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Old 08-05-2006, 11:53 PM   #1
clean42day's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Lancaster CA
Posts: 4,773
codependency and the return to healthy love

This is a research report I wrote for my personal development class about 4 years ago...has alot of good information, but I will warn you it is long.........

you must have a healthy loving relaitonship with yourself first b4 you can hope to have one with someone else.


A codependent person is a person who either never learned, or has lost their own autonomy, identity and their ability to be an individual in relationships. They enmesh themselves into other peoples lives and other peoples problems and neglect their own needs, wants and desires. They become overly responsible, overly protective, controlling, and create unhealthy attachments to others all in the name of love. It is natural for most people to want to care, nurture and protect the person they love. In codependent people these natural traits become magnified, distorted, and dysfunctional. There is a joke that says if a codependent person is drowning, upon their last breath, they will see someone else’s life flash before their eyes. This is a cute joke to others who are not codependent, but to the one who is, it is a sad and painful way to live life.

Codependency is rampant in our society today. It is said that over 85% of all families display these dysfunctional behaviors. It is role modeled on our television screens through commercials, soap operas, and sitcoms. Even the lyrics in the songs we listen to on the radio have codependent traits. I will show the different definitions of codependency, identify the different characteristics, symptoms, behaviors, and discuss how healing and transitions must take place in order to return to a well balanced healthy loving relationship.

Originally codependency was discovered within the dysfunctional behaviors and reactions to living in a family with a practicing alcoholic. These findings showed that as the alcoholic deteriorated into the disease of alcoholism, the spouses and family members deteriorated with them. As the alcoholic became more and more addicted to alcohol, the spouse become more and more addicted to rescuing the alcoholic. The results showed that everyone in the family was affected. The family members were constantly trying to compensate for the alcoholics behavior. Every member of the family developed distorted ego defense mechanisms to protect themselves from this painful existence in order to survive. The discovery of this family pattern has evolved to encompass anyone in the helping professions, people living with a family member who is disabled or has a mental disorder, or anytime a person becomes overly responsible for another’s behavior. In general, anyone in the position of care-taking can develop the ego defense symptoms and behaviors of codependency. Families or peer groups that use humiliation, labeling, abuse or other shaming behaviors may pass the predisposition for psychological dependence disorders from generation to generation (Hogg,2004).

The early definitions of codependency were: An emotional, psychological and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive family rules - rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems (Subby,1984). Earnie Larsen, another codependency leader early in the field wrote: "The self-defeating, learned behaviors or character defects that result in a diminished capacity to initiate or to participate in loving relationships"(Larsen,1984). Another more current definition written by Robert Burney states, "Codependency is an emotional and behavioral defense system which our egos adapted in early childhood to help us survive. Codependency is the inability to have a healthy, nurturing relationship with self"(Burney,1996) The first National Conference on Codependency defined codependence as "a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity" (Hogg, 2004). Whether codependency was role modeled and learned in childhood, or it was adopted later in life due to the prolonged exposure of unhealthy care-taking relationships, it has been established that the symptoms and behaviors are the same.

Some of the characteristics of the codependent person include: Perfectionism - having unrealistically high expectations of oneself and others, often resulting in over-achievement or inadequacy (Hogg, 2004). This results is dichotomous thinking, or the judging of everything to be either black or white, either/or, good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. Martyrdom - the sacrifice of one’s own needs to meet the needs of others (Hogg,2004). This sets up the exploitation of self and of the partner in the relationship and creates an imbalance of power. The codependent person will give too much, love too much, and do too much for another person. When the other person doesn’t appreciate it or validate the actions, the codependent will feel used and abused thus claiming to be the victim. They quickly switch from abuser to victim in what the experts call the dance of codependency.

Fusion - the loss of one’s own identity in intimate relationships(Hogg,2004). They anticipate the needs, feelings, thoughts and emotions of others and automatically feel for them and adjust their actions accordingly. This is distorted empathy in the extreme. They loose touch with what they themselves feel and cannot distinguish where they end and where the other person begins. They become emeshed with the other person’s identity and cannot separate themselves.

Intrusion - this is the control of others’ behaviors through caretaking, guilt, and manipulation (Hogg,2004). They self appoint themselves to become a caretaker/rescuer to people who they perceive to be in need. They make it their job to "fix" other people and use emotional manipulation to cohearce the other person to do things their way. They believe they are more competent and that they know what is best. They intrude into other people lives, crossing their boundaries, making themselves responsible for the other person and try to take control of situations. It is said that codependents don’t have relationships, they take hostages. At the core of this behavior is the fear of loosing control within themselves. They must control everything outside of them in order to feel safe.

Addiction - the use of compulsive behaviors for emotional self-management(Hogg, 2004). Codependent people are addicted to other people and relationships. They use these people as another person might use drugs - to mask and escape their pain, defocus from self, and distract themselves in order to avoid their own real true self. They may also form chemical addictions as well.

