After having worked as a Registered Nurse for 8 years, I decided to become a counselling therapist so that I could help people heal more than the physical alone. Having gone through my own healing journey, I discovered that while talk therapy alone is very helpful, it had limitations. This led me to learn Heart Centered Hypnotherapy, Holy Fire Reiki, Somatic Experiencing, Breathwork and Intuitive Readings, so that I could combine the mind, body and spirit to healing.
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WHAT IS IT?
Codependency develops in relationships where one person excessively relies on another for their sense of self-worth, identity, and emotional well-being. They can look outside of themselves to find a sense of self worth. In codependent relationships, individuals prioritize the needs and desires of their partner over their own, leading to a lack of boundaries and a loss of their own identity. This can cause a struggle with low self-esteem, fear of rejection, and an intense need for approval and validation from others. What happens with that is that their sense of self becomes dependant on what the other person thinks of them, and can lead to feeling a lack of control. Often, it requires that a person push away their wants, desires, needs and values to accommodate the ones of other people, becoming chameleons and more aware of the other’s wants, needs, desires and values. This can lead to feeling like you are living life on autopilot, not fully being present and in your life, as well as feeling numb and disconnected from oneself.
CAUSES OF CODEPENDENCY
Co-dependency often stems from growing up in a childhood home where there are issues that are ignored, denied or pretends that they do not exist. Some of these issues might be addictions, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or where a family member suffers from a mental or physical illness. When these issues are ignored, family members learn to repress their emotions and disregard their personal needs, as the needs of the person who is struggling takes the center stage. Their identities and emotions are often inhibited and sacrificed to care for the other person who is sick.
What happens in the nervous system is that when the family member is struggling with their illness and that it’s not talked about, you might experience stress and overwhelm without proper support. No one is there to ask how you are feeling, or what you need and want. This lead shutting emotions and desires, as it might be perceived as dangerous to have them around. In fact, the person who is ill might get angrier if you had opinions about it, and so it becomes a survival mechanism to anticipate their moods and wants, and attend to them so that they feel better, and you feel safer. In such situations, it becomes safer to not have boundaries and to take care of the other person to obtain safety. It’s the same principle as poking a bear that is angry.
Some common characteristics of codependency include:
- Excessive caretaking: Codependent individuals may take on the role of a caretaker, putting the needs of others above their own to an extreme extent.
- Lack of boundaries: They may have difficulty setting and maintaining healthy emotional and physical boundaries with others.
- Low self-worth: Codependent individuals often have a diminished sense of self-worth and rely on external validation for their self-esteem.
- Fear of abandonment: They may have a deep fear of rejection and may go to great lengths to avoid being alone.
- People-pleasing: Codependent individuals often go out of their way to please others, even at the expense of their own well-being.
- Difficulty expressing emotions: They may have trouble identifying and expressing their emotions, leading to emotional suppression.
- Enabling behavior: Codependent individuals may enable destructive behaviors in their partners by shielding them from the consequences of their actions.
Codependency can be detrimental to both individuals in the relationship, as it perpetuates unhealthy patterns and prevents personal growth and individual fulfillment. In fact, while the person who is caretaking the other might think that the other is benefiting from their help, and it instead makes the person who is being taken care of become dependent on the caretaker. They do not learn to become accountable for themselves and to manage their own self. In addition, the person who takes care of the other to find their self-worth loses themselves in the process.
Healing from codependency often involves self-awareness, therapy, setting healthy boundaries, and learning to prioritize one's own needs and well-being. Recognizing and addressing codependent patterns can lead to healthier, more fulfilling relationships and a stronger sense of self. It involves the following steps:
1- Self-awareness: Recognize and acknowledge the patterns of codependent behavior in your life. It is also to recognize what it is, in order for you to learn how and when it shows up in your life. It is also important to start recognizing what you want, feel, need while in relationship. It can be hard to know who you are when you are more aware of other people's feeling around you than your own. Starting to ask yourself regularly what you are feeling or want in different moments, especially while in relationship can start to bring awareness of self. You can even start by asking yourself what you would like to eat, what you would like to do, and what you need in different moments. It does not mean that you have to act on it, but simply start to bring awareness to it. It might be incredibly difficult to connect with those, as it you might think that you don’t really care where you go eat, and that you are happy to go with the flow. While there might be truth in that, you might also be pushing yourself aside for the desires of others.
2- Manage self versus others : One way that codependency works is to try to manage self by managing others. For example, if someone gets upset, the codependent person might try everything to calm the other person down so that they can become calmer. This may or may not work depending on the situation, and can bring a sense of lack of control. Instead, notice what is happening inside of you when someone else is upset, and manage your own emotional response. Managing yourself might include stepping away until the other person calms down, breathing, grounding, validating your own feelings, etc.
3- Understand the root causes: Explore your past experiences and relationships to identify the underlying reasons for your codependent tendencies. This may involve seeking professional therapy or counseling. This step can help bring compassion and understanding as to why this is occurring in your life. This is often a generational pattern and an adaptive survival function stemming from the nervous system.
4- Set healthy boundaries: Learn to say "no" when necessary and establish clear boundaries in your relationships. Understand that taking care of yourself is not selfish but essential for healthy connections. However, without the previous step of knowing what you feel, it will be hard to set boundaries, since you might not even be aware that a boundary has been crossed.
5- Prioritize yourself: Prioritize self-care activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Engage in hobbies, exercise, meditation, or other activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Since it's often about the other person, starting to acknowledge and prioritizing yourself will help honor your needs and desires
6- Develop independence: Focus on developing your own interests, passions, and goals outside of your relationships. This might require time to connect to. You can research activities in the area, look online at things to do and see if there would be jobs that you are interested in. This could be clues as to things that connect to who you really are. If you feel jealous or envious of something that someone is doing, it might also be a guiding factor of what you would love to do yourself.
7- Embrace vulnerability and authentic connections: This takes time. Work towards cultivating healthier, more genuine relationships based on mutual respect, trust, and understanding. It’s important to take one step at a time. This is often built by allowing yourself to be seen, vulnerable, and setting boundaries. There is a reason that it is hard to be vulnerable. Start with manageable doses of vulnerability. The more you experience acceptance from them, the more you can start to feel accepted for who you are, instead of fitting into what you think others want you to be.