Ten years ago, I remember writing about a milestone birthday I was just about to experience. In March 2012, I was just about to turn fifty and I pontificated on my life at the time which is very different to how it is today as I approach my sixtieth birthday. The last ten years have been the most interesting of my life and the most adventurous. Together with my wife Inass, we have lived on three continents, moved about seven times and bought a house to renovate. My life at fifty was anything but adventurous and the contrast is striking.
Join me on March 26th for Group Therapy For Codependency; More details HERE
This post isn’t really about that. I feel grateful for my life at present and Inass, who has chosen to share her life with me. We have our issues like everyone else but we are a team and we are strong. This is about something different. I have reached a point in my life where there is more behind me than in front. I am ok with that. I do not have death anxiety nor do I fear death but during my life, I have learnt many things about the world and the way it works. Being a therapist for many years has given me a unique opportunity to see the world through the eyes of others, sometimes extremely troubled, people. Everyone I have worked with has taught me something about life and myself. I have been truly privileged.
I have also been codependent for most of my life. This is the biggest “voice” in my head and one that often dominates my thinking. I was put into a caretaker role early in my life for siblings and parents while being punished and reviled when things out of my control went wrong. I am, at times programed to give and feel guilt and shame when receiving. I am not a victim and nor do I wish to paint myself as one. The price that people pay when around codependency is the level of return needed for this “giving” in terms of the need for constant validation, reassurance and control. As trust is not easily formed, these “voices” will constantly remind me that small conflicts mean something much bigger, that people cannot be trusted and they only want you for what they can get from you. My unlovable exile is often triggered and this voice steps in. The reaction is that you give “a little more” and then have to deal with the guilt and resentment. A very powerful and destructive voice that is guaranteed to provide dysfunction if listened to.
Much of that was without the awareness I have now and it showed in my relationships with others and myself. I have in the recent past, gone through a complete transformation in the way I do things where codependency is concerned. I realise that I spent much of my life controlling, enabling and fixing people, to the detriment of my own identity and relationships. I have been unhappy for the majority of my life and I have ignored the causes for a long time. I never felt I was as important as the person I was trying to be codependent with and this has caused issues and taught me lessons. This post is just about that. What are these lessons and what have they taught me? I have chosen to ignore most of the lessons that come from this because, like other people, it is easier to do so. We live a very comfortable life and hardship is not something we want. We want life to be easy and avoidance and denial can achieve that for a while. I am no different and it has affected my decision-making and hence my choices and chances of being someone I really want to be. Let’s see and start with the typical ones.
Take nothing for granted: Nothing in life is unbreakable. Whether it is physical or mental health, an important relationship or family, it needs to be nurtured. Too many people take these precious things for granted, as I have in the past. Nurturing means working on them in a healthy sense daily and consistently. This I have not done, relying on hope that things will get better without really knowing how that might happen.
Life Is Short: An old cliche but very true. We spend most of our lives worrying about things out of our sphere of influence or thinking about decisions that we will never make. We spend too much time involving ourselves in situations and relationships that waste our precious time. We are often to ready to hand our destiny over to others, who don’t always have our best interests at heart. In short, we rarely take responsibility for ourselves unless we have to.
Only Genuine Works: I have until recently lived a life that is not genuine. I don’t mean this in terms of who I am and what I do professionally but in terms of being genuine in an emotional sense (more on that later). I have finally made a pledge to be more genuine about my feelings in all areas of my private life. Setting boundaries and the ability to say no is a great first step but putting it into practice is more difficult. It means staying conscious and reminding myself of why it is important to do this. Nobody in my private life can really say they know the true me (as I possibly don’t). I believe that part of me was forsaken long ago and has largely been replaced by a series of « false selves » that serve me well.
I Rightly Despair At The World We Live In: At the time of writing, a European democracy is being attacked by the 21st century version of Adolf Hitler. Images of civilians being slaughtered for the ego of one man, echo not just previous wars but usually any conflict taking place at any given time. How have we got to the place where so much power is in the hands of so few? How are some of these few allowed to start wars, invade countries, oppress their people, keep people in poverty while living in palaces themselves? Why are these people allowed to destroy the environment in the name of shareholder value and personal gain? My cynicism is well placed and solutions are out of my sphere of influence. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
And Now The Big One, Codependency: Even today, when there is a wealth of information about “the new codependency”, people do not recognize it in themselves. Many therapists, stuck to the DSM like the proverbial barnacle on the bottom of a boat, refuse to believe it exists or won’t treat it. I believe it affects many more people than any of us know or realise. Much of the information that can be found on the internet portrays codependents in the role of a victim, eagerly devoured by narcissists waiting around every corner. We have got to the point where every one who leaves a relationship is a narcissist and the one left is a codependent victim. This can be true in some cases and is but it also belies the fact that breakups (outside of abuse) is usually a joint effort. How does this pertain to me? I have portrayed myself as a victim for many years and expected others to take up the slack. I have tried to fix every single person I have been involved with in order to get security. It is a boundary that I tend to be able to keep in my professional life but fail to in private. Let’s not kid ourselves that codependency is the »warm and fuzzy » thing it is sometimes portrayed to be.
Living with a codependent is not easy and codependents can be angry, controlling people. The external focus codependents have means there is always a level of anxiety about being abandoned and panic will set in if that is perceived to be happening. Codependents can be smothering and over the top in their demands for reassurance and their need to be the “go to” for anyone around them. However, it is the controlling and anger that can sometimes be threatening. I have been controlling in my life, wanting to be everything to everybody at a very high price for them. I have often shown anger and “nagging” if I don’t get what I think I need or expect. I have often used the typical codependent phrase “look what I have done for you” in arguments and conflicts to the extent that I have lost (and nearly lost) people I hold in great affection.
Three months ago, I drew a line in the sand and said no more! I nearly lost the dearest thing in my life due to something I said in conflict that crossed a line. Apologies mean nothing and my shame at doing it also means nothing except for both to act as a catalyst for change and change I will. For me, life now takes place truly in the present where I can judge a situation with non-judgmental eyes, where I wont be slipping back into past hurts and projecting these onto undeserving people in my life. Most of all, I will take responsibility for me and my actions and work on the Observing Self.
I want this for me and for my relationship. I am calling it the Path to Freedom and I practice its principles daily.