Codependency has been referred to as “relationship addiction” or “love addiction.” Our focus on others helps alleviate our pain and inner emptiness, but by ignoring ourselves, it only grows. This habit becomes a circular, self-perpetuating system that takes on a life of its own. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our behavior compulsive, despite adverse consequences. Examples might be calling a partner or ex we know we shouldn’t, sacrificing ourselves, finances, or values to accommodate someone, or snooping out of jealousy or fear. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction. more
When our self-esteem is low, which is typical of codependency, we’re at greater risk for depression. Codependency is learned, and so are self-esteem and the beliefs and habits that cause both low self-esteem and codependency. Self-esteem is what we think about ourselves. It includes positive and negative self-evaluations. Good self-esteem is a realistic, positive self-concept. It reflects self-respect and implies a feeling of worth that’s not determined by comparison to, or approval from, others. Self-acceptance (which some writers include as part of self-esteem) is even deeper. It’s a feeling of being good enough, neither perfect, nor inadequate. We feel we have worth and are lovable, not merely because of beauty, talent, achievement, intelligence, status, or popularity. It’s a sense of inner contentment. more
In recovery circles, being a “victim” is frowned upon. Decades ago, when I heard people say they were no longer a victim, I had no idea what they meant. Actually, a victim is an individual who has been fooled, hurt, or harmed, due to his or her own emotions or ignorance, an unfortunate event, or the actions of someone who deceived, cheated, injured, or killed him or her.
At the time, I really was a victim. I was in a relationship where I experienced systematic, emotional abuse, but due to my ignorance, I didn’t know it. Many people, particularly codependents, are in relationships with addicts or abusers, including relationships with partners or parents who have mental illness, such as a bipolar mood disorder or borderline, sociopathic, or narcissistic personality disorders. They suffer from frequent and often malicious verbal and sometimes physical attacks, betrayal, manipulation, and other forms of abuse that can alter their perception, self-image, and ability to protect themselves. Many victims in abusive relationships don’t recognize it as such, because it’s reminiscent of the shame, neglect, or other mistreatment they experienced in their families of origin. As children they were unprotected victims; hence, they didn’t develop adequate self-worth or learn how to stand up to abuse. more
Forgiveness can sometimes feel impossible or even undesirable. Other times, we forgive only to be hurt again and conclude that forgiving was foolish. Both situations arise from confusion about what forgiveness really means. Forgiveness doesn’t require that we forget or condone another’s actions or the harm caused. In fact, for self-protection rather than anger, we may decide to never see the person again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we justify or play down the hurt caused. Often, codependents forgive AND forget, and continue to put themselves in harms’ way. They forgive and then rationalize or minimize their loved one’s abuse or addiction. This is their denial. They may even contribute to it by enabling. more
Emptiness is a common feeling, and there are distinct types of emptiness, but it’s psychological emptiness that underlies codependency and addiction. Whereas existential emptiness is concerned with your relationship to life, psychological emptiness deals with your relationship to yourself. It’s correlated with depression[i] and deeply related to shame. Depression may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including sadness and crying, anxiety or restlessness, shame or guilt, apathy, fatigue, change in appetite or sleep habits, poor concentration, suicidal thoughts, and feeling empty. more
Because our nervous system is wired to need others, rejection is painful. Romantic rejection especially hurts. Feeling lonely and missing connection share the evolutionary purpose of survival and reproduction. Ideally, loneliness should encourage you reach out to others and maintain your relationships.
A UCLA study confirms that sensitivity to emotional pain resides in the same area of the brain as physical pain – they can hurt equally. Our reaction to pain is influenced by genetics. If we have increased sensitivity to physical pain, we’re more vulnerable to feelings of rejection. Moreover, love stimulates such strong feel-good neuro-chemicals that rejection can feel like withdrawal from a drug, says anthropologist Helen Fisher. It can compel us to engage in obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. This proved true even for tsetse flies in lab experiments. (See “Obsessions and Love Addiction.“) more
Sons of narcissistic fathers are driven by lack of confidence. Raised by a self-centered, competitive, arrogant father, they feel like they can never measure up or be enough to garner their father’s approval. Their father may be absent or critical and controlling. He may belittle and shame his son’s mistakes, vulnerability, failures, or limitations, yet brag about him to his friends. He may boast about inflated versions of his achievements, while disparaging those of his son. A narcissistic father may ruthlessly bully or compete with his son in games, even when the boy is a less-capable child. Similarly, he may be jealous of his wife’s attention to the boy, compete with him, and flirt with his girlfriends or later wife.
