Codependency For Dummies
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The overall goal of recovery from codependency is to become a full-functioning individual who is able to live an authentic life. That means that your feelings, values, and behavior are congruent and that you’re at ease on your own as well as in intimate relationships.

Going over the four basic steps

Your journey to recovery roughly follows these steps:
  1. Building self-awareness

    To build self-awareness, you gain information and come out of denial.

  2. Healing your relationship with yourself

    To heal your relationship with yourself, you get to know yourself, heal shame and past wounds, build self-esteem, and find pleasure — developing hobbies, for example.

  3. Healing your relationships with others

    To heal your relationships with others, you let go of focusing on others (this is also a prerequisite for Step 2), learn to be assertive, establish boundaries, and have healthy relationships.

  4. Expanding your relationship with the world

Pursuing larger goals and passions

Recovery entails knowing, valuing, trusting, and freely expressing yourself congruently with your feelings and values. Consider tracking your progress as you continue to grow in recovery. Add your own goals as you go along.

How you think

The first priority is to heighten your awareness, thinking, and understanding of codependency and addiction and how each has and continues to affect your family and your life.

Specific cognitive goals include understanding your separateness from others, letting go, and giving others the dignity to be responsible for themselves while taking responsibility for yourself. Ongoing goals are developing awareness of your thoughts, values, beliefs, needs, and behavior and reducing obsessive, repetitive worries and negative self-talk.

Your list may include the following:

  • Understanding codependency

  • Understanding addiction and your family dynamics

  • Understanding how addiction may have affected you

  • Coming out of denial

  • Accepting your powerlessness over addiction

  • Understanding and practicing the concept of nonattachment

  • Becoming aware of boundaries with others

  • Gaining awareness of thoughts, including: judgments of yourself and others; worries and fears; rationalizations; and fantasies and obsessions

  • Identifying your needs and how to meet them

  • Gaining awareness of beliefs and values

  • Testing your thoughts and beliefs against reality

  • Developing decision-making skills

  • Gaining awareness of codependent behavior, including pleasing, manipulating, controlling, and enabling

What you feel

Because you weren’t taught to identify your feelings or your childhood environment prevented their free expression, it’s likely that you’re not often aware of your feelings. Having emotion is different. Codependents can cry and rage but aren’t able to name a feeling or know why they’re upset. Typically, codependents feel guilty for other people’s negative feelings and think other people make them feel guilty or angry.

Taking responsibility for your feelings and not those of others is a gradual, but essential, learning process. Important goals are to be able to identify, name, and express your feelings openly. This may be a challenge if you’re not used to crying or feeling vulnerable, but this is a healthy step in healing. People who are overwhelmed with feelings need to contain and understand them. Down the line, you want to be able to appropriately express your feelings to others. Your goals may include these:

  • Replacing despair with hope

  • Identifying and accepting your feelings

  • Identifying and accepting feelings about your work and others

  • Journaling feelings

  • Connecting thoughts, needs, feelings and actions

  • Distinguishing your feelings from other people’s feelings

  • Taking responsibility for your feelings

  • Not taking responsibility for other people’s feelings

  • Sharing feelings in a group or with a therapist

  • Taking charge of your anger

  • Grieving your losses

  • Sharing your feelings in safe, personal relationships

  • Comforting yourself when you have negative feelings

Your self-esteem

Your self-esteem reflects how you feel about yourself. It enhances or impairs your relationships, your professional success, your moods, and your sense of well-being. Replacing shame and low self-esteem with self-respect and self-worth is the cornerstone of recovery. Pursuing all of the goals outlined improves your self-esteem, but you can benefit by giving specific attention to the following:
  • Confronting negative self-talk

  • Healing shame

  • Being kind to yourself

  • Taking responsibility for your actions

  • Affirming yourself

  • Accepting yourself

  • Reducing guilt and forgiving yourself

  • Meeting your needs

  • Sharing in Twelve Step meetings and in therapy

  • Trusting and loving yourself

  • Pursuing goals

  • Nurturing and giving yourself pleasure

What you say

Practicing assertive communication improves your relationships and builds self-esteem. Your goals may include these, as well as
  • Being honest and direct

  • Making “I” statements

  • Taking positions

  • Learning not to react

  • Becoming aware of abusive communication

  • Setting boundaries and saying no

  • Being able to problem-solve in your relationships

  • Handling conflict

What you do

There’s a maxim in Alcoholics Anonymous: “Take action, and the feelings will follow.” Your thoughts and feelings determine how you behave, but actions also change your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Reading about and understanding codependency and how you came to be codependent are important, but taking risks and behaving differently actualizes your understanding and changes you.

Taking action doesn’t mean jumping in to “fix” a problem. That complicates matters and prevents things from working themselves out naturally. There’s another — almost opposite saying in Al-Anon: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” It requires courage and strength to do the opposite of what you ordinarily do and to refrain from habitual behavior. Action goals include communicating differently and setting boundaries. They also include the following:

  • Journaling

  • Attending Twelve Step meetings and/or counseling

  • Not enabling

  • Practicing nonattachment and minding your own business

  • Creating a spiritual practice

  • Developing interdependent behavior

  • Developing hobbies and interests

  • Taking action to meet your needs

  • Setting and pursuing goals

  • Building supportive relationships

  • Reaching out when you’re in pain

Don’t be discouraged if you’re unable to achieve some of these goals. Many manifest in the middle and later stages of recovery. You’re on a journey — a wonderful, sometimes painful, but joyous adventure of self-discovery.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

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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