Those of you who have been following the blog will be aware that I am currently in the midst of a period of reflection. Reaching 60 has got me thinking about my life to this point and how it might look going forward. I am trying to become aware of who I really want to be as a person, the basis for my recent article. At long last, I’m making an effort to come to grips with my codependency and define who I really am. I am not my relationships or the blurred lines that often exist in codependent identity. Somewhere along the path to 60, I got lost with the idea that I don’t matter but other people do.
I’ve done an excellent job of explaining how things work to others, but I’ve done a poor job of following my own advice at times. With my self-disclosure, I’m hoping that it may be able to assist or encourage others who are going through similar situations. This is an honest account of my attempts at changing a well-set pattern that has been a part of my life since childhood.
Cast in the role as a caregiver to my siblings, I spent a good part of my childhood doing this to gain validation from parents who just expected that I did it. The paradox was that I was seen as the problem in the family because I was “different” or “there must be something wrong with me”. While other children were out playing forming friendships and peer groups, I was a solitary child, obsessed with history and books. I realise now that this was the first signs of counter dependency.
A dreamer, I spent much of the time escaping into stories about far off lands and the people who live there. At 15, I had an obsession with the lonely gunfighter drifter type in the Old West and stories of downtrodden cultures such as Native Americans. I loved reading about their customs and their attachment to the land, how they respected nature and only took what they needed. It contrasted with the boredom I felt in my daily life. No wonder I have maintained a healthy interest in nature and have been a long term member of Greenpeace.
At the time, in my awkward state, I believed every word my parents said about me. Now, logically, I know that the only thing wrong with me was the way I was parented. I was a parent as a child and became the “fall guy” when things went wrong. I learnt that my value depended on making sure nothing went wrong in the environment around me. I marshaled my siblings to ensure this didn’t happen, knowing I would get the blame and punishment for their misdemeanours, as well as my own. I often lied to my parents to enforce this. However, I was an adult long before I learnt to be a child. No wonder, I grew up not trusting anyone unless I could control the narrative around them. I have mostly avoided relationships with people outside of romantic partners. I have learnt the value to me of co and counter dependency and the protection it affords me.
I’ve moved from one end of a spectrum to the other in the relationships I’ve had (there have been just four long-term ones). I am initially drawn to the “vulnerable delicate” kind (who turn out to to be nothing of the sort) who need protection, then progressing to the “head strong, independent” type who resist my attempts to “catch the moving target.” I’ve grown tired of giving so much in “vulnerable” relationships and have backed off. I may quickly become frustrated and progressively needy when I am the “independent” kind, searching for the opportunity to fix. It is a frustrating cycle, not just for me but the people I become involved with and it mirrors my childhood experiences.
Now, the phrase “path to freedom” can imply that I am looking for an escape route or that I am trying to get away from something. It’s a little more complicated than that. I’m hoping to get closer by refraining from attempting to get too close. Throughout the last few months, I’ve been putting forth my best effort to complete this work, which has proven to be challenging to say the least.
To summarise, my primary concern is the ongoing urge to be protective of someone who does not require or desire it. My fear that something will happen tends to manifest itself in an excessive caution and passive aggressive attempts at control when this is inevitably resisted. This results in a sense of rejection and the underlying belief that I am the one who is doing all for the relationship but receiving nothing in return, which results in dread of being abandoned. Pure codependency! What this prevents me from perceiving is the difference between my codependency and a reasonable claim for a need to be met. I have constantly fallen down on this point believing that if I become indispensable in someone’s life, they will never leave. This is of course, not spoken but expected.
My latest efforts have been directed toward increasing my independence and “finding my purpose.” This may sound like a “buzzword,” but it is a tremendous leap into the unknown for someone who has defined his whole life via interactions with others and relationships. It means becoming comfortable with time spent alone. As predicted, I am capable of maintaining my objective while my wife is not around, but am unable to do so as effectively when she is. I have the impression that she needs my undivided attention when she makes it quite obvious that this is not the case. This occasionally results in uncomfortable and unpleasant moments as I see it as my job to entertain her and she resists attempts of mine to do this. I know that fear and control are my main drivers here.
So I have talked a lot about what is not happening but there is also some positive aspects coming out of this process, albeit slowly. I have always felt that my actions were largely automatic and reactive to a situation that I assumed was something I feared. I have made a real conscious effort to stay in the moment and try to truly listen to the dialogue going on between us, rather than filter out what I wanted to hear. I have made a real effort to make sure my responses are appropriate and above all, I have tried to be emotionally honest about any feelings I hold, while inviting my wife to do the same. I have also tried to stay in the moment when I hear something I would rather not hear.
In summary, my path to freedom is not about running away. It is about the following:
Pursuing my own individual pursuits regardless of what I feel I »should » be doing.
Being present in conversations
Resisting the need to shut down and be passive aggressive by staying present
Respecting my wife’s need for her own individuality.
Being emotionally honest about how I feel to avoid »build up » and eventual outburst
Realising that I don’t need my wife but I choose to be with her. There is a big difference.
Needless to say that none of the above would work in a relationship without the support of a partner invested in the process. If this isn’t the case, the relationship has truly to be questioned.
Subscribe to Dr Jenner's Blog via Email
Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com