Codependency For Dummies book cover

Codependency For Dummies

By: Darlene Lancer Published: 02-23-2015

Your trusted guide to value yourself and break the patterns of codependency

Codependency For Dummies, 2nd Edition is the most comprehensive book on the topic to date. Written in plain English and packed with sensitive, authoritative information, it describes the history, symptoms, causes, and relationship dynamics of codependency. The majority of the book is devoted to healing and lays out a clear plan for recovery with exercises, practical advice, and daily reminders to help you know, honor, protect, and express yourself. New to this edition are chapters on working the Twelve Steps to recover from codependency and how therapists/coaches/nurses are affected by codependency.

Codependence is primarily a learned behavior from our family of origin. Some cultures have it to a greater degree than others—some still see it as a normal way of living. Yet the costs of codependence can include distrust, faulty expectations, passive-aggressiveness, control, self-neglect, over-focus on others, manipulation, intimacy issues, and a slew of other harmful traits. Codependence causes serious pain and affects the majority of Americans—not just women and loved ones of addicts. Codependency For Dummies, 2nd Edition offers authoritative and trusted guidance on ways to raise your self-esteem, detach and let go, set boundaries, recognize healthy vs. dysfunctional relationships, overcome guilt and resentment, and much more.

  • Helps you break the pattern of conduct that keeps you in harmful relationships
  • Provides trusted guidance to create healthy boundaries, coping skills, and expectations
  • Offers advice for eliminating feelings of guilt, blame, and feeling overly responsible
  • Explains the difference between care-giving and codependent care-taking

If you're trapped in the cycle of codependency and looking for help, Codependency For Dummies, 2nd Edition offers trusted advice and a clear plan for recovery.

Articles From Codependency For Dummies

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49 results
Women and Codependency

Article / Updated 03-07-2022

Although men can and do fall victim to codependency, women comprise the majority of codependents. There are many reasons in many categories: biological, developmental, political, cultural, religion, and societal. Biological: While both women and men are biologically wired for relationships, under stress, men tend to prepare for action, while women’s hormones prepare them to make sure their relationships are healthy and intact. Developmental (gender identity): Generally, girls are more dependent upon and emotionally involved with their parents. Loss of a relationship may be their biggest stressor. They tend to be more accepting of parental values, and a separation that threatens the emotional attachment with their parents creates anxiety. Thus, autonomy is their biggest challenge. Males tend to have a drive to separate from their mothers and identify with their fathers in order to establish their male identities. For males, intimacy can be a challenge. Political: Universally, women have been subordinated to men and marginalized from access to equal money, rights, and power. Oppression for generations has made women more compliant. This continues today. They’re traumatized by physical and sexual abuse far more than men, which, among other serious medical issues, lowers their self-esteem. Cultural: In most cultures, girls are more restricted and have less opportunity for autonomy. Both hormones and societal norms encourage adolescent boys to be more rebellious and autonomous. They’re given more freedom and are willing to struggle for it. Religion: Many patriarchal religions view women in a subservient role to men and advocate that women defer to their husbands, brothers, and other men. Women have less freedom and rights, and may have less access to education or positions of authority. Societal: Women suffer from low self-esteem and depression far more than men. It’s not clear whether this is a cause, by-product, or concurrent with codependency; however, societal attitudes are a contributing cause. A Dove study found that over 40 percent of women are unhappy with their looks, and over two-thirds suffer low confidence about their bodies. Many blamed the airbrushed, ideal models for setting unrealistic, unattainable standards. Unfortunately, it starts in childhood. Seven in ten girls are dissatisfied with their looks, and a large number practice self-destructive behavior.

