Everyone starts out in life wanting to be safe, loved, and accepted. It’s in our DNA. Some of us figure out that the best way to do this is to put aside what we want or feel and allow someone else’s needs and feelings take precedence. This works for a while. It feels natural, and there’s less outer conflict, but our inner conflict grows. If we’d like to say no, we feel guilty, and we may feel resentful when we yes. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Our strategy might create other problems. We may put in extra time at work and try to please the boss but get passed over for a promotion or discover we’re doing work we’re not enjoying at all. We may be very accommodating to family and friends and resent that we’re always the one called upon for help, extra work, or to take care of someone else’s problems.
Our love life might suffer, too. We give and give to our partner, but feel unappreciated or unimportant and that and our needs and desires aren’t considered. We may begin to feel bored, joyless, or mildly depressed. 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
The term codependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, research revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had been imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, it’s likely that you’re codependent. Don’t feel bad if that includes you. Most families in America are dysfunctional, so that covers just about everyone, you’re in the majority! They also found that codependent symptoms got worse if untreated, but the good news was that they were reversible.
Here’s a list of symptoms. You needn’t have all of them to qualify as codependent. more
Valentine’s Day creates a lot of expectations that are often unrealized. It’s fraught with landmines, whether you’re in or out of a relationship, the grass isn’t always greener. Is your situation described here? Read six tips to having a great holiday.
I can recall Valentine’s Days I wished I were in love with someone who loved me. Worse, were Valentine’s Days when I missed an ex or spent time thinking about someone who wasn’t in love with me. Looking back, what was sad was that I made myself unhappy and ruined days thinking about “if only.” more
Good relationships run smoothly and enable you to enjoy your life, work, and activities beyond the relationship. You’re not always worrying or talking about it. Like a smooth-running car, you don’t have to keep repairing it. You may have disagreements and get angry, but you still have goodwill toward one another, talk things over, resolve conflicts, and return to a loving, enjoyable state.
Cars do need maintenance, however. Take care of it, and it performs better. Relationships also take time and effort to maintain an intimate connection. This happens naturally in the initial romantic stage when you want to get to know your partner, spend time together, have frequent sex, and are more open and flexible. You’re less willing to compromise and may want less intimacy. Even if you don’t actually argue, you may return to the same emotional state you were in before you met – or worse – and wonder where your love went or whether your partner loves you. This is where the “struggle for intimacy” is required in order to maintain that love connection. 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
We’re all in denial. We’d barely get through the day if we worried that we or people we love could die today. Life is unpredictable, and denial helps us cope and focus on what we must in order to survive. On the other hand, denial harms us when it causes us to ignore problems for which there are solutions or deny feelings and needs that if dealt with would enhance our lives. Unfortunately, if you’re in denial, you won’t know it. Read on to learn how to recognize denial in its many forms. more
Power exists in all relationships. Having power means to have a sense of control, to have choices and the ability to influence our environment and others. It’s a natural and healthy instinct to exert our power to get our wants and needs met. When we feel empowered, we can manage our emotions, we believe that we matter and that we can affect outcomes. We have a sense of efficacy in our lives, rather than being at the effect of others and circumstances. Instead of reacting, we can act because we have an internal locus-of-control.
In contrast, many of us may feel powerless and victims of outside forces. We can feel like our destiny is out of our hands. Some of us voluntarily give up our power to others. We may feel uncomfortable with exercising our own power, and believe that we will alienate others. Instead, we might react to others, defer to their wants and need, and have trouble making decisions and initiating independent action. We might feel like we’re being mean or raising our voice when we merely state what we want or don’t like. This impaired sense of power is common among codependents and stems from: more
It’s normal to have conflict in relationships. People are different, and their desires and needs will inevitably clash. Resolving disagreements in a healthy way creates understanding and brings couples closer together. The objective should be the betterment of the relationship. This is positive conflict. Below are 24 suggested rules – 12 Do’s and 12 Don’ts – for actualizing this goal.
Arguments are Good!
