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Codependency Counselling & Therapy
Codependency is a pattern of relating to ourselves and others in unhealthy ways, characterised by difficulties with:
- Experiencing appropriate levels of self esteem
- Setting functional boundaries
- Owning and expressing our own reality
- Experiencing and expressing our reality moderately
- Taking care of our own adult needs and wants
For most of us chronically codependent people, we have been unable to recognise these signs and see how they weave together to create a harmful pattern of behaviour in our lives and in the lives of others, especially children. We are in denial.
As a result, we remain trapped in both rescuing others and being rescued by others, until the pain outweighs the benefits and forces us to step outside of the comfort found in this all familiar script.
Many of us find this pain overwhelming as we are unable to take care of ourselves by stating and meeting our own needs, by setting functional boundaries and by accepting and embracing true intimacy and unconditional love from those close to us.
Instead, we catastrophise and predict a lonely and loveless future and fear that others will see our deepest, darkest selves, the parts of ourselves that we can't accept and that we imagine to be bad, sad and mad.
This is one of the great lies of our condition and one which keeps us in this crazy making pattern. The truth is is that we are all essentially good, loving and lovable beings with immense worth, who are capable of many great things, if only we will allow this.
Codependency causes us to become "enmeshed" within relationships, friendships, our jobs and roles and is accompanied by an exhausting tendency to want to "fix" people and things and to then be fixed. We become "rescuers" and "martyrs" and then directly or indirectly demand some kind of reward for our efforts. We become trapped by our need to be needed.
Fearing rejection and abandonment, we lose our own true identities (our "authentic selves"), living behind a mask of pretense (our "adapted selves") where we act as if we are happy and coping, when we are not and continue to "caretake" others when letting go would be the healthiest option. We then crumble in a fit of despair, hopelessness and loneliness, only to pick ourselves up, or be rescued by other codependent people - and repeat this pattern again, with increasing momentum.
In being so remote and distant from our own needs and identities, often lost in response to our childhood experiences, we cling desperately to roles, relationships and patterns of behaviour that provide short-term comfort but ultimate harm. We no longer know who we are and what really matters.
Our need for approval and our good feelings about ourselves are met through other people and our roles and instead of developing healthy "self esteem", we live with an unhealthy dependency on "other esteem" through the validation we receive from others.
The level of familiarity with these dysfunctional roles and relationships help to support our perceived sense of control and provides some degree of comfort to the lost, angry and wounded parts of ourselves that were abandoned at some point in our lives. Without realising it, we re-abandon ourselves time and again and betray our own deepest needs and fears by recreating and confining ourselves to this desperately painful script.
Unless we get help and begin to re-establish healthy boundaries within our relationships and within ourselves, we remain locked inside the vicious spiral of despair, anger, depression, isolation and loss.
Codependency is particularly common in people raised in dysfunctional families, and in the partners and children of alcoholics and addicts. The challenge for those of us who have endured such experiences, is to finally break the destructive chain that has run through the many generations in our families. In breaking free from this pattern, we leave a lasting and important legacy.
The Physical and Emotional Consequences of Codependency
Emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, addiction and cycling between hyperactivity / lethargy are evident in many codependents.
Physical problems often result from untreated codependency. These may include: gastro-intestinal disturbances, colitis, ulcers, migraine headaches, non-specific rashes and skin problems, high blood pressure, insomnia, sleep disorders, and other stress related physical illnesses.
Despite the gender specific terminology - this quote from a book by Beverly Engel applies to both sexes in relation to Codependency.
- "The irony is that as much as a "codependent" feels responsibility for others and takes care of others, she believes deep down that other people are responsible for her. She blames others for her unhappiness and problems, and feels that it's other people's fault that she's unhappy.
- Another irony is that while she feels controlled by people and events, she herself is overly controlling. She is afraid of allowing other people to be who they are and of allowing events to happen naturally. An expert in knowing best how things should turn out and how people should behave, the codependent person tries to control others through threats, coercion, advice giving, helplessness, guilt, manipulation, or domination."
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