Co-dependence is a complex term that is used to describe an unresolved and sometimes unrecognized fear of abandonment. It can lead us to exhibit too much and often inappropriate caring for others. I believe it has been best described as a disease of lost self. Somewhere in our childhood we had to disconnect from our natural and vulnerable child self and start adapting who we were in the hopes of getting our emotional needs met. Because we were growing up in an unhealthy home environment, we constructed our emotional responses to allow us to cope with either abuse, chaos or neglect. We were forced to sacrifice our authentic identity for a false self so that we could gain our parents approval, reduce the family chaos or simple survive emotionally.
Typically, we may have needed to follow these unspoken rules: Don’t talk, which means we were expected to ignore the elephant in the room and pretend everything was normal; Don’t feel, which is how we coped and disconnected from the terrifying feelings of abandonment and Don’t trust, which is what we learned from our parents who were never there for us and whom we could never rely on for our safety.
We lived in a state of chronic compromise with an uneven exchange of emotional energy in relating to others, which we then carry into adulthood and our relationships. It is when this disconnect occurred from our authentic self that we began looking outside ourselves to meet internal needs. The locus of control for our emotions becomes external and we are always emotionally re-acting. It is perhaps then from this perspective that addiction can be seen as a symptom of codependence where self medication becomes an external solution to an internal problem. We don’t want to feel and so we numb ourselves in the hopes of controlling the pain.
So are you Co dependent?
Do you answer yes to the following questions?
- I depend on your approval to feel good about myself.
- My self esteem is bolstered by taking care of you
- I stuff or numb my feelings rather than risk making you angry or disappointed
- I place your feelings and needs ahead of my own
- My mental attention is focused on manipulating you to do things my way
- My mental attention is focused on pleasing you.
So if you recognize your own codependence you probably need to go back and re-parent your abandoned inner child and you need to learn about boundaries, both internal boundaries and external boundaries. Internal boundaries prevent you from always reacting emotionally when something or someone outside yourself pushes your buttons. External boundaries are the ability to say “No” and to start protecting that inner child who has been waiting so long for safety. My motto in working as a therapist and in treating addiction has always been “It is never too late to have a happy childhood.”