Now You Know You’re Codependent, Now What?

Last week we talked about codependency, and how to tell where on the continuum of codependency you might lie.  If you missed it, you can read that post here.  Today I want to talk about what aspect of codependency you most identify with.  If you want to change something, you need to know what you’re targeting.  Codependency is ultimately a negative force in our relationships, and honestly we would all feel better and operate in life better if we lowered our degree of it.

First a little background.  In last week’s post I recommended the book Facing Codepedence by Pia Mellody.  Pia Mellody one of the driving forces behind the treatment model of a trauma and addictions treatment facility in Arizona called The Meadows.  Therapists have the opportunity to be trained in the “meadows model” of therapy.  My mentor in the field is meadows trained, and she has trained me.  So although I have not officially gone through the meadows model training, it is the model I use in therapy as an underlying foundation to all other models that I use.  I find that it supplements any other model of therapy that I might find helpful to use with a particular client.  So as we talk about codependency, the information I share will come from this model.

According to Pia Mellody codependency affects five different areas in our lives.  I will often spend 3-6 weeks of counseling going through these areas depending on how much someone is impacted by them.  So today will be an overview, and then I will dive into them in subsequent posts.  Once you determine which area or areas that effect your life, then you can start to make changes in those areas.

Codependency effects these following areas:

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1. Self-Esteem/Self-Worth:  If you find how you feel about yourself fluctuating up and down based on how others feel about you, interact with you, or behave with you, then this is probably an issue that you struggle with.  If you are a human being, then this is probably an issue that you struggle with at least a little bit 🙂 Oh and by the way, you can have self-esteem that is too high!  I know!  Those of you who struggle with low self-esteem can’t even imagine this, but it is possible to go through life believing that you are better than everyone else around you.  It is just as unhealthy as low self-esteem.  In fact, it makes you a jerk.

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2. Boundaries: Boundaries are something we will talk about a lot over the course of this blog, but in general, if you struggle with saying “no” to things, if you feel that your schedule is always running you instead of you running it, if comments people make to you can cut you to the core even if you don’t agree with them or believe them, then you probably have an issue with boundaries.  The category of boundaries is such a multi-faceted concept, and it encompasses so much more than we often think it does.  I’m excited to dive into this more in a few weeks!

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3. Need to be perfect/Rebellion: These are two sides of the same coin.  All people are imperfect.  It’s part of what makes us human.  If you struggle with feeling like you need to be perfect, or you’ve been told your whole life that you are bad (or have decided that you’re going to rebel because the perfection expectation is too much for you), then you may have an issue in this area.  The need to be perfect is exhausting!  It is exhausting to those who feel it, and it is exhausting to the people in relationship with them.  Part of healing from codependency in this area will involve embracing your imperfection.

4. Dependence – We have been created to be in relationship with others, and when that is done in a healthy way it looks like inter-dependence.  Inter-dependence is the ability to know what you need or want, and the ability to ask an appropriate person to meet that need or want in a healthy way.  When this area becomes codependent, it is because we are either too dependent in our relationships, anti-dependent, or needless and wantless.  I describe needless and wantless as someone who has a vague sense that they are dissatisfied or unhappy, but when they are asked what’s wrong or what they need, they don’t know.  I’ll define that more in a few weeks.

5.  Control Issues – If you feel like you need to be in control of all things in your life at all times, including people, and it makes you anxious when things get out of your control, then you probably have an issue in this area.  The flip side of this coin is someone who lives a life totally out of control.  Their life is constant drama, constant crisis, and super exhausting to be around.  Both of these express different ends of a continuum under the broader issue of codependency.

So there you have it.  Five areas.  Five ways that codependency can impact our lives, and hurt our relationships.  We will go through each and every one of them over the next few weeks.  Look at that!  It’s like having counseling with me for free!!  (Except that you have to be able to see the dysfunction in yourself without, which can be tricky to do.  We’re all a little more blind to our own unhealthiness.  Some of us more than others.)

The truth is that you will attract people as friends, and as significant others who are as emotionally healthy as you.  If that’s not motivation to becoming a healthier person, I don’t know what is!

You Might Be Codependent If . . .

Guess what?  You are probably codependent.  I’ll pause for a moment while you feel offended, and say, “What?!  How dare she say I’m codependent!”

