By Darlene Lancer

You may know about pain in your past or you may be in denial. Everyone, including those raised in healthy families, had disappointments in their childhood. Codependents had more than others. It’s also possible that despite growing up in a dysfunctional family, you were happy much of the time. Family life may have included affection, laughter, and fun. Nevertheless, there were also losses.

Here are some ideas that get in the way of grieving:

  • Rationalizing: “My parents did the best that they could” or “They didn’t know better.” Even if these statements were true, they deny the effect they had on you.

  • Justifying: “My dad had a rough childhood” or “I was a difficult kid.”

  • Minimizing: “It wasn’t so bad. I know people who had it worse.”

  • Avoidance: Using an addiction (including food, work, and relationships) to avoid feelings. Thinking it’s in the past and doesn’t bother you. “Grief won’t change anything” or “My parents are dead now anyway.”

  • Intellectualizing: “I know all about it,” but without feelings.

  • Premature forgiveness: Forgiveness before working through grief can abort the process and block the healthy release of emotions that keep you stuck.

When you first discover what caused your codependency your knowledge is still intellectual. Even if you know all about your abusive childhood, you must link childhood events and the behavior of family members to the effect they had on you and your feelings about it then and now. You must feel to heal.

When you lose someone or something dear, it’s natural to have feelings about it. When you experienced losses growing up in a dysfunctional family, emotions go unexpressed, and their energy gets stored in your body. Not discharging emotion can lead to depression and chronic emotional and physical symptoms.

Healing involves identifying your wounds, feeling the feelings, and sharing those feelings with others. Maybe you’ve cried or raged about the past, but it’s important that you’re witnessed by someone you trust. Otherwise, it may be a repetition of your childhood, when you had no one to comfort you in your pain. Gradually, your past and those emotions lose their power over you.

There’s never a “good” time to do the work. Postponing it only perpetuates your unhappiness and codependency, which deprive you of your future. Grieving is a process that happens over time — sometimes, several years. It’s wise to get professional help.