Healing from Codependency
10- Healing from Codependency
Recovery and healing from codependency begins with acceptance of our condition, taking responsibility for the well-being of our lives, and behaving in ways that promote our self-esteem. These are the guiding principles that heal us from codependency and help us achieve a new way of life filled with self-integrity and fulfillment.
- Accept your codependency
- Take self-responsibility
- Behave differently
1- Acceptance your codependency
- The prerequisite for recovery from any kind of addiction is acceptance. So long as we are in denial about the nature of the problem afflicting us, our condition persists and worsens. It is only when we break free of denial and face the truth about who we have become and how we are living our lives that we can begin to look for ways to heal and to recover from our codependency. As children raised in addicted or dysfunctional families, we very likely picked up codependent traits to protect ourselves and survive life. We learned it was best not to feel, not to have needs or wants, not to value ourselves, but rather to focus on caring for and pleasing others. Unfortunately, unless we confront them, these traits we picked up as children are still with us today as adults. The result is we conduct ourselves based on these same faulty beliefs and behaviors, which works to the detriment of the quality of our lives. In a way, our codependent way of life is still protecting us from all the feelings we should have experienced in our childhood – anger, sadness and disappointment for the maltreatment and the injustice of it all. So as adults we continue to focus our attention on others. Their problems, their needs and wants are our one and only priority because in this way we can stay in denial of our own pain and unhappy circumstances. For recovery from codependency to start, the simplest thing may be to remember that we are no longer children and that we can cease living our lives based on the faulty beliefs we were brought up with. With this simple awareness comes the breakdown of denial regarding our codependency. Finally, we realize that as human beings we have value and rights, and the choice to pursue a life that is ours, a life that we want.
- Recognizing and accepting that we have become dependent on others for our sense of identity and purpose in life may be difficult for many codependents. Most of us are in denial about our condition, while priding ourselves on being good and caring people. In fact, we question whether our behavior patterns, which amount to codependency, should even be defined as a disorder. After all, are we not supposed to be compassionate towards one another and do good in this life? The people in our lives may find us easy to get along with, and so praise us for being compliant and helpful. The payoff for us is that we experience pleasure and a sense of fulfillment on hearing such praise. The important point, though, is that there is a big difference between being a good person and a codependent. Ask any codependent who has reached the end of the road, someone who has wasted their life being a martyr, and they will tell you that being “good” left them empty, depressed, and exhausted. Also there is the codependent who has relied on his relationships for a sense of purpose and meaning and now finds himself lost and confused, contemplating suicide as escape from an unmanageable and chaotic life. A good person does not spend most of his waking hours worrying about what others are feeling, doing or saying — and what to do to help them. It is important to note that codependency has nothing to do with the type of person you are, whether good or bad, but with how you feel about yourself – and not how you imagine others think of you. Recovery from codependency is about reclaiming your identity as a worthy human being whilst benefiting from healthy and mutually satisfying relationships.
- At its core codependency is about suffering from low self-esteem. We dismiss our own humanity because we believe other people have the power to define us and make us happy. We allow others to use us, disrespect us or demean us. We bestow inordinate power on them, inviting them to be the arbiters of our lives. It’s an illusion that drives us to desperate ends, to the point that we try every means to keep our relationships satisfied as a way to feeling safe and secure ourselves. People become our higher powers, the gods who control and determine how we feel. In a way, we are sacrificing our lives to please false gods – other people. The tragedy is the gods we worship are filled with faults and defects, and above all they lack the power to make us feel whole.
- Once we become aware of the underlying rationale for our codependency and accept that our beliefs are rooted in our upbringing and that our behaviors are self-defeating, we can start the journey towards discovering our authentic identity. Our goal in finding our true selves is the establishment in our life of relationships that are healthy and equal. Once we use the tools of recovery and start to nurture our self-esteem then we are ready to slowly take the risk of being interdependent, without buying into the belief that others have the power to determine our self-worth and happiness. It is the realization that we are no longer children but adults who are responsible for the quality and care of our lives that helps us to take the actions necessary to recover from our codependency. It is the awareness that as adults we have the right, the choice, and the power to follow a better way of life.
