her children (who are now adults), this has been hard for her. Even the other day as she shared how she implemented a very strong boundary, Lorie said, "I feel so selfish". I reminded her, as I have myself many times, of the following:                                                          
A Safe Space To Heal.

Boundaries are not about putting up walls to keep people away. 
Boundaries are about creating a safe space for you to grow and heal.

Boundary work involves discovering what you will accept and what you won't accept while protecting yourself and your growth. It's putting your Self Care into action. How do you start?  Here are a few beginning exercises:

1. Reassessing relationships: This is such an important exercise. It involves taking a brutal and honest inventory of your relationships - and what is healthy and unhealthy about them. For example, Lorie began by making a list of  the healthy as well as unhealthy aspects of her relationships with her adult children, her parents, and her siblings. She said this was very helpful because she able to validate the good parts while acknowledging the problem areas. One of most problematic issues with Lorie's adult children involved money. Over the years, she had given her adult children and grandchildren large amounts of  money, spoiled them with material items, and taken them on expensive vacations. This may not be problem for some individuals, but after years of investing beyond her means, Lorie found herself in serious financial trouble. While completing this exercise, Lorie not only came face to face with the consequences of her codependency, but she also realized that her primary motive behind these overly generous actions was to rescue her adult children from experiencing financial hardships that she dealt with as a child. This was a hard truth for Lorie, but an empowering one.
Reassess Relationships!

Let's begin creating a space for you to grow and to heal! Get out a piece of paper or get on your computer and make two columns - healthy and unhealthy. Under each column, write down the names of the individuals with whom you have relationships and next to each one, write down the aspects of the relationship that are healthy or unhealthy. As you identify the unhealthy parts, focus in on behaviors where you have been over -investing - behaviors that have left you drained and depleted - behaviors that have not changed the unhealthy individual.  Then, get ready for exercise two.

2. Selective investment:  What do I mean by selective investment? When I've shared this concept with others, some people think I am a little nuts! But, remember, codependents over invest - to the degree that we become depressed, exhausted, and angry!!   That is our nature!  So, we must work on selective investment where we are deliberate in our thinking about how much we want to give of ourselves and our resources. For example, Lorie has cut way back on her gift giving. She has learned how to budget small amounts for her grandchildren and has eliminated supporting her adult children. She is now saving for her own needs. Lorie has also stopped sending other family members money, realizing that much of it went to rescuing them as well.

Degree of Investment!
Just like Lorie, we can select our degree of investment - we have that power!  Go back to your list of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Next to the unhealthy aspects and the codependent behaviors you identified, write down a specific action of how you can lessen your investment!  Choose one behavior at a time  and be specific about your action. Don't procrastinate. Get started, now! Reclaim your power! As all this good stuff is happening, you may begin to doubt yourself and you will probably experience resistance from others! So as you anticipate it, get comfortable with exercise three. 

3.  Setting and adjusting expectations: The good news is that when we reassess our relationships and we start investing selectively, we will begin feeling better and better! As we continue to heal and grow, it is only natural to set expectations of ourselves and of others. With yourself, I encourage you to be patient, kind, and gentle. Learn from your successes and your failures; adjust your expectations as needed. For others whom we have been rescuing, it is important not to expect too much of them, if anything at all. As you change your behaviors and get healthier, others will be confused, angry, and resentful. Adjust and readjust your expectations of others;  make sure they are realistic.  When Lorie started setting boundaries in her financial rescuing, her adult children were angry and blame-filled. Even her grandchildren were rude and disrespectful. Lorie learned how difficult it is to set a boundary; however, she also told  me that when her adult children and grandchildren recently visited for the holidays, not a word was mentioned about the inexpensive but thoughtful gifts.

Unrealistic expectations lead to hurt - from ourselves and from others. So, be mindful of how you are feeling. Set and adjust them as needed! Also, remember - the more consistent and constant you are in your newly implemented healthy behaviors, the more your Boundaries will be respected, laying the groundwork for realistic expectations to fall into place.

In closing, as I have said numerous time, recovering from codependency is incredibly hard!  I know; I have spent a life-time working on it!  For the purposes of this blog, I have given you wellness basics.  The resources I am recommending are really helpful and I encourage you to partake in them. Along with this point, as I stated in Codependency: Day 1 - What Is It?, codependency is a part of our personality; it is who we are!  Many codependents acquire their care-taking and rescuing personas as children; and many could really benefit from counseling to sort out their more specific origins and heal their inner wounds and voids. I share this with you because...

  I want you to know you are not alone;
 I want you to know that much has gone into creating us the way we are - 
and it will require much of us to move forward in healthy ways.     

Believe and Be Well

For an informative and restorative interview, take a listen to an interview with Dr. Karen Sherman where she and I discuss... What is codependency? What am I feeling and why? How do I begin to heal?

For much more on codependency, please consider reading Chapter 9 - Revive and Restore - Boundary Work,  Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within 2nd Edition

And,  Codependent No More  by author and expert Melodie Beatty

Next time, The importance of Support Groups!


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