When I give a free initial consultation to a new client and it concerns codependency, I often get asked a very relevant question. That is…“why do you feel you understand me as a possible codependent?” According to many referrals that I get, that level of understanding amongst therapists is quite low on a deeper level. It is incredibly important for a client that the person taking them through to possible recovery understands what they are going through. With codependency, it is essential! Working with the wrong therapist can potentially make the situation worse. It is vital to work with someone who has been through recovery themselves and understands the term “I am a codependent”. I have been there, done that and am now on the other side. My feeling is that far too much emphasis in codependent recovery is focused on romantic relationships with “narcissists”. While it may be an important aspect and makes for good reading, it is not always true to the situation. I know many people who would be classed as codependent who are not in relationships at all but place their codependent focus on the community, family or work.
I firmly believe that the most significant relationship in a codependent`s life is the one they had with primary caregivers. This is where it started and all others are a symptom not the cause. Recovery must be based on personal, individual responsibility to change behavior and attitude. Anything else might be deemed as a waste of time and resources.
As with most codependents, I was not aware that the behavioral issues I possessed had a name. At the time, there was not the wealth of freely available resource there is now on the internet. Codependency was, at that time, closely associated with alcoholism and the people around them. My father drank but I wouldn’t say I enabled him, protected him nor did it have a great effect on me. My mother was different. A “hard as nails” Irish catholic who despite adversity and being frequently cheated upon, kept sacrificing everything she had to keep things together. However, we all paid a price for this sacrifice and I carried the “torch” forward into adulthood, ending up just as bad as she was. I was a controlling codependent and no doubt a horror to be around.
What does this mean in real terms? What it means is that my secure base was anything but and to feel secure, I had to control everything and everyone within my environment. Without this control, I would feel my world was imploding. Consequently, my life was full of toxic people and influences. I exercised this control in various ways, all designed to make me feel better. Was I conscious of some of this? I would suggest that I was but all the while it worked, I used the tactics freely that I had honed to perfection and learnt in childhood. The following are not just to do with romantic relationships. I did the same with family and work too.
- Sacrificing my own needs for that of others. I did this knowingly and willingly because I wanted to obligate people to like me or validate me or stay with me. I even used to look for and search out the opportunity to do this. I was the first to jump in when someone needed help, hoping a return would follow. I wanted to be indispensable so that nobody thought of getting rid of me.
- Enabling behavior so I was still significant. In fact, part of me was quite pleased when someone didn’t move forward to a better place. They needed to stay where I had influence.
- Various consequences (for others) when return wasn’t forthcoming. I used them all. Emotional and physical withdrawal, silent treatment, reminding people what I had done for them, threats to stop doing what I had done for them, victimhood. None of these I maintained and I was usually the one who panicked and went running back. Hence, the cycle continued.
- Staying longer than I should. In all aspects of my life, there are a number of times when I could now say that I hung on too long, making my life miserable (and consequently others too).
All of the above is ancient history for me. I came across a therapist ( a recovered codependent herself), who really understood what I was going through. By using a combination of deep therapies, she pulled me through the worst at a time when I was putting all my frustrations into being a workaholic. I use the same methods with my clients, ( a hybrid therapy of Internal Family Systems, Inner Child and CBT). I manage the affliction extremely well these days. I am satisfied in all aspects of my life. I feel secure in my relationship with a very special lady, work and the plans I have for the future. Long gone are the days when I tied my security to the validation of work, a relationship or a situation. I have finally grown up and the child is healed.