We have been discussing codependency by focusing on steps in answering the question – Now What Do I Do? If you have not done so, please go back and review Step One – Shift in thinking and mindset; Step Two – Detachment; and Step Three – Self Care. In Step Four, we will focus on Boundary Work. However, before moving on, one very important point needs to be stressed.
Although we as codependents will need to work all these steps simultaneously as we continue our recovering work, it is almost next to impossible to start our healing unless we are ready and willing to shift our mindset and thinking. We must accept that we are not responsible for another person’s wellbeing and that what we have been doing is not working. At the same time, because we are codependents, we will slip back into this thinking, and we will need to continue recommitting ourselves to working on this toxic mindset. Therefore, expect movement in and out of all the steps, and work on what you need to in the moment.
Now, let’s move on to Step Four – Boundary Work
The other day I had a nice long phone chat with a good friend of mine. I will call her Lorie. We’ve known each other for many years and we are both CC’s – classic codependents. We have laughed with each other and cried with each other over our rescuing and controlling catastrophes. Lorie has worked very hard on her Self Care, especially over the past several years. However, it wasn’t until recently that she really started working on her Boundaries. Because Lorie always has been extremely codependent with her children (who are now adults), this has been hard for her. As we talked, she shared how she felt when implementing a very strong boundary. Lorie said, “I feel so selfish. I’m wondering if I’m doing the right thing”. I reminded her, as I have myself many times of the following:
Boundaries are about creating a safe space for you to grow and heal.
Boundaries are not about putting up walls to keep people away.
Boundary work involves discovering what you will accept and what you won’t accept while protecting yourself and your growth. It’s putting your Self Care into action. How do you start? Begin with three strategic exercises.
Exercise One – Reassessing Relationships*
This is an extremely important exercise. It involves taking a brutal and honest inventory of your relationships assessing what is healthy and unhealthy about them. For example, Lorie began by making a list of the healthy as well as unhealthy aspects of her relationships with her adult children, her parents, and her siblings. She said this was very helpful because she able to validate the good parts while acknowledging the problem areas. One of most problematic issues with Lorie’s adult children involved money. Over the years, she had given her adult children and grandchildren large amounts of money, spoiled them with material items, and taken them on expensive vacations. This may not be problem for some individuals, but after years of investing beyond her means, Lorie found herself in serious financial trouble. While completing this exercise, Lorie not only came face to face with the consequences of her codependency, but she also realized that her primary motive behind these overly generous actions was to rescue her adult children from experiencing financial hardships which she dealt with as a child. This was a hard truth for Lorie, but an empowering one.
Let’s begin creating a space for you to grow and to heal. Get out a piece of paper or get on your computer and make two columns: healthy and unhealthy. Under each column, write down the names of the individuals with whom you have relationships and next to each one, write down the aspects of the relationship that are healthy or unhealthy. As you identify the unhealthy parts, focus in on behaviors where you have been over –investing, behaviors which have left you drained and depleted, and behaviors that have not changed the unhealthy individual. Then, get ready for Exercise Two – Selective Investment.
Exercise Two – Selective investment*
What is Selective Investment? When sharing this concept with others, some people find it strange. But remember, codependents over-invest into others to the degree that we become depressed, exhausted, and angry. That is our nature.
Selective Investment means we are intentional in our thinking and deliberate in our planning about how much we want to give of ourselves and our resources.
For example, Lorie decided to cut way back on her gift giving. She learned how to budget small amounts for her grandchildren and eliminated supporting her adult children. She started saving for her own needs, and she also stopped sending other family members money, realizing that much of it went to rescuing them as well.
Just as Lorie did, we can select our degree of investment. We have that power. Return to your list of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Next to the unhealthy aspects and the codependent behaviours you identified, write down specific actions of how you can lessen your investment. Choose one behaviour at a time and be specific about your action. Don’t procrastinate. Get started now reclaiming your power. As healthy change begins to take place, you may begin to doubt yourself and you will probably experience resistance from others. With this anticipation in mind, get familiar with Exercise Three – Setting and Adjusting Expectations.
Exercise Three – Setting and Adjusting Expectations*
The good news is that when we reassess our relationships and we start investing selectively, we will begin feeling better and better. As we continue to heal and grow, it is only natural to hold expectations of ourselves and to set them for others. Be patient, kind, and gentle with yourself. Learn from your successes and your failures; adjust your expectations as needed. For others whom we have been rescuing, it is important not to expect too much of them, if anything at all. As you change your behaviors and get healthier, others may feel confused, angry, and resentful. Adjust your expectations of others; however, remain strong in your Boundary work. Remember, you are teaching them what you expect for yourself and what you expect from them. As with any new behaviour, it is going to take time in order for them to adjust to your new norms.
When Lorie started setting boundaries in her financial rescuing, her adult children were angry and blame-filled. Even her grandchildren were rude and disrespectful. Lorie learned it was difficult to set these boundaries; however, she described how she focused on the peace which came from achieving more stability and security in budgeting. After a number of months, Lorie also shared that when her adult children and grandchildren had recently visited for the holidays, not a word was mentioned about the inexpensive but thoughtful gifts.
Unrealistic expectations lead to hurt from ourselves and from others. So, be mindful of how you are feeling. Set and adjust them as needed. Also remember, the more consistent you are in your newly implemented healthy behaviors, the more your Boundaries will be respected, laying the groundwork for realistic expectations to fall into place.
In closing, it deserves repeating, recovering from codependency is incredibly hard work. And, it is ongoing. This series on codependency has given you wellness basics. The resources recommended are well worth embracing.
Along with this point, as stated in Codependency: Week One What Is It?, codependency is a part of our personality; it is who we are. Many codependents acquire their care-giving and rescuing personas as children; and many could really benefit from counselling to sort out their more specific origins and heal their inner wounds and voids. Remember:
You are not alone.
Much has gone into creating us the way we are.
And it will require much of us to move forward in healthy ways.
* Exercises on Reassessing Relationships, Selective Investment, and Setting and Adjusting Expectations are adapted from Chapter 9 – “Revive and Restore – Boundary Work”, Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within by Holli Kenley
Publisher’s Note: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”