By Life Coach A.J. Mahari
Codependence is defined in many different ways. As a Life Coach I have many clients who are dealing with facets and aspects of either their own codependence or the codependence of their partners or a shared codependence. What is a central fact when it comes to codependence is that it is an unhealthy and out-of-balance style of relating. It offers, certainly long-term, if not short-term as well, much more pain and frustration than it offers healthy love or a peaceful co-existence.
What drives so many people toward this relational style in greater numbers now than ever before? There are many factors. However, I'm going to focus on five main factors - five main statements made to Self, if you will, by many who are codependent. These five factors are some that I hear about most often from my clients.
1) I want to make this work because it's hard to meet people
2) He or she is my soulmate
3) I don't want to be alone
4) I've had other relationships fail - I can't have this one fail too - what will people think?
5) If he or she would just change ...... I know this would be the relationship I've always wanted.
1) Wanting a relationship to work because it is difficult to meet someone new, in many cases, for many people, is not a reason to stay in a relationship that is not healthy or that is codependent. That very rationalization is a codependent way of thinking. Ask yourself if you might be settling for something - someone - that really isn't healthy for you - that is draining you and not creating happiness in your life, what is it I fear most? Why am I still here? What is it about this relationship that keeps me hooked in? Staying in a relationship because you want to avoid the rigors of dating or you believe it's just too hard to meet people may mean that you have needs that you aren't meeting for yourself in your life. Looking for someone else to meet those needs for you, is codependent.
2) Do you believe that the person you are with, no matter how codependent or how toxic for you, is your soulmate? Do you think that there is only one soulmate for you? Do you believe that there is this one right person for everyone in life? Do you belive that even though we are living longer and longer that relationships can be sustained as often as they once were for the course of a lifetime? Have you ever examined your expectations of your relationship, of your partner, of yourself in and for the relationship? Believing that you only have one soulmate can definitely put added pressure on the way that you approach relating. It can in and of itself create an expectation that may well set you up for hanging in too long, for putting up with being treated in ways that are not respectful. It is important to be aware of what you expect from a relationship and why.
3) What do I hear most as a life coach when people are exploring relationship issues and whether or not they are codependent? "I don't want to be alone". Not wanting to be alone is in and of itself common and not necessarily a sign of unmet needs or being out of balance or having mental health issues. However, not being able to tolerate being alone, not knowing how to cope with being alone, are at the heart of much of codependency. Part of what makes codependent relational dynamics so chaotic, dramatic, all-consuming and painful is that inability to soothe oneself, inability to like oneself, inability to be with oneself - to like oneself.
4) Many people who are codependent in the ways that they relate to others are preoccupied a great deal of the time by what they think other people will think about them. This is self-defeating. It is not self-esteeming or coming from a place of self-love. It is an individual being self-critical and judgmental of self in ways and to extents that mean that one either does not know Self very well or that one does not like who he or she is. There's nothing that can distract you from you, if you don't like you, like the chaos and emotional roller-coaster turmoil of a codependent - essentially toxic - relationship. Many people do worry more about what others will think if they leave a relationship than being concerned about their own safety, well-being, and/or mental health. Many people stay in relationships that are not only codependent but that are abusive because they don't want to be seen (as they imagine others will see them) as failures.
5) The old, if he or she would just change this or that, I know everything would be great illusion. This is like the codependent toxic relational dynamic treadmill-from-hell with a motor on over-drive that cannot be turned off and that you can't even fall off of. It's such an energy-sucking trap that it is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. You are running and running as fast as you can but you are aren't really getting anywhere. Nothing is changing. However, no matter how exhausting it is people feel compelled to run as fast as they can on this treadmill-from-hell that is stuck in high gear. The thought that often accompanies this is, what choice do I have? If you've ever asked yourself, what choice do you have, you might want to stop and think about that. what does that question imply? How disempowered must you really be to feel that way - to believe that? The more one feels that a relationship working out or finding happiness resides in someone else changing something or you getting them to change something the more codependence and toxicity there is in a relational dynamic. What you will benefit from accepting is that if someone isn't who you want to be with, you can't change them. You need to find someone to be with who is who you want them to be in their own right. If someone is wanting you to change for them, you will benefit from realizing that people only change for themselves when they choose to based upon their own needs and wants. Even attempted change for someone else cannot be sustained. Change needs to come from within. Not every relationship is meant to work out. Not every relationships can work out.