Narcissists lack empathy. Many such fathers are authoritarian and rigid about how things should be done, the correctness of their opinions, and getting their way, portrayed by Robert Duval as the father in the movie “The Great Santini.” Franz Kakfa articulately describes a literary example of such an imposing intolerance in Letter to His Father (1966): more
Conventional belief is that we can never love too much, but that isn’t always true. Sometimes, love can blind us so that we deny painful truths. We might believe broken promises and continue to excuse someone’s abuse or rejection. We may empathize with them but not enough with ourselves. If we grew up in a troubled environment, we might confuse our pain with love. Although relationships have disappointments and conflicts, love isn’t supposed to be painful and hurt so much. By not having boundaries, we harm ourselves and the relationship. We might also confuse love with being someone’s caretaker. more
Do you feel trapped in a relationship you can’t leave? Of course, feeling trapped is a state of mind. No one needs consent to leave a relationship. Millions of people remain in unhappy relationships that range from empty to abusive for many reasons; however, the feeling of suffocation or of having no choices stems from fear that’s often unconscious.
People give many explanations for staying, ranging from caring for young children to caring for a sick mate. One man was too afraid and guilt-ridden to leave his ill wife (11 years his senior). His ambivalence made him so distressed, he died before she did! Money binds couples, too, especially in a bad economy. Yet, couples with more means may cling to a comfortable lifestyle, while their marriage dissembles into a business arrangement. Homemakers fear being self-supporting or single moms, and breadwinners dread paying support and seeing their assets divided. Often spouses fear feeling shamed of leaving a “failed” marriage. Some even worry their spouse may harm him or herself. Battered women may stay out of fear of retaliation should they leave. Most people tell themselves, “The grass isn’t any greener,” believe they’re too old to find love again and imagine nightmarish online dating scenarios. Less so today, some cultures still stigmatize divorce. Yet, there are deeper fears. more
People don’t understand the 12-Step recovery process, unless they have participated in a 12-Step program. Although they may encourage others to attend, they may feel perplexed or act patronizing. Often, therapists don’t realize that the 12-Steps are not merely an for addiction, but are guidelines for nothing less than a total personality transformation. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics was influenced by Carl Jung, whom he wrote seeking a treatment for alcoholism. Jung replied that the cure would have to be a spiritual one – a power equal to the power of spiritus vini, or alcohol. He thought that addicts were “misguided ‘seekers for the spirit,’ …in the world of Dionysus, the god of renewal through the light from below, from the earth rather than from the heavens…” (Whitmont, 227)
The 12 Steps provide a spiritual remedy. They outline a process of surrender of the ego to the unconscious, God, or a higher power, and very much resemble the process of transformation in Jungian therapy. Jung believed that unity and wholeness of the personality, which generates a sense of acceptance and detachment, occurs when both the conscious and unconscious demands are taken into account – when not the ego, but the Self, is at the center of consciousness. (Storr, 19) He felt his life was “a story of the self-realization of the unconscious,” and rediscovered, as suggested by the 12 Steps, that God was “a guiding principle of unity.” (Storr, 24-25) more
Each time you affirm your true, authentic self, every cell in your body cheers “Yes!” When you negate yourself, it has negative biological consequences. To build self-esteem and affirm your true self, try this:
Take action to meet your needs.
Express who you really are.
Think good thoughts about yourself.
Take action to do what you really want. more
Codependency is learned – learned inaccurate information that you’re in some way not enough, that you don’t matter, that your feelings are wrong, or that you don’t deserve respect. These are the false beliefs that most codependents grow up with. They may not have been told these things directly, but have inferred it from behavior and attitudes of family and friends and events. Often these beliefs get handed down for generations. Changing them isn’t easy and is difficult to do on your own, because it’s hard to see others, let alone yourself, through a lens that’s different than the one you grew up with. more
Rejection and breaking-up are especially hard for codependents. They can trigger hidden grief and cause irrational guilt, anger, shame, and fear. Working through the following issues can help you let go and move on.