Some of the behaviors they display are: Poor impulse control - they react instead of respond to other people, life’s events, and perceive everything to be a crises. They blame other people for their feelings. They people please, overcomitt themselves, and don’t know how to say no. They give unsolicited advice, offer solutions, and when they cannot resolve other peoples problems they feel angry, responsible and guilty. They enable others to not take responsibility for themselves and perpetuate the problem. They don’t trust themselves or others. They are driven compulsively to hold everything together in everyone’s life and feel responsible for others happiness or lack of it. They constantly worry and obsess on perceived problems and work themselves into a major state of anxiety. They have a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior and have no boundaries or respect for others’ boundaries. They display explosive anger, using blaming and rage or defiant behaviors to control others. They live in denial of their own problems and believe others are the cause. These behaviors in the advanced state of codependency become magnified, progress and become chronic. They usually lead to burnout, deep depression, and feeling lethargic. They shut down, become withdrawn and isolated. They loose structure and routine in their lives. They abuse and neglect themselves and abuse and neglect others. They can become seriously emotionally, mentally, and physically ill. If codependency goes untreated, these people may leave one destructive relationship, only to unconsciously seek out another one, and repeat the same process of deterioration again and again.

At the heart of this behavioral matrix is the lack of clearly defined ego boundaries. These individuals have an unhealthy or shame based perception of self, low self worth, and low self esteem . They fear that they are not worthy of love and are not lovable and settle for being needed instead (Bettie,1987). They seek to validate their worth through others and have created a false self. They do not have a foundation of self love and have a distorted perception of what love is.

The healing process from codependency begins with the person admitting that they are the other half of the problem within a dysfunctional relationship. That trying to control others and live their lives for them or save them is a formula for failure. And that the way they are living is not producing happiness and joy. This process cannot be done alone. It usually involves individual therapy and a support group like Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous. It takes willingness and a true decision to heal. The experts in the flied; Melody Bettie, John Bradshaw, Charles Whitfield, and Robert Burney all agree on one thing, there must be an exploration of family of origin issues. An uncovering, discovering and discarding of dysfunctional family messages and behaviors learned early in childhood. This is the beginning of where these distorted defense systems began. Robert Burney, in his book, The Dance of Wounded Souls states, "fear of abandonment, betrayal and rejection, and fear of intimacy is at the core of codependency." There is a wounded child within all codependents that must be claimed, calmed, nurtured, loved and healed. What they grew up with is what they still mimic today. Their inadequacy, shame, and guilt run so deep it is a pattern that repeats itself over and over again, whether it be in romantic love, simple work relationships, family or friendships. They over-do everything trying to be good enough to validate their worth through how well they can help and hold others together. When their plan backfires it re-imprints their core belief of unworthiness. The problem is that they are so busy focusing on other peoples problems they don’t have time to look at their own and tell themselves the truth. This wall of denial must be broken through. They must detach and do the inner work necessary to address their own core issues and, for the first time, start taking care of themselves. This involves re-claiming the child within and the true authentic self (Whitfield, 1987). It is called inner child work. The stages in this process include:
1) Survival - learning that they survived their pain by dodging, hiding, negotiating, taking care of others, pretending, denying and manipulation. The ego defense mechanisms used were intellectualization, repression, disassociation, displacement and reaction formation (Whitfield, 1987). These defenses became distorted and neurotic and a false self was created in order to survive. They learn to identify how they still use these defenses in their lives today.
2) Emergent awareness - awakening to the first glimpse that reality is not quite what they thought it was by challenging their fundamental belief systems (Whitfield, 1987). It involves getting in touch with the feelings of the true self in the here and now and using reality testing .
3) Core issues - There are 14 core issues that need to be addressed; control, trust, feelings, being over responsible, neglecting their own needs, all-or-none thinking and behaving, high tolerance for inappropriate behavior, low self esteem, being real, grieving losses, fear of abandonment, difficulty resolving conflicts, and difficulty giving and receiving love (Whitfield, 1987). The present patterns, problems, and conflicts these individuals experience in their live today can be retraced to these core issues. They must be worked through as they arise and a new awareness emerges to facilitate healing to live in the solution.
4) Transformation - is the process of experiencing, expressing and releasing feelings and transforming them into their opposites. Experiencing going through the feeling is the only way to get there; pain to joy, fear to hope, anger to affection, hate to love, hurt to relief through forgiveness, frustration to contentment, shame to pride, guilt to innocence, emptiness to fulfillment, ect. This entails moving from difficulty being real to being authentic, neglecting needs to getting needs met, enabling others to being responsible for self, from fear to freedom from fear, difficulty giving and receiving love to loving self, others, and developing a spiritual love. They transform the burdensome and dysfunctional parts of their lives into positive and more functional ones. In this stage they learn how to break free from being a victim. They learn assertive communication skills, how to openly express feelings, how to let go and detach emotionally from others. The most important part of this stage is learning how to effectively set and hold internal and external boundaries to keep their emotional integrity and respect others as well (Whitfiled, 1987) .
5) Integration - is to continue healing and integrating all aspects of themselves into becoming a whole person. They learn what a healthy relationship looks like. They take all they have learned and put it all into practice in their daily lives. They develop self awareness and catch themselves in action. They learn the empowerment of perception, choice, and appropriate response. They continue to build a foundation of self love, self respect and self regard. They learn how to discern what is healthy for them and to trust themselves again.
6) Genisis - spirituality and acceptance of the true self cannot be called a stage. It is an ongoing process of developing a relationship with self and the God of their understanding. It is a constant reconnecting to source and a continuation of discovery of their true authentic self. Throughout this ongoing process comes the understanding of unconditional love and a healthy love for self and others.