Now before you stop reading because you think that there is no way you are codependent, and therefore this does not apply to you, let me say that just like most things in life codependence exists on a continuum.  So although I would say that most people have at least a little codependence, not everyone is affected by it on a daily basis.  So if it makes you feel better, you can tell yourself that you are probably on the healthier end of that continuum, so you’ll go ahead and keep reading just in case this information could be useful to someone else in your life; like a friend or your spouse.  Isn’t that how we are?  We like to apply things we learn to everyone else around us, which allows us to pretend that we don’t deal with the same issue.

So let’s start with a simple definition of codependency.  Codependence is simply when your self-esteem, your emotions, your behavior, or your basic sense of self is based on how other people think, feel, or react to you.

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Now based on that definition, I don’t think that you can be in denial about being at least a little codependent anymore.  Since the title of this post is “You Might Be Codependent If”  let’s make a list.

You might be codependent if you ever get on facebook, and feel deeply hurt that friends are hanging out together without you.

You might be codependent if getting on Facebook at all tends to be an emotionally painful experience.  (Or you might just be friends with a lot of people you need to unfollow.)  In fact you might be codependent if you feel like you can’t unfriend or unfollow people on Facebook, even if seeing their posts are causing you frustration or emotional pain.

You might be codependent if it’s hard for you to celebrate the success of others, because it feels like it takes something away from you/makes you feel jealous.

You might be codependent if you ever feel responsible for other people’s feelings.

You might be codependent if you worry about how others are going to respond to your own feelings, or behavior.

You might be codependent if your feelings of worth come from the opinions of others.

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This was just a few examples, and I’m guessing you probably saw yourself in at least one of them.  If you are interested in taking an informal self-inventory, I found a pretty good one here.  I’m not endorsing anything else on that website, because I haven’t even looked at the rest of that website, but I thought the self-inventory was good.

So you’ve discovered that you are at least a little bit codependent.  Or maybe you are feeling discouraged because you realize you are a lot codependent.  That’s okay.  Knowledge can be painful, but knowledge is also power.  How are you ever going to grow if you don’t even know what’s wrong?

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I would recommend the book Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody.  It is a great introduction to what codependency is, and how to start to heal from it.  I use it all the time in my therapy practice with my clients.

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Over the next several weeks, I will be writing on a number of different issues related to this topic including how to have better boundaries, how to have a healthier sense of self-worth, and how those things impact the relationships that are most important to us.

So let me know what you think?  I’d love to hear about your experience taking the self-inventory if you do it, and where you see this issue of codependency surfacing in your own life. Or, you know, if it makes you feel better, you can just tell me how it effects the  the lives of those around you. 🙂

When You Can’t Help Back

Almost six years ago I sat in my therapist’s office.  I was probably crying.  I cried a lot in her office.  Our daughter, Savannah, was just six months old and we were getting ready for her to have open heart surgery.  She had been slowly dying for months; her organs shutting down as her heart struggled to move enough oxygenated blood through her little body.  It had been six months of doctor appointments for her, a postpartum depression diagnosis for me, trying to still love and nurture a toddler, and hold down all that came with normal life.

I was just barely holding on, and the only reason I was even doing that was because of the huge number of people who were holding me up.  Countless people were praying for us, and friends were watching Micah constantly as I ran Savannah to different appointments.  And then when we finally got the surgery scheduled, our small group from church pooled together enough money to pay for our parking and meals at the hospital for those weeks. They filled our freezer with meals that would last for six weeks after we got home from the hospital, both of our sets of parents came into town to be with us and care for Micah, and the prayers continued.

So there I sat in my therapist’s office, telling her how guilty I felt that so many people were doing things for us, and supporting us, and there was no way I would ever be able to “pay them back” for that.  There was no way that I could truly show them how grateful I was.  The little energy I had went right back into our family, and I felt bad about that.

But then my therapist held my gaze, and said something that penetrated my heart.

Maybe you won’t help these people, but you will help others.  When all this is over, and your head is back above water, there will be other people you will help, and by doing that you will honor all of these people who are helping you.

And that came true.  Less than a year after Savannah had her surgery, we moved to Arizona.  I was now thousands of miles away from the people who had been my survival during those months.  They had babies, went through heartache, and experienced interrupted lives, and I was too far away to do for them what they had done for me.

But now, now I help others.  I help people who are so new to my life, that most of them have never, and probably will never have the opportunity to help me.  And every time I make a meal for a family that I don’t know well, or have a mom who is at the end of her rope drop her kids off for just a few hours, I remember those that helped me when life was the darkest.  I remember them, and I honor them with my ability to help someone else.