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The Spectrum of Codependency

Article / Updated 12-29-2021

Maybe you’re wondering whether you’re codependent. It may be hard to tell at first, because, unless you’re already in recovery, denial is a symptom of codependency. Whether or not you identify as codependent, you can still benefit from alleviating any symptoms you recognize. You will function better in your life. Recovery helps you to be authentic, feel good about yourself, and have more honest, open, and intimate relationships. Like most things, codependency varies on a scale from minimal to severe. When you’re under stress, symptoms flare. Some individuals show only slight symptoms, while others have all of the typical characteristics Some traits and examples may sound foreign, while you can relate to others. The severity of codependency varies depending on a number of things, such as the following: Your genetics Your culture, including your religious beliefs Your family’s dynamics Your experience of trauma Your role models Your addictions or use of drugs Intimate relationships you may have or had with addicts If you’re codependent, generally symptoms show up to some extent in all your relationships and in intimate ones to a greater degree. Or codependency may affect your interaction with only one person — a spouse or romantic partner, a parent, sibling, or child, or someone at work. Codependency may not affect you as much at work if you’ve had effective role models or learned interpersonal skills that help you manage. Maybe you weren’t having a problem until a particular relationship, boss, or work environment triggered you. One explanation may be that the parent has a difficult personality or the child has special needs, and the couple has adjusted to their roles and to one another, but avoids intimacy. The spectrum of codependency is illustrated here. The horizontal vector shows how opposite codependent personality traits can manifest in a relationship. Individuals may reverse roles. For example, you may be the pursuer in one relationship and a distancer in another, or flip back and forth in the same relationship. In an alcoholic marriage, the sober spouse may scold and blame the irresponsible, needy alcoholic, who behaves like a victim. Then their roles switch, and the alcoholic dominates and controls his or her partner. Sometimes the spouse who acts needy or “crazy” gets well, and the self-sufficient, invulnerable partner breaks down. Both the disease and recovery exist on a scale represented by the vertical vector here. Codependent behavior and symptoms improve with recovery, described at the top, but if you don’t take steps to change, they become worse in the late stage, indicated at the bottom. As you get better acquainted with the symptoms and characteristics of codependents, you may see yourself. If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of having codependency, instead focus on the patterns and behaviors you want to change. If you’re committed to change, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you consider yourself a codependent. However, it’s important to realize that codependency won’t get better or go away by itself. Support is essential, because you won’t be able to make permanent changes on your own.

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The Codependency Debate

Article / Updated 12-28-2021

The controversy around codependency is divided into two camps — for and against. At one end are mental health professionals who advocate that codependency is a widespread and treatable disease. On the other is an array of critics of codependency, who argue that it’s merely a social or cultural phenomenon, is over-diagnosed, or is an aspect of relationships that doesn’t need to change. Those in the “against” camp state that it’s natural to need and depend upon others. They claim that you only really thrive in an intimate relationship and believe that the codependency movement has hurt people and relationships by encouraging too much independence and a false sense of self-sufficiency, which can pose health risks associated with isolation. Other naysayers disparage the construct of codependency as being merely an outgrowth of Western ideals of individualism and independence, which have harmed people by diminishing their need for connection to others. Feminists also criticized the concept of codependency as sexist and pejorative against women, stating that women are traditionally nurturers and historically have been in a nondominant role due to economic, political, and cultural reasons. Investment in their relationships and partners isn’t a disorder, but has been necessary for self-preservation. Still others quarrel with Twelve Step programs (used for addiction recovery), in general, saying that they promote dependency on a group and a victim mentality. Committees have lobbied for codependency to be recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, which would allow insurance coverage for treatment. A major obstacle is the lack of consensus about the definition of codependency and diagnostic criteria. For insurance purposes, clinicians usually diagnose patients with anxiety or depression, which are symptoms of codependency. Here are some things to think about, to help put the naysayers’ points in ­perspective: Codependency’s detractors are correct to claim that people are meant to need, love, and care for others. Yet, when you look at codependent relationships up close, you discover that many of the benefits of healthy, intimate relationships elude codependents due to their dysfunctional patterns of interacting. Instead of feeling supported and enhanced by relationships, the symptoms and consequences of codependency provoke anxiety in relationships and cause pain. Codependents complain of feeling lonely and unhappy in their relationships. Similarly, a “false sense of self-sufficiency” is part of codependency. Codependents ignore their needs and depend upon others and frequently self-sacrifice to an unhealthy degree. They care for others in a way that leads to control, resentment, and conflict. The concept of codependency isn’t to blame for the increase in divorce, loneliness, and unhappiness. Codependency itself limits our ability to have satisfactory intimate relationships. Some recovering codependents choose to leave an abusive or painful relationship as an act of self-preservation. Remaining in such a relationship may also pose health risks from the chronic stress. Separation doesn’t have to lead to isolation. It’s untreated codependency that can cause people to isolate. In contrast, recovery helps individuals cope with loneliness in healthy ways by reaching out to others. The goal is to create healthy, nurturing, interdependent relationships. Thus, recovery from codependency doesn’t necessitate ending a relationship to become independent. The aim is to be able to function better and to enjoy more intimacy and independence in your relationships. Calling codependency what it is doesn’t create the problem. Finally, the term codependency shouldn’t be used to judge people. It arose out of Western socio-political thought and should be considered in a cultural and ethnic context. There may be instances where codependency is adaptive, and change would be disruptive. This poses a problem as American and European ideas spread to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

