Codependency

Getting lost in the emotions of the other…

Courtney* hears his car pull into the driveway. Her muscles tense as she listens to the pacing of his footsteps as he approaches the house. Faster… fear. Slower…relief.

He enters the house. This is the moment that will define the rest of her evening.

Will he be in a bad mood? And if so, what will that be like? He will most likely complain about the dinner she has spent hours, mired in oils and flour, trying to get just right for him.

Or will he be in a good mood, laughing and joking about the deal he made today. If so, she will make sure that she laughs and jokes with him – not too much, but not too little. Too much will make him think she is making fun of him, but too little will make him think she doesn’t care.

Oh, if only she can get this right with him, he will love her more and be happier.

Then she can finally relax and be happy. She just wants to make him happy. Why isn’t this easier? This is her fault. Every other man has left her in the past because of her inability to make them happy.

Oh, no! What if he leaves too? Then what would she do? She has to step it up, do more. Show him how much she really loves him.

Keeping order in chaos…

Richard* was tired. Bone tired. He had been running around all day.

Up early. Take kids to school. Go to work. Pick up the kids. Help them with their homework. Make dinner. Put kids to bed. Go to sleep.

This was his routine… and he was to do it all again the next day.

Because, Richard’s wife, depressed, spent the days and nights in bed. She hadn’t been to therapy in three years and seemed to have given up. Richard spent his days clinging to hope that she would get better while perfecting the daytime and nighttime routines and tending to his wife’s every need.

Secretly, Richard was proud of the fact he was holding the family together, despite the odds. Ironically, when his wife had been less depressed, Richard hadn’t been sure as to how he fit into the family or whether anyone really appreciated him. He had actually been quite insecure and lonely.

Now, he believed his role in the family spoke to his unique strength of character.

He was even used to this type of dynamic…

When he was a child, Richard’s mother had been morbidly obese. After his father had walked out on the family when he was 6, his mother began to gain weight, eventually not being able to do the everyday errands the family required. So, Richard became the “man of the house,” proving himself indispensable to his mother by taking care of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and taking on significant responsibilities to care for his 3-year-old sister. His mother thus, “heaped love” onto him and they had a special connection right up until she died five years ago.

With codependency, it’s not always about the romantic partner.

I have worked with clients who’ve had codependent relationships with their friends, children, bosses, and parents.

Emily* always seemed to be experiencing some sort of crisis. After years of being abused by her husband she began to experience several unexplainable physical problems: headaches, chronic pain, fatigue, and anxiety. Her 26-year-old daughter was the only person to stand by her. Her other two children no longer called and her husband was now deceased.

At this time, Emily was so afraid to drive that her daughter had to transport her to her appointments. She rarely left the house, but her daughter would bring her dinner and spend time with her.

Often, her daughter would get frustrated and insist she get out more, make friends, or even pursue another romantic relationship. After all, she was only 60 and had plenty of time. But with her anxiety and physical issues…. that seemed just too much for her. And her daughter had been the only person she had ever really trusted, who had been there for her when others had abandoned her.

When you are codependent, your being okay depends upon the other person being okay.Your every thought and action revolve around the needs of another, often even if, or even particularly if this person is abusive, an addict, mentally ill, immature, or irresponsible. Codependents derive their self-esteem from these people.

Often codependent issues begin in childhood.

Children who grow up to be codependent often develop an incorrect belief in childhood that their self-worth depends upon the emotional stability of a parent.

When this is the case at least one parent, often a parent with mental health issues, addiction, or the recipient of abuse by the other parent, has inappropriately turned to a child for emotional, financial, or every-day support. Praise and love may have been most available to the child when they were “helping” and absent when the child was not.

Sometimes, these parents do fare better temporarily when their child has stepped in to help. They may obtain food, money, or emotional support, temporarily improving mood or addictive behavior.

However, their child’s development suffers by the constant requirement to provide this “help” and, often, the parents dysfunctional behavior continues, or even worsens, as they become inappropriately reliant upon their own child to fulfill their needs.

As a result, the child grows up having no true sense of self, for there was no room in the family of origin for him/her to develop this. The child had to set aside his/her normal developmental needs to be there emotionally and/or physically for the parent. This dynamic becomes familiar and comfortable and, in adulthood, codependents may unconsciously try to replicate it. 

You can have a better life.

In my experience, usually codependents know there is something wrong with the way they relate to others, even if they don’t fully understand what that is.

They may long to have a life that doesn’t involve having to constantly please others or put up with other people who put in less than half the effort in the relationship.

Yet, they may find it virtually impossible to give these dynamics up. They may think obsessively about other people’s problems, distracting themselves from their own unsolved issues. Or they may feed a fragile self-esteem and experience burnout by offering to help many of their friends and family members at once.

Through EMDR and somatic psychotherapy, we can explore and heal from past…

…heal from those experiences that have contributed to these dynamics in your own life.

We start with me asking you to bring up a recent or past memory associated with your need to please or “help” someone. I’ll then ask you what sensations you notice in your body when you bring up the memory, as well as what emotions come up and any negative beliefs about yourself, other people, or the world. This allows you to connect more strongly to the memory.

I then provide you with tappers-one for each hand. Each gives off a slight, alternating vibration which enables your brain, through the left-right vibrations, to more deeply access and work through these old memories. This is a neurobiological intervention. During this time, I will periodically ask you to identify whatever you notice: images, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations.

I would pay special attention to your body sensations, your posture, your non-verbal communication, gestures, etc., at times commenting on them to bring your awareness to them or even mirroring them in my own body to deepen your awareness. This enhanced awareness will allow you to work through unconscious memories you may not be able to specially recall but are still with you.

Through these methods, we can resolve problematic dynamics, so that you can live your life with healthy boundaries and more peace.

Are you ready for a fuller life?

If you are codependent, you are not fully living your life for you.

Regardless of whether you believe it or not, you deserve better. You deserve a life where you feel loved for being just yourself. A life in which you can relax and let other people figure out themselves as you focus on what makes you happy.

Are you ready for this kind of journey? If so, call me today for a free phone consultation: (562) 375-4389.

*Names changed to preserve client confidentiality.