Codependency: Tap Into The Power Of Individual Purpose

I recently lost a dear friend who I considered a mentor. His wise words have often guided me through various stages of my life and he was influential in many of the things I did, including my approach to work. My last conversation with him was surprising. He said he had devoted his life to others and the one regret he had was that he didn’t give enough time to himself. It surprised me because I actually always thought that if there was one person who had his life in balance, it was him. He stated that he felt he didn’t prioritise ‘me time’ and always encouraged others to do what he didn’t. In that, we don’t really understand how important our relationship with Self is.

We all love to be in a relationship. We are social creatures who need ‘a pack’ to thrive. We often feel frustrated when we are not in one and sometimes even more so when we feel we are in the wrong one. However, we often neglect the greatest relationship we can ever have, with ourselves. As Oscar Wilde famously said: “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” We would be very lucky to enjoy that with the external world.

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It’s never easy to prioritise individuality when in a relationship. We are conditioned to believe we should be giving and nurturing to our partners and those who do have a balance are often labeled ‘distant’ or ‘selfish’. Indeed, we often try to control and manipulate the connections we do have in the interest of emotional security and we often allow things that we know that we shouldn’t. It is often said that we cannot love another until we love ourselves but I would take this further. We cannot truly love another until we know ourselves fully and have fostered and maintained a relationship with ourselves.

Getting to know ourselves is often a difficult concept when we are taught and conditioned that our sacrifice and denial of this will bring the rewards in a relationship. It is a process that we need to follow and it often means getting to know how we think and react, changing habits and behaviour and setting values for our life. A reasonable question to start this process could be: ‘What have I been denying myself’. Of course, this question can be answered many ways but ideally it might start off a discussion with yourself about what you have been giving up in order to please or control. It is important to mention that this individual focus is healthy and not associated with narcissism or selfishness. Stephen Covey often said that an ideal relationship is formed by two balanced individuals who create a special place for a relationship without losing their personal goals and ambitions. I fully agree with this.

It might be easy to imagine being more individual by being distant and doing things without your partner. However, the key is to keep the relationship strong and focused and avoid being enmeshed and codependent. Let`s look at how this can be done.