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Overcome Indecisiveness to Overcome Codependency

Article / Updated 07-20-2021

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.

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Boundary Issues and Codependency

Article / Updated 06-30-2021

Good parenting requires having appropriate and flexible boundaries that respect individuality and separateness. In healthy families, parents respect emotional, mental, sexual, and physical boundaries. In dysfunctional families, boundaries are rigid, blurred, or a mixture. Individual boundaries When boundaries are too rigid, family members are likely disengaged emotionally and physically. There may be no feeling of closeness, nor affection showed. As adults, siblings may be emotionally distant, and families may not often celebrate together. On the other hand, when boundaries are nonexistent or enmeshed, family members may feel as though they have no right to set boundaries. They may gossip and overreact to each other, give unwanted advice, and invade each other's personal space. In the same vein, some controlling parents may disrespect their children's decisions and control their hobbies, school courses, friends, and personal dress styles. Parents may also invade boundaries by prying, reading their children's mail, questioning their friends, and ransacking or taking their belongings without permission. One likely explanation for this behavior is that some parents resist their children's urge to separate because they want to be needed. They see natural independence as disloyalty and abandonment. Children, on the other hand, may either rebel or feel guilty when they try to set boundaries with their controlling parents and with others as an adult. Your experiences with individual boundaries As an exercise, describe the boundaries in your family growing up in the following areas: Money Your personal belongings Physical touching and showing affection Sex and nudity Emotional — respect for your feelings Mental — respect for your thoughts and opinions Generational boundaries There are also generational boundaries between parents and children, which can be violated if children are put in an adult role. This often happens when a parent becomes overly close with their child and uses them as a companion, as a confidante to discuss their parental relationship or personal problems, or as an ally against the other parent. In this case, the child functions as an emotional surrogate for the lack of intimacy between the parents and/or as an ally or pawn in their power struggles. After a divorce, generational boundaries are often disrespected when one parent uses a child to convey messages to the other parent. Generational boundaries are also crossed when a child takes over parental responsibilities for an irresponsible or emotionally or physically absent parent. This can happen in single-parent families or if one parent is ill, in the military, or an addict. Some children as young as 5 are left to make their own meals. One child may assume the role of “little mother” or “little man” and take care of younger siblings or a needy parent. This is how many codependents learn to become over-functioning adults and caretakers. Some receive praise for doing so, and their role becomes part of their personality as adults. Your experiences with generational boundaries? Crossing generational boundaries is psychologically damaging. If this happened to you, you likely had to repress your needs and feelings in order to adopt an unnatural, age-inappropriate persona (be “a little adult”) to accommodate the needs of your parent. This may have separated you from your authentic child-self. Think about boundaries between generations: Did you have to perform adult tasks or assume adult responsibilities? Did a parent inappropriately confide with you? Did a parent ask you to talk to your other parent for him or her? Did you believe you had a special relationship with a parent who excluded your other parent? How did you feel in each of these situations?

