Repairing Your Relationship After Domestic Violence
Relationship Revitalization/Co-dependent Relationship stumbling block
By Yvonne Sinclair M.A., LMFT
This class addresses Co-Dependent patterns and behaviors. Just because we sometimes exhibit co-dependent behaviors we may not BE co- dependent. What is co-dependent??? And are YOU or your partner co-dependent? Here is my definition of co-dependent-in a nutshell.
You are behaving in a “Co-dependent” manner when you take care of other’s needs before your own needs- ROUTINELY. So, co-dependent behavior does not include behaviors that include times when you CARE about others, or sometimes “take care of others.” You ARE co-dependent when your pattern is to almost always, or routinely, put others needs before yours. In this process you feeling good about yourself is linked to this “taking care of” behavior. You only feel good about YOU if you are doing something for someone else.
How can this type of behavior be dysfunctional or bad? When we don’t take care of our own needs, we may eventually become; angry about being left out, disappointed that no one takes care of us, or feel picked on or put down or used.
A previous class taught that we are responsible for asking for our own needs. We are responsible for the control of our own world and, really, only our own world. Another side of co- dependent behavior is this-When we DO for others what they can DO for themselves, we remove the power for them to take care of their own needs. When this involves children, children are given the message “I am not able to do this for myself.” They are taught they cannot, or do not have the power to do things for themselves. So, even though it “feels good” to take care of others, it may not always be a healthy behavior for either you or the other person.
This class contains alot of checklists….mostly to help you do some introspective searching. Searching to see if this pattern of ignoring your needs to take care of others needs is a pattern for you. If it is your behavior, do you want to change and develop a healthy pattern of relating with others? If so then this chapter will give you tools to do just that. Recovery from co-dependent behavior begins with recognizing this pattern of behavior in your personal dynamic.
One thing to look at in a co-dependent behavior pattern is any of the following fits. Is this behavior to pleasing others, or to control or manipulating others? One other concept to consider is that someone with co-dependent patterns may have very low self- esteem. In that case they may need to work on self-worth before the co-dependent behaviors can be totally changed.
HOMEWORK; practice saying NO….yes that is right. Say NO. If that is hard for you….continue with this level until it becomes easier for you to say No when you need to say No to take care of your needs.
One thing to remember, change takes time. These behaviors may have been a pattern in your life for many years or even all your life. Chapter five about Family of Origin issues may give you some insight into how you may have adopted a co-dependent pattern of behavior.
Change is always met with resistance, even when it is ourselves that wants to change US. We may resist. The old habits are comfortable and familiar. New habits or patterns of behavior may be intimidating. We may get fearful about the ability to be able to make our life work in this new way. The old patterns, even when not working or hurtful, are familiar and feels safe. The new pattern of behavior and response may scare you….give it a try. Scared feels like excited in our body, physiologically. Change the scared feeling to “I am excited about making my patterns of behavior healthy for ME and others.”
Real Change does not happen unless we get involved. Small changes result in big changes. A change in part of the pattern may affect the whole pattern. AND change goes back to the old way if not stabilized with practice and time.
This is a list of “self-talk”.
Messages we tell ourselves that support co-dependent thinking and behaviors. These messages may sound like this;
Nothing I do or say is ever good enough
Others feeling good determines whether I feel good
The way other people act makes me decide how to act
Other people’s needs are more important than my needs
I will ignore my needs to keep the peace
Other people opinions are more important than mine
Everything I do must be perfect or it is all wrong
In a relationship I must be NEEDED not just wanted
Asking for help is not normal
Showing my feelings is scary
I feel responsible for other’s feelings and behaviors
My feelings are not clear to me
Other people’s response to me is very important
What other people think of me if of utmost importance
I worry about how other people will respond to my feelings
If several of these patterns of behavior seem to apply to you, you may have co-dependent behavior thinking.
I may be co-dependent in a relationship if –
Your opinion is more important than mine
The quality of my life is established my you
Your friends are my primary social circles
My future is determined by you
You tell me what I want and what to think and what to decide
If you like me, I feel better about myself
Your problems affect my well-being
All my energy goes to pleasing you, or protecting you, or “helping” you
If I am not liked/loved by you I am miserable
I am always aware of how you feel and seldom aware of how I feel
If your quality of life is good, then my quality of life is good
All my attention is used to solve your problems and/or pain
Co-dependent set up
A previous class taught about your family of origin, the family is which you grew up. The patterns in this family may have set you up to be co-dependent. This only means your family of origin issues may need to be addressed while you are choosing a different pattern of behavior.
