So, You’re Codependent-Now What?: A Step by Step Strategy
The best blogs I have written have been ones where I’ve written straight from the heart. What I mean by that, are articles that have been a true reflection of my experiences and lessons that I have learned. To me, the only way that you can really write about something and have it be truly authentic, is to have lived it.
I get a lot of emails from people, who have been reading about codependency, and they are freaking out, because they see themselves and their behavior in the descriptions. They ask me what do I do? How do I fix this? I have, in bits and snippets, written about battling codependency, but I’ve never compiled a comprehensive list all in one place. Due to it’s length, I was going to do it in two separate blogs, but I thought it important to keep it all together.
What I have compiled below are the steps that I have taken to beat codependency. It’s important to understand that this healing is a journey and a process – with many, many twists and turns along the way. Some parts are difficult, some are easy and some flow right into the other. Without further ado, here are the steps of my journey:
Awareness: The first step is recognizing that you have been the victim of emotional abuse in childhood. Last week I wrote about the effects of emotional child abuse in adults. This isn’t about being beaten, or locked in closets. This is about growing up in an unhealthy, shame based environment, with an emotional manipulator, where there was little communication, no boundaries, and where feelings of not being good enough, and not being worthy of love, are passed down from generation to generation. This makes adults that are over-givers, people pleasers, martyrs, and ripe for abuse by users and manipulators.
A codependent generally consists of the following behaviors:
- You are very good at pretending things are ok when they’re not
- Cater to the needs of others while suppressing your own needs
- Believe that you must be perfect in order to be loved
- Mold your personality to make other people happy
- Rescue broken people
- Twist reality by minimizing and rationalizing other people’s bad behavior
- Readily and easily accept blame when it is not yours
- Sacrifice and endure
- Believe that you deserve, or you have become accustomed to poor treatment
- Don’t voice your displeasure, and you avoid conflict
- Feel responsible for solving everyone else’s problems
- Derive your sense of self-worth by helping others
If you recognize yourself in these descriptions then you are very likely codependent. Awareness is the first step – because if you don’t know what’s broken you can’t fix it.
Changing Your Scripts: We are all working from the scripts that we were taught in childhood. The difference between someone that is emotionally healthy and someone who is not, is the messages that we received about ourselves as children. Healthy children were given messages like – you can do it and given lots of encouragement and support. Codependents were given messages like, “You’re not important, your feelings, needs and wants don’t matter. You’re not good enough. Keep quiet and don’t rock the boat.”
We all play out these childhood scripts continuously, throughout our lives – they are our templates about how we view ourselves and the world. If these messages weren’t healthy, then we will keep making poor decisions. continue to behave poorly and keep self-sabotaging ourselves.
So just who is steering your ship? Do you want an emotionally immature, scared, abused, misinformed child pulling the reigns of your life forever? Hell no. It’s time to relieve the frightened little boy or girl from the thrown and start ruling our lives from a healthy, kind and loving place.
This becomes about changing how we perceive ourselves, clawing back all of the layers of that onion and enveloping little you with your own love and compassion. It’s about telling little you that you weren’t bad, you are lovable, you are good enough. The people that told you otherwise, when you were too young to know any different, were sick people. They were just passing along the same dysfunctional messages they received when they were little. It wasn’t true then and it’s not true now, it’s time to step out from under all those hurtful and abusive messages that we’ve held onto and give ourselves new messages – healthy messages like – I can do, have and be anything I want in this life. I am limitless.
Get Angry: And by angry I mean furiously angry, blame, point fingers and work yourself into a lather about the injustice that was done to you. But Sav, that doesn’t sound too healthy. You’re right it’s not, but it’s a stage we have to go through – as I’ve said before, anger is the catalyst for change. This doesn’t mean running to your parents or your partner and giving them a piece of your mind (although it might) – this is more about you and your changing mind set, it’s you learning how to stick up for yourself and that little girl or boy that was too young and too inexperienced. This is you, saying to all who would abuse you, that there is a new sheriff in town and if you think treating me this way is ok, then I’ve got news for you.
For more on the importance of anger read my blog entitled Anger: A Tool for Action
Writing New Scripts, Gaining Self-Worth and Letting go of the Need for External Validation: At this stage we’ve figured out that when we let other people determine our worth it doesn’t feel good and never works out. Unhealthy people will always devalue others to make themselves feel big. How do you want to feel about you and your life? I wanted to feel powerful, strong, fearless, free, happy, and all of the things specific to me that make me feel good.
I wrote in a blog once about witnessing a friend, who had a very healthy self-esteem, deal with someone attempting to put her down. After the assailant hurled a pile of insults at her, she laughed and said, “Wow it’s a good thing you don’t determine my worth.” And she walked away. The hurtful statements rolled off of her back and didn’t resonate in her psyche for second. She dismissed them and carried on with her life – seeing them for what they were – an unhealthy attempt to cause her harm. She didn’t bite or buy into it. She just laughed it off. This isn’t about being arrogant or bitchy, it’s about being confident in your own skin and not needing to bend your beliefs and integrity to please others.
I’ve written many blogs on self-esteem and battling the belief that you’re not good enough. All I can say is being good enough is your divine birth right. No one can make you feel good enough – it’s a belief that you have to seize yourself. No one can, or will ever give it to you. You just take it – because it’s already yours.
