A Journey Within and Beyond Codependency

Codependence is notoriously hard to define, though its characteristic flavor is recognizable once you have a taste for it. It is generally thought of as the behaviors and inner life that goes along with being “fused” or “enmeshed” in an unhealthy way. In healthy relationships, we mutually support each other’s thriving. We honor the unfolding truth of each of our beings, and we behave in ways that make it easier for all of us to be who we really are. We do our best to support the expansion. We genuinely want the true, healthy, empowered, joyful self of each person to grow to its full potential within our relationship’s sheltering container.

Codependence is the opposite of that. In codependence, as though the illness within me has made a binding contract with the illness in you, we will both do our best to stay sick. In codependent relationships, whether we realize it or not, we relate in ways that suppress our thriving, power, joy, and health and instead provide a platform for illness. Codependence was first discovered in alcoholic family systems, where it was observed that addiction is a family issue rather than an isolated expression of one individual.

In other words, despite how much it looks like it’s the addict who is to blame – after all, they’re the one who keeps “messing up,” says the bitter spouse, the wounded son or daughter – the reality is that addiction is co-created in a relationship. This does not mean it is not the addict’s responsibility at all, and it also does not mean that the addict’s behavior is the fault of others in the family. It means that we are all in it together – every person in the family expresses the shared family disease in one way or another.

A codependent family is highly likely to produce at least one addict, as an inevitable outcome of its imbalanced way of being. Certain unspoken family rules – rules like “never say how you really feel” and “never be angry” and “never point out that elephant in the room” and “you take care of my feelings, and I take care of yours” create addicts, overeaters, perfectionist overachievers, victims, victimizers, underachievers, and other shadow expressions. On the positive side, when you change a family’s way of relating, the illnesses it produces can no longer live comfortably there and will disappear.

Typically, people with codependence are afraid to feel their feelings – and no wonder! What they feel is guilt, shame, rock-bottom low self-esteem, depression, if not despair, and crippling anxiety. They have weak or nonexistent boundaries and struggle to find appropriate expressions for their anger, which is abundant (though usually repressed) due to living in a way that violates their core being’s rights and dignity. To manage their anger, depression, and anxiety, codependents often meet their neglected human needs through addictions and compulsions.

Codependents struggle above all with differentiation – a fancy word for knowing who you are and yourself. Differentiation requires the truth. The often-unconscious agreement to stay sick together makes it impossible for a codependent woman to feel her inner truth – to know what she knows, feel what she feels, and think what she thinks. People with codependence do not look for truth within themselves – they squelch the still, small voice inside. Instead, codependents exist concerning another person’s illness – what does your illness say about me?

Codependence is an authentic and terrible form of suffering. People who have it are often as powerless and unconscious about their condition as addicts are at their disease’s height. Codependents live in opposite land. The codependent way of relating – the one that protects illness and suppresses health – does everything backward.

    • Those who abuse are protected.
    • Those who are victimized are held accountable for the abuse.
    • Those who mess up are cleaned up after.
    • Those who need to learn how to do themselves are rescued from the tiniest of challenges, while those with real trouble to face are left hanging.
    • Those who clean-up are to blame.
    • Those who speak the truth are denied.
    • Those who lie are believed.

The fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, is about codependence, in a way – about the type of world in which no one can acknowledge the truth that everybody knows in their bones. Simple, felt-sensed truths that we know, without having to think about it, like, “She is smiling, but I can tell that she is angry” or even “He says it is my fault, but it is his fault, and he’s embarrassed, that’s why he’s blaming me” must be denied and pretended away to keep the illness-supporting system going.

Truth heals, so in a family that is agreed to stay sick, truth is assiduously avoided. Hence, the AA wisdom, “secrets keep you sick.” Living on the opposite land means that family roles are also opposite. Instead of being truly nurturing, supportive, and loving, the caregiver expresses his/her shadow form and becomes devouring, undermining, destructive, critical, or rescuing. The innocent, joyful child becomes the lost child, the addict, the victim, or the underperformer.

The child who needs to be allowed to be a child, who needs protection and support, becomes the rescuer, the over-performing hero who saves the parents from themselves through being perfect and good. The one who should be the protector reverses his/her role of shielding the family system from outside evil and instead embodies the force of evil inside the system, embodying the role of tyrant abuser. People with codependence are trapped in reversals of the divine design.

