To Understand Codependency; Post 3

In our last post in this series on codependency, we look at how to create a healthier space in relationships so as to lessen codependent habits.

It is important to note that when trying to create a healthier relationship, both parties have to be on board. If only one person is doing the work to create structural change, it is not effective. In many circumstances, the only choice that remains is to leave a codependent relationship.

When we notice that codependency might be an issue, we can:

  • Get informed. Read the literature, have conversations in which you address what you think might be going on between you, seek outside guidance if you need it.
  • Set boundaries. This is perhaps one of the most important strategies for breaking codependent habits. It will require you to think about what boundaries need to be set and then work to maintain them as consistency is key. “I am not going to lend money/support this person any longer.” “I am not going to engage in constant conflict with him/her.” “I am not going to answer 2 am texts/angry texts/texts sent during work hours.” “I am going to spend time with my friends.” “I am going to spend time alone each week.”
  • Be prepared for testing. When we put boundaries into place that are now threatening established patterns, be ready for some push back. It is bound to happen initially as change tends to be avoided. Again, consistency is key.
  • Spend some time apart with the goal of pursuing your own interests. In codependent relationships, there is often an imbalance to time spent together. Find things that you enjoy doing on your own so as to appreciate a sense of independence.
  • Find worth in yourselves so as to create interdependency, not codependency. As in every relationship, we need to be self-reflective and aiming for growth so as to find security in ourselves; only then can we truly find security in others.
  • Make the decision to end the relationship. Although difficult and painful, sometimes it remains the only choice. What doesn’t change only repeats itself. Once free of the codependency, clarity will help to build your sense of self back up to where it needs to be. We are best served at that point to remain relationship free for awhile to allow some time to heal.

This concludes our series on codependency, from recognizing it, to moving towards change both in self and relationship for a healthier you. 🙂

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To Understand Codependency; Post 2

Yesterday we looked at the definition of codependency in relationships and the impact that it can have on both our sense of self and the relationship itself. Anyone can become codependent; the first step in moving towards a healthier way of being is through work on the self.

The tendency to become codependent can come from childhood; if you had an alcoholic parent, you probably learned some enabling behaviours from family members; perhaps you were also parentified by your parent’s substance abuse. Children who are taught that they need to gain a parents approval to gain love can form codependent relationships in their adult life; same thing can happen when children are taught to submiss their needs. And of course having a codependent parent sets up the scene perfectly for enmeshment.

When we begin to understand that codependency is actually damaging to our sense of self, we can begin by:

  • Explore through journaling. What are my values? What are the things that are important to me? What are my needs in relationship? Who do I seek approval from and why? What are my feelings about this? When do I feel most like myself?
  • Create positive affirmations to counter negative self-talk. “I deserve a healthy relationship.” “It is not my job to fix or be responsible for someone else’s feelings/choices/behaviours.” “I can make my own decisions.” “I am important too.”
  • Begin making decisions on your own. Even small ones are a step in the right direction – not answering a text right away, not leaning in with an immediate solution, writing out a pros and cons list, starting an activity that interests you, seeking outside guidance.
  • Spend time alone. This might be a tough one, but is an important step in getting to know ourselves better. Start in small increments so as to get used to the feeling of being comfortable in this vulnerable position. Be curious. What does it feel like to spend some time alone? What might I do that would create a feeling of contentedness within myself?

These are some ways that we begin to develop a stronger sense of self. When we can place a higher value on who we are, we move from a more confident position; we have faith in who we are and we move away from needing someone else to fill that space for us.

Tomorrow’s post will explore what needs to change in the relationship to move out of a codependent position.

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To Understand Codependency; Post 1

The term codependency is heard often when describing an unhealthy relationship. But what is codependency and how can we move towards a healthier way of interacting with our loved ones? This series on codependent relationships will attempt to answer those questions.