– Codependents often blame themselves or their partner.
– They have low self-esteem, so rejection triggers shame.
– Relationships are of primary importance to them.
– They fear this relationship may be their last.
– They haven’t grieved their childhood.
– Loss and trauma from their childhood are triggered. more
Where is your power center? Is it in you or in other people or circumstances? Control is important to codependents. They struggle with independence. Paradoxically, controlling people often believe that they don’t have control over their lives or even themselves. Many attempt to control what they can’t – other people – rather than controlling what they can – themselves, their feelings, and their actions. Without realizing it, they’re controlled by others, their addictions, fear, and guilt. People who control their lives and destinies are happier and more successful. Rather than feeling like a victim of others or fate, they are motivated from within and believe that their efforts generate results – for better or worse. Both belief and experience enable them to function autonomously. This article explores autonomy, locus of control, and self-efficacy as important factors in motivation and offers suggestions to help you feel a greater sense of control.
The word “autonomy” comes from the combination of two Latin words, self and law. Construed together, it means that you govern your own life and that you endorse your actions. You may still be influenced by outside factors, but all things considered, your behavior reflects your choice. more
Accepting reality enables us to live in reality. What does this mean? When life pleases us and flows in accordance with our needs and desires, we don’t think about acceptance. But when our will is frustrated, or we’re hurt in some way, our displeasure causes us to react, ranging from anger to withdrawal. We might deny or distort what’s happening to lessen our pain. We might blame others or ourselves, or we try to change things to our liking and needs. more
Love can’t exist without boundaries, even with your children. It’s easy to understand external boundaries as your bottom line. Think of rules and principles you live by when you say what you will or won’t do or allow. If you have difficulty saying no, override your needs to please others, or are bothered by someone who is demanding, controlling, criticizing, pushy, abusive, invasive, pleading, or even smothering you with kindness, it’s your responsibility to speak-up. Boundaries also are also internal, discussed below. more
Codependency is often thought of as a relationship problem and considered by many to be a disease. In the past, it was applied to relationships with alcoholics and drug addicts. It is a relationship problem; however, the relationship that’s the problem is not with someone else, but the relationship with yourself, and that is what gets reflected in your relationships with others.
Codependency underlies all addictions. The core symptom of “dependency” manifests as reliance on a person, substance, or process (i.e, activity, such as gambling or sex addiction). Instead of having a healthy relationship with yourself, you make something or someone else more important. Over time, your thoughts, feelings, and actions revolve around that other person, activity, or substance, and you increasingly abandon your relationship with yourself. more
Have you been told, “Just let go of it,” or tell yourself, “I have to let go,” but wonder, how? I’ve asked myself that question. Sometimes you want to let go of a worry or an obsession about someone else. You may try to detach, but can’t. Other times, you can’t move forward after a major loss or you need to unwind from a busy work schedule. Each case has different challenges, but fundamentally, they all require a shift in attention from the mind into the body and from the past or future into the present. Letting go can be a rejuvenating practice that brings the mind and body into balance for clarity, peace, and heightened functioning.
Depending upon what you’re letting go of, it can take moments or years. When you’re letting go of someone you love, it’s not easy, nor pain free. However, it’s human nature to avoid pain, even if the price is long-term misery. When the source of frustration, loss or stress is ongoing, letting go becomes a process of developing a new, beneficial orientation toward life. more
Many Americans struggling with health, financial, or emotional problems find it challenging to feel grateful around Thanksgiving. Some people always have a habit of looking at the negative. One reason for this is that our brains our predisposed to solve problems, and we take what makes us comfortable for granted.
All world religions stress the importance of gratitude. In Judaism, prayers of gratefulness are an essential component of worship, which orthodox Jews recite one hundred times a day. Gratitude was referred to by Martin Luther as a “basic Christian attitude.” The Quran states that the grateful will given more. Moslem believers are encouraged to give thanks five times a day. Sufi, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions also emphasize giving thanks.