Arguments aren’t necessarily a bad sign. It means differences are surfacing, but in some relationships, differences aren’t acknowledged, because either one partner dominates a subservient one, or because both individuals are merged and don’t really know themselves or are sacrificing who they are to please one another. These solutions to differences usually backfire, because they build resentment and passive-aggressive behavior, and closeness and intimacy suffer. With these couples, conflict is a sign of growth and maturity. At the other extreme are high-conflict couples, where differences escalate into power struggles and communication becomes aggressive. more
All the times you’re disinterested in sex or just too tired, consider this: Sex doesn’t have to be about orgasm. Wrote Thoreau, “We need pray for no higher heaven than the pure senses can furnish, a purely sensuous life.” (The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, 1906). Yes, through lovemaking, as in meditation, you can experience spiritual heights, healing, and improved self-esteem. If you don’t have time to meditate, have sex instead. It’s about sensation, whether you want ecstatic meditation or more pleasurable sex.
Sex as meditation isn’t new. It was a path to the divine in the Indian Tantric tradition. The goal was to unify masculine and feminine energies. You needn’t be an adept to boost your bliss, perk up your relationship, and lift your self-esteem. These time-proven methods are longer lasting and healing than orgasm. Intercourse and orgasm are secondary, because you’re stimulating the brain – the source of St. Teresa’s spiritual raptures. Intimacy with your lover can engender similar results. 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
It must be cellular that men and women automatically feel humiliated when their partner cheats, even though they themselves have done nothing to be ashamed of. Too often, people feel embarrassed for their partners’ behavior, whether it’s domestic violence, emotional abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, gambling, or sex addiction, and too often, those addicts and abusers shift the blame onto their wives and husbands. It’s called “blaming the victim.” But the truth is that we are only responsible for our own behavior and others are responsible for theirs.
Betrayal is a devastating assault upon our ability to trust – trust in ourselves, other people, our sense of justice, even God. It can affect our self-esteem, if we let it. For some people, the worst part of adultery is the dishonesty – sharing our life with someone whom we discover has been living a lie day in and day out. We start to doubt our own senses, let alone our own attractiveness. Who was he or she, really? 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
I was surprised to learn that this grove of Aspen trees is actually one organism, sharing one root system. Each of us also is an interconnected community of 70 trillion cells. Biologist Bruce Lipton believes that together we’re “one collaborative superorganism.” I love that Facebook allows us to connect one-to-one all over the planet. For the movie: click here.
Society is highly specialized and interdependent, so that few of us would know how to survive without running water, electricity, and a supermarket. We’re also dependent upon our personal relationships. Human brains aren’t fully developed for 18 years, and psychological and financial independence from our parents takes even longer. Moreover, as adults we depend upon others to fill sexual, social, and emotional needs, such as friendship, communication, nurturing, appreciation, learning, love, and touch. The closer a relationship, the more we’re interconnected. more
Do you wonder if you are Codependent? Do you regularly sacrifice your opinions, needs or wants, and then feel resentful? Do you feel guilty saying no and resentful when you don’t? Are you controlled by, or try to control someone else, whom your thoughts and feelings revolve around, as in the Barry Manilow song, “I’m glad when you’re glad, sad when you’re sad?” Are you afraid of speaking up? Resentment, guilt, control, and fear are the hallmarks of codependency, a term once used only to describe the enabler of an alcoholic, is now more generally applied to unhealthy dependency.
Codependents live from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. In Codependency for Dummies, I define a codependent as someone whose thinking and behavior revolves around another person, substance or process. (Notice my definition includes addicts.) Codependents can’t access their innate true self that underlies their codependent self created in childhood. Read the Symptoms of Codependency. more
We may not realize that we’re feeling emotionally abandoned or that we did as a child. We may be unhappy, but can’t put our finger on what it is. People tend to think of abandonment as something physical, like neglect. They also may not realize that loss of physical closeness due to death, divorce, and illness is often felt as an emotional abandonment. However, emotional abandonment has nothing to do with proximity. It can happen when the other person is lying right beside us – when we can’t connect, and our emotional needs aren’t being met in the relationship. more
The dilemmas of codependent men aren’t talked about. Unlike women, few men discuss their relationship problems with friends and family. Instead, they internalize their pain. Many are in denial, suffer in silence, have an addiction and/or become numb to their needs and feelings. They shun attention and try to do the right thing and be good sons, husbands, and fathers, focusing instead on making a living and meeting the needs of their wives and children. These codependent men sacrifice themselves and believe that their needs, including the need for time away from their wives, are selfish.
