Codependents have a great difficulty differentiating between healthy coping mechanisms and dysfunctional behavior. They tend to act on their childhood conditioning, which basically has the wounded child running the show,
When raised by an emotional manipulator, a codependent will often find themselves battling uncertainty and doubting their senses. For them, the lines between healthy and unhealthy are often very blurry and the needs of the wounded child are dictating the adult behavior. Some of the things Codependents struggle with the most are concepts such as:
- How much giving/doing is too much?
- What am I responsible for and what are you responsible for?
- Healthy detachment – Where do I end and you begin?
- Am I allowed to put myself first?
- Trusting their senses and instincts
As the healing process begins, a Codependent must learn how to teach themselves what they were not taught as children. They have to reprogram their brains to operate in a manner that works in their best interest and is confident in its decision making. This is no easy task as a Codependent has been taught to feel that just being themselves is not good enough and that they have to do more than others to make up for their supposed short comings. They tend to do so at their own peril, constantly putting others ahead of themselves.
I’ve compiled a few guidelines that those trying to manage their Codependency can use, when determining a healthy boundary, the correct way to respond and whether to act or not act. When given a situation you are unsure of, ask yourself the following questions:
Does helping/giving/ doing cause me undo harm? If helping someone out means you won’t have money for groceries, or it wastes an inordinate amount of your time, then don’t do it. You’re allowed to say no. Think about what type of hardship this will cause you and whether or not it’s reasonable. If you get a call at 3:00 am and your on again, off again lover needs a lift and you’ve got to get up at 7:00am for work – the answer should always be – not just no, but, hell no. My brother always says, “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” You’re not responsible for other people’s jams. The best way people learn to stand on their own two feet is by being responsible for their own actions. So let them experience the consequences of their behavior.
If helping puts you in a financial bind the answer is no. If helping puts you in harm’s way – the answer is no. If it causes you undo stress or inconvenience, you can say no. There is a caveat to this of course- if the asker is your child, or beloved family or friends, the answer is sometimes yes. To narrow it down continue asking yourself the following questions.
Reciprocity – Would you do it for me? There’s a great quote that says, “Do not cross oceans for people that would not cross puddles for you.” This is pretty straight forward. A good example we can use for the holidays is – don’t buy a ton of presents for people who won’t be buying them for you (children excepted). If someone has proven to you that you cannot depend on them, then they sure as hell better not expect you to come to their rescue. This is about balance – a healthy relationship cannot exist without it. If you aren’t there for me – I’m sure as hell not going to put myself out for you. Tit for tat.
Am I doing this for the right reasons? Several years ago, I was walking through a shopping mall around Valentine’s Day. I had a basket full of gifts I was going to give to my Boomerang Narcissist. I knew there was no reciprocity – he wasn’t going to spend a dime on me, or even spend one second thinking about me. So there, In the middle of the store, with teddy bear in hand, I just stopped. I looked into the basket of presents and a question rang through my mind – Why are you doing this? I stood there for a good couple of minutes trying to come up with an answer. I wanted him to like me, to choose me. I wanted him to think I was sweet and kind. I wanted to make him happy….and I felt that just being me wasn’t good enough. He mirrored that belief by the way he treated me. So, I put the teddy down and retraced my path through the store putting every item back but one, a bronze candle holder – when you put the tea light inside the words love deeply lit up. I gave that gift to myself, that year, for Valentine’s Day. Today, it sits prominently on my coffee table and it is an empowering testament to the day that I chose me.
Don’t give material things to try and buy love. If your presence isn’t enough then your presents won’t matter.
Am I rewarding bad behavior? We constantly state on this blog, that, ‘what you allow – continues.’ Another more psychologically correct statement is, ‘what you reinforce – strengthens.’ If you praise someone for emotionally kicking you – then chances are they are going to kick you again. If you give gifts to someone who treats you badly, their poor treatment will continue and on top of it they will think that you’re ok with it. Don’t invest your time, money and energy into people that don’t treat you well. If you’re giving or doing for someone, in order for them to like you, understand that if they don’t like you already, nothing you can give or do is going to change that. Poor treatment should always be met by one of three actions – negative reinforcement (you take something away they enjoy – like yourself), punishment, or your permanent silence.
Are you ignoring other responsibilities to help? Does helping, giving or doing for someone cause you to disappoint or put your children at risk? Does it mean you’ll miss or be late for work? Are you stealing from (kids piggy bank, mom’s purse) or harming others to make your lover happy? If you’re ignoring your responsibilities to be more available or please someone, stop what you’re doing and seek treatment immediately. Your behavior is way off base and you need to have a therapist help you with your priorities and your self-worth.
Are you putting your desires on the back burner? When I was 20 I was an extra on a few TV shows and movies. Being an extra and hoping to get a speaking role, is very competitive. If you miss one call – you’re out. They will never call you again. One day I got the call for an extra scene that was filming the next morning at 6:00am. By 7:00pm the agency called me and said the shoot was off for tomorrow that they’d have to reschedule. My young nephew, who was a great little hockey player, had a game at 6:30am the next day. Since my scene was cancelled I told him I would take him. I was invested in his hockey career. He was this strong, muscular, power forward, at the age of 7 and man could he skate. I spent many a day showing him how to perfect his skills, how to shoot, how to check properly, how to skate backwards… At 6:00am the next morning we were on our way out the door and the agency called – the shoot was back on. I told them I couldn’t, that I was on my way out the door, to take my nephew to his hockey game. They never called me again. I could have got someone else to do it, but I felt like his hockey potential was greater and more important than my potential acting career. I did that a lot as a young person, constantly put others ahead of myself. I gave more value to their potential than my own.
If doing for others makes you a martyr, or you’re the one always making the sacrifice, it’s time you started to think of you first and let others figure themselves out. There should be very few things more important to you than your goals.
On the road to healing you will have to learn how to enforce your boundaries and how to say no. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that putting yourself first is selfish. It’s not – it’s healthy and it’s a distinction that comes naturally to people who grow up with a secure attachment bond and loving, healthy, parents. To them it’s common sense. If you struggle with doing too much for others practice looking at things with a new perspective – one where you and your needs are important. Sticking up for you and doing right by you is your job. The sooner you learn that the easier life gets.