"am i codependent?" - what codependency is and how to work on it

codependency.jpg

In my latest vlog, I'm talking about codependency: some of the most common patterns and behaviors that define it, and a couple of the most important changes that you need to make if you think you're codependent in one or more relationships. Codependency might sound rather innocuous -- hey, it's way less harmful than what some people do, right?! Wrong. I have worked with many clients where codependent relationships are one of the core issues they're struggling with, and it's often so painful that they then turn to other self-destructive coping mechanisms to numb, like eating disorders, drugs and alcohol, shopping, promiscuity, etc -- which in turn create even more problems.

It can be tough to clearly define codependency and to know when it's become a problem, because the fact is that we are all a little codependent. If you dropped me off in the woods somewhere, I probably wouldn't survive very well, because I need other people. And while I'm not a parent, I know many parents struggle to find the line between being a good parent and being codependent or enmeshed with their kids. It's just realistic that we are sometimes going to put others' needs before our own, especially if there are little ones who are literally dependent on us.

But the bottom line is looking at the pattern: if you are consistently putting others' needs and feelings before your own, and you're not making sure that your own needs are met and feelings are tended to, that's not sustainable. It's only a matter of time before you crash and burn, or start doing something really unhealthy to try to keep this up. 

Check out the video for a few basics on codependency, assertive communication, and setting boundaries: 

(If you're reading this on your phone, you may need to click here to view the video on YouTube.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uELKSRTpkS0

One point of clarification: In the video, I mention that sex & love addiction is often an off-shoot of codependency. This is true, but I think it's important to make the distinction that "love addiction" is not talking about real healthy love, but about patterns like relationship-hopping, inability to be alone, excessive preoccupation with your romantic partner, doing sexual things you wouldn't normally do just to keep the person around, etc. All related to codependency, but for some people, their codependency shows up mostly in these relationships and not necessarily in others, so it's called more specifically "love addiction."

Pure sex addiction (most common in men, but some women, too) is related in that it often stems out of trauma or dysfunction in the family of origin, but it's more similar to drug or gambling addiction than it is to codependency. Sex addiction involves acting out in some kind of sexual behavior(s) compulsively, to the extent that it's negatively impacting their life, and they desperately want to stop but feel powerless to stop on their own -- so they keep acting out, which more shame, which then leads to more acting out to numb the shame. It's the classic cycle of addiction. (The behaviors differ from person to person - could be affairs, prostitutes, porn, exhibitionism, etc.) Yes, sex addiction is a legit thing, no, recovery is not "anti-sex," and no, it does not clear someone of their responsibility for their behaviors and committing to a program of recovery.

In addition to therapy (or residential treatment if the problem has gotten more severe) 12-step programs can be very effective for people struggling with codependency, love addiction, and sex addiction. Below are some good links to check out. (And by the way, I've been in trainings on sex addiction over the past year, so I'm currently a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Candidate, and will be heading to my next training this spring.)

What questions do you have about codependency? Do you put your own feelings and needs first? 

freedom in relationships comes from using your voice then letting it go

being-assertive-letting-go Having worked with hundreds of women to find peace and rediscover their authenticity, I can say that this is one of the absolute toughest and most important lessons to learn. And this goes for any kind of relationship -- partner, friend, co-worker, family member, you name it.

In relationships, freedom comes from two things:

1) Learning to use your voice and assert how you feel and what you need, and then...

2) Letting go of the outcome. 

 

Be Assertive

Many people grow up in families where this process is stunted, because doing#1 is not okay. This is tough, because parents DO set the rules and boundaries, so naturally, kids feel like they don't always have a voice or have choices. That's part of growing up. But as a child matures, if their opinion is not given value, if they do not feel safe or encouraged to express how they feel and what they need, they learn to keep that in. While this most commonly happens in the family of origin, that's not always the case. It could be learned in an abusive relationship or in a bullying situation, too.

So, if you've learned to not talk about what's really going on with you, you'll find other ways to passive aggressively communicate that very often end up hurting you in the long run. Many of my clients communicate via their eating disorders or addictions. We practice assertive communication all the time-- and usually they hate it. Not only does it go against family messages in many cases ("sweep it under the rug," "don't ruffle any feathers"), but there's also the cultural message that "emotions are a sign a weakness, and weakness will get you hurt."

First, you have to determine what your own beliefs are around expressing what you really need + feel, where they came from, and how they're working for you. Next comes the hard part of practicing confrontation and assertiveness, even when it feels totally foreign and uncomfortable at first. I've seen women make amazing progress with this even just in the one, two or three months they're with us. It can be difficult at first, which is why it really helps to have a therapist or coach walking through it with you. Sometimes if you've been suppressing your voice all your life and you suddenly start using it, it may be difficult to find that line of "assertive" versus "aggressive."

Let Go of the Outcome

And then, of course, comes the difficulty of #2 -- "Okay, you're telling me to use my voice, and I am, but it's not WORKING! Nothing is changing!"

The power does not come in someone else changing their behavior. It comes from speaking your truth, AND being able to let go of the outcome. Now, of course there are going to be situations where if you speak your truth and nothing changes, then you may have some hard choices to make about what you need to do. (You told your friend you're frustrated with being flaked on after the 5th time, and she's still doing it? Maybe it's time to move on from the friendship.) So, if you learn to do #1 but aren't doing #2, you'll continue to feel trapped and frustrated.

Finally, a disclaimer on this one: I'm really talking about letting go of the outcome in our one-on-one relationships, not at a cultural level.  I think we have to use our voices until the cows come home in order to create real change in the world on a broader scale.

Where do you get tripped up in this process? And what helps you to stay true to yourself without losing your mind trying to control others?