Women with substance abuse disorders are almost always codependent – their substance abuse is an expression of that. Self-diagnosis is highly personal, but for a quick reference to consider whether you have this issue, some signature traits of the codependent style are:

    • Controlling and dominating people, places, and things, instead of entrusting them to life, in general fearing that if we don’t do something to make something happen or “help” someone do the right thing, then it won’t go the way we need it to for us to feel ok.
    • Thinking that whatever someone else is feeling, doing, or saying is our responsibility (and our fault), we must fix other people’s problems and feelings.
    • Never being allowed to be angry (believing that anger is always bad, that feeling and expressing anger makes us bad).
    • Cleaning up after and rescuing others without being asked.
    • Not being able to tolerate separation, disagreement, disapproval, or distance.
    • Harming ourselves to preserve the relationship – we would rather hurt ourselves if necessary, to become whatever the person wants us to be than to face separating.
    • Lying, manipulating, or hiding things out of fear of what someone else will do.
    • Knowing who we are by what other people say about us rather than what we feel.
    • Believing it is others’ responsibility to take care of our emotions and feeling sad and angry that they do not.
    • Being good at taking care of others while having no idea how to care for ourselves.

If you recognize the following unspoken “family rules,” you probably also know codependence:

    • We agree we will not say what we really mean, and we will not really mean what we say: we beat around the bush, we leave important things unspoken.
    • We will all live in the Emperor’s New Clothes fairytale and not acknowledge what is staring us in the face.
    • We will feel overly sorry for the wrong people (like the abusers or the addict) and rescue them from the natural consequences of their behavior, thereby making it impossible for them to learn, grow, awaken, or change.
    • We will ignore the needs and lack compassion for vulnerable people and being sacrificed to the family system or scapegoated.
    • None of us can need it. To need is selfish, and to be angry about unmet needs makes us bad.
    • If one of us steps out of line by breaking these rules, we will enforce each other through guilting, shaming, giving advice, telling people what to do, manipulating, and pressuring.

An Integrative Healing Approach to Codependency Recovery for Women

Discovering that the family system we grew up in is governed by the codependent agreements that create illness can be tough, so it is important to understand that codependence is not a jail sentence or even a terminal diagnosis. It is simply a way of recognizing the “opposite land” quality of the world our family has gotten trapped in.

Once we see this, we can work to free ourselves (and, by extension, our loved ones) from a life trapped in upside down, backward versions of who we really are. If you think you are codependent, it may be time to seek codependency recovery help. Breaking family codependence patterns usually requires professional help. Luckily, the cure for codependency recovery is simple, though, as usual, it simply does not mean easy.

The cure for codependency recovery is the truth: the truth will set you free. The truth of what you feel, what you want, what you know, what you think. The truth of who you are. It takes a bit of effort to get back to our truth after a lifetime of living in opposite land. It requires us to step off the merry go round of madness, even if it means leaving our loved ones there. To stop living out the insane scripts we have been living, stop denying, and name what needs to be named.

Once our truth is rediscovered and resurrected, the reverse spiral of living in opposite land is turned around, and our life force begins to expand outwards and into the world, in the direction it was meant to. Our truth gets stronger and healthier, and its voice gets surer as it helps us know where to go, what to do, who to relate to, how to relate to them. It reliably guides us if we treat it nicely towards health, well-being, and our personal destiny. Sometimes it tells us things we do not want to hear, but it faithfully guides us as no one else can guide us – towards that which is ours, to those gifts life intends for us.

Villa Kali Ma is a place for you to seek the truth, the kind of truth which is personally, deeply resonant, not according to what anyone else says, thinks, or does, but according to your own highest, deepest, truest You. If you seek sustainable codependency recovery, consider Villa Kali Ma, where you can gently peel away the false to truly begin the codependency recovery and healing process from the inside out. We would love to help you navigate your healing journey to long-lasting codependency recovery.


What is Codependency?

Codependency is a complex form of suffering that centers around love and relationships with others, and which negatively impacts our ability to have healthy interdependence of love, affection, and support with those we are close to. 