When the recovering codependent person takes this true self, new awareness, functional coping skills and applies them all into the practice of learning how to live and love again, the real work begins(Bettie, 1987). Armed with information and knowledge, assertive communication skills, boundaries, self love, self respect and respect for others, they become aware of how they can relate to others in a healthier way. The recovering codependents biggest fear at this stage is the risk of intimacy. The simplest and most understandable way I have ever heard intimacy described is by breaking the word down: in to me see (Burney, 1996). This is what intimacy is about - allowing another person to see into us, sharing who we are with another person. In order to be relationship ready they must be willing to risk the process of trial and error. It is one thing to learn about oneself and how to love others in the safe nurturing environment of therapy or a support group and quite another to go out and practice it in the real world. Through practice is how we all learn to love whether we are codependent or not. However it is imperative that during this process the recovering person continues to stay emotionally honest with themselves, self-aware and honors their own and others integrity. They need to notice when they are loosing their emotional balance and then use self reflection and the new tools they have learned to gauge where changes need to be made to regain their center. This is done by experiencing themselves in action with another person , through the movement from moment to moment. They must learn how to meet their own emotional needs as they relate to loving and being loved by others. They learn to recognize their recurring issues through reflection in relationships with others and continue to work through them. The key is accepting themselves throughout this learning process and to not penalize themselves for being human, making mistakes, and regressing into old behavior.

They learn to ask themselves some very important questions. What am I responding to? What does this remind me of? What are my choices? Have I told the truth to myself? To everyone who is involved? What am I expecting of myself? For myself? What are my motives and intentions? Can I love myself no matter what happens? Can I love others no matter what they do? Does this honor me? Does this honor my partner? The reason these questions are so important is they help the person to recognize their patterns and will help them to stop repeating the same mistakes in their relationships. They simply learn to choose again to live and behave in the solution. They will learn how to shift from fear to love.

The two important elements in this learning process are, affiliation - which connects them to others, and differentiation - which creates individuality.
Affiliation and differentiation involve seeking a healthy balance between interpersonal connection and separation; this balance is defined as interdependence. Through establishing functional and flexible boundaries between oneself and others, people meet their own emotional needs. Emotionally healthy individuals meet their own needs without guilt and can connect with others without sacrificing their own integrity or individuality (Hogg, 2004). They learn to respect another persons learning process and their right to make their own mistakes and learn from their own consequences. They learn the art of negotiation, compromise, compassion and understanding. Most importantly they learn to stop playing God in other peoples lives and get out of God’s way. The more they incorporate what they have learned about healthy loving into what they do and who they are, the closer they will move towards being a true expression of love by redefining themselves through these experiences. They learn to support and compliment someone else’s growth by being an example of it themselves. They learn to realize that no one is perfect and there is no such thing as a perfect love. Love is forever changing, growing, and evolving into another form, another level, and a new way of being. Love is a spiritual union of energy in motion. By feeling safe and secure within themselves, they are no longer threatened by fear of abandonment and learn to grow and expand with love.

One of the most profound definitions of love I have found is in the book, A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson. She states, "Love is not what we seek, love is what we are. We are born in love, of love and as love. What you learn how to do is share what you already have, and that which you already are, with another human being." This is the beauty of love it is our true spiritual essence(Williamson, 1996).

All in all the journey from codependency and returning to healthy love is a long one and takes some rehearsal of learning what not to do. It is not an event that happens or one that has a conclusion. It is a continuing process of personal development and growth. It can be overwhelming and discouraging as well as exciting and joyful. There is no greater gift than the gift giving love, feeling lovable and worthy of love. To validate oneself through the core of self acceptance, choosing healthy behaviors and giving and sharing love in a healthy way. To experience the freedom of being who you are and allowing others to be who they are is the most honorable expression of love. To be able to relax and enjoy being alive in an atmosphere of love is what we all strive for.
The process may be long and hard but it is not impossible. Ultimately recovering from codependency is the restoration of self-empowerment through honoring and loving the inner self and then connecting to others. Many recovering codependents have returned to the greatest love of all…..to love yourself first unconditionally, and then share what you have to give with someone else without expectation.

this journey is not an impossible one, however it is work, and this work is necessary......if you seek to find peace within yourself and with the world around you.
Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, we can all start from today and make a brand new ending.
~Carl Bard~

"Live today fully, expressing gratitude for all you have been, all you are right now, and all you are becoming." Melodie Beattie

Last edited by clean42day; 09-29-2007 at 09:46 PM.
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