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Self‐Responsibility and Codependency

Article / Updated 06-28-2021

It’s natural to want happiness for your loved ones and hate to see them suffer. But codependents make the leap of feeling responsible for others’ pain and happiness. It’s so upsetting that they try to resolve the negative feelings and problems of people close to them. The fact is you can heal only your half of the relationship — yourself. You’re responsible for your thoughts, feelings, actions, and the consequences of those actions, and other people are responsible for theirs. Taking responsibility isn’t the same as blaming yourself. You may do too much of that already. The former is just an admission — an acknowledgment that “I said (or did)” something. Period. It doesn’t make you a terrible person. Cheering someone up or giving them more attention occasionally is not codependent. A benefit of a good marriage is that spouses nurture one another when one is troubled, but it’s support, not codependent caretaking, and it’s reciprocal. In contrast, when you consistently try to change others’ moods or solve their problems, you’re becoming a caretaker — and assuming, wrongly, that you can control what’s causing their pain. You’re taking on responsibilities that are theirs, not yours. Sometimes codependent couples tacitly agree that one spouse has the obligation to make the other happy. This is an impossible task and leads to mutual unhappiness, anger, and resentment. The cheerleader is always failing. Whatever they try won’t be quite right or enough. If you assume responsibility for your partner’s happiness, you’re enabling their dependence, irresponsibility, and childish behavior. And you're depriving them of the opportunity to grow up and become independent. On the other hand, by taking responsibility to make yourself happy, you bring happiness to the relationship, and you’re able to interact with your partner from an openhearted place. Another pitfall for codependents is that they take too much responsibility and blame for the problems in their relationship. They contort themselves like a human pretzel to make the relationship work. They're thinking, “If I caused the problem, I can learn what I did wrong, change myself, and then the problem will go away.” This denies that each person in a relationship is responsible for their own feelings and actions. Do the following: List the things you feel responsible for. Include family and work responsibilities. What’s the difference between responsibility to others and responsibility for others? List each responsibility you assume for others who can manage that responsibility themselves. If the person is a child or teenager, are they old enough to learn to take it over? Talk to your loved ones about assuming responsibility for themselves. (Shared responsibilities, errands, and chores aren’t codependency — unless there’s imbalance and you resent it.) For each of your needs, write actions you can take to be responsible for meeting your needs. Create a plan to make time to meet your responsibilities and needs and let others manage their own.

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Dysfunctional Families and Codependency

