Looking at Codependency from
a Different Perspective
For years I have been trying to rid myself of codependency. I am sure some of you can relate to this. After all, we have been told that being codependent is something we need to “recover” from since it’s an addiction. With this perspective comes a great deal of shame for being flawed in this way and blame for allowing this to happen. However, this view actually dishonors the brilliance of the sensitive child who learned to be codependent in order to survive.
Codependency, which is an unhealthy attachment to and focus on others, is essentially a loss of self. When someone is codependent, they want to please others. On the surface this appears to be a good thing. We all want to be more loving and giving. However, when we are codependent, we bypass the crucial step of tuning in to see how we feel, what we want, and how doing something for someone would affect us. We don’t consider ourselves. It’s like we don’t exist. This need to please is actually an attempt to get something from others. When we don’t love ourselves and see our own value, we look for approval and love from others. When we get it, we feel good about ourselves. When we don’t, we feel unworthy and unlovable. So our very existence depends on how others see us and feel about us. This makes us extremely vulnerable to any real or perceived rejection.
Codependency is actually a survival skill that we learned in childhood. In order to be accepted and loved by the adults who raised us, we had to “fit in”. We learned what behaviors enabled us to be loved and which ones caused us to be rejected or punished. If being true to ourselves was met with some form of criticism, we discovered that it wasn’t safe to be ourselves, so we started hiding who we are. The false or codependent self is the part we created in order to protect the vulnerable, authentic child from being hurt. But after years of living this way, we are so disconnected that we have forgotten who we really are. The loss of self that comes when we reject ourselves is greater than any other loss we will experience in our lifetime.
Children cannot survive on their own, so conforming seems like the best choice at the time. While suppressing our authentic self in order to receive love and acceptance in childhood may have saved our lives, it actually hurts us in adulthood if we continue to engage in the behaviors that prevent us from being fully alive. Most of us live as our false self until we do the healing work that frees our authentic inner child, the part of us that is always there striving to make its presence known and has a destiny to fulfill.
Here is an exercise that can help you begin the process of connecting to yourself. If it’s safe to do so, you can close your eyes. However, you can also do this with your eyes open.
Take a deep breath and bring your attention to yourself and notice what you are aware of. At first you may notice things that are outside of your physical body, since this is where most of us are used to placing our attention. See if you can focus on what is happening inside of you. When you look inside, what are you aware of? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Do you notice any sensations in your body? Practice checking in with yourself several times a day. Set a reminder on your phone if necessary. Please don’t get discouraged if this is difficult at first. If you’ve been taught to focus on others, you now need to learn how to focus on yourself. There is no right or wrong answers here. It’s just an exercise in awareness in the moment.
Our true self resides in our core, our center. Just as there are core strength exercises we do for our physical body, we also need to strengthen our emotional body. The farther away we get from our center, the weaker we become emotionally. In this weakened state, we are more reactive and susceptible to negativity outside of us.
When we are connected to our true self, magic happens. We need to accept the parts of us that make us unique and valuable. We all have something to contribute, gifts that the world needs us to express. Hiding who we are doesn’t serve anyone, especially ourselves. After all, our highest calling is to serve!
Perhaps the answer is to become more authentic without losing the positive aspects of codependency, such as being a caring, loving, giving person. That’s the part of us that has a desire to serve others and make the world a better place. Ultimately it’s about connecting to ourselves AND connecting to others. We can choose BOTH rather one or the other as we did in childhood. BOTH isn’t codependent, it’s LOVE. This state of having no separation between you and another is only possible, however, when you are connected to your true self.
The deepest part of us wants to be seen and heard, and also connected to others. The way to change our codependent patterns is to love, nurture and appreciate our precious inner child. This is the work that I am privileged to do. I am grateful to be able to help these inner children heal and become authentically visible so they can shine their light into a world that desperately needs their bright light to shine.