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
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
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
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
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
When an obsession dominates us, it steals our will and saps all the pleasure out of life. We become numb to people and events, while our mind replays the same dialogue images, or words. In a conversation, we have little interest in what the other person is saying and soon talk about our obsession, oblivious to the impact on our listener.
Obsessions vary in their power. When they’re mild, we’re able to work and distract ourselves, but when intense, our thoughts are laser-focused on our obsession. As with compulsions, they operate outside our conscious control and are rarely abated with reasoning. Obsessions can possess our mind. Our thoughts race or run in circles, feeding incessant worry, fantasy, or a search for answers. They can take over our life, so that we lose hours, sleep, or even days or weeks of enjoyment and productive activity.
Obsessions can paralyze us. Other times, they can lead to compulsive behavior like repeatedly checking our email, our weight, or whether the doors are locked. We lose touch with ourselves, our feelings, and our ability to reason and solve problems. Obsessions like this are usually driven by fear. more
The idea of self-love and self-nurturing baffles most people, especially codependents, who by and large, received inadequate parenting. The word “nurture” comes from the Latin nutritus, meaning to suckle and nourish. It also means to protect and foster growth. For young children, this usually falls to the mother, however, the father’s role is equally important. Both parents need to nurture children. Healthy parenting helps the grown child be his or her own best mother and father. 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
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
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
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
Shame is so painful to the psyche that most people will do anything to avoid it – even though it’s a natural emotion that everyone has. It’s a physiologic response of the autonomic nervous system. You might blush, have a rapid heartbeat, break into a sweat, freeze, hang your head, slump your shoulders, avoid eye contact, withdraw, even get dizzy or nauseous.
Why Shame is so Painful and unlike Guilt
Whereas guilt is a right or wrong judgment about your behavior, shame is a feeling about yourself. Guilt motivates you to want to correct or repair the error. In contrast, shame is an intense global feeling of inadequacy, inferiority, or self-loathing. You want to hide or disappear. In front of others, you feel exposed and humiliated, as if they can see your flaws. The worst part of it is a profound sense of separation – from yourself and from others. It’s disintegrating, meaning that you lose touch with all the other parts of yourself, and you also feel disconnected from everyone else. 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
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
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
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
Communication is so important that it can make or break a relationship, is critical to success, and instantly reflects your self-esteem to listeners – for better or for worse. Assertive communication commands respect, projects confidence, and inspires influence. It’s respectful, direct, honest, open, non-threatening and non-defensive. It’s not demanding, aggressive, or manipulative.
Communication is learned. With practice you can learn to communicate assertively, which will raise your self-esteem and self-assurance and improve your relationships and professional performance. Research has established that even fetuses can learn to communicate with their mothers. To learn the keys to assertiveness discussed below, remember the 6 C’s: more
Is it possible to truly change? Does therapy help? Many people have turned their lives and fortunes around, while others spend years trying to change with or without therapy, but never seem to progress. What makes the difference? A good therapist can make a huge difference and help you traverse the obstacles to change, but success lies in the individual. You are changing constantly – your temperature, cells, thoughts, and fluids – but the longer you repeat a physical or mental pattern, the more it becomes ingrained and resistant to change. For most people, change seems hard, writes psychiatrist Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled, because they drift into a mode of being or bad habits, and allow external events and circumstances.
Genetics and early upbringing play a role, and it’s difficult if you have a character disorder. Yet, for most people, change is possible. If you’re depressed, treating the depression in therapy is the first step in change. more