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The Door of Freedom from Codependency

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Lentz Letters! Today I want to tackle more on the topic of Codependency. Pia Mellody, author of Breaking Free, stated “Hug your demons and they will bite you in the ass”. She emphasizes the importance of taking intentional steps to remove yourself from the destructive path of codependency or stand back and watch it create havoc on your life. Codependency is deemed the relationship addiction with distinct behaviors passed on through the generations. It is astounding how many counseling sessions that can be earmarked with clients finding themselves stuck, lost or sick due growing up in dysfunctional homes. My intent is not to blame your parents, it is to focus on core behavioral traits of a codependent that make it difficult to create positive lasting change with your current relationships and life.

A common barrier to that move towards change might be how you define reality. If you examined your life would it include low self-esteem, unhealthy boundaries, stuffing unpleasant emotions, and struggling to claim what you need and want from life? I remember a game show where the contestant could pick from prizes behind one of 3 doors. Some of these prizes were life changers and some were a real junk. Similarly, breaking free from codependency has 3 options too. Either live a life carrying around the junk behind Door 1 or 2 or choose Door 3 in which you can rid your life of the junk that weighs you down and live in the present moment. The difference between the game show and your life is that you have a choice whether you accept what is behind the door or not.

Behind Door #1 is a recording, playing on a tape over and over of your childhood trauma or experiences. Door #1 has an adjoining suite with Door #2. Still playing the same recording of your childhood in your relationships as an adult. These relationships are riddled with toxic power struggles, manipulation, and avoidance of emotion. What are they trying to tell you about the need for change? Even your body is playing the tape with subtle sensations crying out for needed attention. Behind the 3rd door, the door to freedom, is you throwing the tape recorder to the curb! No longer do you need to keep playing the tape from the past. Learning to get rid of the junk from a safe place guided by a trusted therapist. Reminding yourself that your experiences were in the past, not right now in this moment. This is the door to freedom that only you can open by taking responsibility for your life.

Let’s take a closer look inside Door #1. The disease of codependency gives birth while the child is still in the dysfunctional homes. Caregivers in these household usually suffer from addiction, chronic illness, mental health issues or unresolved complex trauma history. Still, codependence can foster when all the attention goes to the new younger sibling. Still, the abusive or neglectful caregivers is considered functional and the only source of stability in the eyes of the child. Love becomes blurred with a conditional twist and the roles between child and parent may reverse. Children are often performing tasks that exceed their developmental ability. For example, if a parent is regularly too drunk to fix dinner, a young child may learn to cook so the family does not go hungry. Other times, the child is expected to care for their own parent’s physical or emotional needs. As a result, the child begins to believe that any pain, loneliness, emptiness, or difficulty that he/she experiences is assumed to be due to their own deficits. The emotional void leads to the child believing that their needs are insignificant in comparison to their caregivers.

Behind door #2 are certain defense mechanisms that are at work preventing you from seeing where you need to take responsibility. Six defenses make it easier to avoid emotional pain. These guardsmen, who once helped you to survive unbearable abuse or neglect are suppression, repression, dissociation, minimization, denial, and delusion. An example of suppression, repression and dissociation would be when a child blocks the memories of abuse, in hopes that they will not experience the emotional pain in any way. Minimization, denial, and delusion allow the codependent to function as an adult but reality about the past is skewed or downplayed as a means of coping.

Codependency grows roots inside Door #2. Codependency and addiction often work hand in hand. The codependent raised person may become the caregiver for a person with addiction. The codependent must avoid difficult emotions which leads to lying to prevent their loved one’s jail time or other addiction related consequences, times of ignoring the bank statements indicating depleting savings due to their partner’s addiction problem, or other instances when agreeing to use the drugs or alcohol as a means of bonding results in their own cycle of addiction. In other situations, adult codependents may try to earn gratitude by giving more of themselves financially or emotionally than they receive in return. Good intentions of helping someone down on their luck turn into repeated rescue attempts that result in the rescuer feeling needed and the needy recipient becomes less independent and more helpless. Relationships begin to have similar cycles since people who are codependent have a fragile sense of identity and start to adapt to their partner’s needs. Conflict is avoided by submitting to the desires of the significant other. Please check out my next blog in which, I will go into more depth about the many symptoms of codependency.

Codependency manifests in families creating intergenerational effects. The Codependent family practices the motto, “Don’t talk, Don’t touch, Don’t Feel, and Don’t Trust.” Codependent parents make all the decisions or live vicariously through the child’s successes, children may learn to ignore their own desires needs, and minimize their need to care for self and experience safety and make it the priority to seek approval from others. As these children mature these individuals lack confidence and seek relationships with people who are prone to manipulate their personal power. And so, the cycle goes on.

The Door to Freedom, Door #3, is where you begin to identify the areas were codependency has started to grow and start to eliminate negative behaviors that foster codependence. The next circle of hope group will focus on how to break free from codependency. It can be uprooted when you begin to take responsibility for your life. Remember we are throwing out the old tapes! It begins by identifying its origin. By identifying the relationships between childhood experiences and current behavioral patterns it allows the codependent to take ownership over what they want for their lives today. The codependent in recovery can identify and embrace emotions, needs, and autonomy. As an adult you are responsible for your choices. You can not control the choices of others, past or present. The group will provide a safe and permissive environment to face fears of disappointing others and practice setting boundaries. Group members are reminded that it is permissible to focus on self rather than others.

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