The following is a partial list of traits of a person struggling with co-dependency:
1. Self-doubt. Constantly questioning, doubting own ideas, thoughts, feelings and behavior. The opposite of self-doubt would be excessive self-assurance to the point of arrogance, never questioning oneself.
2. Difficulty caring for oneself. We frequently do a better job taking care of others than ourselves. We practice self-neglect as an art form, sometimes neglecting our appearance, needs and nutrition, which leads to an unbalanced lifestyle. The opposite is a total self-focus, a hyper-concern about anything that might interfere with self-obsession.
3. Burnout. The result of not taking care of self is burnout, which is the mark of later stages of co-dependency. Burnout at work, burnout as a parent, burnout at home, burnout as a spouse or burnout with community involvement. We work ourselves to the point where we have no energy left and nothing left to give. The opposite is never allowing the collapse or break, and laziness so we don't have to collapse.
4. Poor body image. We experience dissatisfaction with our appearance, body shape and size. Feeling ugly, too short, too bald, too fat, too talL too skinny, too flat chested, too thick thighed. Physical shame sets up isolation and the self-destruction of fad diets, unnecessary surgeries, expensive treatments, narcissistic body shaping and resort pampering. The opposite pole is narcissistic self love.
5. Feeling like an imposter. Studies have shown that many professionals feel like imposters at what they do. They feel as though they are fooling everybody and are constantly believing that if they get found out or get caught, people will know they are inadequate and they will lose their job and relationships. The opposite extreme is feeling overly smug about who we are and what we do.
6. Unsatisfactory relationships. Our relationships don't quite fit our lives or needs and never live up to our expectations. We obsess the problems of relationships. The other extreme is to pretend our relationships are perfect, when in fact they are empty or falling apart.
7. Distrusting self. Not trusting our instincts, feelings, thoughts or ideas, and feeling or believing that other people know more than we do or have the answers that we don't. We have little self-confidence. The opposite is being overconfident in our ideas, never doubting our own feelings and instincts nor listening to others.
8. Perfectionistic. We attempt perfection to hide the broken self and our broken integrity. We hide behind the image of being "all together." The opposite is to screw up most of what we do, goof off and set up others to expect nothing of us.
9. Dissatisfaction. We are in constant churning, continual crisis or chaos. We are never at peace with ourselves. There's no resting and very little letting go. The opposite is to act complacent, have a flat affect and no movement in our lives.
10. Sleep disorders. We toss and turn and don't sleep well, or we use sleep as our avoidance.
11. Fears. Fears become worries, obsession, anxiety and phobias. The absence of a feeling of safety in our lives keeps us from really being ourselves and risking. The opposite is a fearless, reckless life-style.
12. Nasty mood afflictions. Our anger and resentments sweep through us and out toward people around us. We project many of our bad feelings about ourselves onto others and our own inadequacy gives rise to noting inadequacies in others. The opposite is a pretend passivity.
13. Constant chaos or crisis. As long as we are in a whirlwind, nothing can touch us. Our problems are too big, but we feel truly alive as long as we're in a state of intensity. The opposite is to avoid any stress, never make waves and avoid any variations or unusual situations.
14. Enabling relationships. We become disrespectful in relationships with others. We enable the people we are with to continue their destructive behaviors. They do the crime, but we pay the fine and do the time. We remove the harmful consequences of other people's inappropriateness. The opposite is to take no risk, involvement or responsibility in any relationship.
15. Passive-aggressive. We don't get angry, we get even. We get sideways. We go away. We withdraw. We shut down emotionally or physically, but all in order to punish the people around us. The opposite is constant aggression and becoming bullish.
16. Shamefulness and shamelessness. We feel terrible about ourselves and cannot acknowledge these bad feelings, so we act shamelessly.
Our behavior either becomes a shameless manifestation of our repressed shame or direct projection of this shame.
17. Mood swings. We experience emotional ups and downs. Highs become manic, and lows follow. We lack evenness of temperament. Things are either great or awful. We move through grandiosity to self-hate.
18. Manipulative. We do things in roundabout ways and control covertly or indirectly. We take the side approaches rather than directly noticing and dealing with issues. The opposite is not being political, being the "bull in a china shop."
19. Defensive. Our defensiveness pushes people away. We do it out of a need for self-protection, but instead it leads us into more self-destruction. We can't acknowledge making mistakes because we feel as though we are a mistake. We can't accept criticism because we believe people are abandoning us. We escalate any feedback or evaluation. The opposite is not defending or standing up for ourselves.
20. Invulnerability. We feel too vulnerable, so we try to act invulnerable. Being ourselves, being real or being close means we can be hurt, so we try to keep control at a safe distance, denying the things that might penetrate our armor. The opposite is being too vulnerable, the walking open wound.
21. Instant gratification. What we want, we want now! If we want to feel good we want to feel good now. If we're hungry we have to have it right now. We lack the ability to delay our needs. We look for the fix. The opposite is always delaying or avoiding gratification.
22. Acting childish. We try to regain our lost childhood by becoming childish rather than embracing childness. We pout and throw tantrums. Our playfulness doesn't involve consideration of others, but it becomes mean or vindictive. We act cute for attention, for approval or to manipulate. The opposite of this is pseudo-maturity, never playful or spontaneous, denying any sense of childness.
23. Judging ourselves. We judge ourselves through externals, appearances, wealth, by how others see us. This is a no-win situation since we are usually our own worst critics. Nothing we can do will ever satisfy us. Nothing we can own will ever be enough to make us feel successful in other people's eyes. The opposite is not to care at all about what others see or feel about us.