Societal and cultural values have shamed men as weak for expressing feelings or needs, which reinforces codependent traits of control, suppression of feelings, and denial of needs. Often they turn to addiction in order to cope. more
Many people claim that they trust others until they have reason not to, but when you first meet someone, you don’t know anything about their integrity or past conduct, except what they tell you. Trustworthiness is proven over time by actions, not only by words. You can get hurt by believing what people say and ignoring their actions To be trustworthy, a person has to “walk their talk” – words and actions must be congruent. You also have to be able to trust your perceptions, a skill difficult for some codependents who trust too little or too much. Being able to trust realistically is a learning process.
When you’ve grown up in a dysfunctional family environment where your parents kept secrets or invalidated your perceptions, you learned to doubt yourself. You may become distrustful and/or the opposite, suggestible to what others say and disconnected from your own inner guidance system. more
Satisfying relationships are built on a foundation of safety and trust that you won’t be hurt physically or emotionally. Whether you trust too little or too much is influenced by your past, but once trust is broken, your sense of safety is in jeopardy. You feel insecure and may begin to question your partner’s honesty, motives, intentions, feelings, and actions. Walls start to grow when you try to protect yourself. Specific steps must be taken to repair the relationship. more
Everyone laughs when I tell them that I wrote Codependency for Dummies. But codependency is no laughing matter. It causes serious pain and affects the majority of Americans, both in and out of relationships. I know. I spent decades recovering.
There are all types of codependents, including caretakers, addicts, pleasers, and workaholics, to name a few. They all have one thing in common: They’ve lost the connection to their core. Their thoughts and behavior revolve around someone or something external, whether it’s a person or an addiction.
It’s as if they’re turned inside out. Instead of self-esteem, they have other esteem, based upon what others think and feel. Instead of meeting their own needs, they meet the needs of others, and instead of responding to their own thoughts and feelings, they react to those of others. Hence, they have to control others to feel okay, but that just makes matters worse. It’s a haywire system that leads to conflict and pain and makes emotional intimacy difficult. (Also see my blog about symptoms of codependency.) more
Over three million incidents of domestic violence are reported each year, and that includes men as well as women. Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. One-third of women and one-fourth of men will have experienced some sort of interpersonal violence, and for one-fourth of women and one-seventh of men, it’s severe. (For more statistics, visit NCADV.org.)
What isn’t talked about, but is serious, is emotional abuse that ranges from withholding to controlling, and includes manipulation and verbal abuse. The number of people affected is astronomical. Emotional abuse is insidious and slowly eats away at your confidence and self-esteem. The effects are long term, and can take even longer to recover from than blatant violence. more
There’s a lot of confusion about intimacy, what it really is, and how to make it happen. There are couples married decades who can be physically close, but don’t know how to be emotionally intimate. The word intimate refers to your private and essential being. Usually people think it means sharing personal information or having sex. Real intimacy is far more. It makes you feel content, empowered, whole, peaceful, alive, and happy. It transforms and nurtures you. Physical closeness, sex, and romance are important to a relationship, but emotional intimacy revitalizes and enlivens it.
Intimacy requires trust and safety to feel free enough to let go and be yourself. You need to be aware of your inner experience in the moment and have the courage and openness to share what you’re feeling with someone who also shares intimate feelings with you. Here are the necessary ingredients: more
Popular culture is focused on attracting love, yet you’ll only be able to receive as much love as you give to yourself. You’ll deflect or guard love that doesn’t resonate with you – like a compliment you don’t believe. The opposite is also true. You’ll allow others to abuse you a bit less than you abuse yourself. So if you desire lasting love, learn to love yourself, because your relationships will parallel your relationship with yourself.
The subject of love interested me from an early age after reading Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. I was still young and unconscious of my feelings about myself. For years, the concept of loving myself eluded me. Like many on a spiritual path, I became very good at compassion for others, but had no idea what self-love meant. Little by little, I’ve learned that it starts with self-esteem, self-acceptance, and finally compassion and love – all progressive stages. more
It must be cellular that a woman automatically feels humiliated when her man cheats. Maria has done nothing to be ashamed of. Too often, women feel embarrassed for their husbands’ behavior, whether it’s domestic violence, emotional abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, gambling, or sex addiction, and although it’s fortunate that Arnold took responsibility for his actions, too often, those husbands shift the blame onto their wives. It’s called “blaming the victim.”