Article / Updated 06-28-2021

Many dysfunctional families look healthy on the outside, but the internal dynamics revolve around a family member’s addiction, abuse, illness, or trauma. Other families are dysfunctional because of rigid control or a lack of empathy and acceptance that can cause children to become codependent. The strongest predictor of codependency is having codependent parents. Codependency usually starts when you feel emotionally abandoned. In response, you repress your feelings, needs, observations, and thoughts. You learn to numb your hurt, distrust your parents, and become self-sufficient. To cope and be accepted, you hide behind a false personality or develop compulsive behaviors to cope. Dysfunctional families tend to have similar symptoms. In some families, the symptoms are relatively mild. In families with drug addiction or abuse, the symptoms are more destructive. Dysfunctional families tend to be closed Dysfunctional families are closed to varying degrees. Some won’t allow different or new ideas to be discussed among members or with outsiders. They may not welcome guests or friendships with those of another race or religion. Remember Archie Bunker of All in the Family? He was autocratic and intolerant of opposing views. Some families are isolated and don’t interact with the community. Others do, but appearances are everything. The family may be respected in the community but hides the truth. Talking about the family to others is considered disloyal. At bottom are shame and fear of different ways of thinking. Dysfunctional families practice denial Family problems and crises, such as a member’s absence, illness, or addiction, never get talked about. Parents think that if they act normal and pretend the problem doesn’t exist, maybe it’ll go away. Or children won’t notice or be harmed. However, this pretense makes you doubt your perceptions, because what you see and know aren’t acknowledged by authority figures. You learn not to question or trust your parents — nor to trust your perceptions, feelings, or yourself, even as an adult. Denial conveys to children that they can’t talk about something frightening — even to each other. Unfortunately, frightened children who share the same bedroom and overhear their parents fighting, nonetheless live in silent fear, because they can’t talk about their pain with each other. Ask yourself these questions: What truths were dismissed or ignored in your family? How did your parents do that? How did it affect you? Dysfunctional families have secrets Denial breeds secrets. Some families hide a shameful truth for generations — whether it’s addiction, violence, criminal activity, sexual issues, or mental illness. That shame is felt by the children — even when they don’t know the secret. If you do know the secret but can’t ask questions or talk about it, you feel different, damaged, or ashamed. A genogram is a diagram that charts family relationships, patterns, and secrets. It’s guaranteed to be illuminating. Gather information by interviewing all of your relatives and create a family genogram. The males are shown as squares, the females as circles, and the eldest child is on the left. Diagram: Darlene Lancer In this sample genogram, you were born in 1969, married Bea in 1996, and have a son and daughter. Your parents, Bob and Ana, divorced (“//”) in 1984 when you were 15. Ana married Ira four years later but separated (“/”). Your father, now living with Meg (the broken “– – –” line), is an alcoholic, as was your grandfather, Sid, and great-grandfather, Jim. In 1986, your father married Fay, who died in 2009. From that marriage, you have a half-sister, Lea, born following a miscarriage, and a stepsister Mia, the same age as you. Your other half-siblings are Pam, Joe, and Jill. You’re also an uncle to your brother Al’s daughter, Sue. A genogram also reveals curious generational patterns. Perhaps you married or had a child at the same age as one of your parents. By creating a genogram, you can find answers to many of your family questions. In this example, Ana’s father, Sid, and brother, Ted, are also alcoholics. As a codependent, she was primed to marry your father. Ana had twins, as did her grandmother, Nora. Ana’s were fraternal, and Nora’s were identical, indicated by the adjoining bar (“–”). Ana married at 19, like her mother, Ema. Both you and your uncle Max were born the year of both your parents’ marriage, suggesting shotgun weddings. Also notice that both of your grandmas were the eldest of large families, suggesting they were strong women and caretakers. Look online or make up symbols to indicate mental illness, adoptions, family violence, incarceration, and different types of addiction, including alcoholism, gambling, sex, and eating disorders. You can also track illness and disease, such as depression, addiction, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Also ask yourself: What secrets were kept in the family you grew up in? Are they generational? How did they affect your family? What rules and behavior kept the secrets hidden? Does it make you feel ashamed? Are you perpetuating the secret?

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Goals of Recovery from Codependency

Article / Updated 06-27-2021

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

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7 Things to Know about Irrational Guilt

Article / Updated 06-26-2021

Guilt can, in some instances, actually lead to self-improvement and build self-esteem. The problem for codependents is that their guilt is usually irrational and stems from shame and poor boundaries. Studies show that healthy guilt encourages people to have more empathy for others, to take corrective action, and to improve themselves. Shame, on the other hand, makes you feel inferior, inadequate, or bad about who you are versus what you did. Unhealthy guilt impedes self-acceptance. Self-forgiveness is self-essential to self-esteem. Yet for many codependents, self-acceptance remains elusive because of unhealthy guilt — sometimes for decades or a lifetime. It may be an unrelenting source of pain. You might hold a belief that you should feel guilty and condemn yourself — not once, but over and over — or guilt may simmer in your subconscious. Either way, this kind of guilt is insidious and self-destructive and can sabotage your ability to find happiness and achieve your goals. Here are things you should examine when you feel guilty: Guilt shouldn’t drag on and preoccupy you. When guilt is irrational and not absolved, it can lead to shame. Instead of enhancing empathy and self-improvement, it has the opposite effect. It causes greater self-preoccupation and undermines both the self and relationships. It also promotes aggression and depression. You may be punishing yourself unnecessarily. Are you harder on yourself than others? Would you keep punishing someone over and over for a mistake, or would you forgive them? Guilt causes anger and resentment, not only at yourself, but toward other people in order to justify your actions. Anger, resentment, and guilt sap your energy. They keep you stuck in the past and prevent you from moving forward. A better approach is to think of your mistakes as learning opportunities. To be sure, you’ll have another chance to do things differently next time. Guilt about your thoughts and feelings impairs rather than promotes self-acceptance. You may feel guilty not only for your actions, but also for your thoughts (for instance, wishing someone pain, misfortune, or even death); your feelings (like anger, lust, or greed); or your lack of feelings (such as not reciprocating love or friendship or not feeling grief over the loss of someone close). You may be feeling guilty for things others have done. Because of a lack of boundaries and low self-esteem, it’s common for codependents to take the blame for others’ behavior. Although irrational, you may feel guilty for the thoughts, attributes, feelings, and actions of someone else. You may be adopting others’ projections. You might judge yourself based upon the blame or false accusations emanating from others, which you accept to be true. For example, an abuser or addict may blame you to avoid responsibility, but you take on that blame. If your partner is a narcissist, they might accuse you of being selfish, even though your partner is the one who is selfish. Rationalizing or ignoring your guilt helps only temporarily, but it isn’t the same as self-forgiveness. Alternatively, beating yourself up prolongs guilt and shame and damages your self-esteem. The best approach is to face what you did, accept responsibility, do some self-examination, and take remedial action.