We first learned of codependency in addiction literature. It referred to the unhealthy dynamic that exists between the addict and their partner/loved one, in which there was a taking care of to the point of enabling or enmeshment. The codependent partner essentially becomes centered around his/her loved ones unhealthy behaviours and a need to try and control the behaviour develops. It is a reactive position, and one that is often futile as it involves constantly sacrificing your own needs for that of another person (where addiction is fighting for primacy.)

In today’s psychological literature, the term codependency has grown to include patterns of behaviour in which either partner (or both) are overly dependent on another person in order to feel good about themselves. It is an unhealthy dynamic as there exists the seeking the approval of another person in order to have a sense of self-worth. It can occur between partners, but it can also exist with parents and children or between friends or siblings.

You may be in a codependent relationship if:

  • you find yourself always needing to fix or rescue the other.
  • you find yourself nagging, wanting to control, or enabling the other’s behaviours.
  • you have trouble putting boundaries into place.
  • you have trouble being assertive to those boundaries and lean into wanting to please the other.
  • you focus on someone else’s issues, leading you to ignore your own needs.
  • when you are with that person, you often feel anxious or fretful.
  • you struggle with guilt when it comes to the other.
  • you feel responsible for them and will often feel frustrated and annoyed.
  • you find yourself making excuses for the other.
  • you find yourself minimizing the impact of that relationship on you.
  • you feel very tied to them because you don’t want to hurt them.

This begin our short series on codependent relationships. Tomorrow’s post will begin to explore ways that we can move to a healthier place in ourselves; followed by creating space for healthier relationships.

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Gaslighting; the Ins and Outs

I have had a few clients lately ask me what gaslighting is. The definition of gaslighting is: to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. Essentially, it is a rewriting of events to convince someone they happened a certain way.

The term comes from  a 1938 stage play called Gaslight (and two film adaptations), in which a husband attempts to convince his wife of her own insanity by dimming the lights in their home (powered by gas), then denies that the lights change when the wife asks him about them. This was just a number of tricks he used in order to have her question her own perceptions.

As you can deduce from this definition, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and a way to gain control in the relationship. It includes these characteristics:

  • Outright lies followed by denial of actions or words; even with proof.
  • Accusing the other of being “too sensitive or dramatic.” Using words such as “unstable or crazy.”
  • Questioning your memory of events; “It didn’t happen that way last time either; you’re forgetting.”
  • Gaslighters will mock the other for their “misperceptions.”
  • An emphasis placed on their own needs, and trivializing the other’s needs as not being important.
  • A ‘blocking’ of the real issue by way of projection – “You are so cold hearted,” “You overreact all the time.”
  • Being convinced that everyone else is lying to you.

Gaslighting, as with everything, can happen on a continuum. As with all forms of abusive behaviour, professional help is needed – in order to change it (if acknowledged and wishing it to change) or to gain the strength to leave the relationship.

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The Importance of Bids for Connection

If you are a regular reader of my blog, by now you have heard me say many times that we are a relationship species. We also thrive on healthy connections with our loved ones; our sense of security is directly linked to those connections.

Dr. John Gottman has coined the term bids for connection as ‘turning towards’ your partner. When we make an emotional bid to our loved ones, we are attempting to connect. Both giving and accepting the bid fills our emotional bank account. We can also ‘turn away’ from the emotional bid, creating distance and potential conflict in the relationship. Although Dr. Gottman speaks primarily of this in marital relationships, it can be applied to any relationship in which we reciprocally work to keep it healthy.

Here are some examples of some bids for connection:

  • Verbal statements: these are any type of bids that include words. Terms of endearment, asking how someone’s day was. It can also be a blanket statement such as “Something happened today that is really bugging me.” Bids can also include compliments, or requests – “Do you mind getting me a soda when you’re up?” They can include statements of appreciation – “Supper was really good, honey,” – or a feeling statement – “I’m kind of feeling sad today.”
  • Non verbal statements: these are the bids that include affection – a hug, kiss, arm around a shoulder. It can be kind gestures such as cooking for someone, completing a chore for them, buying them a small gift. Bids can also include facial gestures such as a nod, smiling or a wink.

