Codependency is more than a relationship problem. It hurts our psyche and individual development. make no mistake It is not our fault. The wounds of codependency are adaptive and have helped us survive growing up in a dysfunctional family system. But this adjustment has cost us our individuality, authenticity and our future quality of life. The beliefs and behaviors we learned then led to problems in adult relationships. In fact, they tend to recreate the dysfunctional family of our past.
Codependency wounds begin in childhood
Codependency is both learned and passed from generation to generation. It begins in childhood, usually as a result of a co-dependent upbringing, including being raised by an addicted or mentally or emotionally ill parent. In order to survive, we must conform to our parents’ needs, actions, and emotions at the expense of developing an individual self. Repetitive patterns shaped our personality style with supporting beliefs both learned and inferred from parental behavior. They were formed by our immature infant-toddler minds in the context of total dependence on our parents. An example is: “I must not cry (or express anger) to be safe, held, and loved.”
We have developed a codependent personality that uses strategies of power, liking, or withdrawal to endure dysfunctional parenting. Using all of these appropriately is healthy, but codependents compulsively rely on just one or two most of the time. In Overcoming Shame and Codependency, I describe these coping mechanisms and personalities as The Master, The Accommodator, and The Bystander.
Pediatrician and psychiatrist Donald Winnicott believed that early childhood trauma threatens the annihilation of the self. It’s a disorienting shock that’s affecting us on multiple systems. Trauma marginalizes thinking and impairs our ability to successfully complete developmental tasks. Imagine a vulnerable toddler who must overcome the threat of extinction while navigating interpersonal relationships that should feel safe. He or she must be very alert to anticipate and interpret parental reactions and adjust accordingly. Normal interpersonal development suffers. Instead, maintaining the bond becomes our priority while still dealing with ongoing relationship trauma in childhood and later as adults.
Therefore, the development of a fully embodied self is inhibited by this accommodative system. Effective parenting requires parents to see their children as distinct individuals. They need to adjust to, empathize with, and honor their child’s experiences. This gives us security and helps to develop an autonomous self. With codependent caregivers, we tune into them instead. We organize our mental state in perverse ways to accommodate our parents.
For example, how can a child safely navigate and satisfy their need for love with an inattentive, fearful, critical, or controlling parent? An anxious or abusive parent makes us anxious and anxious. A controlling parent wipes out confidence and initiative. A critical or pushy parent oppresses us and creates insecurity and self-criticism. These early patterns distort our perception of ourselves, our work, and our relationships. All of these and other dysfunctional parenting styles breed shame—that we are bad, inadequate, and unlovable.
The Cost of Codependency
Early insecure attachments to significant others require us to put aside our spontaneously felt experience. Over time, our personalities and our reactions solidify. Our ability to self-reflect, process new information, adapt and react is impaired. Our reactions become rigid and our cognitive distortions feel absolute.
Consequently, our individual development is hampered by the selective inclusion and exclusion of data that may provide conflicting information. We develop a template for “shoulds” and limitations that operate outside of our awareness. We do this because the alternative feels terrifying on an archaic, psychic level that we would risk losing our connection to another person (e.g. parents) and people in general. To support this, we project our parents’ reactions onto other people.
For example, some of my clients have a disturbed perception of their attractiveness and cannot be convinced of it. Some may undergo unnecessary cosmetic surgery despite agreeing that they are beautiful. Similarly, for many codependents, setting boundaries or asking about their needs feels selfish. They have a strong resistance to it despite being taken advantage of by a selfish, narcissistic, or abusive partner.
The challenge of recovery
The precursors to our codependent personality are buried in our past. For many of us it started in childhood. Some of us remember a normal childhood and cannot see what went wrong. Therefore, our thinking and reactions remain unchallenged and prevent us from learning from experience. In addition, the effect of trauma on the nervous system makes it difficult and frightening to uncover our feelings. Changing our reactions and behavior feels dangerous.
We continue to behave according to the early accommodation system operating outside of our conscious awareness. We are guided by beliefs that we never question, such as the shared codependent beliefs “If I’m loved, then I’m lovable” and “If I’m vulnerable (authentic), I’ll be judged and rejected. “Furthermore, we interpret our experiences in ways that reinforce fallacious, archaic beliefs. An unreturned text message confirms that we have displeased someone. This can even happen in therapy, when we want our therapist to like us or their displeasure, fearing his boredom or abandonment A friend’s (or therapist’s) careless attention proves that we are a liability and/or unsympathetic.
In intimate relationships, instead of questioning whether a partner can meet or love our needs, we conclude that the problem is us. Our reactions to our misguided beliefs can perpetuate or escalate the problems we are trying to fix. We could unquestionably repeat this pattern in later relationships.
Freud’s death wish is nothing more than a shameful response to a punitive critic who rigidly spews imperatives that mimic an abusive or controlling parent, or was developed as a child to avoid the horrors of emotional abandonment. Our inner dictates crush our spontaneity and ability to experience the full range of our emotions, especially joy. When our normal responses to parental behavior are frequently shamed, we eventually fail to access them. We become numb and live an “as if” life that covers up anger, despair and emptiness.
The Recovery Process
We can heal our childhood trauma. In recovery we learn missing skills, self-love, and healthy responses. Learning thrives in a safe, non-judgmental environment that differs from the dumbing down environment we grew up in that continues to dominate our minds. We need an atmosphere that welcomes experimentation and spontaneity, in which we can challenge the prohibitions embedded in our subconscious. Follow these steps:
1. Get treatment from a competent therapist.
2. Attend Codependents Anonymous meetings and work with a sponsor.
3. Reacquaint yourself with your feelings and needs. This can be a difficult process. Feelings live in the body. Notice subtle changes in your posture, gestures, and moods and feelings, such as deflation, numbness, anger, guilt, fear, hopelessness, and shame. Pay particular attention to sudden shifts from confidence to insecurity and presence to numbness or distraction. Maybe you’ve just transitioned from your true self to your codependent personality – how you felt in your childhood.
4. Explore triggers that change your mood and feelings and the beliefs, thoughts, and memories associated with them.
5. Do the exercises in Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame to speed up this process.
6. Challenge your beliefs. See Deprogramming Codependent Brainwashing.
7. Write down negative self-talk and confront it. Use the 10 Steps to Self-Esteem e-workbook to challenge your beliefs and inner critics.
8. Experiment, play and try new things.
© DarleneLancer 2020
Thanks to Darlene Lancer | #Healing #psychological #wounds #codependency