Did you have an abusive family that denied there was any trouble, or repressed the truth about being abusive? Was your family dysfunctional, or troubled? Do you come from a family that was physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive, neglectful, or alcoholic?
People with low self-esteem are more likely to develop co-dependent behaviors. An abusive family atmosphere does not nurture feelings of worth and strength in the members. So, an abusive family of origin will, most often, create children who have low self-esteem.
Sometimes children are taught they must DO something to be loved or even be okay. Even our habit of saying “good girl/boy” when a child does something, may set them up to believe they have to DO to be loved. Needing to DO something to be okay or loved fosters a co-dependent pattern of behavior. This gives the child, and may have given you, a belief that to be “good” we have to DO for others. To be “loved” we have to be serving. Saying “good job” gives a clearer message.
More Co-dependent Patterns;
Let’s explore behaviors that are co-dependent. You are probably getting an idea of “YES” or “NO” about the patterns of co-dependent behaviors in your own life. So, let’s make a final decision and then we can look at recovery and change.
When you are criticized do you become defensive and angry that your behavior was questioned?
Do you feel better about yourself when you are helping other, and only when you are helping others?
Do you settle for being needed, when you really want to be truly loved?
If you are a “caretaker” you will anticipate other’s needs. You will feel you are responsible for other’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being or their lack of feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, or well-being.
You will find it easy to change your plans for another person’s needs.
You may often feel angry and used, even though you are choosing to ignore you.
You may always say, “yes” even when you want to say “no.”
You may say YES even when it is not best for you to say yes.
You feel you do more than your fair share.
You are in denial if you tell yourself things will be better later, if you get depressed or sick without understanding why, if you overeat, if you feel sometimes you are going crazy, or if you stay busy busy to keep from addressing the things or issues you need to address.
Do you find it hard to feel joy, to have fun, to do something at the spur of the moment? Do you find it hard to enjoy sex? DO you have sex when you really don’t want to have sex? Do you make up reasons to avoid having sex or have sex when you really just want to be held and loved?
Do you look for happiness in others, not within yourself? Do you choose partners who are not available, physically or emotionally, to “love” you? Do you stay in a relationship long after it is clear it is not working? Do you think you are not loveable?
Is your communication poor? Do you blame, threaten, or beg for your needs? Do you ask for your needs and wants indirectly, thinking if people love you enough they will just KNOW what your needs are? Do you think what you have to say is really unimportant? Do you avoid talking about yourself and your thoughts or dreams? Do you ignore your own thoughts without voicing them or not voice your opinions for fear of being rejected or put down?
Some patterns of behaviors like “co-dependent” behaviors can be deep seated and hard to change. They are tied into our feeling “good” about ourselves. So, to recover or change that behavior you will need to do a reality check. This reality check will tell us the truth about your beliefs about you and help you to start feeling good about yourself.
Some of those old messages may have become “core beliefs”. A core belief is something we believe is true because we were given this message, in some way, as we grew up. It becomes our “belief” even though it may not be true. We may have been given a message growing up, such as-“you will never be successful.” When we become adults and are on the verge of success we may sabotage that success because our core belief is that we cannot be successful. We can change a core belief by acknowledging the belief to be false and consciously validating the real truth. This is done with a Reality Check. If you were told how stupid you were during your growing up time, you may believe you are stupid. When you do something smart or get a good grade you discount that event as a “fluke.” You notice all the really not smart things you do (we all do these by the way) and this validates the belief you are stupid. You can change this dance and get real, but it will take concentration and determination. You may want to get professional assistance on this task.
So, with a reality check we may find out we ARE worthy of love, our needs are important, and others are not in charge of our happiness. We may find out we can be smart or successful. We may begin to say NO and take care of ourselves. The really bad part of the myth that others need US more than we need US is- if we don’t take care of ourselves we CAN NOT be there for anyone else.
Don’t expect to be “perfect’ (this may, at this point, be a belief essential for your co-dependent patterns) right away. Practice making mistakes, YES you read it right-Practice MAKING MISTAKES!! Practice saying “NO.” Practice getting in touch with your own feelings. Make a list of YOUR dreams. You may have trouble identifying your own dreams at first. Keep trying. Imagine getting up in the morning and having your world just the way you want it. What would that be? What would your world look like? How would it feel to have your world “your way?”
