Transforming the Codependent Mind

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Transforming the Codependent MindCodependency is learned – learned inaccurate information that we’re in some way not enough, that we don’t matter, that our feelings are wrong, or that we don’t deserve respect. These are the false beliefs that most of us grow up with. We may not have been told these things directly, but have inferred them from behavior and attitudes of family and friends. Some have been handed down for generations. Fortunately, you can transform the codependent mind…

Changing our beliefs isn’t easy and is difficult to do on our own. It’s hard enough to see others, let alone ourselves, through a lens that’s different than the one we grew up with. Usually, people aren’t conscious of these beliefs about themselves. The 19th Century neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, the father of hypnosis, wrote that if there were a conflict between the will and the unconscious, the unconscious would always prevail. This explains what drives codependents’ behavior and why we often fail to carry out our best intentions or act upon what we know is right. Charcot had a great influence on Freud, who studied with him.

Unconscious False Beliefs

Codependents have many fears and anxieties based upon false ideas about themselves and others. For example, we may think that making a mistake is unacceptable and shameful. We become anxious about taking risks, trying something new, or expressing our opinion, because we’re afraid of failure or looking foolish. Most of us don’t realize that we unconsciously believe that we’re unlovable, unlikeable, flawed, or somehow inadequate. Even if we’re aware of these false beliefs, we’re convinced of our truth. As a result, we’re anxious about revealing who we are, and please, control, or impress others so that they’ll be loved and not rejected.

Still, other codependents withdraw from people, rather than risk abandonment. People judge themselves based upon their erroneous beliefs and imagine others are judging them, too. Sometimes, in marital therapy, I witness one spouse claim that the other is criticizing him or her when that isn’t the case. In fact, amazingly, this can even happen when the so-called “critical” words are in fact complementary!

Feeling Unloveable

The false belief about our worth undermines our self-esteem and security and has serious consequences in our lives. We lack confidence and self-trust, live in doubt, and continually second-guess ourselves. Many of us don’t feel worthy of being in a position of authority or having success, or even happiness. We may be convinced that we’re bad and end up in relationships with people who are emotionally or physically abusive. This reinforces and worsens our low self-esteem. At a conscious level, we may be indignant and think that we deserve better, but still, we stay and try to get the abuser to approve of us. Some of us stay because we believe the abuser “loves” us, which helps us overcome our belief that we’re unlovable and that no one else will. Read “Why We Can Love an Abuser.”

Similarly, many of us have repeated relationships with men or women who are physically or emotionally unavailable. We don’t feel that we deserve to be loved on a consistent basis. The unconscious belief is that “I have to win someone’s love for it to mean anything.” There may be opportunities for a relationship with someone who is loving and available, but we’re not interested. Instead, we’re excited about someone whose love we have to earn for it to count. As a consequence, we repeat a cycle of abandonment and rejection.

Some distancers just like the pursuit to validate their worth. Once the object of affection succumbs, they lose interest and start the cycle all over again with someone new. Both pursuers and distancers are really afraid of intimacy and being known too well, which in their mind risks rejection. Underneath are feelings of emptiness.

Learned Beliefs

When we grow up with the message that we shouldn’t feel a certain way or it’s unsafe to express certain feelings, we start to believe it. An example is being told not to get too excited, being punished for anger, having our distress or sadness ignored. Some shaming parents will tell their child not to cry, “or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

As adults, we then judge and dishonor our feelings. We hide them – sometimes even from ourselves after years of suppression. If we don’t believe that it’s okay, “Christian,” or “spiritual” to feel angry, we may behave passive-aggressively, become depressed, or have physical symptoms, unaware of how angry we are. This is destructive to relationships. Some people withhold sex or have affairs because they’re angry, instead of talking about relationship problems.

Devaluing Our Rights and Needs

As codependents, we also don’t believe we have rights or that our needs matter, especially emotional needs, such as for appreciation, support, kindness, being understood, and loved. Many of us become pleasers and put others’ needs ahead of our own. We don’t say “no” because we’re afraid others will criticize or leave us, triggering underlying shame and feeling inadequate and unlovable. We often give or do more in relationships or at work for this reason. Self-sacrifice causes codependents to feel unappreciated and resentful. We wonder why we’re unhappy, never thinking it’s because we’re not getting our needs met.

