How genuine are you when doing things for others? Can you truly say that you are doing it without the expectation of return of some kind? The answers to these questions are the cornerstone of any codependency you may be showing and a crucial element of managing the symptoms . This post is written with the assumption that abuse is not present in the relationship. In this case, please leave and don’t go back.
It is always nice to be thanked for a good deed, told that was a nice gesture and we can all accept that. I personally, like to do things for others and it makes me happy to see them happy. That`s fine but during the ongoing “Path To Freedom”, my own personal journey managing codependency, I recognised something that I had suspected for a long time. There is a darker side to my giving that means control and the expectation of something much more than a bit of praise.
The word indispensable can be summed up by its definition:
Something or someone that is indispensable is so good that you could not do without it, him, or her.Cambridge Dictionary
I and many other codependents, use fixing, striving to make ourselves essential in the eyes of the “chosen” one and will go to great lengths to ensure this happens. If we sense it isn`t working, we set off on the drama triangle of irritation, passive aggressive behaviour and victimhood. This is explained HERE and in Podcast form HERE. What it means is that codependents use this cycle of control to get their needs met. When fixing is taking place, you see the object as a victim who needs rescuing (needs you), when you are angry, you are trying to dominate (desperation) and victimhood says you need rescuing (used to meet needs by garnering sympathy). You can see what dysfunction lies at the heart of the cycle , which is seen as a mirror of childhood dysregulation and a lack of true connection and guidance. Children in this position will manipulate the environment around them to gain what should be theirs as a matter of course. They do this by overacheiving, being a parents “little helper” and parenting the parent to get their needs met.
Many codependents (like me) were placed in inappropriate caregiving positions looking after siblings or caring for a sick parent or one with substance abuse issues. This act of sacrifice follows them into adulthood and they continue to play this role with others, having learnt that you only get when you give fully. The irony is that codependents find it hard to receive in a genuine way and will use the “give to get” in order to justify receiving. They will remind the people around them just how much they do for them and what it would be like if they withdrew that help (often implied rather than directly stated).
It is often tempting to talk about situations like this in forms of awareness. Being aware means that theoretically, action can be taken. Theory is fine but practice does not always follow. In therapy, it is the most scary step. Knowing what to do but not feeling you can do it through fear of the perceived consequences often outweighs the fear of staying in a situaion and trying to endlessly control it. At least is is a known quantity and codependents live in hope that their tactics will eventually bear fruit (an endless quest).
However, action is not only necessary but absolutely essential or what is the point? Failure to take it will mean having to accept that your enmeshment with “that” person will continue. We are not saying here that everyone has to leave their partners in order to feel better (unless abuse is present) but changes in behaviour are vital. I have been trying these over the last year and I believe they are resulting in positive changes in my relationship. I am not concentrating on what my wife has to change (I often did this) but what is in my sphere of influence to change in me. The emphasis is on me, no-one else. What lies around the corner is unknown. Maybe the dysfunctional dynamic is one that held us together and the “new” me is something my wife can`t relate to (or me her) but that is the chance I have to take.
So what action am I taking? The list might seem like normal buzzwords from a self-help book but read on. They are working for me and they might just work for you.
Be Genuine. I have had a history of not knowing who I really am, like many others (in my private life). I have tended to be exactly what I believe others wanted me to be or what I believed they wanted me to be without truly knowing. This has led to obvious problems as the people around me never truly connected with the genuine me (whoever that was). I have started to embrace the things I have been denying myself all these years. These things, I thought would not aid me in connecting with others but they are important parts of me. I continue to discover and develop them. See below in point 3.
Be Conscious. Most codependent behaviour is automatic and reactive. Codependendents are sensitive to changes in moods and tone and adapt accordingly to avoid abandonment issues. They will also use passive-aggressive methods to gain sympathy during this period. “Poor me, why do I have to put up with this?”, as they shut down or get angry to try to change the situation for their benefit. Staying in the present by focussing your thoughts on what is really going on and not what you think (or hope) is happening, can really help. The present moment is the only place where effective decision-making can happen. Focus on not making it all about you. Focus on doing the right thing and solutions. Focus also on what you need to be able to stop codependent thinking. Is it space so you can breathe and ground yourself? Is it setting a boundary or asking a question?
Develop Yourself. Much of the reason codependendents “give to get” is because the return is needed to increase their sense of self worth and value. Finding this by enmeshing yourself with others will ALWAYS lead to disappointment and it is nobody’s job to increase your self worth. That job comes from within. More help here on self-esteem in podcast form HERE. I have been thinking about all the things I avoided doing for myself in the clamour to be there for my wife and other partners over the years. I love hiking and I started very young but went through a stage where I gave it up to ensure I am around my wife. Not now and she encourages it. I love sitting and reading. I reduced this because I thought I SHOULD be around her. It is not about distancing. The key is to develop quality time for the relationship and yourself. Theoretically, one might lead to the other.
Learn To Say No When Appropriate. Codependents will drop everything if they feel their chosen one needs them (I know I did). However, it is not usually genuine and might lead to resentment if you really wanted to say no or expected return doesnt happen. This fact often comes up in conflict later. This can only be done if you are conscious enough to know whether your offer of help is genuine. Also, the setting of boundaries tells others where your line is. It is essential to learn this. More help on boundaries HERE.
Live Responsibly And Authentically. Buzzwords indeed but very true. Keeping these two terms in mind means that you accept that any agent of change in your life starts and ends with you, no-one else. It means taking responsibility for yourself, your self-care, practicing your values and principles and being emotionally honest with yourself and others.
It may seem a tall order with all that avoidance going on but try it, it cant be worse than the alternative.
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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.
This Post Has 2 Comments
I find your honesty really refreshing Dr Jenner.
Thank you Russell