When we turn towards the emotional bids, we are responsive; we let our loved one know that they can count on us. The turning towards builds trust. When we remain unresponsive by ignoring or dismissing a bid, it wears away at the relationship.

If we are invested in a relationship, it is important to keep emotional bids as part of our strategy to keep the connection healthy – both in creating them and recognizing when one is being offered. The turning towards of one another will help to build and keep the relationship strong.

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The Cooped Up Adolescent

My very good friend and colleague published an article entitled “Relationship, Room and Rest for the Cooped-Up Adolescent.” Written by Darlene Denis-Friske and her son Jacksen Friske, and featured through the Neufeld Institute, it gives us a bird’s eye view into what many teenagers are facing during this pandemic:

“Adolescents are absorbing intense stress during an already heightened time of developmental turbulence. For many, being cut off from school, friendships, and regular activities will fester worry about the “what ifs” that are further fuelled by negative social media exposure.”

As parents, we may be carrying the weight of trying to keep our families on track, both emotionally and financially, yet we must also consider the effect of being socially isolated is having on our children. When the build up comes bubbling out (and it most certainly will!), Darlene reminds us about the importance of resisting our own rising emotions in that moment, and leaning into their process:

“It helps to know that, in the bigger picture, this manner of expression is important and serves a purpose. We need to give it some
R-O-O-M. This is “coping in action.” This is “alarm in motion.” We do not want these emotions to get stuck inside of our adolescent with no outlet for release. What is happening in their world is terribly alarming and not easy to talk about. We are going to see them “behave how they feel” at times.”

Coping in action; what a lovely way to describe what often happens to our children when they are trying to sort out their feelings. Our reaction can help them along in processing their own journey of emotions; in letting the calm settle back in.

This article is well worth your time, with words that transcend and resonate:

Thanks for letting me share, Darlene 🙂

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The Importance of Commitment In Relationship

In our quest to build healthy relationships, we require commitment – from both parties. Regardless of the relationship we are committing to -partner, friend, loved ones – the essentials are the same:

  • Our thoughts about commitment align. Gary Zukav says that when we commit to a relationship, we put ourselves in another person’s keeping. We have trusted them to have our best interests at heart, and promise, in return, to do the same.
  • Our actions follow our words. Commitment is the underlying belief that “I can count on you.” The choices that we make when it comes to committing time and effort into our relationship come through in what we do.
  • We maximize the good. There are always going to be times in relationship when we feel frustrated, disappointed or annoyed. When our sense of commitment is based on trust, we turn towards maximizing what is positive about the relationship and minimizing the negative. John Gottman refers to this process with couples as actively being grateful for the good qualities in our partner versus building resentment towards our partner for their negative qualities.
  • Commitment requires depth. When we commit to a relationship, we also work towards the results of that relationship and are invested in its success.

Commitment to our relationships is both an individual promise and a shared one. The act of commitment is foundational for a healthy and meaningful relationship.

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Dealing with Drama; Tips to Consider

Yesterday’s post touched on the characteristics of having strong internal boundaries. In an article entitled “7 Better Ways to Deal with Toxic People” by Amy Morin and featured on Psychology Today, we read about specific ways we can create and stick to those boundaries. Morin begins the article by writing:

“While one toxic person may use manipulation and lies, another may resort to intimidation and incivility. And if you’re not careful, people like that can take a serious toll on your well-being. Mentally strong people, however, deal with toxic people in a skilled manner. They refuse to give away their power, and they continue being their best selves no matter who surrounds them.”