Moreover, because often we’re not aware of our needs, we don’t take steps to meet them. If we do know, we can’t ask for what we want. It would feel humiliating. Instead of disclosing what we want, we expect other people to figure it out! These hidden expectations contribute to conflict in relationships.

Changing Beliefs

Changing beliefs starts with awareness. You can become aware of your beliefs by paying attention to the way you talk to yourself.

We can heal codependency. The most important belief is that you can change.  When I first began my recovery, my self-esteem and hope were so low that I didn’t believe change was possible. This was reinforced by another myth. Growing up, I heard my mother repeat, “Show me a child of 7, and I’ll show you the man,” which I took to mean that after 7 years old, I couldn’t change. Actually, new research confirms that personality can change, and many studies show a strong link between personality, well-being, and health. People in 12-Step programs and therapy experience this all the time. Your mind is a powerful, creative gift from God. Learn to use it to work for you, not against you.

©Darlene Lancer 2013

 

Transforming the Codependent Mind by Darlene Lancer, MFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, CA, and author of Codependency for Dummies

 

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JENNIFER
JENNIFER
6 years ago

I recently found out through counselling I’m a codependent of my parents, mainly my Dad. I’m in my 40s & have known since I was 18 that something was not right with our family. I’ve been involved in bad relationships & allowed drugs/alcohol to be a part of my life in my early 20s. I’ve seeked counselling many times as I couldn’t make sense of things. I now have a healthy relationship with my husband who, along with our children, love me unconditionally. I had to cut ties with my parents as my Dad was trying to do the same things to my children and frightened them. My Mom & brother quit speaking to me too. It hurts a LOT, but I had to do it.

Yusuf
Yusuf
7 years ago

Ms.Lancer I read an post about the girl from India.I can identify with her so much. I am a 39 year old man. I have suffered from alcoholism,codependency,and mental health issues for the past twenty two years. It was not always like this, there was a time when I did have friends and had good relations with people in my family. My life seemed to spin in a downward spiral around fifteen years ago. I have been in several different relationship with women which always seems to end on bad terms. It was not until recently that I began to realize that I suffered from codependency. Trying to find happiness through someone else is what is normal to me. I have mostly been rejected after being in the relationship a short time. I recently lost a job because I was so codependent in a relationship. I truly thank God that there is someone like yourself who can help people struggling with these type issues. Thank you so much.

Darlene Lancer, MFT
7 years ago
Reply to  Yusuf

Yusef, you would benefit from doing the exercises in my books and ebooks. Ebooks are available at: http://www.flipkart.com and Codependency for Dummies is also on Flipkart and at https://www.junglee.com/Codependency-For-Dummies-Darlene-Lancer/dp/1118095227/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361216648&sr=1-1

DEBS
DEBS
7 years ago

Hi, I am again leaving my husband of 32 years, a codependent relationship; He shoplifts still, is now to old to assault people something he’s done since about the age of 12, he was adopted at birth I now realise I’ve been acting as rescuer; He has assualted me several times, taken most drugs been addicted to heroin and meth; We have 4 adult children who are doing OK surprisingly. I’m determined to ask for better for myself I want happiness in my life i am at present receiving strong emotional blackmail from him and all I feel is disgust I just want him to go away; He is very convincing and manages to garner sympathy from friends and people he befriends he has always been the life of the party and many think he is a great guy; Can you recommend further advise to assist me in moving on?

Darlene Lancer, MFT
7 years ago
Reply to  DEBS

Congratulations for taking a stand and honoring yourself and your needs. I recommend my books, my free PDF 14 Tips for Letting Go, 12-Step meetings, and several blogs on divorce, three in particular – https://whatiscodependency.com/after-divorce-letting-go-and-moving-on/
https://whatiscodependency.com/dos-and-donts-of-divorce/
https://darlenelancer.com/blog/women-and-divorce-taking-your-life-back

anony
anony
7 years ago

Hi darlene. I love how you answer so many people’s questions and how you make time for them. You’re doing a great job. Thank you.

