Codependency For Dummies
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Here are ten daily reminders — five do’s and five don’ts — to help you heal from codependency. Write them in your journal and check yourself each day. This will help you remember and speed your recovery.

Do focus on yourself

Remember that focusing on others is the hallmark of codependency. It’s easy to slip back and become preoccupied with thinking about those you love — worrying about their problems or wondering what they’re thinking or what they said, did, or didn’t do.

On the other hand, you reap a multitude of benefits from focusing on your own life. The only thoughts and behavior you can control are yours. Every time you turn your attention back to yourself, you’re recovering by becoming your own center and master of your life. Mind your own business, and let other people live their lives. You always have a choice about how you respond.

Throughout the day, pay attention to what you feel and need and to whether your thoughts are helping you. Ask yourself what’s necessary to meet your needs and goals. This sounds like a lot of work. It is, and you’re worth it! Even if you’re only 10 percent effective, that’s 110 percent more effective than when you’re thinking about someone else, over whom you have no control.

Do let go

Remember that the refusal to accept reality causes pain, and you create more pain when you attempt to control, resist, or escape reality and your feelings about it. Accepting reality is a step toward emotional health and maturity.

Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, your own limitations, someone else’s decision or feelings, or an unhappy childhood, “letting go” is a reminder to encounter reality with equanimity. Sometimes, all that’s necessary is awareness and a change of perspective; other times, it involves grieving. Mostly, it requires a deep recognition and constant reminder that you’re not in control of other people, situations, and events.

Allowing your feelings is part of the process of letting go. The past is also beyond your control. Dwelling on what you “should have” said or done is the Critic’s favorite weapon. Reflecting on the past in order to make amends and grow is helpful, but ruminating about it is fruitless.

Do trust your experience

Remember to pay attention to and validate your own experience. Putting trust in others sooner or later disappoints you. God may have disappointed you, too. Recovery means developing trust in yourself. Looking to love, prestige, money, or other people to trust over your own experience eventually leads to confusion and discouragement.

If you’re new to recovery, you may be unable to trust anything, including yourself, because you’ve been disconnected from your inner experience for years. It takes time and practice to listen to and trust yourself. The more you do, the more your self‐confidence and willingness to risk grow. Developing trust is an evolving process. Often it follows these stages:

  1. Trusting a sponsor, therapist, or Twelve Step program (helps to center and calm you)

  2. Trusting God and/or your experience gained through meditation and reading spiritual material

  3. Listening to your feelings, inner guidance, and intuition

  4. Learning from experience and mistakes

  5. Trusting the process of risk, experience, and faith in yourself

Do honor your feelings

Remember that honoring your feelings is a way of saying that you and your feelings matter. Beware of avoiding feelings through denial, obsession, caretaking, and control. Recovery means experiencing, naming, and allowing your feelings. If you stay with them, they ebb — like a passing cloud or stormy weather. If you run from them, they follow you, until you’re forced to feel or become numb.

Feelings aren’t logical and don’t have to make rational sense. That doesn’t mean they’re less valid or significant. Journal daily. Describe the situation that’s bothering you and ask yourself how you feel about it.

Never ignore, minimize, or rationalize away your feelings — not just your emotions, but all your bodily sensations. Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and wear a jacket when you’re cold. Don’t ignore your feelings and sensations because someone else has a different experience or disagrees. Your feelings are yours, valid, and unique. You have a right to your feelings without explanation.

Do be yourself

Remember that you’re unique and that your life happens only once. You have one chance to live it. Fully expressing your true Self is what it means to recover. Effort and self-knowledge are required to develop and become all you’re intended to be. When you people‐please or manipulate out of fear, you’re not being authentic. Self-realization requires mindfulness of your feelings, values, needs, and desires and translating them into authentic action and honest communication. This takes courage. It also takes support to make those changes possible.

Don’t react

Remember that other people’s words and actions reflect who they are, just as your words and actions reflect you. If you were at a restaurant with a companion and began to rant in a rude or obnoxious manner, it wouldn’t discredit your friend, nor would his or her good behavior reflect well upon you. The reverse is also true.

When you react to someone else, you lose your power, and problems escalate. Rather than react, listen, think, feel, and respond. If you don’t know what to reply, say that you’ll think things over. Then write about your triggers and feelings. Consider productive options in the situation that may include doing nothing, a conversation about your needs, setting boundaries, or getting professional information and help.

Don’t hurry

You may believe that, if you don’t push yourself or try harder, nothing would get accomplished, and you’d become a slacker. Probably you already do a lot and more than your share. The verb “to push” means to shove, thrust, force, bear down, muscle, press. Would you want to work for a boss who did that? Does that person live inside of you? Pressuring yourself makes life harder and less enjoyable. You make mistakes and are less productive.

Don’t worry

Remember to lighten up. Fretting feeds your fears. You can’t know what the future holds, nor can you anticipate your future feelings. When you worry, you project the worse. Your fears grow and grow, setting up a vicious cycle, until you lose touch with reality. The world and your mind become dangerous places. Yet the disasters you imagine may never come to pass. Even if they do, in the interim, you lose precious moments today. Preparation, on the other hand, differs from worry because it’s constructive action.

Having a spiritual practice helps you stay in the present. When you catch your thoughts drifting into the past or future, focus your awareness on your immediate perceptions — your breath, sounds, and your environment.

Don’t try to be perfect

Remember that everyone makes mistakes, but perfectionists don’t accept this reality or themselves. They believe that their only choice is to be perfect or fail. Trying to live mistake‐free creates constant tension. Humans are imperfect. If you can’t admit making mistakes, it’s because you fear that you’re a mistake. But being human isn’t a mistake.

What do Scotchgard, penicillin, and chocolate chip cookies have in common? They all originated from a mistake. When it comes to creativity, mistakes can be a blessing that take your work in an unintended direction that you never could have imagined.

Giving up perfectionism isn’t easy. When you stop trying to make things perfect, expect to feel uncomfortable. Making something “perfect” may take only a few seconds or may be impossible. See if you can leave things undone, unclear, or a little messy, dirty, or asymmetrical. Notice how it makes you feel. Question your beliefs, practice self‐forgiveness, and have heart‐to‐heart talks with your Critic and Perfectionist.

Don’t isolate

Remember that recovery involves sharing your problems, reaching out, and allowing others in. Isolating is a bad habit. If you tend to isolate when you’re depressed or in pain, it’s probably because you haven’t had positive experiences of being loved and comforted when you were. You may not be aware that you’re lonely, need connection to others, or need comforting, nor may you be able to imagine that that could make you feel better.

People also isolate because of shame or feeling like an outsider. Unfortunately, isolation or maintaining your distance reinforces those negative beliefs, keeps people at a distance, and prevents the restructuring of unhealthy attitudes. Doing the opposite is often the way to break an unhealthy habit.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships and codependency. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 28 years and coaches internationally. She's a sought-after speaker to professionals at national conferences and in the media.

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