Courage As A Codependent

Courage as a Codependent

One of the things we hear more than anything else as solo parents is how so many of us deal with codependency.  We lose ourselves, our identity, our purpose, and voice because we have revolved our worlds around making others happy to make us whole.

There is a lot to discuss about courage, however maybe nothing is more important than establishing how to have courage as a codependent or how to have wholeness again and regain our voice and identify and move forward.

Elizabeth Cole shares with us her experiences dealing with codependency and how she overcame it.

What is Codependency?

According to Elizabeth, you might be dealing with codependency when you think and feel responsible for other people’s thoughts, feelings, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, or their ultimate destiny.  Other traits you should look out for to know if you are codependent are:

•Do you blame yourself for everything?
•Do you have low self-worth?
•Do you always feel like a victim? Do you feel a lot of guilt?
•Do you repress your feelings?
•Do you push your thoughts and feelings out of awareness because of fear and guilt?
•Do you tend to obsess and feel terrible about problems and people?
•Do you worry about silly things?
•Think and talk about a lot about other people?
•Do you worry and never find answers?
•Live in denial?
•Do you have controlling behavior, poor communication, weak boundaries, anger, and ignore problems or pretend they are not happening?

We all have some form of codependency

The definition of codependency from Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More says, a codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.

When discussing her experience with being codependency, Elizabeth shared that it was outside of her marriage that she could see she was a poster child of codependency.  She took so much responsibility for her ex and his issues until she lost herself.  “I did everything in my power to make sure he was completely comfortable.  I ensured he was not responsible for his actions, including how he hurt me, gaslighted me, and his alcohol abuse.  I basically took all the responsibility for it, and it showed up day in and day out,” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth says her counselor told her she did not allow her ex to feel the natural consequences of life because she always rescued him.  Elizabeth stated, “I am someone who takes responsibility to my own detriment.”

Elizabeth admits that it took her a long time to figure out what she wanted because it was always about what others wanted.  She could not speak up for what she wanted or didn’t want.

As a missionary’s kid, Robert shares that he too struggled with speaking up – his self-esteem was based on how well he pleased everybody else.  Codependency cost him because he discovered that he set up his relationships based on his codependency.  He found people to be in relationship with, who wanted him to meet all their needs and none of his needs. This led to a dysfunctional, toxic relationship that was unsustainable.  It took a long time for Robert to reach a place of self-awareness, where he could speak up and choose what he liked and didn’t like.

Kim shared how being a preacher’s kid often means having the mindset to serve, and that other people come first all the time.  Kim says, “I felt my self-worth was wrapped up in what I was doing in ministry or the church, and if I wasn’t doing then I wasn’t pleasing God,” says Kim.  It cost me time and years.  I was dying inside not being who God created me to be.

Although it is biblical to serve, Robert realized as a recovering codependent that what he was doing was shallow serving because he didn’t know himself, he was just performing.  To truly serve, you must have a sense of self first.

For Elizabeth, she served out of guilt and fear, she feared she wouldn’t get into heaven if she wasn’t serving.  Guilt and fear were Elizabeth’s motivation, it was self-preservation.

Characteristics of Codependency and How to Build Courage

Excerpt from Melody Beattie's book, Codependent No More -

“I still found codependents hostile, controlling, manipulative, indirect, guilt producing, difficult to communicate with and more.  In my group, I saw people who felt responsible for the entire world, but they refused to take responsibility for leading and living their own lives.  I saw people who constantly gave to others but didn’t know how to receive.  I saw people who gave until they were angry, exhausted and emptied of everything. I saw some give until they gave up.  I even saw one woman give and suffer so much that she died of ‘old age’ and natural causes at age thirty-three - she was the mother of five children and the wife of an alcoholic who had been sent to prison for the third time.  I worked with women who were experts at taking care of others around them, yet these women doubted their ability to take care of themselves.  I saw mere shells of people racing mindlessly from one activity to another. I saw people pleasers, martyrs, stoics, tyrants, whispering vines, clinging vines.  Borrowing from H. Sacklers line in his play, The Great White Hope, ‘pinched up faces giving off the miseries.’  Most codependents were obsessed with other people.  With great precision and detail, they could recite long lists of the addict’s deeds and misdeeds: what he or she thought, felt, did, and said and what he or she didn’t think, feel, do, or say.  The codependents knew what the alcoholic or addict should and shouldn’t do.”

Codependency is a dark and empty place.  Elizabeth shares that she got to a point in her marriage where she became totally depleted and spent hours in her room on weekends crying and asking God to change things.

Kim says, “It’s funny how people take pride in busyness and have people depend on them to the point of being depleted – it’s not healthy.”

Elizabeth shared that it feels fulfilling being in the state of busyness, it’s like a burst of adrenaline.  Surrounding herself with people who needed her and went out of her way to get their needs met, however when it came to meeting her needs, she found out she couldn’t get her needs met, so she just shut down and didn’t have any needs.  It’s like a pendulum: all the way to the left side is codependent, and all the way to the right side is counter dependency, an avoidance of stepping out and finding people you can trust, get your needs met by, and speak-up with when you need.

