Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Codependency and Boundaries

Codependency is, like triggers, perceptions, and just about every other part of ourselves, a function of what we learned as children. u00a0It has many facets, but a key part of it is a strategy of connecting our value or worth to what someone else does or doesnu2019t do.u00a0 And co-dependency, as its name implies, requires two or more people. Typically, one is caretaker or u2018enableru2019, the other is the dependent. Often, the roles between the two interchange.u00a0 But it isnu2019t a one-way relationship; the enabler often gains a sense of worthiness, a means of control, or some other benefit, while the dependent is, in some way taken care of. It is rarely an effective relationship in the long term.u00a0

Codependency is a topic that has entire books written about it. Our discussion in this lesson is in the context of addiction and families, where codependency is nearly always present. u00a0But before we go further, note that codependent behaviors are learned from our parents and the environment we grow up in. Our parents, in turn, learned it from their parents. No one wakes up and decides to be codependent, and no one intends to behave that way.u00a0 So letu2019s put aside any judgment or shame,u00a0

Regardless of whether weu2019re the dependent or the enabler, codependency interferes with autonomy. It makes it hard to think for yourself. It makes for blurred boundaries.u00a0 And many people use the word in a way thatu2019s dripping with judgment or accusation: u201cStop being codependent.u201du00a0 u201cIf you werenu2019t so codependent, I could just live my life.u201du00a0 But if we can view codependency through the lens that Gabor is showing us, we might see a different perspective.

Think about codependency, boundaries, and what weu2019ve already learned about perception. Codependency, whether we are enabler or dependent, is driven by perceptions that are filtered by our earlier-in-life experiences. Itu2019s further complicated by the intertwined nature of the connection between the codependents. All of these pieces fit together.

In our addiction-affected families, we often hear from the enabling person u201cI have to save himu201d or u201cShe needs my helpu201d or u201cI canu2019t just let him be on the streetu201d or something similar.u00a0 Conversely, we hear from the dependent person u201cI wish she werenu2019t so controllingu201d or u201cI wish sheu2019d leave me alone.u201du00a0 Of course, we hear the opposite messages as well: u201cWhy wonu2019t you do this for meu201d, or u201cI canu2019t take this anymore.u201du00a0 Codependency represents a constant struggle between competing desires and needs, which are rarely met. Everything comes with strings attached. Both parties struggle with resentments toward each other. Boundaries (on both sides) are rarely respected. u00a0

In short, nobodyu2019s happy.u00a0 And thatu2019s because our unmet needs and our filtered perceptions are getting in the way.u00a0 If weu2019re an enabler, we probably want to be loved and appreciated. Or to feel needed. Or to gain control, so we donu2019t feel out of control. If weu2019re a dependent, we probably arenu2019t good at asking for our needs. Or we donu2019t feel confident. Or we donu2019t feel lovable. (Yes, a lot of those u201cfeelsu201d are perceptions, not needs. Theyu2019re used here for language simplicity.)

So much of the web of codependency is driven by perception and unmet needs.u00a0 Hereu2019s the catch:u00a0 Understanding it intellectually doesnu2019t mean we can just change our behavior.u00a0 Weu2019ve spent decades learning it. The underlying behaviors and perceptions allowed us to survive. So it will take time to learn new, more effective strategies.

One of the first things we can do is simply acknowledge our behaviors. Talk to the people weu2019re connected with. Have conversations about codependency. Own our own behaviors, and ask the other person to acknowledge theirs. Agree to gently, respectfully, and lovingly point out or remind each other when weu2019re acting with codependence.u00a0

Andu2026 we can give ourselves, and those around us, permission to be imperfect. To fail. To fall into old patterns.u00a0 We can recognize that overcoming these behaviors is a practice. u00a0Itu2019s not something we achieve and are done with. When we do that, itu2019s much easier to accomplish.

For those of us who are on the enabling end of the spectrum, it can be scary to let go. To step back, and to give up control, judgment, and expectation.u00a0 But when we do this, often, something wonderful happens. The person weu2019ve been tangled up with suddenly feels the freedom of not being controlled. S/he doesnu2019t have to worry about disappointing you. Thereu2019s no fear about what happens if s/he fails.u00a0 With the loss of that pressure, and those expectations, very often the person can now feel free to actually improve him or herself. Maybe theyu2019ll ask for help from someone other than you. Maybe theyu2019ll ask you, but in a different way.

And for those of us who are dependent, having boundaries, and letting go of the codependent support we may have relied on can also be freeing. We may suddenly feel our sense of worth improving. We might discover that we can now make our own decisions. Even if they arenu2019t perfect ones, we learn, and we can get better.

Nothing about this process is easy. But we can approach it with love, compassion, and non-judgment. Curiosity. An open mind. A recognition that no one is at fault, no one is to blame, no one is trying to harm the other person. With that perspective, we communicate better. We have clearer, more effective boundaries. We can find our worthiness within ourselves. And ultimately, that helps us live happier, healthier lives.