Darlene Lancer, MFT
7 years ago
Reply to  anony

You don’t say why you stopped medication or what happened to you, so it’s difficult to answer. However, it sounds like therapy would be helpful, particularly trauma therapy if you’ve had one. Start doing the exercises in my ebook 10 Steps to Self-Esteem and read my new ebook, Codependency Recovery Daily Reflections, with 365 daily tips. Try http://www.Flipkart.com if you can’t get my books with the links provided or at Amazon. My new book on Conquering Shame will also be of help, when it comes out in June. You can pre-order. Doing things you are proud of, even small things, will help build your self-esteem. It will never be enough to come from a man. You’ll turn over all your power to him, and he won’t like it – nor will you, in the end.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

Hi Ms.Lancer. I am 16 and I’m from india. I read your article about low self esteem in psych central. I feel as if I’m an example to everything you said in the article. I lack self esteem and I am unable to be happy. I was diagnosed with ocd and depression, but I stopped seeing the psychiatrist and don’t use medication. Now, I don’t know what to do, where to start. I wanna change the way I think and feel about myself, because I have missed so much in the past year. I think that developing self esteem can change everything in me, including the depression and maybe ocd too.
I am emotionally disconnected from people now. But 2 years ago, I was a completely different person. Everyone at school were my friends, and I was theirs. I had confidence, got very good grades and participated in just about everything. Now, I am unable to talk to someone without wondering what they think about me. Something happened, that made me lose everything I was, and I lost the love I had for myself. But I forgave myself and don’t think about it anymore. But the damage it caused me is still here and I really wanna get out of it. I am scared of everything and nothing. Everytime I feel something, I flush it out on a boy I used to be with. I don’t think he understands my condition, but I don’t know whom to talk to. I know many people love me, my family and friends, but still, I feel unloved and undesirable. I feel always as if I am waiting for something and I don’t know what. And like you mentioned, I do think that Mr.Right is gonna come and save me some day. But I don’t wanna wait for him anymore. Please tell me how to start accepting myself for who I am. I wanna live a life without regrets in the end.

Darlene
Darlene
7 years ago

Been dating a man who is 49 and still lives at home with his mother. She divorced her husband when her son was in her 20’s and he continued to live there because he felt guilty to leave her after her divorce. She is a hoarder. He and I have been dating for 2 years and are in love, however I do not know if he will ever leave her house for me. She seems to be using guilt to keep him there even though she is a very independent woman.

Darlene Lancer, MFT
7 years ago
Reply to  Darlene

Unfortunately, he is codependently bonded with his mother. At 49, if he hasn’t left her, it’s unlikely that he will, without some intensive therapy, which he doesn’t sound motivated to do. This is a painful situation for everyone. The real question is whether you can leave him. He is unavailable – just as if he were married – emotionally, he is. You may be repeating a pattern from your past if you find you can’t move on.

Tammy
Tammy
7 years ago

Is there help for a marrige in trouble where codependency is a key player?

Darlene Lancer, MFT
7 years ago
Reply to  Tammy

There is definitely help. I see individuals and couples change all the time. My books are a start, 12-Step meetings, and marriage counseling all can help!

Jessica
Jessica
7 years ago

How does one seek help, with absolutely no financial resources?

Darlene Lancer, MFT
7 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

There’s lots of help available. Join CoDA or Al-Anon or other 12-step meeting. Get a sponsor. Read all you can. You can find my book in your local library – if not, ask them to order it. Most libraries carry Wiley books.

Andrea King
Andrea King
7 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

Hello, I’ve started a blog sharing my codependent relationship with a Poker Player (supposedly not an addict, but he does have debt issues). I’d love to get some opinions of women who might have gone through the same or similar experiences… Thanks a million.

Darlene Lancer, MFT
7 years ago
Reply to  Andrea King

Many codependents get involved with gamblers or debtors or are debtors themselves. The 12-Step programs GamAnon and Debtors Anonymous are wonderful resources that provide help.

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