Betrayal is a devastating assault upon your ability to trust – trust in yourself, other people, your sense of justice, even God. For some people, the worst part of adultery is the dishonesty – sharing your life with someone whom you discover has been living a lie day in and day out. You start to doubt your own senses, let alone your own attractiveness. Who was he or she, really?
Probably, and you’re in the majority. The term “dysfunctional family,” once used only by professionals, has become popular jargon in America where dysfunctional families are the norm due to cultural values, a high divorce rate, and widespread addictions – from prescription drugs to exercising, working, and shopping.
A healthy family is a safe haven – a place of sustenance and nurturing – that has an air of openness, spontaneity, and playfulness, and allows for freedom of expression. There may be occasional arguments and expressions of anger, but peace returns and individuals feel loved and respected. It functions smoothly like a well-run company. The executives – the parents – make and agree upon rules, which are consistent and reasonable.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric transformed a company that had a closed, inward focused mentality, an unresponsive bureaucracy, and uncommunicative employees. more
Divorce it entails loss, even if you wanted it. Aside from the ending of the relationship with your spouse, you may be losing your home, time with your children, in-laws, extended family, and even friends. There are inevitable financial losses, loneliness, a change of lifestyle, imagined losses of what might have been, and of memories of what once was. It may involve a move to a different city, a change of jobs or schools, or a homemaker entering the work force for the first time.
Divorce is harder on the spouse who is less prepared or feels “left.” It can shatter your self-esteem, particularly if it was unexpected, or if your spouse left because he or she loves someone else. Not usually talked about is the loss of identity that occurs – as a wife, a husband, and possibly as a father or mother. more
Conflict is inevitable in relationships, because two people have different needs, opinions, and wants. However, healthy couples have good will, talk things over, and return to feeling loving and close. On the other hand, there are relationships where conflict is more often the case or where one or both individuals bury their differences to accommodate the other. In the long run, this compromises closeness and leads to resentment. If you’re wondering whether to seek couple’s counseling, here are a few signs that indicate it would be helpful:
- Having the same argument that never gets resolved more
Is your relationship or marriage just, well, so-so? Maybe you’re not sure if you still love or ever loved your partner? Maybe he or she has many good traits – is kind, or generous, funny, or the sex is great. She’s gorgeous, or he showers you with kindness – but something is missing. Maybe your parents or friends think that he or she is great – that they would give their eyeteeth for such a relationship. How do you decide what’s the right thing to do? more
Women, in particular, are looking for commitment. Hollywood, the media, and dating websites all focus on getting a marriage proposal. The art of seduction predates expert Cleopatra. Dozens of books have been written about getting an unavailable man to say, “I do.” For six years, Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex in the City” tried to get Mr. Big to commit. It’s one thing to get married, it’s another to have a deep emotional connection and commitment of the heart. 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
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
The relationship duet is the dance of intimacy all couples do. One partner moves in, the other backs-up. Partners may reverse roles, but always maintain a certain space between them. The unspoken agreement is that the Pursuer chase the Distancer forever, but never catch-up, and that the Distancer keep running, but never really get away. They’re negotiating the emotional space between them. We all have needs for both autonomy and intimacy – independence and dependency, yet simultaneously fear both being abandoned (acted by the Pursuer), and being too close (acted by the Distancer). Thus, we have the dilemma of intimacy: How can we be close enough to feel secure and safe, without feeling threatened by too much closeness?
The less room there is to navigate this distance, more difficult the relationship. There is less anxiety, and hence less demand on the relationship to accommodate a narrow comfort zone. more
In working with women for decades, I’ve found that self-esteem is the common denominator of many women’s issues. With better self-esteem, women are more able to find balance, handle stress, and claim their autonomy.
Universally, women are considered inferior to men, and although our culture is changing, most women suffer from impaired self-esteem, even successful women. Self-esteem impacts our relationships with others and our relationship with ourselves. It affects self-care, parenting, boundaries, and communication. Self-esteem determines the way we allow others, including our children, to talk to us, and how we value and communicate our needs, thoughts, and feelings. It underpins personal integrity, our ability to pursue goals, and is crucial to effective parenting. more
Last year, a study reported that despite improvement in women’s lives, their happiness relative to men has declined since the ’70s, when the reverse was true. This held true across racial and socio-economic lines in several industrialized countries. Women’s happiness also declines with age. In contrast, men’ happiness has increased and increases with age.
Do you worry that you are depressed? Read more about the symptoms and risks for depression. more