You may have heard the word, “Codependent,” but do you really know what it means? Definitions and descriptions of a codependent person can be expansive. Occasionally, I hear people mistakingly believe this term applies to only those who are within some type of addicted or chemically dependent relationship. They aren’t completely wrong. In fact, the original term for this concept was “co-alcoholic,” as researchers initially examined settings where addiction was present and they found a variety of behavior patterns in the family members of these chemically dependent people. In looking closer, they noticed a range of emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual issues in these family members and loved ones. As the concept continued to expand, it was not long before we realized that these patterns continued even after a relationship with an addicted person ended. What’s more, these things were also being exhibited in non-addicted relationships and families.
There are numerous definitions of codependency, but certain characteristics often include obsessive “helping” or “fixing,” caretaking, low self-worth, controlling behaviors, self-repression, communication problems, and intimacy problems. I often work with people who feel a “need to be needed,” have a difficult time saying “no,” even when they want to, or experience a sense of emptiness when they don’t have someone to help, a problem to solve, or a crisis to which they must attend. Many times, people derive good feelings about who they are only when they feel they are liked and accepted by others. Or, they describe themselves as sort of a chameleon, feeling that they change themselves based on their setting, often in order to fit others’ expectations, behaviors, or preferences.
Similarly, a codependent relationship is one in which you might find yourself making a lot of sacrifices for your partner’s happiness, often at the expense of your own fulfillment and needs. You might sense a general feeling of one-sidedness in your relationship(s) or feel that you equate yourself with the other person. This other-centeredness results in an abandonment of self and can have deep and long-term implications. Self-worth can become diminished. Personal identity becomes lost.
Less known about codependency is the different forms it can take. Some codependents are more consumed by controlling other people in their lives, which hinders not only personal growth, but also the growth of their loved one. Others might feel they are more controlled by their loved one. At times you may be both, depending on the situation or particular relationship.
The good news? These patterns, just as they were learned and practiced over time, can be unlearned. New ways of being and relating with yourself and others can occur. This might begin with learning new communication skills and assertiveness training. Practicing self-care and efforts aimed at self-awareness, exploration, and cultivating a new (or renewed) sense of self are also helpful.
It is a move from Jerry Maguire’s, “You complete me,” toward something resembling more like, “You compliment me, but I am complete within myself.” It is learning to appreciate yourself as being a worthy and complete individual with your own personal identity outside of the context of your relationships.
Approaching change with a gentleness and genuine curiosity toward yourself is important. Lastly, seek support from a therapist and others who will uplift and encourage you along this journey. Happy discovering!
Mindfulness is one of the four core skills introduced in a highly effective type of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT incorporates the Eastern practice of mindful meditation into talk therapy. The combination of practicing mindful meditation and evaluating negative thought patterns can significantly increase relaxation and help one cope with strong emotions.
So what exactly is mindfulness and how do we become more mindful? Being mindful is a state of mind that can be achieved with regular practice. Mindfulness is the act of simply observing our thoughts and feelings without imposing judgement on those thoughts or feelings such that they are “good” or “bad”. Let’s be honest, to refrain from judging and criticizing our own thoughts and feelings is a hard feat to conquer. We judge ourselves constantly throughout the day; therefore, it will understandably take a fair amount of practice and time to eventually master this art.
Another component of mindfulness is to accept that we experience positive, negative, and neutral emotions and continue to live in the present moment regardless of how uncomfortable an emotion we’re experiencing. When we feel strong emotions such as anxiety or depression, naturally the inclination is to get rid of the overwhelming feeling. When approaching our emotions mindfully, however, uncomfortable emotions aren’t pushed away but rather experienced in the moment until they eventually fade away. No one has a panic attack that lasts forever!
Here’s how to start your mindful meditation: Identify a time of day that you can set aside 5 minutes to yourself. If this time doesn’t present itself immediately, don’t worry. If you need to tell your kids, roommates, or whoever is in your general vicinity to give you some alone time go right ahead! Putting aside time for yourself is important! Once you are alone in a peaceful, quiet place begin to focus on your breathing. Your breath serves as an anchor throughout this exercise. When you notice your thoughts beginning to wander, return your thoughts back to your breath and remember that you are living in this moment and no other. This is the time you become an observer of your thoughts, you are not your thoughts themselves. During this mindful meditation, there are several ways to remain in the moment. Here are some examples:
Once you’ve mastered the skill of mindfulness feel free to use it whenever and wherever! Since being mindful is a state of mind, you can access this state of mind in all kinds of situations – before a presentation, when driving in your car on your way to work, at a dinner party, when drinking your morning coffee, etc. Use this skill on a regular basis to reduce stress and increase relaxation in your life.