They say that 60 is the new 40, whatever that truly means. For someone who has reached that age, I can say I feel as physically and mentally fit as I ever have. I have seen cases where that can change quite quickly but for now I am happy with the state of things. I’ve talked a lot lately about being 60 and strangely, it has affected me a bit more than I thought it would. However, anything you read about it highlights that it truly is a milestone!
It has made me reflect on my life to this point and what I want for the rest of it. It has also prompted me to push over the finishing line where my codependent tendencies are concerned and finally find a genuine self I am happy with. That is not to say that I am unhappy generally with the general concept of who I am but most of that happiness is restricted to the person who shows up for work every day. A person who seems to be far different to his private counterpart. In my work, I am confident that anything I encounter can be overcome and I can use my experience and education to help others. There has to be boundaries, of course, but it generally works well.
How I reconcile that confident individual with his ’brother’ that I am in my private life has been a challenge. That person is rather unsure of himself, feels the needs to be indispensable in the lives of others and cannot truly believe that anyone would be with him for who he is. My private life is where my range of ’false selves’ run amok and where I have had to do most of the personal growth work I have done to this point. It’s strange that this person tends to take over the moment I leave my office.
Many of my clients deal with confusion about the true nature of codependency as they first investigate it. They are often perplexed by the idea that codependency is about control and can’t see how. ‘How can I be controlling if I am doing good things for the ones I love?’ ’I give so much, how can that be bad?’. These are questions I have fought with all my life in different relationships and have come to realise that the intention to do good is fine, it is the expectations that follow which define the control.
I ask people who doubt that control is a major factor in codependency how they feel when they constantly give, sacrifice and suppress their own needs to please others, be accepted as an individual or in a group. Most of them will answer that they feel resentment towards the person or group concerned because their efforts didn’t produce the required result. This is often followed by shaming oneself which could lead to anger or even more resentment, increasing the desire to fix. These feelings will tell you that you did it all for the wrong reason. It was done to gain sympathy, validation, affection or a boost in self-esteem instead of the desire to truly help and be altruistic with that help.
This aspect of codependency mirrors childhood protection measures still in place. Children who were neglected or starved of the connection they craved will attempt to manipulate their environment, be the ’good’ child and even parent their parents to obtain what they should receive as a matter of course. The need to do these things is carried into adult relationships and becomes codependency. Control the person and the environment around them by catering to their every need and guarantee security and not being abandoned, is the motto. What could possibly go wrong? What goes wrong is that these tactics are usually aimed at people who are very happy to allow the process to happen, taking without giving, a perfect dysfunctional jigsaw. I have come across people identified as codependent who have no clue as to that described above and will quickly move into the next relationship when the ’taker’ gets fed up of taking and leaves.
So back to me. The situation described above highlights my life experiences. In private, I have a natural lack of belief in my abilities outside of the things I find within my comfort zone. I struggle hard to recognise and meet my own needs and will often put them aside for a significant other. I have felt that resentment and anger when things haven’t gone as ’planned’ and felt shame and embarrassment over giving so much of myself. I often haven’t done things for the people in my life for genuine reasons and have felt that smug contentment when things have worked out.
The question is, why do this? I have recognised that becoming an individual with your own priorities is an essential part of being in a relationship. That is not to say that you need to live a detached, solitary life and separate yourself emotionally and physically but maintaining self-independence will also take away the intensity of a codependent relationship.To many codependents, who need that intensity, it can be threatening to release the control they exert through the drama triangle and would prefer to keep their partner close. This increases their security and feeling of being able to influence events. I have done this and fight against it every day. The result has not been good.
In my attempts in the past to be ’the everything and go-to’ person for my wife, I have achieved exactly the opposite. She has recoiled from the closeness, citing my attempts to observe, influence and fix when not needed or wished for. It has taken a while but the penny has finally dropped so to say, after a recent drama triangle event, which led to us saying some things to each other that were less than complimentary at the time. After due reflection, I realised that my expectations of what I needed from her in terms of reassurance and my need for codependent control were excessive.
So what do I plan to do? I plan to trust that she is with me out of choice and not because I am indispensable in her life. I plan to trust that if I put my focus more on myself that she will continue to make that choice. Over the last six or so months, I have decided to actively pursue the things I find interesting, most of which I put aside. It is fine to have separate interests and pursuits and still be a viable couple. I have realised that building a golden cage is no guarantee that the person inside it is going to be happy being there and may want to spread their wings at times. I have also hurt others with my codependency and my expectations of them.
The result is incredibly less stress on my part as I have lowered the expectations I have. I am building a relationship with myself alongside the one with my wife and I am enjoying it immensely. I am doing things that actually my wife has been encouraging for some time. I bought a new tent the other day and will be expanding my exploration of the great hikes of Europe and I can’t wait.
This isn’t all about my marriage. Following some recent tragic deaths in the family of people who left far too soon, I have naturally reflected on my own sense of mortality and how I want to live out the rest of my life after taking a conscious decision never to retire. Life is too short to think about anything else.
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