If you can relate to the five central statements that many who are involved in codependent relating and relationships often identify to me in coaching them, you will benefit from asking yourself what is it about yourself that you aren't wanting to face, maybe aren't sure about knowing in a very aware way right now, and/or what has you believing that settling, or fighting, and riding the roller coaster of a chaotic and turmoil-filled way of relating is healthy for you? How do you justify this to yourself and why?
© A.J. Mahari, July 11, 2010 - All rights reserved.
Are you codependent or relating to someone who is? Would you like to talk about it? Would you like some support? Would you like to talk over alternatives and learn more about this and how you can set yourself free from the chaotic, dramatic, and painful treadmill-from-hell relational dynamic and/or pattern in your life? Book your session or sessions with me and let's get to work!
By Dr. Irene Matiatos Ph.D.
Some of the nicest people I know are codependent. They always smile, never refuse to do a favor. They are happy and bubbly all the time. They understand others and have the ability to make people feel good. People like them!
So, what is wrong with this? Nothing, really, unless the giving is one-sided and so excessive that it hurts the giver. Then, the giver is showing the signs of codependence.
Partners who go out of their way for each other are interdependent. Only relatively healthy people are capable of interdependent relationships, which involve give and take. It is not unhealthy to unilaterally give during a time when your partner is having difficulty. You know your partner will reciprocate should the tables turn. Interdependency also implies that you do not have to give until it hurts. By comparison, in a codependent relationship, one partner does almost all the giving, while the other does almost all the taking, almost all of the time.
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By giving, codependent people avoid the discomfort of entitlement. Giving allows them to feel useful and justifies their existence. Rather than simply approving of themselves, codependent people meet their need for self-esteem, by winning their partner’s approval. Also, because they lack self-esteem, codependent people have great difficulty accepting from others. One must feel deserving and entitled in order to accept what is offered.
Codependent behavior is not easy. It requires a lot of work. It hurts. These individuals typically suffer with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and especially guilt, as well as other painful thoughts and feelings. They judge themselves using far stricter criteria than they use to measure the performance of others. While they are brutally critical of their own misbehavior, they are very good at justifying and excusing the misbehavior of others.
Codependent people misplace their anger. They get angry when they shouldn't, and don't get angry when they should. They have little contact with their inner world and thus very little idea about how they feel. Usually, they don't want to know because it gives rise to painful emotions. It is easier to stay on the surface and pretend things are peachy keen, rather than deal with the stuff going on inside.
If they were to look inside, they would find their emotional starvation. They are busy taking care of others. Yet, they do not meet their own needs!They may put up with abusive relationships or relationships that are not fulfilling because any warm body beats (gasp) no warm body. Being alone is perceived as scary, empty, depressing, etc. After all, who will deliver their emotional supplies? Who will distract them so there is no time to deal with their inner life? Even an abusive relationship is better than no relationship.
These loving, giving people find interesting ways of explaining their behavior to themselves. Loyal to a fault, a codependent individual is likely to rationalize a loved one's disrespectful behavior by making excuses for them. "He doesn't mean it." "It was not done with malice." "It is the best he can do." "She had such an awful childhood." Etc., etc., etc.
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The central concept is that the codependent individual "takes it" and "understands," despite feeling hurt. Waiting for brownie points in heaven, or for a loved one to be magically healed through their persistent love and care taking, they accept disrespect from others. It does not occur to the codependent person that it is not OK to "take it" and "put up" no matter what!
Much of this abuse acceptance occurs without the codependent individual feeling abused! More accurately, these individuals do not feel OK enough to expect respectful treatment at all times, and to notice when it is not forthcoming. Having grown up in a home where a parent or sibling demanded inordinate attention (due to addiction, illness, anger, or other problem), the codependent person is trained to care for others. Having grown up in a difficult environment, a negative emotional climate is experienced as normal and familiar. This is why there is often little recognition of disrespect. If their partner is angry or upset, the codependent individual will implicitly assume that they did something to cause the anger. It does not occur to them that it is their partner's responsibility to deal with their problem and to treat others respectfully. It does not occur to them that it is their responsibility to themselves to stop another person's demeaning behavior toward them. But, how can stop disrespect when misbehavior is not perceived as disrespectful or abusive? Disrespect is normal.
