There always seems to be at least one person in our lives with whom we don’t feel we can share our true thoughts and feelings about. There can be several reasons for this. Maybe we want to be liked. Maybe we’re embarrassed, or we’re simply afraid of what might happen if we tell them. If you were to confront the person or people with whom you have an issue, just imagine how this would free up space in your brain to think about other things.
There are three ways in which people often communicate that are NOT effective. One is not saying anything and letting resentments build. This is called being passive. Another is aggressive communication. This might seem obvious, but aggression doesn’t really do anything for us either, except maybe land us in jail. Aggression can take the form of verbal or physical violence. Trying to control someone else is never the answer, nor should this be an option.
Another is being passive-aggressive. Although passive-aggression might spark memories of high school girls, the truth is we all communicate in passive-aggressive ways at some point or another by accident or on purpose. For example, not inviting that one person to a get-together because he said something at the last gathering that made you feel stupid. Making a pot of coffee after you’ve repeatedly asked your spouse to do this chore and she hasn’t followed through. Telling your supervisor all the frustrations you’ve experienced towards a coworker without confronting the coworker first. These examples are extremely easy traps to fall into, and engaging in passive-aggressive behavior only ignores the real issue, leads to resentment, and reinforces our lack of solving our problems effectively.
I get it. Communicating openly with others is hard. It’s scary. And no, I’m not perfect at it either. I talk about communication on a daily basis in my practice. There’s one thing in particular that communicating openly solves: Resolution. The truth might hurt, catch us by surprise, feel warm and fuzzy, or downright scary; but talking openly with those in our lives allows us to have authentic relationships based on sharing our true selves.
Assertive communication is the way to communicate openly with those in your life with respect while also respecting your own goals and values. This healthy communication is calm and fair while both parties listen to what each other has to say without interruptions or blaming. It requires understanding. Resolution may be reached on the first try, or it might take several times of going back and forth. If you incorporate healthy communicating into your life I would expect you to notice a reduction in anger, resentment, grudges, and betterment in your overall well-being. Your relationships will become more authentic and trustworthy. You will find that at first communication is hard, but with practice, it becomes more and more like second nature. If you are looking for help on your journey to better communication and healthier relationships, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!