Elizabeth says her needs have not been met since she was a child.  Elizabeth said, “My needs were not met.  I was put on the back-burner all the time.  I was the oldest of five and was there to help raise kids.  It wasn’t about me and my needs; it was everybody else and their needs.”  As Elizabeth grew older she naturally gravitated toward people that needed her, made her feel important, and like she was offering something to the world.
Robert believes that it is not malicious when we start as codependents.  It is a dysfunction, but we step into it as a survival mechanism.  We want to be in the middle of the pendulum, which is interdependence.

Elizabeth says her counselor told her that interdependence means, I have a self, and I have me.  I have the ability to take risk because I am defined by Christ in who I am and who He says I am.  It doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes or struggle, but I can go into humility and take responsibility for what is my responsibility.

Interdependence is having an adult consciousness that drives the best whereas in counter dependence and codependence it’s the child who drives the best.  It’s a rival strategy and mechanism we use to keep ourselves safe.  It creates distrust, control and manipulation, and breaking connections and relationships - which is the one thing we are all searching for and want.  We need connections, but when we are codependent, we disconnect from ourselves, which means we cannot connect with people because we are not really ourselves.

How to Adopt Courage to Make a Change as a Codependent


Feel Your Feelings

The first step towards gaining the courage to change, for Elizabeth, is going to counseling.  Being able to sit and talk with a counselor and having the courage to do it is a game changer.  Learning to feel feelings and deal with emotions is a great step towards change.

Elizabeth admits that doing this is a daily struggle because she still tries to do things to avoid feeling her feelings, like intellectualizing things, but it is courageous.  We have to be able to understand what’s going on inside of us to take care of ourselves.

Codependents don’t find time to know what they are feeling.  Robert shares how he engages in a mindset devotion daily where one of the sections requires a person to take a moment, take a deep breath, and ask themselves, “What are you feeling right now?”  Feeling your feelings means being present in your body and identifying the feelings.  It’s hard for a codependent to do that, it takes discipline.

Feeling your feelings is heavy and overwhelming if you are not used to doing it.  “I think my body goes into freak out mode where I just feel so scared to feel what I feel,” adds Elizabeth.

Speak-Up

Elizabeth shares that the first great step when speaking up is to be okay with saying no.  Practice saying no; practice hearing no.  Elizabeth believes that in not being able to feel our feelings, we cannot hear no as often.  Sometimes we want to talk to someone about something bothering us, but they are unavailable.  It’s hard to sit with the discomfort of your issues.  This part of being in a relationship is having the push and pull like they are here for me today, but they might not be here for me tomorrow, and it’s okay.

When you speak-up for yourself repeatedly, you will get your needs met by you, others, and/or God.

Give it to God

Excerpt from Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go - 

“Bring any request you have to God.  No request is too large, none too small or insignificant.  How often we’ve limit God by not bringing to God everything we want and need.  Do we need help getting our balance getting through the day?  Do we need help in a particular relationship, with a particular character defect, attaining a character asset?  We can ask for it.  We can ask God for whatever we need. Put the request in God’s hands, trusting that it’s been heard, then let it go.  Leave the decision to God. Asking for what we want, and need is taking care of ourselves.  Trust that the higher power to whom we have turned over our life really does care about us and what we want and need.  Today, I will ask my higher power for what I want and need.  I will not demand.  I will ask and then let go.”

Giving it to God is a good practice because we are looking for relationships with ourselves and others and God.  Being able to ask what we want and need with God is a great step.

How to Work Out the Process of Change Towards Interdependence

Stepping into the Fear Daily

Elizabeth gave an example of how she sometimes finds it difficult to disagree with the bold and outspoken man she is in a relationship with because she doesn’t want him to feel shame for hurting her feelings.  Stepping into her fear is being able to go to the man she is in a relationship with and say to him what he did really hurt and give him the space to show up.  

In building safety and trust in relationships you need to give people the ability to say what they want to say and to show up and take responsibility.  We must keep speaking up because no safety, connections, and trust happens in a place of not speaking up.

As codependents, we’re conflict avoidant.  We want to keep everybody happy all the time.

Codependents avoid conflicts, but there’s a difference between war and conflict.  War happens when conflict doesn’t, meaning conflict is a part of our everyday life.  If you don’t have conflict, you’ll eventually have war.  Conflict is mutual; we both wrestle with something and have an outcome, but war has a winner or a loser.  If you do not learn how to deal with conflicts, you will end up in a war where someone either loses or wins.

To save our kids from codependency we have to teach them that we are here to love, nurture, and protect them; and not here to make sure they never experience pain and hurt.

The benefit of interdependency is enjoying deep and meaningful relationships.  To know people in a deeper way versus keeping them happy, safe, and comfortable.  Interdependency is sitting with people in their discomfort, being with them and saying I’m sorry, I’m here.  What do you need?

Takeaways

•See codependency for what it is.
•Speak-Up.  Identify Your Feelings.  Show-Up.
•Take the necessary step into discomfort and fear.
•Have awareness – measure your asking of needs and meeting of needs.
•Practice – having courage as a codependent needs practice.

Resources:

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie

The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations for Codependents by Melody Beattie

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