- Accepting the truth about our codependent way of life opens the door to healing and recovery. As we question our old beliefs and behaviors, change begins to happen. We start to risk behaving in ways that reflect independence because our fears of what others might think slowly ease. We challenge our old ways of thinking and question whether we want to continue taking a victim stance on life, always pessimistic and miserable. We begin to demonstrate care and compassion towards ourselves. We no longer react to our emotions critically with our default self-flagellation of shame, guilt and self-hatred. As we begin to value ourselves more, we start to understand what is our responsibility and what is not and then are able to draw boundaries and cease putting up with unwanted relationships and their behaviors. We realize our responsibility does not include keeping other people out of trouble or making them happy. We finally see that our responsibility first and foremost lies with keeping ourselves happy. So we let go of our controlling and manipulative ways and stop ourselves when the motive behind our actions is based on something other than honesty and self care. The surprise payoff in this new orientation to the world is that the more we look after our own interests and take care of our own needs and wants, the more our relationships become genuine and healthy. We have stopped enmeshing others in our codependent way of life, confusing them with our erratic behaviors, with the result that people begin to treat us with more care and respect. As our self worth and confidence grows and we learn to assert ourselves, we are able to ward off unwanted and abusive behaviors in our relationships. People begin to hear and respect us more as we establish our boundaries and treat them with genuine respect. Having faced the reality that we suffer from this condition called codependency, and having embarked on our journey in recovery, we start to find our authentic identity and worth and value as human beings.
2- Take self-responsibility
- As codependents we abandon our lives, our needs, and our wants because we believe other people can offer us fulfillment. We spend our time, focus, and energy trying to please others, only to find our life filled with resentment, disappointment and misery. To free ourselves from this trap of codependency, we need to examine our fundamental belief system. We must confront our deep-seated assumption that other people are responsible for our happiness and have the power to fulfill our lives. Be aware that this may be difficult, since it requires changing a belief system that likely was instilled in us as children growing up in addicted or dysfunctional families. But that distorted worldview from childhood only reinforces our low self-value and esteem. As adults, conducting our lives as if we were incompetent or unworthy or that other people’s needs and wants are a priority over our own leads only further into self-destruction and chaos.
- Recovery from codependency starts when we let go of our childhood belief system and act as adults, taking responsibility for the care and quality of our lives. In codependency we give all our power to our relationships; we depend on them for our sense of identity and wellbeing. In codependency our self worth is based on external cues; what other people think of us defines who we are and how we feel about ourselves. By failing to act as responsible adults, we give inordinate power to those around us, with the result that our relationships become lopsided or abusive. Codependency is like an addiction, with people having become our drug of choice. We use them for the same reason an addict uses drugs – as a means of escape or to cope with life. To avoid facing our own pain and problems in life, we focus on helping others out of their difficulties. We have such a low opinion of ourselves, believing we lack inherent value, that we use our drug of choice, our relationships, in a futile attempt to feel good about ourselves deep inside.
- Taking responsibility for our lives is the foundation of recovery from codependency. So long as we believe an entity outside ourselves — that is, a relationship — can define who we are and determine the quality of our lives, we remain in the grip of distorted thinking and addiction. Once we let go of the illusion that other people have the power to determine our wellbeing or happiness, we can stop behaving in ways to manipulate them into liking us. Recovery from codependency calls for a fundamental shift in our perception of ourselves. Recovery means that we step into the role of a responsible adult who has the means, the power and the right to define our own identity and destiny. Each time we disregard our integrity to please another, we place ourselves on the path to an unhealthy and unequal relationship. Of course, recovery from codependency does not mean that we should be uncaring, callously selfish, or oblivious to the needs of those around us. Our motives and the extent and measure of the compromises we make in relationships determine the difference between healthy and codependent relationships. It is when, in a bid to be liked, we abandon ourselves, lose our identity and spend our lives catering to the needs of others that we lose ourselves to codependency. Whereas a person who has confidence in their core identity and worth as a human being can make compromises and enjoy mutually satisfying and respectful relationships, a codependent’s relationship is usually one sided, detrimental and abusive. Once we recognize that no one can dictate the quality of our lives, once we realize the responsibility for this lies on our own adult shoulders, we begin to let go of the illusion that other people hold the key to our happiness. When this occurs, our perception of other people and our behavior towards them changes, and our relationships are set on a more healthy and equal footing. We begin to have interdependent relationships as opposed to codependent ones, because our self worth or identity is no longer dependent or defined by how others perceive us. We can be whom we are in our relationships without fear of being abandoned or rejected. We can show our true self to others for we have self-esteem and don’t find it necessary to hide or pretend to be who we are not. We can show love and care in appropriate and healthy ways because we trust ourselves and are no longer afraid of being hurt.
