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Healing the Heart


Codependency: The Disease of Good People

by Jim Good, BA, PAC

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Codependency is a disease of good people. It is a disease of those who love too much. It is a disease which is often canonized as a life of self-sacrifice, martyrdom and victimhood. Codependence is similar to other dependencies in that codependents have a compulsion for something - usually someone - outside themselves in order to feel good. A codependent's focus is outside of themselves to the point of losing touch with their own identity and feelings. This results in the codependent letting other people's behaviour affect them and thus becoming obsessed with trying to control the other person's behaviour. They overreact to things outside themselves and under-react to things inside themselves. They are not in touch with their own needs and feelings and become caretakers and enablers. This results in an arrested identity development, which includes "frozen feelings".

Codependency can manifest itself in many ways - chemical addiction, eating disorders, depression, relationship addiction, stress disorders, compulsion. Underneath codependency, you will find guilt, shame, and fear which can usually be traced back to the family of origin where there has been abused and neglected. Codependents are recognized by their persistent need for external approval in order to see their life as meaningful and worthwhile. They will do anything to preserve a relationship no matter how destructive it may be for themselves. They assume responsibility for the feelings and behaviours of others, while neglecting or not even being aware of their own. They constantly put the needs of others before their own because of a devastating fear of rejection. They are "people pleasers" who care much more for what other people think of them than they care about themselves. They are "caretakers" who need someone to depend on them.

The type of thinking that codependents engage in is as follows: 1) My good feelings about who I am stem from you. 2) 1 feel good when I am liked by you and receive approval from you. I will be what you want me to be. 3) My mental attention is focused on you. 4) My self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain. 5) 1 am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel. 6) My fear of rejection determines what I say or do. 7) 1 put my values aside in order to connect with you.

Codependency is a radical dishonesty. Codependents are supreme controllers and lies play an important part in this process. Even the belief that they can control the life of another is a lie, but codependents try it anyway. They have to lie about the way they feel because of fear of disapproval. They cannot do what they want to do because they are so occupied in fulfilling the needs of others that they don't even know what they want themselves. This is being dishonest with themselves. The radical lie which codependents believe is that the world centres around them, and that happiness or unhappiness of others depends on what they, the codependents, do or say. They end up living a lie which they must protect by projecting all their problems on the world around them. Codependents set themselves up to fail because they believe the illusion that they are someone else's saviour and redeemer. When it doesn't work - and it never does - they cry "I'm such a good person. What did I do to deserve this?" What they did was to accept and live a life of radical dishonesty.

Some of the symptoms of codependency that would affect one's physical health may include fatigue or lack of rest, depression, hyper-vigilance, substance abuse, anxiety, stress related medical illnesses, compulsive behaviour, situational loss of daily structure, and an inability to think clearly.

Recovery from Codependency Recovery begins with replacing false beliefs of codependency with new ones that are based on truth. Codependents must no longer see themselves as victims or martyrs to the world around them. They must take responsibility for their lives and not see themselves as being responsible for the lives of others. There must be a commitment to the truth. They must boldly affirm the truth about themselves. Some important truths are the following: 1) 1 don't have to be perfect to be approved. 2) My feelings are good and helpful. I am free to express them honestly and lovingly. 3) It's OK to ask for help and join a support group which loves me the way I am and not for what I should be. 4) 1 accept personal responsibility for my actions and do not need to look to another for self fulfilment. 5) 1 am a child of God. My value and worth as a person come from my identity, not from what I do.

The healing of codependency is a process that slowly unfolds. Denial has to be dissolved and attention focused back on one's self. Codependents need to recognize they are perpetuating their own problems. They must learn to identify and express feelings, let go, and develop self worth and self love. Like a butterfly that emerges from a cocoon, codependents must emerge from the darkness of their isolation and bondage and begin to spread their wings. They need to experience the beauty and freedom that lies within them - a freedom that is experienced when the focus is taken off the "other". Recovery is possible.

Jim Good is a Professional Additions Counsellor in Charlottetown and can be reached at 902-368-4289.

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