Many codependents that I deal with like to talk about narcissism because they believe it plays a big role in their lives. As people who will often attract the odious, they generally have had to cope with the worst excesses of this type of behavior. Many stay in relationships with this personality type for many years before “realising” and becoming aware. Then there is usually a mad scramble fueled by friends, therapists and social media to get away as soon as possible and enforce “no contact”, the unwritten rule for dealing with such people. A quick search on the internet will give you thousands of pages written by people who have been in such relationships and are advising others. Good. While I would fully agree with this concept for abuse cases,it is not always as clear-cut as it might seem and a lot of this advice is based on the writers own autobiography and so, individual to them alone. Codependency is a lot about losing an identity in another person and controlling the environment to feel secure. It is easy to say…”he or she is a narcissist” as a cure for all ills.
Codependency is not about others it is about YOU, yes you, taking responsibility for aspects of your behavior that leave you exposed to being taken advantage of.
When going “no contact”, the danger could be that we use this time to essentially point fingers and blame. We are saying to ourselves “I am a victim”, ” He or she did this to me”. By doing this and placing the emphasis on this or that relationship, we are missing the main point. That codependents need to take responsibility for their own set of behavioral problems. Now, hopefully that should and will come during no contact but I wonder how many are just using this time to swap one incompatible partner for the next one? Being a codependent myself and having worked through the issues, I can manage the occasional setback I have. I did the work (hard as it was) and learnt by painful doing. I realized that the biggest factor in codependency was not the self-centered people i got involved with but my own issues that attracted them and left me bereft of making the right choices. Of course, much of this was rescuing, fixing and controlling on my part and not until I really worked on what I could do to stop that did I really move on. I realized that these people were a symptom, not the cause.
Codependency is not about others it is about YOU, yes you, taking responsibility for aspects of your behavior that leave you exposed to being taken advantage of. Realise it, become aware, work on it and change it. Simple. The cause is obvious. Your codependency started in childhood when you couldn’t reason or control the powerful critical and protective voices that became part of your personality as an adult. That is a reason but no excuse for not changing it as an aware, self-conscious adult. In my experience the following are factors that need to be worked on in effective treatment. I am sure codependents here will recognize this.
- Self care. An alien concept for codependents. Why do you need to look after yourself when you are looking after the world and it feels good? Except it won’t when it all comes crashing down and you are left alone. Stephen R Covey wrote: “Feeling good doesn’t just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It’s all up to you. You can renew yourself through relaxation. Or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything. You can pamper yourself mentally and spiritually or you can go through life oblivious to your well-being. You can experience vibrant energy. Or you can procrastinate and miss out on the benefits of good health and exercise. You can revitalize yourself and face a new day in peace and harmony. Or you can wake up in the morning full of apathy because your get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone. Just remember that every day provides a new opportunity for renewal–a new opportunity to recharge yourself instead of hitting the wall. All it takes is the desire, knowledge, and skill.” More Here
- Care-taking. Martyrdom, sacrifice may make you look an angel in front of your friends and family but what about those feelings of anger, victimhood and resentment when you don’t get the return you want or expect? 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). 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.
- Lack of Boundary Setting. Yes, you were never taught but you can learn. Yes, it is easier to keep quiet and say “yes” instead of “no”. To convince yourself that you cannot do it but any loving relationship needs boundaries. Period. Healthy boundaries do not always come naturally or easily. We learn to “be” in all kinds of relationships by modeling. In other words, by watching how others handle relationships. In early childhood, it is our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and who ever else we were around on a regular basis. As we grow into adolescents, we rely less on parents and more on our friends to help us define ourselves and our boundaries or limits in relationships. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, then chances are you have not learned how to set a boundary or even really know what it is. Learning to set our own healthy boundaries is an exercise in personal freedom. It means getting to know ourselves and increasing our awareness of where we stand and what we stand for. It means letting go of the unhealthy people in our lives so that we can grow into the healthy person that we were meant to be. More Here
- Enabling/controlling. How many times do you complain about others behavior and do nothing about it but enable that behavior at the next possible point? How often do you and your friends sit and talk about how bad you have it but then you all go back to the same? How often do you lie to your therapist that you TRULY want change when the truth is that you are actually quite happy on the path of fixing, rescuing and enabling? Until, of course, you get left alone, as inevitably happens. The need to control and control in a drastic manner, is a mirror of childhood dysfunction and the need at the time to manipulate the environment in order to feel secure. The sense of Self is subdued by the need to be everything for everyone in order to be validated. These tactics are taken into adulthood and used in adult relationships.
- Become an individual. It’s never easy to prioritise individuality when in a relationship. We are conditioned to believe we should be giving and nurturing to our partners and those who do have a balance are often labeled ‘distant’ or ‘selfish’. Indeed, we often try to control and manipulate the connections we do have in the interest of emotional security and we often allow things that we know that we shouldn’t. It is often said that we cannot love another until we love ourselves but I would take this further. We cannot truly love another until we know ourselves fully and have fostered and maintained a relationship with ourselves. Getting to know ourselves is often a difficult concept when we are taught and conditioned that our sacrifice and denial of this will bring the rewards in a relationship. It is a process that we need to follow and it often means getting to know how we think and react, changing habits and behaviour and setting values for our life. A reasonable question to start this process could be: ‘What have I been denying myself’. Of course, this question can be answered many ways but ideally it might start off a discussion with yourself about what you have been giving up in order to please or control. It is important to mention that this individual focus is healthy and not associated with narcissism or selfishness. Stephen Covey often said that an ideal relationship is formed by two balanced individuals who create a special place for a relationship without losing their personal goals and ambitions. I fully agree with this.
So let’s forget about the odious and concentrate on what really matters. The only place that you can influence. Your thoughts, behavior and what you need to do to move forward!
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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