Codependency For Dummies
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A lot of codependents know what other people should do but have a tough time making decisions for themselves, even small ones, like what to order off a menu and what to do with their free time. They may avoid decision-making altogether and practice their addiction, daydream, worry about someone, or ask others their opinions. Trouble with deciding can stem from
  • Not being allowed to make choices in childhood

  • Growing up with a controlling or authoritarian parent

  • Not being taught how to problem-solve

  • Not having an internal locus of control

  • Not being aware of your feelings

  • Wanting to please someone else

  • Fear of making a mistake and your self-judgment

  • Fear of disappointment

If you grew up in a family with strict rules, or if one parent was controlling, you didn’t have an opportunity to make important decisions nor have the support of parents to help you learn how to discover your feelings about something and weigh alternatives and consequences. Children can quickly learn how to think for themselves.

Good parenting allows them to make age-appropriate decisions. It includes listening and reflecting back to a child their feelings and needs, and brainstorming consequences of different choices. Healthy parenting helps children identify and trust their feelings in order to develop an internal locus of control of what they want and need.

When you don’t know what you feel and you’re not skilled in thinking through the consequences of your actions and probable outcomes, small decisions can feel monumental. Instead, you act without forethought and/or avoid them and develop a passive attitude toward your life. You may get in the habit of looking to others for guidance, and their opinions can become more important than yours. If you’re a pleaser, you won’t want to displease them.

Beware not only of friends who tell you what you should do, but of authority figures as well. Even when you’re paying a professional for advice, explore various options and make sure the action you take is aligned with your values. It may be tempting to ask a psychotherapist to make your decisions. Instead, seek help in thinking through the consequences of your options, which empowers you to make your own decisions and solve your problems.

In many dysfunctional families, children are punished for making innocent mistakes. In some cases, punishment is severe, arbitrary, and unpredictable. Those fears survive even when you’re no longer living with your parents. That parent still lives inside you as your Critic and won’t allow you to forgive yourself for mistakes.

Perfectionism and the desire to be infallible can haunt every decision so that you have to research every purchase, rehearse intimate conversations, and avoid new experiences. Another factor is fear of disappointment.

In troubled families, parents rarely take the time to comfort children when they’re disappointed. Coping with disappointment is a part of maturity, learned when parents understand and empathize with their children’s feelings.

Here are some tips in making decisions:

  • Write down all possible options.

  • Write the consequences of each, including your feelings.

  • To help you, visualize the results and experience how you feel in your body.

  • Talk over your options with someone you trust who won’t judge you or tell you what to do, but who listens and lets you decide for yourself.

  • A graph can help you visually compare aspects of different choices. List your options down the left side of the chart and write the elements to consider along the top, such as cost, convenience, time expended, value, and reward. You can add a column for consequences, and rank them from 1 to 10. Factors will vary, depending on the type of decision. Comparing which car to buy would include things like maintenance, comfort, price, depreciation, and mileage. (This technique doesn’t work as well with decisions that are more feeling-based.)

Decisions aren’t right or wrong; there are only consequences. Many times you won’t know until you take a risk and make a choice. Give yourself permission to experiment, change your mind, and make mistakes. This is how you grow and get to know yourself and the world.

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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