Erik Bohlin, M.A.
New Hope Counseling
430 91st AVE NE, STE 8
Everett, WA 98205
"How can I be codependent? . . .
I'm not married to an alcoholic."
He looks to others for some sense of self worth and comfort. He constantly is wondering what other people are thinking. He feels that he might begin to explode with emotion at certain times, while most of the time he doesn’t know what he feels. He has two emotions-good and bad. Actually he doesn’t feel much for himself. When he does feel, it is usually about what she is going through. He is wondering, is she going to be okay? He feels most happy when he is able to help her. Will she do the right thing? He feels like she has no conscience. Doesn’t she care? Most of the time he is guessing at what “normal” is and is wondering if he is okay.
Does this sound familiar? We may or may not have know that this is the disease of codependency. What is codependency? Don’t we have to be married to an alcoholic to be a codependent?
Codependency is a soul-sickness. It affects our being and our identity. We jokingly say that a “when a codependent dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes.” With codependency that are five main areas of our life that are affected.
Struggles with self esteem
We develop codependency issues when we are raised in family where shame is prevalent. Healthy shame tells us that we are not God. We have limitations, we can make mistakes, we are human. A distortion of this is “toxic shame” where we have not limits, we are the mistake and we feel disconnected from the rest of humanity. We feel worth-less than others. We may try to compensate by developing an inflated sense of self. We may only feel self-worth when we are performing to the high standards that we believe others are setting for us.
Owning our own “Reality"
Growing up in an abusive or addictive home clouds our own sense of “reality.” Our “reality" involves our own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, conscience, morality, beliefs, capabilities, and our perceptions. We ended up trading our own sense of “reality” for the “reality” of our parents. As adults, we have difficulty trusting our own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. We tend to take responsibility for the behaviors of others. We feel that if we were just “good enough” this wouldn’t happen.
Difficulty establishing Healthy Personal Boundaries
What are boundaries? Boundaries are the emotional, physical, mental, sexual and spiritual separators that help us know that we are separate from others. An infant is tied to their mother in such a deep way that allows for a strong bond to take place. The mother feels, thinks, decides, and acts for the infant. We may not have been allowed to develop a sense of self and separateness, thus, we feel for, think for and act for others. We are other focused. Their needs are more important than ours. We feel extreme guilt in taking care of our self and having our own desires, opinions and beliefs. We may put up walls of anger, fear, resentment or even move geographically from others to give us a sense of self. These “pretend boundaries” only work temporarily and ultimate give us a sense of isolations and loneliness.
Difficulty with Needs and Wants
Because we have that lost sense of self, we then do not really know what we want or understand what we need. We may be wantless and needless, where we have not wants or needs. Our we may confuse our wants with our needs, where we replace the things with we need with the things we want, an addiction for an example. We may depend too much on others for our wants and needs or become anti-dependent relying on no one.
Experiencing or Expressing life in Moderation
Black and white thinking is characteristic of codependency. It is one way or it is the other. Addiction creates this kind of thinking in the home. We may feel too much or too little. There is a rigidity in behaving, thinking and being that gets us stuck into a pattern that may have worked at one time, but is no longer useful to us as adults.
Looking at our lives for these five areas of codependency makes recovery possible and much simpler. We can examine ourselves to see if we really know our self and experience our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors moderately. Do we try to own someone else’s reality and step over boundaries in their life and make decisions and usurp their will. Recovery can be a difficult process and we need to give ourselves the time and space to do all this. Working too hard on recovery may impede our recovery as well. One day we can begin to see the changes and progress and thank our self and God for the team effort in reclaiming our soul.