Moreover, religion exhorts that you should be grateful notwithstanding your current problems and circumstances – not to deny them, but in addition and in spite of them. To feel gratitude only when you feel good is considered narrow-minded. In the Bible, Paul teaches, “In everything give thanks.” The Hebrew Midrash instructs, “In pleasure or pain, give thanks!” Islamic tradition says that those who give thanks in every circumstance will be the first to enter paradise. more
Guilt is good. Yes! Guilt actually encourages people to have more empathy for others, to take corrective action, and to improve themselves. Self-forgiveness following guilt is essential to esteem, which is key to enjoyment of life and relationships. Yet, for many, self-acceptance remains elusive because of unhealthy guilt – sometimes for decades or a lifetime.
Guilt may be an unrelenting source of pain. You might hold a belief that you should feel guilty and condemn yourself – not once, but over and over – or guilt may simmer in your unconscious. Either way, this kind of guilt is insidious and self-destructive and can sabotage your goals. Guilt causes anger and resentment, not only at yourself, but toward others in order to justify your actions. Anger, resentment, and guilt sap your energy, cause depression and illness, and stop you from having success, pleasure, and fulfilling relationships. It keeps you stuck in the past and prevents you from moving forward. more
Do you make resolutions and then feel disappointed or guilty for breaking them? Enthusiastically resolve to change, but within days or weeks lose interest and can’t motivate yourself? Wonder why you get sidetracked by distractions or become easily discouraged when quick results aren’t forthcoming? The problem is threefold:
- Terminology. Goal setting is a process and that requires effort to reach your target. In contrast, “I resolve” is a resolution that sets decision or intention. It has to be more than a wish, but it’s only the first step in reaching a goal. There’s no implication that planning or effort is involved. It’s as if saying it makes it so. Naturally, it doesn’t. Change isn’t easy. Instead of making several New Year’s “resolutions,” concentrate on ONE that you can keep, and it will give you confidence that you can do more. more
Women assume many roles throughout their lives – as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers. Women’s roles have been largely determined by the rules and expectations of culture, religion, and the patriarchy, as well as biology. There should be no judgment associated with being a full-time mom, a single career woman, or even a “beach bum,” for that matter. Both men and women can become identified with their roles. Ask yourself these questions: 1) Are your roles your choice vs. others’ expectations? 2) Are other parts of you being denied? and 3) Have your roles (be they at home and/or work) come to define your personality and thinking, rather than the other way around? more
Dreams are far more than fantasies and wishes. They reveal inner truths, and expose incorrect conscious attitudes and resolve conflicts, providing a healing and self-regulating function. If you are inflated, they will bring you down to reality, and if you’re depressed, they can give you hope.
By understanding and learning to trust the messages in your dreams, you are communicating with your true self, your soul, and God. Carl Jung wrote that he who looks inside awakens. “The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul.” Deciphering your dreams’ hidden symbols, guidance, and messages unlocks that doorway.
Freud wrote that dreams are the “Royal Road to the Unconscious.” Your unconscious beliefs, fears, motives, and desires can thwart your goals, your health, and relationships. What you don’t know controls you. Hence, interpreting your dreams can provide valuable guidance.
Additionally, dreams reveal shadow sides of your personality, both positive and negative, which need to be integrated into conscious awareness. Some dreams incorporate mythic and universal symbols from the collective unconscious. more
Self-responsibility both reflects and generates self-esteem. People with high self-esteem feel that they are in charge of their lives. They have a sense of agency and self-efficacy. They take responsibility for their feelings, actions, and lives. It also means that you take responsibility for the consequences of your choices and behaviors, both positive and negative outcomes, rather than blame yourself or others. It requires a desire to review and learn from your mistakes in order to seek solutions and improvement. Read steps you can take to build your self-esteem. more
It takes guts to pick up the phone and make a therapy appointment. Rarely does anyone decide to change until the pain they’re in is worse than the fear of the unknown. That’s what it means to change – leaving the known of who I am and how I behave. The familiar is safe even when it hurts. For the therapy relationship to work, it’s important that counselors realize this.
Another hurdle to commencing therapy is asking for help. Most people don’t want to admit they need it. To some, it’s a weakness or a failure. Our culture prides itself on self-sufficiency, independence and invulnerability. They don’t realize the strength in vulnerability and the power of surrender.
Seeking therapy also represents the beginning of trust in something other than one’s own resources. more