Codependency has many facets, but can be summed up as a relationship style of being psychologically fused, which leads to being too dependent.  

Codependent relationships are common in dysfunctional families, and wherever there is a history of trauma, abuse, and addiction. When relationships are formed around compensating for pain to the point that we are thwarted from taking responsibility for healing ourselves as individuals, codependency is at play. 

Codependent relationships keep us stagnant, sick, and psychologically stunted, through the mechanism of protecting us from consequences that would otherwise assist us to learn and make needed changes that would actually be better for us. 

Codependency can be understood as a form of relationship addiction. Codependent relationships function in the same way as addiction, numbing inner experiences that feel too overwhelming to address. Like addiction, codependency eventually stops working as a way of managing pain.  

The term codependency comes from the world of addictions. The pattern is easily recognized in the relationship where one person is addicted to a chemical or behavioral pattern (gambling, disordered eating, etc) and the spouse or partner is locked into a dance of control, obsession, and enabling. 

In such relationships the partner is frequently as mentally unwell as the addicted person, becoming obsessed with controlling the behavior of the other person. 

Signs of Codependency

Codependency usually features some form of caretaking. Caretaking is when we assume, often without being asked, what will be best for another and take another person’s life on as our personal responsibility. Many caring, loving, and empathetic people fall into caretaking, when they feel that other people’s pain is on their shoulders. 

While caretaking is appropriate to some extent when someone depends on us, as when we have a small child, or are caring for an ill or elderly person, ideally we are mindful of the importance of autonomy for the other person’s and our own well-being. 

Because some taking care is part of love, it’s fairly common that we may confuse love in romantic or family relationships for taking on a role in which we assume responsibility for identifying and meeting another’s needs, to the extent where we cross boundaries into co-piloting their behavior and life. 

Many stereotypical enabling behaviors, such as protecting an addict from the natural consequences of their use, are expressions of a codependent relationship. You can see that the non-addicted person feels it is necessary that they “help” the other, but also that their help actually interferes with the other person getting better.  

The following identifiers may indicate the presence of codependent patterning inside you: 

  • You need to be needed. You derive a sense of worth or well-being from sacrificing yourself to take care of another’s needs. 
  • You feel better when you are caring for someone else, and may feel empty when by yourself.
  • You take on meeting needs that a person could and should do for themselves, or should be learning to do for themselves.
  • Your behavior results in people depending on you, being helpless without you.
  • You feel safer when others rely on you than when they are independent of you.
  • You feel overly keyed into how others perceive you and want to be liked by everyone.
  • You have a pattern of attempting to manage, control or fix others or their lives, often without being explicitly asked for your help, opinion or support.
  • You struggle with knowing your true thoughts, feelings, as well as stating them clearly to others, though you may be well aware of the thoughts and feelings of your loved ones.
  • You do not feel entitled to your own needs being met, and may deny that you need basic things like love, respect, attention, and to receive care yourself.
  • You are loyal to people who do not treat you with the same level of respect and regard, or who do not put equal amount of energy into the relationship.
  • You are drawn to people who are wounded or who behave in problematic ways, and are able to tolerate a certain amount of ill treatment. You may even pride yourself on being the only person who a problematic person feels safe with.
  • You too easily set aside your own wants and needs to assist and support another person to get their needs met.
  • You do not take full responsibility for your own feelings and needs, possibly also feeling resentful that no one notices or cares what you need.
  • When offered help, you tend to deny, minimize, or ignore your own problems and troubles.
  • You frequently feel guilt, shame, and fear, particularly if you have a need. You’re not sure if you deserve to get what you actually do want.
  • You struggle to know what healthy boundaries are, and/or have a hard time setting and keeping boundaries. You talk yourself out of your anger. 
  • Because it isn’t ok to have needs, your needs come out sideways, as guilt tripping or passive aggression
  • You feel low value unless you are helping another and receiving affirmation from them that they value you 
  • You get stuck in helper roles, while at the same time you may struggle to ask for help yourself 
  • You tend to apologize and over-apologize, even if you haven’t done anything wrong
  • You find it very hard to tolerate your loved one taking psychological space from you
  • You may idealize your loved one, even when they are not particularly worthy of being put on a pedestal
  • You struggle to take time for yourself, especially if someone else needs your attention

Ways of coping with Codependency

Coping with codependency begins with self-acceptance and kindness. It is important to understand how widespread codependency is, and to see that you are not alone in struggling with finding healthy balance and boundaries in your relationships. 