3- Behave differently
- We have accepted we suffer from a condition called codependency and that it is affecting all areas of our lives, and we realize it is our responsibility to build our self-esteem independent of our relationships. Though these principles set the foundations for recovery, if we want to recover from our condition, we need to take change our attitude and behavior. Altering our behavior is not an easy task. It will take conscious effort to change after a lifetime of living life upon a set of beliefs — though faulty — and behaving in ways that — though detrimental — have become habitual. Recovery from codependency requires a 180-degree reversal of ingrained behavior patterns. Just as the drug addict needs to pick up a new set of tools and learn new ways to deal with life without drugs, a codependent needs to take actions on a daily basis to avoid reverting to dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors. But as anyone in recovery can attest, it will be worth the effort. As we take actions that serve our best interests, and as we apply new behaviors that raise our self-esteem, we slowly heal from the effects of codependency and begin to experience what it feels like to be a valuable and authentic human being capable of enjoying equal and mutually satisfying relationships.
- As we begin our journey towards recovery from codependency by practicing the principles of acceptance and self-responsibility, our focus shifts to taking care of our own wellbeing as opposed to that of others. Our behaviors are no longer aimed at pleasing others. We learn to define and then satisfy our own needs, wants and desires first. As a result of these simple actions, we begin to experience a kind of power and freedom never felt before. The major change is that we no longer feel at the mercy or a prisoner of our relationships. We begin to acknowledge our inherent worth and value, and we see ourselves as people who have the choice and the right to determine the quality and happiness of their own lives.
- Having very likely learned self-deprecating ways in childhood, shifting the focus to our own wellbeing is not easy. Raised in addicted or dysfunctional families, most of us absorbed the lesson that we have no right to value ourselves and that we should put the wants of others before our own. When we start to practice self-care behaviors, start to take actions in our own best interests, we may experience all sorts of emotions, including guilt, shame, and fear. We are not used to acting in ways that assert our value and worth, and we are bound to feel unsure, as if we were doing something wrong. Other people are bound to react adversely as well. Most of those with whom we are in relationships have likely become comfortable with the way things were with our codependent way of behaving. They will have become accustomed to us prioritizing and pleasing them. Even though their relationship with us is also unhealthy and unsatisfying – and they may resent our intrusiveness and controlling tendencies — still they will not welcome our change of attitude because a change in us is bound to demand a change in their behavior. Regardless of how our relationships may behave, though, we need to remember that this is about our recovery and our freedom from the misery of our codependent life. So we take courage, prioritize our own life and take the actions that reinforce our self-esteem and best interests.
- The effort we put in to recovering from our codependency comes in many forms. Basically, any behavior big or small that reinforces our self-esteem and promotes our best interests further builds the foundations for our new way of life. An example of such a change in behavior may involve mustering the courage to speak our mind and defend our rights for the first time. It could be trying something new or going somewhere alone without being dependent on someone else’s help. It may mean setting a boundary around an unwanted behavior and having to repeatedly assert it until the other person realizes you are no longer a child but a serious adult who will not stand for being disrespected. This new way of conducting yourself may mean that for the first time in your life you will have to establish your own needs and wants and learn how to go about achieving them. Saying no may be the hardest thing for a codependent to do. After a lifetime of pleasing others, most of us would rather agree to something we don’t want to do rather than refuse or displease another. But saying no when we really want to say no is one of the most powerful actions a codependent aiming for recovery can take. There will be times when our default way of behaving comes back with a vengeance. We will fall back to acting like a child or perceiving life as a victim. At times like this we need to remind ourselves that our recovery is precious, and then we should decide the next right step to take. We need to remember that we are mature adults in charge of our own lives. Recovery means taking responsibility for own happiness and letting go of the illusion that other people are responsible for our care or wellbeing. Our high expectations of others must be abandoned. No one has the power to make us feel good about ourselves, except ourselves. Each time we behave in new ways that reinforce our recovery from codependency, we learn more about our identity, our feelings and our needs and wants as valuable human beings. Our self-esteem and confidence grow, and we feel more powerful in the knowledge of our new sense of self. Recovery from codependency is a lifetime process, filled with trials and tribulations, and with good and bad days. We come to accept the inevitable setbacks as lessons learned. There will be times when the faulty beliefs from our childhood consume us, and we fall back into our old dysfunctional ways of behaving. But we need to remind ourselves recovery from codependency is a process and a journey. As each day we apply the tools of its recovery to the best of our ability, we grow towards becoming valuable and capable people entitled to a happy destiny.