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10 Ways to Love Yourself and Heal from Codependency

Article / Updated 06-25-2021

The best advice in healing from codependency would be “love yourself.” Does that sound kind of cheesy? Probably. It might even feel wrong because you’re so used to loving other people. Or you may not even know how to love you. But think about those you love. You want to know them, support them, encourage them, give to them, and make them happy. Your love for them involves actions as well as feelings. Do you do that for yourself? Here are a few ways you can start. Have a spiritual practice Love yourself by spending time alone. Whether or not you believe in God, a spiritual practice is an excellent means of creating a deeper relationship with your self. What better way is there to honor yourself than by setting aside some quiet "me-time" each day? A spiritual practice doesn’t require religious beliefs. Your intention may simply be to find a centered, calm place to access inner guidance, to develop reverence for life, or to experience harmony with yourself and others. Listening and finding truth gives you greater confidence, clarity, and peace. It helps you let go of control and be less reactionary, despite what’s happening around you. Receive support Asking for and receiving help is another way to love yourself. Human beings are social animals, and we need each other. When you’re lonely, confused, anxious, overwhelmed, or in the dumps, reaching out is a way of giving to yourself. Sometimes, turning to God brings comfort and guidance. Other times, your emotions take over, and you’re unable to think or calm yourself. That’s when you need others. There are times when everyone needs support. When problems persist and don’t go away on their own, that's a sign you may require more than friends can offer. Unfortunately, some people believe that asking for and receiving help are signs of weakness. If you’re used to helping others, you probably don’t feel worthy of or comfortable receiving help. Changing that pattern is growth. Whether it’s going to a meeting or seeking professional counseling, getting support isn’t an indulgence or a character flaw. In fact, it takes self‐honesty to know your limits, and humility and courage to ask for help. Doing so allows others to give and feel close to you. Appreciating their love and support is both human and healthy. Meet your needs It's key to attend to your own needs. If you’ve been tending the needs of others but neglecting your own, it’s time to turn that around and put yourself first. The reverse can also happen — you expect others to fill needs that are your responsibility. Be sure to address your basic, physical needs, such as healthy food, rest, exercise, and medical and dental checkups. Give special attention to needs you may be overlooking. When you’re lonely, sad, angry, afraid, overwhelmed, confused, tired, or feeling like a victim, ask yourself what you need. If you’re depressed, you may have been avoiding and neglecting yourself for a long time. Some needs are met by others, such as needs for intimacy and friendship. It’s your responsibility to speak up and ask for what you need and want. Don't expect others to develop ESP and read your mind — that only leads to resentment and conflict. Have fun Show love to yourself by planning pleasure, recreation, and hobbies. Though they might seem trivial, these are needs, too. Focusing on a problem often makes it worse. Without balance, pain can turn into self‐pity and become a way of life. There are also people who take themselves too seriously. They develop tunnel vision when it comes to work and problems. For them, living is a struggle, a competition, or a test of endurance and achievement. You may have forgotten how to laugh and enjoy yourself, which is important in maintaining balance in both your body’s chemistry and your life. Life isn’t meant to be a burden, but to be enjoyed. Celebrate it by making time to relax, play, and be creative — activities that are rejuvenating and bring you into the present. Sometimes, when you take a break and have fun — even for a short time — your worries magically dissolve, and you gain a new perspective on a problem. Pleasure restores your energy and sense of well‐being, which not only nourishes your soul, but also enhances the productivity and quality of your work. Protect yourself Keeping yourself safe from physical, mental, and emotional abuse is an essential part of showing yourself love. Loving someone doesn’t mean you have to accept insulting or ­demeaning words or behavior. If you think you’re being abused, don’t waste your energy or risk your safety trying to change the abuser, explaining your position, or proving your innocence. It won't change them, and it make things more difficult for you. You didn’t cause, nor are you responsible for, other people's words or behavior, but you do have a responsibility to protect yourself and your children. You have a choice to speak up, set limits, disengage from the conversation, leave the room, get professional help, call the police when there’s violence, or end the relationship. Accept yourself Love yourself as the unique individual you are, including your appearance, feelings, thoughts, and addictions. You don’t have to earn respect or prove anything. You’re deserving of love and respect as a human being with flaws and failures. Notice if you’re trying to change for someone else’s validation. Instead, remind yourself that being yourself is more important. When you practice self‐acceptance, you stop worrying about what others think and can be more authentic and spontaneous. Becoming and accepting yourself takes time. Forcing change with constant self‐evaluation and self‐judgment keeps you stuck, but self‐acceptance allows change to happen with little effort. When you slip or make mistakes, remember that self‐criticism compounds them. It’s much more productive to forgive yourself and focus on your behavior in the present. Be gentle to yourself As the old song goes, "try a little tenderness." Love yourself with gentleness and compassion. Modulate your inner voice so that it’s calm and kind. When you’re afraid or in pain, blaming yourself or thinking there’s something wrong with you makes matters worse. When you’re tempted to ignore your feelings and distract yourself with more activity, obsessions, or addictive behavior, practice just being with yourself. Just as you would for a friend, be the one who is there for you with gentleness and compassion in your anxiety, sorrow, hopelessness, anger, and terror. The child within you needs you. Comfort yourself with all the tenderness you would a crying child or wounded animal. Listen, forgive, and embrace your full humanness. Develop the trust that you can count on yourself. Encourage yourself Give yourself encouragement and enthusiasm. Transform your inner critic into a positive coach. Get in the habit of finding things you do well and acknowledging them. Don’t wait for others to appreciate and compliment you. Appreciate and compliment yourself. In fact, repeat praise over and over. Instead of taking your good qualities for granted, notice them, and give yourself credit. Look for small things you do right and well. Stop doubting yourself, and pay attention to every small sign of progress toward your goals. Tell yourself you can make it — you can do whatever you desire. When you love yourself with encouragement, you'll soon see your self-confidence grow. Express yourself Madonna was on to something with this lyric. Your self has been hidden too long. Healing shame requires that you risk being seen. Commit to stop hiding and honor yourself by communicating your feelings, opinions, thoughts, and needs. You have a right to think and feel what you do without explanation or justification. Your self‐respect and the respect you receive from others will grow. Self‐expression also includes your creativity. There are all sorts of different mediums where you can explore expressing yourself: music, writing, design, art, cooking, crafts, dance, or wherever else your creativity leads you. Tell your inner critic you’re creating for fun. There's no room for them here. Pursue your passions Finally, tune in to your true passions. Only you hold the keys to your happiness. Talking yourself out of pursuing your desires leads to discontent and regret. Even if your desires are impractical or unprofitable, don’t allow those obstacles to discourage you. Every day, take one small step toward realizing your goals or doing something that excites you. If you’re uncertain about your passions, pay attention to what stimulates you, or try some new things. Listen to what calls to you, follow your inspiration, and take risks to experience the fullness of who you are. If you’re depressed or overwhelmed, it can be hard to think about positive goals. For now, make your recovery your number‐one objective. In time, you will have more energy and motivation about the future and your desires. Be patient. Goals or a specific direction eventually emerge.

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