Inside every codependent is a child, who has been mistreated, ignored, hurt, humiliated, frightened, shamed, or abused by parents, who were themselves mistreated, ignored, shamed and abused by their parents. When we were children we did what we knew how to do, in order to survive and to get our needs met. It is this same child that created how we cope, how we react and how we feel about ourselves. It is this child that has been running our lives as adults.
“Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship with the self”, says Robert Burney, author of Dance of the Wounded Soul. It is the belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with us, wrong with being human, wrong with being who we are.
I joined Facebook in 2008 and I became friends with a woman I went to high school with. She was a plain Jane, socially awkward, didn’t wear make-up, her hair was an ugly brown, frizzy and always dry looking, she dressed like a frumpy country girl and would likely fall over in a pair of heels, yet I looked at pictures of her husband and I was like, ‘Damn girl, how the hell did you land that?’
I remember thinking, ‘I’m smarter, more educated, more attractive, have better style, I’m sexier, have a better job, I’m outgoing, funny and the life of the party … what the hell? This girl was a wallflower and walked like a duck.’
What took me a long, long time to figure out, which is at the core of the disease of codependency, is that the difference between her and I was that she was okay with who she was – I was not. I was imperfect, flawed and I believed that only perfect people deserved things. I wasn’t worthy. That was my energy, what I was sending out to the universe. I wore make-up at 20 to hide flaws in my flawless 20 year old skin. Even in my youth there were so many things about myself that I needed to hide. My hair had some curl to it, so I had to use tons of product and straightening irons to make it perfect – damaging it in the process. I was chubby so certain styles and colors were out and yet despite all my efforts to look good I still never felt comfortable in my own skin.
One year when I was at the cottage of my long-term Narcissist, we were joined by his brother and girlfriend. She was pair shaped and had massive legs. They were abnormally large and cottage cheesy, because she was taking some kind of steroid medication for an illness. She put on a bathing suit and had a great time swimming in the lake. Man I wanted to swim so badly, but shame kept me from exposing my imperfect body in a bathing suit. Being imperfect was okay for her, she didn’t care, but I could never do it. I could not endure the shame of exposing my chubby body to the world. Fearing the shame and ridicule kept me from living my life, kept me from enjoying and participating in the things that make life worth living.
This is how codependency works. The child in me feared the humiliation that would follow any behavior that would make me stand out and expose my lack of perfectness. Even though I was in my twenties, the fears of the child were still how I was reacting to life.
Healing the Inner Child
That inner child in me needed to be heard. She needed a voice. I had to release her, cherish her and give her all of the love that I was denied, but just as importantly, I needed to teach myself healthy, adult ways of coping with the stress and obstacles that appear in life. It was time to heal this child and stop her from controlling my life.
Detachment is a big buzz word in codependency. It’s mostly used to describe the process codependents must take to step away from their alcoholic partners. In inner child healing, the person you need to detach from is yourself.
We need to start noticing how we are reacting to our environment and the people in it. We need to become the observer, “detach” ourselves from the situation and be mindful of how we are reacting. We need to ask ourselves,”Where is this behavior coming from? What is it that I’m reacting to? Can I trace this back to childhood fears, feelings and experiences? Is this a behavior pattern of mine?”
Burney tells us, when we can open up this dialogue and bring it to our awareness, then we can start to see how the hurt child is still controlling us, how we are still reacting the same way we did when we were that scared 7 year old girl or boy. Only then can we focus on recovery and we can begin to start reprogramming our defenses. When we detach we can notice and then stop listening to that inner critic that keeps telling us that we aren’t good enough and who always finds a way to sabotage us when things are going good.
A few years ago I worked in an office where no joke or put down was off limits and after being the recipient of a fantastic burn by my colleagues I had copied and pasted a picture of one of them, that was famous for his insults and cut ups, beside a picture of George Michael. The resemblance was uncanny, everyone laughed, everyone of course except the subject of the joke. When he saw it he made a b-line straight for my office and let me have it. He was vicious. I internalized his rage. I was clearly in the wrong. I thought that there must be something wrong with me for not understanding where the line was. I felt lower than low. He stormed out and I wondered if he’d ever speak to me again.
Then something amazing happened – the observer came out and said, “Now hold on. Wait just a minute here. This guy cuts everybody up and pulls no punches, but when he’s the recipient suddenly the rules change? Suddenly there’s a line?” What I discovered is that the problem isn’t that I went too far, the problem is this guy is a massive homophobe and being compared to a gay man really struck a nerve. My intent was to make fun of the physical resemblance and it didn’t have anything to do with George Michael’s sexual preferences. So the problem wasn’t even mine, it was all about his fears, prejudices and insecurities.
By detaching from the situation and my feelings about it, I was able to see it a little more clearly. I didn’t take all the responsibility and blame for how someone was behaving, or for their feelings, or moods. I was able to stop the child in me from reacting how I always did and realized it was his problem, not mine. I didn’t internalize his anger, instead I passed it back and went about my business.
The good news about codependency is that there is a very real recovery process. It’s a slow progression and it begins by realizing that the hurt child in you has been running the show all this time. He or she has been in control of your coping mechanisms, how you think, and how you act and react. Healing is about detaching from your reactional behavior and recognizing that your defense mechanisms, that you are using right now, were created by a child and are no longer viable in adulthood. It’s about taking a step back and analyzing each situation as a healthy adult would and dealing with it accordingly.
But mostly, recovery is about learning to accept who you are, warts and all and knowing that you are not flawed, or broken, that you are you and that’s exactly who you’re supposed to be. Nobody else knows how to be you, as perfectly as you do.
What I learned from my high school friend was that the most beautiful people in the world accept themselves unconditionally, that beauty doesn’t come from make-up, clothes or high heels, it comes from being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about accepting yourself just the way you are and not being anxious about being what you’re not. That’s what sexy is.
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