“But, the heart of the definition and recovery lies not in the other person-no matter how much we believe it does. It lies in ourselves, in the ways we have let other people’s behavior affect us and in the ways we try to affect them: the obsessing, the controlling, the obsessive “helping,” caretaking, low self-worth bordering on self-hatred, self-repression, abundance of anger and guilt, peculiar dependency on peculiar people, attraction to and tolerance for the bizarre, other-centeredness that results in abandonment of self, communication problems, intimacy problems, and an ongoing whirlwind trip through the five-stage grief process.”Codependent No More, p. 34
I have not yet found a description more accurate or profound than the one above of what codependency really looks like. The sad and unfortunate piece of codependency is that the codependent becomes so absorbed into another human being (typically an unsafe and hurtful person) that they believe even their own healing resides in that other person. By the time they get here, even if the drunk stops drinking – the drug addict stops using – the narcissist finds another audience – the dysfunctional behavior changes—the codependent patterns will remain until the codependent becomes empowered enough to stop abandoning him/herself. They in NO WAY are responsible for the horrible things done/said to them. The wounds are real and valid. They are, however unfair or unjust it seems, accountable to their own healing.
“Codependent behaviors or habits are self-destructive. We frequently react to people who are destroying themselves; we react by learning to destroy ourselves.”Codependent No More, p. 37
Sometimes I ask clients, “Do you feel like you are a barometer for each other’s feelings. If one of you is feeling something do you frequently find the other is feeling it too? Do you absorb the tension in the room?” This flags me to a possible codependent dynamic at play. Codependents find themselves heavily burdened with fixing or solving another’s problem that then results in a deeper issue accompanied by a brokenness that consumes them. They become so consumed that they can no longer identify what they need. They deny what they need or see themselves as not deserving of what they need. Something must be wrong with them to need… such and such. They are either overly responsible for others, underly responsible for themselves, or both. They’re invisible. They think they know how they got here, but the truth is they frequently see their pieces of the puzzle inaccurately or they don’t see the pieces at all.
“It (detachment) is not detaching from the person whom we care about, but from the agony of involvement.”Codependent No More, p. 55
A mark of recovery for someone who struggles with codependency is when they are able to say “That (issue, problem, consequence, circumstance) is not mine and I don’t have to make you bad for having it or even for trying to put it on me. It makes sense that you would expect that of me because it’s what I have continuously done in the past. I’ll take what is mine, but I won’t make what is yours’ mine.” Detaching in love is possible, even when others do not respond positively to the boundary that has been newly set.
“We need to keep sacrificing our happiness as well as others’ for the good of some unknown cause that doesn’t demand sacrifice.”Codependent No More, p. 94
Codependents are repeatedly told they are crazy. Crazy for feeling the way they feel, thinking the way they think, having the opinions they have, caring as much as they care, controlling as much as they try to control, hoping for something different, and more. What is actually “crazy,” or perhaps a better word for it is insane, is this cycle of sacrifice and the expectation of maintaining “happy.” Albert Einstein is quoted to have said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Codependents are very aware of what is pleasing to those they care for and what is not, what has influenced a change in another’s behavior and what has not (this is an attempt at control). They try different things again and again, but not really because every one of them is a sacrifice. In regards to the expectation of “happy,” happy is a temporary feeling. Happiness is not: constantly maintainable, a therapeutic goal, a foundation of which to make a big decision on, or dependent on something or someone outside of us (we cultivate our own happiness). On that warm and fuzzy note, we will move on to the next quote.
“Another problem with repressed feelings is they don’t go away. They linger, sometimes growing stronger and causing us to do many peculiar things. We have to stay one step ahead of the feeling, we have to stay busy, we have to do something. We don’t dare get quiet and peaceful because we might then feel these emotions. And the feeling might squeak out anyway, causing us to do something we never intended to do:scream at the kids, kick the cat, spill on our favorite dress, or cry at the party. We get stuck in feelings because we’re trying to repress them, and like a persistent neighbor, they will not go away until we acknowledge their presence.”Codependent No More, p. 145
Avoidance is another part of the insane. Try something different. As the chapter this quote is found in suggests: feel your feelings. Relief and healing wont come until you do.
“Codependents are indirect. We don’t say what we mean, we don’t mean what we say. We don’t do it on purpose. We do it because we’ve learned to communicate this way. At some point, either in our childhood or adult family, we learned it was wrong to talk about problems, express feelings, and express opinions. We’ve learned it was wrong to directly state what we want and need. It was certainly wrong to say no, and stand up for ourselves.Codependent No More, p. 181
Codependents were trained at some point to understand that passivity is protective, and it likely was. It may have been what they needed to do to survive a drunken screaming match, an embarrassing scene, or a physical blow. Recovery is reframing this understanding and taking power back. It’s learning to be assertive and the necessity of creating and maintaining boundaries. Most of all, recovery is believing in one’s own worthiness and expressing that belief.
“Even if we deal with our characteristics, we may still lean toward frogs, but we can learn not to jump into the pond with them.”Codependent No More p. 127
Awareness is key. We can deal with what we know, we can’t deal with what we don’t know. Ultimately, you are accredited with the responsibility to make decisions about your life and that includes who you choose to spend your time with. If you are self-aware and well-differentiated (see future post!), you don’t have to “jump in the pond,” or absorb/react to the dysfunction, whatever it may be.
Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful! All quotes are found in: Beattie, M. (1986). Codependent No More (pp. 1-238). Center City, MN: Hazelden. Check the “Recommended Reading Library” tab for a link to purchase this book.