An unfortunate side effect of the codependent person's willingness to ignore, excuse, or otherwise allow the partner's abuse or disrespect, enables the misbehavior directed at them to continue and intensify. Implicit or explicit permission to continue misbehaving is granted since the codependent partner "understands." Because codependent individuals are approval-driven, they cannot stand it when others are angry at or disappointed with them. As such, they unwittingly place themselves in a position to be taken advantage of. The more approval is needed, the less likely is the individual to realize the extent of their self-sacrifice in favor of tending to the needs of the other. This hurts ("Ouchhh!"), and creates or maintains depression and low self-esteem, in a vicious, downward spiral.
While abuse, disrespect, or unrequited sacrifice angers them, as it should, codependent people do not realize how angry they are and at whom they are angry! Targeting the appropriate person may jeopardize a source of approval and self-esteem. To avoid facing reality, they distort it. Codependent individuals are likely to somehow blame themselves and rationalize their "over-sensitivity." They justify the other person's behavior by thinking they must deserve the treatment they are getting. This is preferable to facing the possibility that an individual who provides a measure of their self-esteem is hurting them.
"Anger...is a signal that something is wrong and needs attention".
Anger is healthy. It is a signal that something is wrong and needs attention. However, if the source of anger is not articulated, how can it be fixed? Codependent people are expert at denying anger and turning it against the self - into sadness and depression. Instead of asking themselves why are they are putting up with… (fill in the blank), they ask themselves how they could have behaved differently - to obtain a more favorable reaction from their partner!
Unarticulated anger is often misdirected and expressed inappropriately. Anger may be experienced as resentment, expressed as an aggressive blow-up, or in passive-aggressive acting out. The cognitive and verbal skills to appropriately assert oneself are lacking.
Since codependent people are experts at controlling other people's thoughts, feelings, and behavior, they feel hurt that others don't reciprocate and "know" what they need. "If they really loved me, they would know." Not so! Since codependents do not have the self-esteem to ask for what they secretly want, they are unlikely to get it. If they do make a request, it is often a roundabout hint. If their partner cannot decipher the request, they feel hurt and unloved. They believe they conveyed their desires, when, in fact, they have not!
Because most codependent individuals are control-oriented, they
are very responsible. They are great employees. Tasks are done
thoroughly and on time. Even parts of the job that are not theirs
get picked up if coworkers are neglectful or slow. They try to
control outcomes, whether those outcomes are completed job tasks
or reactions from other people. Anything for approval.
However, some codependent individuals are very irresponsible,
in select or diverse life areas. They don't know how to or don't
feel the need to take care of some of their own basic needs,
especially if there is another person to care for instead. Why
spend the time trying to figure out what the self needs, when
the self doesn't really matter anyway? It is far more preferable
to be out avoiding one's own issues: out having fun, hunting for
a partner, or self-medicating feelings.
Codependent people are addiction prone. They may drink too much, shop too much, eat too much, etc. Dulling the senses is a great way to avoid knowing yourself and dealing with your feelings. Intimacy is avoided. Intimate behavior requires familiarity and comfort with one's internal world. Since the codependent person regards ordinary human needs as shameful, embarrassing, dangerous, or otherwise uncomfortable, meeting basic needs are often dismissed.
Any relationship that ignores the self is superficial. Unfortunately, superficial relationships are safe...but empty and unfulfilling. Control is central to the "MO" of the codependent person. They control their self-esteem by catering to others' needs. They control by their over-responsible performance, picking up where others leave off. They control by avoiding intimacy or by clouding the mind. They control by advising others on what to do. These individuals work very hard to control everything and everybody. Yet, they neglect the one person they do have control over: themselves. Read an example of taking control here.
A.J.'s Life/Mental Health BPD & Emotional Mastery Coaching
What does all of this mean? It means that A.J. Mahari coaches people in these specific areas as well as general life coaching as well. The only reason for the different "titles" in front of coach, is to denote the population of clients that I work with. If I am coaching clients with mental health issues and challenges I am in those sessions a Mental Health Coach. The same for the other areas of my coaching expertise. All of my work as a coach, in the areas I coach clients in, focuses on similar aspects of people's lives, concerns, and journeys but with different approaches on my part. I work with clients to help them create healthy positive life-affirming change in their lives - to help them identify and achieve their goals and dreams. Part of that process involves education and a lot of this sacred process involves listening to my clients and asking questions that help my clients to open new avenues of thought and self-exploration. The cornerstones or touchstones of my coaching involve actively listening to you through the compassion, understanding, validation and non-judgmental and eclectic approaches I employ to help you to find what it is that you most want and need in your own life.