In the course of our lives, we gather a lot of information about who we are. It starts in childhood and is a continuous process. The most powerful information we receive is that given to us by caregivers at a time in our lives when we are like “sponges” and we take it all in to form a blueprint for life. Sometimes the information is not correct or based on caregivers’ own perceptions of the world but it still comes our way and we believe it.
The conceptualised self is the part of us that takes all this information and makes up all the stories of who we think we are and who we should be. It’s the part that gets beaten by shame, discouraged, and frustrated. It’s the part that drives one’s ambition for material success and social status because that means something. The stories that make up this part define who we think we are and we put labels on those thoughts. These labels define how we deal with challenge, triggers and such issues as fear of rejection. They become our default coping mechanism and we are often stuck in the conceptualised self. It makes us avoid and deflect, unwilling to take on our fears. At the same time, we blame and shame ourselves and the cycle continues. We hold on to these identities in the stories too closely and they cause us difficulties.
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There is another sense of self that we can make contact with, known as the observing self which helps to free us from the labels we and others place upon us. Even though our experiences are constantly changing, there is always a “you” that is able to notice these changes. When we are able to contact a sense of “awareness” we are able to observe our experiences without getting caught up in the content. We are freed from the evaluations, beliefs, ideas, and judgments that we place on ourselves. However, that takes some time to realise and that is for another post.
When it comes to codependency, the conceptualised self is major part of the dysfunction that drives the process. Codependency has its roots in shame based parenting and broken connection with caregivers and the conceptualised self in codependents is strong. Many codependents that I deal with shame themselves constantly and accept the emotional distancing, abuse and lack of affection that they have to suffer in relationships. They then shame themselves more for the fact that they are in this type of relationship in the first place, claiming something is wrong with them.
This cycle will continue because it is well known that codependents are attracted to such partners as it mirrors their attempts to connect with caregivers as children. When we look at the reasons for this, we are reminded that most codependents grew up in households where emotional and physical neglect were rife. They learnt that they would only be recognized when they met their parent’s needs for care by looking after them or becoming something their parents wanted them to. At the same time, these children were rejected or punished when they asked for their needs to be met. This sends the message to children that good people look after others while sacrificing their own needs.
When children aren’t nurtured or cherished as individuals, they feel abandoned, helpless, isolated, and hopeless. Their true self isn’t seen or isn’t valued. While a healthy, nurtured child becomes confident and proud of who they are, the neglected child becomes ashamed of who they truly are. Their true self, with all its needs and desires and dreams, is buried deep inside the psyche. A neglected child feels they will never be “good enough” and so they project a false self, the person they think they must become in order to get what they need. They become further and further removed from their true self and more convinced that if they can just give up enough of themselves, they will finally be loved.
This is a codependent’s life, which can be classed as a rerun of their childhood over and over again in different relationships. They are afraid of leaving the relationship, fearing that they will need to start again or be alone. Instead of leaving, they just try harder to connect. This fuels the conceptualised self and the sense of avoidance of facing real issues.
Recovery from codependency is truly about reparenting that lost child and producing a sense of real self. Unfortunately, this has to be done as an adult. I wrote this article sometime ago which looks at the elements needed. Read that HERE or as a podcast.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner’s approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients’ internal “parts,” or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.