Three tips I especially wanted to highlight include:

  • “Set physical boundaries. You get to decide how much time and energy you want to devote to people in your life. When someone is toxic, you may need to set clear and firm boundaries about the time you’re going to spend together.” (I always say “take your space when you need to!”)
  •  “Set emotional boundaries. When you can’t limit your exposure to toxic people, limit the emotional energy you spend on them. Don’t complain about them in your spare time, refuse to allow them to dictate the type of day you’re going to have, and remind yourself you can regulate your feelings.” (I loved this as food for thought…how much time do you spend focusing and complaining about this person? Might be time for some emotional space as well!)
  • “Follow through on what you say. Repeatedly threatening to cut someone off or warning someone that you’ll never lend them money again — only to turn around and give them money the next time they ask — makes the situation worse. If you are going to set limits with someone, be a person of your word.” (So true! Follow through always works better than ultimatums with no weight.)

Morin gives us great reminders about how boundaries can work for us in limiting the amount of energy we spend on drama in our lives. To read the full article:

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Healthy Relationship Reminder

Yesterday’s blog post featured what emotional entrapment can look like in a relationship. Today’s post is written as a reminder of what a healthy relationship consists of.

It is important to note that sometimes we need some individual healing before a relationship can truly hold safety for us. We tend to re-enact our wounds and patterns from childhood in our intimate relationship; being aware of this and healing those wounds first will set the stage nicely for a healthy relationship:

  • Consistency. Healthy relationships are consistent and stable. Although we can feel frustrated or annoyed at times with our partner, in a healthy relationship there is the overall feeling that you can count on each other.
  • Trust. Without it, you are in the middle of an ocean with no life raft. In a healthy relationship we can trust our partner to be honest; both in their words and their actions.
  • Commitment. In a healthy relationship, both parties are committed to the relationship by recognizing its value and investing time and effort into maintaining it.
  • Appreciation. Being grateful for the relationship helps to maintain that sense of commitment while at the same time tempering our natural negative bias.

Although there are many other qualities that are a part of a healthy relationship, these are considered to be some of the core elements. If you see your relationship here, good work! And if there is something that you feel is missing, perhaps it is time to find ways to build the relationship to a healthier place. There are times when seeking professional help can also be quite beneficial to understanding what is in the way of growth.

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Emotionally Trapped in Relationship

“I can’t endure you, I can’t change you, and I can’t leave you.” This is the first sentence of the article written by Randi Gunther entitled “Emotionally Trapped.”  Featured in Psychology Today, Gunther writes about the emotional entrapment that can often occur in relationships, describing it as such:

“The partners who feels controlled within them often describe their partners as seemingly two different people, one whose qualities they still are attracted to and one who hurts them without apparent remorse. Torn between these two behavioral extremes, they feel sought after and desired in some moments and discarded or derided in others. They want to, and need to escape from the invalidating and erasing behaviors, but cannot let go of those that make them feel desirable.”

She goes on to describe the nine most common reasons that one may stay in a relationship of emotional entrapment. Three that stood out include:

  • “You are with a partner who is an addict. Your experience of your partner as two people is real. One may act significantly differently when using or when sober. You may feel seduced by his or her sincere promises to quit, only to watch another relapse. Your entrapment is the belief your partner’s sober side will triumph over time.”
  • “You are a love addict. Are you a person who is in love with love and will pay most any price to experience it, even if the cost is painfully high? If you fall into that category, you may be willing to endure any discomfort as long as the love part of your relationship remains intact.”
  • “You believe you are trying to save your partner. Are you in a relationship with someone who tells you he or she has never felt loved and you will be the one who rectifies this terrible situation? Some people truly believe that, if they just love deeply and long enough, they will be the one who can make the difference where all others have failed. Their partner has just “not met the right person who can make him or her whole.”

Beginning to understand the reason we may stay in a relationship of emotional entrapment is the first step in moving towards leaving it. Convincing yourself that the relationship ‘stands a chance,’ unfortunately keeps you trapped.

To read the full article (it is worth the time!):

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