I don’t know who you are you, and I don’t know what you are going through.  I don’t know if you are in the middle of darkness that you can’t see your way out of.  I don’t know if there are friends and family surrounding you, and holding you up during this time.  Maybe you feel like I did.  Maybe you feel the weight of their love and support.  It feels so good, but also heavy with responsibility.  If that is you, be encouraged today.  You may not ever give these loved ones back the support that they gave you, but someday when your darkness has lifted, you will be presented with an opportunity to help someone else.  You will take that opportunity, and you will feel the real impact of what small acts of kindness can do, because you have been there.  You will make a meal for someone you hardly know, and you will remember those that helped you when you didn’t have any way to help back.  And in that you will honor them.

And just for fun.  Savannah right after her surgery, and Savannah now at age 5!

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Yes, she broke her arm.  This one keeps us one our toes!

You Won’t Be Good At This

You won’t be good at this

Now isn’t that a cheery, and encouraging way to start a blog post!

I think there are few things that are more discouraging than when we attempt to grow and change, and then feel like we fail; over and over again.  We try to eat healthier, only to give it all up a few days later when it feels that the only thing that will make us feel better is ice cream. We try to have better boundaries only to cave the first time someone pushes back against them. We try to communicate better with our spouse only to have it end in a huge fight again.

You know what? It IS discouraging when we fail, but often I think that discouragement comes from this secret belief that this time we won’t. We get all excited.  Maybe we just read a book, talked to a friend, or started therapy and we – are – pumped! This time we are going to do it differently. This time we are going to really conquer this thing!

And then it all falls apart.

Maybe it doesn’t even completely fall apart.  Maybe we do a little better than we did last time, but if it’s not perfection, then we aren’t interested.

One of the conversations I have most frequently with my clients starts with the phrase, “You will not be good at this.”  Usually I’m much more encouraging in therapy sessions, but I have found that this conversation saves a lot of discouragement and ultimately quitting.  I remind my clients that when someone starts lifting weights, they don’t start with the 100 pound dumbbells.  You start with the 5’s, and slowly over time you work yourself up.  Change is just like that.  Fast change doesn’t usually stick, because fast change just pulls all your muscles, and leaves you an exhausted mess on the floor of life.

Slow change though.  Slow change can be a thing of beauty.  Slow change is when you start with that tiny 5 pound weight.  You start by having a good boundary with something that feel manageable. You start by holding your tongue that one time when you want to snap back with a low blow.  And as you begin to work out that new muscle, it starts to get a little stronger.  It feels shaky and weak at times, but that’s what it takes for a muscle to grow.  It feels scary that first time you reach for the 25 pound weight, but you have the success of those smaller weights behind you.

And the more you work that muscle, the stronger it gets, and before long you have made real, lasting, healthy change in your life.  A change that will stick because it has a foundation of strength behind it.

So no, you won’t be good at this . . . at first.  But if you can give yourself the grace to make mistakes without giving up, and go slowly without feeling discouraged, you will be surprised where you can end up!

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The Seed

I saw this quote on Facebook today, and thought it was a perfect description of what this blog is all about, and the risks that come with healing, growing, and changing.

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I am working on next weeks post today! It has a super encouraging title (sarcasm!): You Will Not Be Good At This. Come back Monday to find out exactly what that means.

What’s Inside Is What Comes Out

Let me know if any of these sound familiar:

You had an exhausting day at work or with the kids, and you just had to tell your five year old to bring his plate to the dishwasher for the 10th time.  You totally lose it, and yell even though you immediately wish you hadn’t.

You feel insecure about how you look as you run errands today, so when you see someone at the store that looks “better” than you do, you spend the rest of your time in line thinking snarky thoughts about her.

You find out that you are going to have to move again because work is relocating you, and you pick a fight with a friend who is just trying to be supportive.

I could go on and on with an increasingly serious list of ways we can, and often do behave when life isn’t going our way.  Those moments where it seems the worst in us comes out.  I know I can relate to the things on that list.  Those are the times when I can so easily beat myself up afterwards thinking of the better ways I could have handled those situations.  Because you know what?  When I am stressed, when life isn’t going how I want it to, when my life plan gets interrupted, the things that come out of me are usually not patience, gentleness, mercy, and grace.

My LIFEgroup (like a small group or Bible study) from church has been going through Priscilla Shirer’s study “Jonah: A Life Interrupted.”  Let me just pause for a moment to say how much I love, and how thankful I am for Priscilla Shirer.  I have done many of her Bible studies, and am always in awe of the power of the truth she shares with grace and humility.  If you are interested in learning more about her ministry to women, you can check her out at Going Beyond Ministries.