Talk to your partner and make a recovery plan for your relationship. Lots of behaviors and patterns of communication will change – be ready. It may be scary (remember this can feel like excited too). It may be rewarding and fulfilling. It will be different…YEA!! Hang in there, get help from counseling or call the CODA (Co-dependents Anonymous) in your area. CODA is the 12-step program for co-dependent behaviors. Yes, 12 steps, because co-dependent patterns are sometimes linked to partners of alcoholics. There are several books about co-dependent behavior. Find one that works for you. Co-dependent No More by Melody Beattie is a good place to start.
Let us talk a little about control. Chapter seven will explore the “control” concept in depth. Many times people are told they are “controlling”. The ONLY thing you really control is yourself and what is in your personal world. You do not control your child, mother, father, partner…no one else. That may be a news flash for you, but think about it for a moment. If they do what you want, they are ultimately deciding to do what you want…not you making them. You can make it uncomfortable for another to do anything else but what you want them to do. The reality is they are still in charge of the final decision to act or not.
When someone controls what happens in their life or their personal world-that is healthy. If someone says….abuse does not happen in my life, they are not “controlling” others, they are controlling their life. Others can choose to stay in their life and not be abusive or the others can leave. Controlling your world is healthy…. Remember it is impossible to control another person. You can know their triggers and issues and influence their behaviors, but you do not control them. They will be the ones to decide their behaviors.
Relationships can be addictive. The best situation for a relationship is when two people decide they WANT to be together not that they NEED to be together. Relationship addiction is different than an intimate relationship. Let’s explore that concept for a while.
Warning signs that your relationship may be an addiction follow;
Love at first sight…now this may be a good start, but it needs to get rational and realistic after that.
There is no communication, no working through of problems or talking about choices
There is an atmosphere of magic…mind reading. You love me so much I don’t need to voice my needs.
There is isolation from other people, social life is a minimum
There is a feeling of fear of abandonment
There are co-dependent patterns of behavior
An addiction to something (this can be a substance, activity, behavior, or feeling) has a pattern or certain patterns. These patterns or attributes are; tolerance, obsession, compulsion, possession, and withdrawal. Let us explore the “addiction” concept as it relates to a relationship with another person.
An addiction in a relationship is like any other addiction. There is “tolerance” -you need someone more and more. There is “obsession” –a lot of time and energy are spent thinking of the person and planning to be together and/or communicating with them. There is “compulsion” – you can’t live without them. There is “possession” –I possess you and you can only be with me. There is “withdrawal” – without you I am nothing
If these are patterns of feeling or thinking in your relationship it may be an addiction. A Relationship that is an addiction is like any other addiction, it is not healthy and will eventually destroy itself or the participants. If this fits for your relationship, think seriously about getting some advice or help to change the direction you are going. Alcoholism and Co-dependent Behavior Patterns.
Sometimes the partner of an alcoholic is an “enabler,” meaning they enable the partner to continue alcohol abuse and enable that drinking partner to stay in denial. They may call in to work for the alcoholic partner saying the person is sick. The enabler will make excuses for the alcoholic partner’s behavior or absence.
If you have a partner that drinks too much, gets drunk, drinks all day, drinks early in the day, needs a drink to reduce stress, they may be alcoholic.
If any of the following is true for you,
your partner may be alcoholic and you may be an enabler and/or co-dependent;
You have poured out liquor or thrown away drugs to keep someone from using.
Been embarrassed by your partners behavior or alcohol use.
Been angry that your partner is not responsible for helping with financial support because of alcohol use.
Felt you are the cause of someone else drinking.
Waited up late waiting for your partner to return from drinking.
Stayed home to make sure the alcoholic was safe.
Persistently asked the partner to stop drinking.
Covered up the fact you partner had a drinking problem or was unable to go to work because of alcohol use.
Intimacy does not only mean sexual intimacy. Intimacy relates also to emotional intimacy. A healthy relationship can have emotional intimacy even without sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy without emotional intimacy is lacking the deep connection that is possible if there is emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is being vulnerable with your partner. Emotional intimacy is trusting your partner with knowing your shortcomings and feeling you will still be loved. Emotional intimacy in a relationship supports free choice, long-term commitment, sharing feelings, needs, desires, and WANTING to be together. In a healthy relationship emotional intimacy is encouraged, nurtured, and respected.
When you love and honor yourself, you have the tools to love and honor another person. There is a theory that we pick a partner with the same emotional health we possess. If you want a wonderful loving partner, a good place to start is with learning to be loving with yourself.
This is the end of this class on how co-dependent behavior patterns affect a relationship. I hope it has been enlightening. Congratulations for being willing to explore your own patterns of behavior whether they were revealed as co-dependent or not. Remember change takes time and attention. You have the tools to make your world different. Take them out of the toolbox and put them to work.
Thanks for your attention.
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