There are many things you can do to support yourself to heal, including: 

  1. Learn about codependency. Read books and articles on the topic. You can start with Melody Beattie, whose pioneering work has helped many recover from this illness. [https://melodybeattie.com/]
  2. Attend a Co-dependents Anonymous meeting. [https://coda.org/] If you are codependent with someone with addiction or come from a family with addiction, you will also benefit from Al-Anon. 
  3. Get to know Yourself. The primary challenge for the codependent person is to ground in their own experience enough to know what they even think, want, and need. To do this, gradually spend more time alone.  Solo dates are a great tool for this. [https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/artists-dates/]
  4. Work on your Self Esteem. Codependent people typically know how to give love to another, but struggle to receive love in return. Start with imagining that you yourself are the deserving, worthy recipient of the love, focus, help, and thought that you used to pour into the other. What can you do for yourself? Write yourself love letters? Take yourself out to a dinner? Take a course just for fun?
  5. Watch your tendency to focus on another. Whenever you catch yourself focusing on meeting the needs of another person, stop and ask yourself what you yourself are thinking and feeling about your own life. See if there is anything at play in you which may have been the trigger to focus on someone else instead of your own pain.  
  6. Practice saying no. Say no more often, without apologizing or taking responsibility for how others feel about your no. Pay attention to wherever you may have said yes when you actually wanted to say no. Explore why you said yes. 
  7. Befriend your boundaries. We all have boundaries, though people with codependency typically don’t know they’re allowed to have them. If you’re unsure where your boundaries lie, pay attention to whenever you are angry. By working with your anger you can gradually uncover what it is that you want or don’t want. For codependent people, acknowledging your anger and your wants is healthy. 

Codependent Relationships that are Unhealthy

It is important to understand that codependent relationships are highly addictive, and can be hard to leave or change because of that quality. 

It may feel good, even euphorically so, to form a codependent bond with another and is often confused and intermixed with genuine healthy love. We may start out in a relatively healthy, unfused relationship and fall into codependent ways of relating over time.

Unconsciously we end up in a position in which we ask the other one not to expand, change, or develop psychological independence from us, because we require them to stick with us and keep doing certain roles for us, in order for our daily psychological operations to work as before.

In a codependent relationship people unintentionally stunt each other’s growth and independence through the agreements and dynamics of the relationship itself.  

This happens when the psychological boundaries as well as the give and take of energies between people are disordered or maladaptive, such that it takes on an unhealthy expression. 

While it’s healthy and positive to have close relationships with others, upon whom we rely and for whom we are reliable, if we are not allowed to have boundaries (not allowed to say no or feel anger), we deteriorate or stagnate.

Support for another can easily turn into protecting them too much from the natural consequences of their own choices. The problem with this is that we remove the opportunity of learning, which means they cannot grow, if we take away the difficulty that they need to learn to face. 

In order to be able to grow up fully, each person needs the chance, as well as support and approval, for making independent moves coming only from within our own selves. We have a right and a need learn through pain and failure too. 

Codependency is not exclusive to romantic partnerships, and is often played out in families and friendships as well. 

Treatment for codependency

There are several ways to receive treatment for codependency. If you have addiction, you very likely also struggle with codependency. While receiving treatment for addiction, for example by attending Villa Kali Ma, you will be given the opportunity to learn about healthy ways of relating, as well as how dysfunctional relationship patterns have kept you and others sick.     

However, you don’t need to be addicted to substances to receive help for your codependency. Individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, as well as mindfulness, hypnotherapy, and even dietary support can help with codependency. 

Essential is to understand that when we seek treatment for codependency, we are agreeing to care for, love, and take responsibility for our own selves. This is a beautiful commitment and there are many tools and practitioners available to support us on this journey home to ourselves. 

Yoga, spiritual practices, mindfulness, breathwork, art therapies, pet therapies, gardening, exercise, nutritional improvements, community involvement and relationship work are all positively correlated with recovery from codependency.  

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