In Weeks One and Two, we learned what is means to be codependent, and we examined a couple of reasons as to why we are codependent. But what’s critical now, is to learn to how to shift from codependency to get healthy. It is important to note that codependents are really caring, good, and giving people. These are strengths. However, these attributes becomes weaknesses when we over-invest into others to the degree that we are spent. It is also important to remember that knowledge is power. By understanding what is going on with us and why, our healing begins.
Two steps that answer the question – now what do I do?
Step One – Shift your thinking or mindset
This may sound obvious but in order to begin your healing, it is critical that you make a shift in your thinking or mindset acknowledging that what you are doing isn’t working for you. If you still believe that you are responsible for saving someone else and that if you stop doing what you are doing, the other person won’t make it on his/her own, you probably are not ready to get well. This may sound harsh, but I speak from personal experience.
I am a CC, a Classic Codependent. My codependent characteristics – people pleaser, care-giver, rescuer- were part of my being for as long as I can remember. However, it wasn’t until I was older that I learned how harmful those characteristics were to me. As a young woman in college, I entered into a highly unhealthy codependent relationship with an alcoholic. Oh yes, he was bright and funny, and often times charming. But he was sick, and I thought I could help him or change him. After three plus years of relational turmoil, DUI’s, legal and financial woes, and countless additional resources spent on rescuing him, I remember very clearly one day saying to myself, “I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t. And I won’t.” The shift in my mindset took hold. For me the pain of staying in the relationship far exceeded the pain or difficulty of getting out of it. That shift in my thinking propelled me into step two.
Step Two – Detach
A majority of the experts on the topic of codependency agree that in order to begin the work of recovering, it must begin with detachment. Although there is much to share on this concept, we will examine a couple of insights in moving forward.
- Turn your focus inward
As codependents, our focus remains outward (toward the person/s we are controlling or saving). How we are feeling typically is measured by or reflective of what the other person is doing or not doing or how the other person is feeling. Slowly but steadily, begin detaching from this outward focus. Every time you start worrying about the other person/s, stop and re-center your thinking on you. And start asking yourself what you feel, need, and want. This is hard work, I know. It feels unnatural to think about ourselves. In fact, it feels quite foreign. And, you might feel fearful or anxious, uncertain as to what might happen if you aren’t available to save the other person. Remember, when you were available to rescue, control, or take charge, it did not produce lasting change, if any change at all. Now it is time for you. Turn your focus inward.
- Separate your worth and identity
Because we have invested so much of ourselves into someone else, much of a codependent’s worth and identity are strongly connected to the other person/s. Our thinking is, “If she fails, I am a failure.” Or, “If he doesn’t make it, I haven’t done my job.” Wow! Read those statements again. We are pretty powerful people if we can control what someone else does or doesn’t do. You might sense a bit of sarcasm here, but there is a point to be made. Our worth and identity have nothing to do with what someone else chooses to do or not do. Each person has free will, including us.
And we must begin to detach, separating our worth and identity from the other person/s and begin investing in ourselves. My personal story illustrates this point.
Once I shifted my thinking, I turned my focus inward. Don’t get me wrong, this was hard work. I asked myself what I needed and what I wanted. I knew that I needed to get out of the relationship, but my financial resources were extremely limited mainly because we were in debt. I began my detachment work by designing and implementing a two-year plan. I started working three jobs. I applied to go back to school to obtain a teaching credential so that I could support myself on my own. There were struggles and obstacles along the way, but as I slowly accomplished my goals, I could feel my newly discovered worth and identity take root and grow. It felt so good knowing that my sense of worth, value, and identity had nothing to do with my partner and his failures, but had everything to do with separating myself from him and them.
There is so much more to learn on detachment. Consider grabbing hold of an excellent resource. Codependent No More, by author/expert Melodie Beattie.
As we close, remember that recovering from any issue, not just codependency, is never an easy walk down a straight path. It is a hard fought climb up a mountain road with many peaks and valleys. We take a few steps; we often times fall back here and there; then we pick ourselves up and keep going.
To read the next article in this series: Self Care For Codependency: Week Four
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”