Setting Healthy Boundaries: I’ve written extensively about boundaries and why they’re important. When you grow up in an emotionally abusive home, you never learned how to have or set boundaries. There’s a great quote and I’ve seen it attributed to different people, so I’m not sure who the original author is, but it goes like this, “Givers need to set limits, because takers never do.”
Boundaries are how we protect ourselves. We know when someone does something that hurts us or makes us not feel good. When we implement and enforce our boundaries, it’s us teaching others how we expect to be treated. It’s our message to the universe, that this is where I’ve set the bar and if you want to interact with me, then this is how it’s going to be. But with boundaries comes consequences, because not everyone is going to respect your boundaries – there are a lot of boundary busters out there and if you don’t enforce your boundaries with consequences, then they don’t mean a thing.
If my mother was still with us, I’m sure we would have had many battles over her boundary busting and there would have been consequences, those being, that she wouldn’t be permitted to spend time with me, or she’d get very limited time with me.
Cleaning House: As I discussed above, once you’ve set the bar on how you expect to be treated, there are going to be some who like the status quo. They like all the benefits of being able to walk all over you. They like your over giving and you doing for them, so they are going to bust, bust and bust till the cows come home. You can give someone a chance or two, but if they repeatedly show you, that they don’t care about what you want and that it’s their way or the highway – then choose the highway and get in your car and drive. You will find that as you change and grow, the people that you’ve been around, for possibly your whole life, don’t fit anymore. They aren’t in the same head space, or on the same energy frequency as you are and you’ll find yourself wanting to spend less and less time with them.
I met my best friend about ten years ago. She had ended a really unhealthy relationship and she was an emotional mess. Me being the broken wing fixer I was back then, enveloped her and tried to make her feel better. We had a lot in common. We both had horrific childhoods, loved to read, we had a strong interest in spirituality and growth and we had deep meaningful conversations. As I got healthier, I began to recognize a lot of unhealthy behavior in her. Several times a year, she would invent problems between us, which would force me to jump through hoops and take all of the responsibility for whatever she was feeling. For instance, one time, we hadn’t seen each other in about a month. We lived an hour away from each other and I had just moved and had been wrapped up with packing and transporting and moving all of my belongings, all by myself. I was busy getting things organized and she was upset that we hadn’t gotten together. I explained that I was busy with the move and work and that I had come to see her the last 3 times we were together and that she should come to see me. She went crazy with outrageous things like, why should her husband have to pay for gas (she didn’t work) and I thought, ‘ok I’ll take the high road and suck it up and apologize.’ So I went over there took all the responsibility for everything (even though it wasn’t mine) under the guise that I’d rather have her friendship than be right. That, I later learned was a mistake.
A few months later, she went berserk and her behavior was so over the top and outrageous, I was completely shocked by it. I gave her several warnings and she continued to text me and hurl insults and obscenities at me, until finally I told her I was done and that I didn’t want to hear from her again. We were no longer on the same frequency and I had stopped taking responsibility for her behavior and moods. I recognized that her behavior was becoming more and more outrageous and my desire for inner peace became more important to me than dealing with her instability. If you have to work that hard at being someone’s friend – you should probably rethink the friendship.
It’s hard to replace a best friend, or any friend for that matter, but when you make the changes within you, you will stop wanting to be around people that drain you and don’t respect your wishes. You will be surprised by what and who comes into your life. Cleaning house is about surrounding yourself with like-minded, healthy people. It’s like the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it (a healthy mindset), they will come.”
The deciding factor for me on whether someone stays or goes in my life is, when I ask myself, “Does your behavior make me act crazy? Are my emotions all over the place when I’m with you?” If I answer yes – then that person needs to go – it’s that simple.
Forgiveness: Earlier I talked about getting mad, placing blame and pointing fingers. Once you’ve set and enforced your boundaries and you’ve gotten rid of the toxic people in your life, you’re on the road to forgiveness. Forgiveness really is about understanding that the people that have done you harm did so, generally not out of malicious intent but, because they didn’t know any better. They haven’t figured out the same stuff you have figured out and they’re still working off of their old dysfunctional scripts. Forgiving means that you have taken back your power and that those that hurt you, no longer have any control over your emotions, or your behavior. For more on forgiveness see my blog on Forgiveness.
Learning to Trust Again: Learning to trust again is about learning to trust yourself. It’s getting back out there, living your life, taking chances and trusting that you will do the right thing and make the right choices when you have to. It’s inner strength and the point where you realize that no one has the power to disrupt your inner peace. It’s allowing yourself to be vulnerable in new relationships, while trusting that you will make the tough call if and when you have to. It’s knowing that the injured child isn’t running your life anymore. You’ve written good, positive healthy scripts and the aware, emotionally healthy adult is fully in charge and steering the ship. When you’ve reached this stage, you’re ready for new challenges, new opportunities and anything else that may come your way, because you trust yourself you know that you can handle any situation that life will throw at you.
There are a lot of books and articles on codependence, many with action plans and exercises. – this was my path from heartbroken and radically unhealthy to emotionally content and thriving. I hope it does the same for you.
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