  1. Know how you tick and get to know your parts. I firmly believe that the parts of our thinking drive our view of the world and getting to know them is essential. It help us to be in Self mode more. When we experience an internal conflict, it is easy to identify the opposing parts. For example, one part of me (that loves to learn) may want to take a course while another part of me ( a cautious part) takes an opposing position, arguing strongly and rationally that I can’t afford it, while yet another part (the critic) may point out that I’m not smart enough and will probably fail. In this internal free-for-all, I will inevitably feel torn and indecisive. Even if I do decide, my internal shaming part may launch an attack to make sure I feel guilty, stupid, ugly, awkward or selfish. Then, noticing this downward spiral, another part may flood me with feelings of sadness and hopeless because, according to it, nothing ever happens or changes and probably never will. This is an example of any number of patterns that may keep me stuck and do not allow me to expand and explore my life. Our many parts function like members a large family, or tribe–with all its diversity. Each part is with us from our birth, possessing its own temperamental style and gifts. Whether a Part takes a strong position in the psyche, or exists only in potential, has to do with the individual’s historical experience in her or his environment. Over the years, some parts are rewarded by the family or culture.  With consistent positive reinforcement, they become stronger and achieve a centrality which would describe, what we think of as, our personality. These “Managers” initially helped us survive. Managers think ahead and help us fit in and be successful with others.  Managers insure that people like us. By contrast, we have Parts that have been rejected and/or punished or ridiculed by the family, school system, or culture. These “Exiles” are banished and exist in a sort of exile in the unconscious. Very often, they are vulnerable infant or child parts– although Exiles can be any part which has been subjected to disapproval or considered threatening in some way to the family of origin.  Surviving for these parts is often done by becoming invisible. They are still young because they are frozen in the original time of their exile.  Still, years later, they carry the burdens of fear, fragility, doom, anxiety. All parts are valuable to the entire system in the same way that all parts of an ecosystem are necessary for the smooth running of that system. A “bad” part is simply a valuable part that has been driven into an extreme role by a traumatic situation. 
  2. Get to know the Self and watch reactions. At the centre of this diverse collection of Parts is the Self, which we may experience as a ‘core self’ or ‘true self’. The Self, has two factors.  “The first factor (Self Qualities) contains items relating to the experience of being “in Self”, i.e. feeling calm, balanced, worthy, connected, confident, joyful, peaceful, etc.. The second factor (Self-Leadership) contains items relating to the ability to bring oneself back to balance when one has been hurt or stressed, i.e., the ability to resolve inner conflicts, to stay calm under pressure, to self-sooth, etc. The amount of ‘Self-energy’ present can be noticed by the presence of those Self qualities. Being in Self-mode helps us to check our reactions when triggered or in conflict. It helps us to listen and give psychological air to our partner.
  3. Know your values. You must match your activities with your basic personal ideals if you wish to live with integrity. Many people, however, do not link their activities with their strongly held values. Most of us don’t even know what our primary values are. Instead, we make decisions based on our social surroundings and the material we consume. Consider your personal principles to be your moral compass. Something has meaning to you when you cherish it. Your essential personal beliefs are absolutely unique to you and will most likely differ from mine or those of almost everyone else. Some people value adventure and freedom, while others value family and security. What makes you happy is probably not the same as what makes me happy. And the primary reason is because we all have various value systems, whether we are conscious of them or not. Making choices gets easier when you are clear on your principles and behave in accordance with them. You start by establishing and maintaining appropriate boundaries. Instead of attempting to please others and meet their expectations, you make decisions that are best for you. Here are a few examples of personal core values: freedom, love, health/wellness, security, honesty, learning/growth, creativity, wealth, spirituality, achievement. This is by no means an extensive list but should give an idea.
  4. Be your genuine self. Finding your true self can enhance your confidence and help you find your way in life. However, is your true self something you’re born with or something you create? And if there is such a thing as a true self, do its requirements trump those of the others in your immediate vicinity? When does “being genuine to oneself” cross the line into narcissism and self-centeredness? The concept of “being loyal to oneself” can be traced back to Aristotle. It begins with the premise that each of us has the ability to evaluate our circumstances, determine the best course of action, and then act accordingly. Comparatively, the opposite of this is judging and acting on the basis of other people’s preferences because it seems to be the correct thing to do. Therefore, we can ask: what relationship do you have with your actions? Are they your priorities, or are they the result of someone else’s? Do you make your decisions because you believe in them, or because you want to satisfy others? We have to be emotionally honest. Emotional honesty is the glue that holds the four pillars of trust, honesty, respect and mutual benefit together. It allows us to be intimate, vulnerable and connect deeply with another person. However, we mostly avoid it at all costs. Before we can be emotionally honest with others, it is important that we are emotionally honest with ourselves. This is where it starts and where it will flourish with others. We don’t do this for a number of reasons. Firstly, we fear judgement and criticism from others and it is easier to avoid that. Secondly, we have become adept at manipulating our feelings, subduing them and hiding them in order to control the response from others. In the case of codependency, this is very much the case. The price we pay for this is that we become involved in flat, superficial relationships. Being emotionally honest with ourselves means actually to reveal ourselves. It means taking the risk that your true feelings will be open to judgment. However, if we are in a relationship with someone who handles this well, then in time, it will become easier. If not or if that person is encouraging emotional dishonesty, then you have to reassess the relationship. Being emotional honest means recognising and accepting when you are being defensive, for example or hiding what you are truly wanting to say. So it starts with you being emotionally intelligent and aware. Emotional intelligence may also give us the ability to decide when it is in our best interest to be emotionally honest by sharing our real feelings. There are times when it is not healthy or safe for us to be emotionally honest. In general though, I believe we would be better off individually and as a society if we would be more emotionally honest. Only then will you be able to set healthy boundaries for ourselves and others. In fact, being emotionally honest may well encourage others to do the same.
  5. What have you been denying yourself? The final question. What you have spent most of your life doing for others? What have you been missing out on? Find out out what YOU would like to do, whatever it is and do it!

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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