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Anyway . . . in one week of the study Priscilla shared a analogy that really hit home for me.  I tried to find a video clip of her sharing it that didn’t violate any copyright laws, and struck out.  You’ll have to make do with my description of it instead.  Priscilla had a full glass of water, and asked a woman from the audience to come up and hold it with her arm straight out, and her elbow locked.  Priscilla came up behind this woman, and began shaking her arm.  As she did so, water began spilling out all over the floor.  Then she asked the important question, “What is causing water to spill out of this glass?”  Of course my immediate thought was, “You shaking that poor woman’s arm is what is making this mess.”  But then Priscilla paused and said, “Water is spilling out of this glass, because WATER is what is in this glass.”

Let’s pause for a moment and think about this.  The shaking may have been the physical cause of the mess, but it was what was inside the glass that truly created the mess.

Priscilla went on to share the idea that when we experience a life interrupted; when things are not going the way we wanted them to, what comes out of US is what is already inside of us.  If impatience, judgement, whining, hatred, and on and on are coming out of us when we go through life’s trials, then that is the perfect time to grow as a person.  Last week I wrote about how sometimes we need to empty the fountain of our lives to truly heal, and grow.  You can read about that HERE if you missed it.  This analogy of the water in the glass illustrates how those hurts, delays, and heartaches can serve an important purpose to show us what is lying deep inside of us, so we can start to clean it up.

No one is perfect.  I don’t even think perfection should be the goal.  But if growth is the goal; if being a little healthier this year than we were last year is the goal, then I for one am going to pay attention to those moments of ugliness (we all have them!), and try to do just a little better next time.  I’m going to try to be a little more patient, a little more graceful, and a little more thoughtful.  Because when my life gets shaken up, and it inevitably will, I want good stuff to come out, because good stuff is what is in.

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The Empty Fountain

IMG_2181This is the fountain at the front of our development.  Now if you can look past the two adorable children – I know, it’s super hard, but try your best – you may be able to see that the water is green.  Not just great looking water with a little tinge of green, but GREEN!  Like, “Did they dye it green for St. Patrick’s Day and forget to change it back?”

My first thought when I noticed how gross it started looking is that they needed to just dump a bunch of chemicals into it until the water returned to a normal color.  Well just two days after I thought that, this is what the fountain looks like.

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Apparently no amount of dumping chemicals was going to help the mess that had developed in this fountain.  It has been completely drained.  It is completely empty.

This made me think about how often we approach problems or areas of unhealthiness in our lives in similar ways.  We try to feel better, or fix those problems by dumping in temporary fixes.  We dump in distractions like food, TV, spending money, relationships, and becoming more successful just to name a few.  Those things feel better right away, but after the effects fade the issues are still there.  Whatever is causing the green, funky water remains, and we are right back where we started again.

We even do this in therapy.  If you have ever gone to therapy week after week, and simply “downloaded” the events of the week to your therapist who listened, cared, and showed you compassion, you probably felt better.  You probably really liked your therapist.  But you probably started to see the same problems, and patterns creep up after ending therapy.  Someone who just listens and cares every week isn’t doing therapy.  They are just being a really good listener.

Now before you get all defensive about your last therapist, who you loved, and who was a really good listener let me pause and say that listening is an integral part of therapy.  You cannot be a good therapist, and not be a good listener.  It is just not possible.  But real healing, real growth needs more than listening.  Real growth sometimes means emptying the fountain, and digging around in the plumping until you find the source of the problem.  Real growth is messy, painful, uncomfortable . . . and so so worth it!

So what about you? Are you dumping chemicals, and hoping that this time it will stick, and the water of your life will stay clear?  What would it look like to empty the fountain? In the coming months, I will be sharing some resources that I think can help empty, and clean out the pain, and the scar tissue that so often leads to the life issues we struggle with.  It’s not easy, but it is worth it!

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Why “Know Better Grow Better”

In the therapy world, we often say things like, “When you know better, you do better,” as a way to help ease the shame for clients that have made mistakes or hurt people they love in the past.  It is also an encouragement to move forward with new knowledge, and not repeat those mistakes of the past.  The truth is that life is about growing.  We grow physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as we move through this life, or at least we should be.  I believe that when we know better, we don’t just have the opportunity to DO better, we also have the opportunity to GROW better.  Let this be a place where we can explore what that means, and how to do it better . . . together.