Codependency, as discussed in prior newsletters, is a deep longstanding pattern of considering the needs of others more than your own. Codependency can be viewed as an addiction, i.e. a love addiction or relationship addiction, as the relationship is driven by unconscious, unmet emotional needs (The Relationship Model of Addiction™(TRMA™). It originates in dysfunctional families where children learn to overcompensate for the lack of emotional nourishment by developing excessive sensitivity to others' needs. In effect, the codependent loses him or herself in the relationship, or the relationship serves as an escape from oneself.
In the last Newsletter, there were a number of questions posed to help readers determine whether certain tendencies and characteristics of codependency pertain to them (Are you codependent?). One of the questions asked was, Do you feel you have to hide your feeling? This question speaks to one of the hallmark features of codependency: the suppression of feelings and disconnection from oneself, manifested by a discrepancy between how a person appears on the outside versus what he or she is feeling on the inside. For example, we often see a cool, calm exterior masking an emotional storm.
While it is hard to say how conscious the codependent is of covering up his or her feelings or hiding behind a 'poker face,' it is likely that a façade becomes second-nature, a way of life, and he or she loses track of the incongruity. Suppression and disconnect from one's feelings is the result of having grown up in an environment void of nurturing and where it was unsafe to be vulnerable or to express feelings.
In a session with a patient, the disparity between "what you see," and "what you get," became quite apparent. I suggested to the patient that she was quite an emotional person despite how she appeared on the outside. She was taken aback, and remained quite matter of fact. "I'm surprised to hear you say that. That's not how I see myself. My parents never knew or cared what I felt, which is why I checked out. I stopped feeling my feelings a long time ago."
I was struck by her hesitance to admit that she prided herself on her controlled, stoic exterior. Despite her efforts, whenever we talked about what and how she needed to communicate to her (addicted) husband, tears gushed while her face remained expressionless. It seemed as if she didn't want to know she was crying, but couldn't stop herself.
Some the questions in the Are You Codependent inventory, speak to the external distortion that is often seen with codependency. Do you feel like you work harder or expend more energy than your partner to keep the relationship going? Do you think that if you were a better spouse (or parent, sibling, son or daughter, or friend), things would be better? Do you often make threats to leave the relationship, but never carry them out?
Many codependents find themselves trapped in dysfunctional relationships, unable to extricate themselves from the relationship, no matter how dysfunctional the relationship may be. It is not uncommon to hear about their sense of demoralization and confusion upon recognizing that they are pulling the relationship along while their partners remain passive and oblivious.
Codependents have the capacity to pull themselves from the depths of despair by creating illusions about the people they are in relationships with, as well as the quality of those relationships. Reality and imagination become indistinguishable and objectivity is lost. Rather than recognizing the limitation of their partner to provide emotional nourishment, 'love' addicts and 'relationship' addicts hang on to the idea of how they would like things to be rather than how they really are.
In another case example, a patient who was struggling to end a relationship with a boyfriend, frequently lapsed in and out of reverie with 'euphoric recall,' alluding to "how good we were together" and "how great of a guy he was." Despite being able to admit to me that she often felt criticized or blamed, she remained blind and unable to respond to the lack of emotional intimacy that plagued their relationship. Her boyfriend was unresponsive to her feelings or and avoided discussion about any of their mounting conflicts. He had little or no interest in having sex, and he was rarely available to see her unless it was convenient for him. Yet, she was unable to control her urge to contact him. Denial was working masterfully. She remained unaware of being 'hooked' on him, and was out of touch with the unmet emotional needs driving her involvement. She couldn't see that the longer she stayed in the relationship, the worse she felt about herself.
As the process of her therapy took hold, she became more aware of being driven by a deeply embedded sense of worthlessness and feeling undeserving of love. She was beginning to understand that, in order to break the cycle of ending up feeling abandoned, rejected and hopeless, she must learn and practice principles of self-care, so that she can one day rely on herself for nurturance and guidance.
Recovering From Codependency
The initial stage of recovery from codependency, as well as other aforementioned addictions (chemical dependency, compulsive gambling, porn, sex and love addictions), entails a period of intensive self-work during which the pain from unmet emotional needs and negative self-feelings are identified and sourced. By learning how to cope with the pain without depending on someone outside of yourself for escape, you ultimately change how you see yourself so that you are able to make decisions and act in your own best interests.
It follows that if codependency is a deep-seated, longstanding tendency to consider another person's feelings before your own, recovery is process of reprioritization. Consider your own feelings, wants and needs first, before deciding on a course of action. That is, "What am I needing, wanting and feeling?" "What's in it for me?" "How do I best take care of myself?"