24. Lack of emotional fluency. We don't affirm our feelings or those of others. We don't speak in the language of feelings. We have a hard time processing feelings. We don't embrace feelings. We try to get rid of them or distract from them. The opposite is using
emotions as a way to control others or processing feelings ad nauseum.
25. Fear of intimacy and abandonment. Fears cause us to withdraw in relationships. We feel abandoned even when we're not being abandoned. When close, we fear the intimacy. When distant, we fear the isolation.
26. Being critical, whining and complaining. A posture toward life that keeps us judgmental, negative and pushes people away. We negatively bond with people through our complaining. The polar opposite is never complaining and accepting everything passively.
27. Inability to let go. We have to complete everything perfectly. Everything has to be done a certain way, no sense of surrender, no acceptance. Worrying too much is how we look like we care. The opposite pole is not caring, letting go too quickly, never completing what we begin.
28. Judging and comparing ourselves. We judge our children by comparing them to other children. We judge our house by comparing it to other houses, the things we see in magazines and on TV. We judge our relationships by how we see other people's relationships. We judge ourselves without mercy. The opposite pole is no self-examination or scrutiny.
29. Defiant Counter-dependence. We become defiant to authority or tradition. We refuse to allow any patterns in our life. We operate totally on impulse and won't accept direction. We break the rules for the sake of breaking rules and we feel as though the rules are impinging on our freedom of expression and that traditions, the old way, won't work for us. We despise scheduling or having to be somewhere. The polar opposite is compliance for the sake of compliance.
30. Helper role. We adopt the role of helper but we can't ask for help ourselves. Being the helper gives us more control. We are the listener, the one with the advice. Many people can come to us, but we go to no one. The polar opposite is helplessness.
31. Blaming and projecting. When things go wrong we can't take responsibility, so we blame and project. It must be someone else's fault. When things go well we want the credit. When things go wrong we deliver the blame. The polar opposite is taking all the blame.
32. No sense of humor. We lack the ability to laugh at ourselves. We lack the ability to be spontaneous and laugh with others. The opposite is excessive reliance on humor as a way to avoid our pain or the seriousness of things around us.
Directions For The Journey:
The Quest of Quixote
Recovery is a lifelong process. If the basic system we came from was a low-functioning family, the norm of our life is the dysfunction and we must maintain daily vigilance for positive change.
When we neglect our recovery program we go back to the stress of dysfunction. Some recovery is learning to live with pain, our handicaps, our disease and addictions. Some is learning to live with joy, our strengths and intimacy.
Occasionally recovery comes quickly, a remission from addiction, an insight that changes our perspective or premises. More often recovery is a daily process that involves discipline, support, facilitation, play and work. Some recovery is part of a maturation process
we grow out of a dysfunctional stage. Recovery is in large part achieving maturity, growing up, learning how to be a functioning adult with a sense of childness intact. In recovery our values resurface and we become.
realistic about what life has to offer - we stop perpetuating our childhood experiences. Most of our dysfunction is a reaction to or reenactment of hurtful childhood experiences. In recovery we grow away from cynicism, whining, shame and distrust. We give up constantly seeking the grand experience and ultimate answer or fix in favor of recognizing that most of life is just life. As Woody Allen once said, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." We would add that most of the rest is just hanging around. We learn to find our excitement in the little things. We become fluid not rigid; we often find meaning in the dysfunction. We grieve our losses and discover life as a mystery to be embraced rather than a problem to be solved. Each day is like the page of a good book, to be savored and to enrich the excitement of what may follow.
As we become healthier we tend to move toward healthier relationships and find healthier work environments, therapists and support groups. We also react in healthier ways to the low-functioning systems we remain in out of necessity.
Protecting our family of origin is a symptom of the family dysfunction. Healthy families do not need protecting. We protect a dysfunctional family because it feels as though our survival requires us to remain in the system. It is difficult to move out of a sick system. Even birds and animals abused in the nest or lair have a harder time leaving. The world looks scary when our families were scary.
In recovery our lives may seem worse, but we often feel worse before we feel better. We may even experience a sense of impending doom prior to talking about the scenes of neglect or abuse. We may experience waves of guilt and shame before discussing how we've been used or abandoned. The courage to move through the fear and shame, to disclose the truth of our past and ourselves and discover our guides, provides payoffs in our journey. We've been courageous. We move away from the pathology of our past to the shining of our reality.
Recovery is a return to the values of adolescence and the creativity of childhood. We discover and reclaim our developmental process to discover true adulthood. Like any journey, the recovery journey has rocks and swampy areas. When we break the trail for our recovery and move from addiction and co-dependency, we may run into the following:
.... Preoccupations - with our addictions or self-destructive behaviors, fantasies or guilt.
... Distraction - with recovery issues, the past or future, what people think, with our families' reactions.
... Obsession thoughts will roll over and over in our minds, we'll ruminate and worry to extremes.
... Physical discomfort and tiredness - physical tension and tremors may be present, sometimes our immune system weakens, we feel physically and emotionally drained.
... Agitation - pacing, foot swinging, higher arousal states.
... Irritability - impatience, quick anger projected inward and outward, toward self and others.
... Restlessness - sleep discomfort, difficulty in staying in one area, difficulty sitting through meals or conversation.
... Feeling lost, isolated, disconnected - believing no one cares; old friendships become strained and new ones are difficult to form.
... Sense of loss - grieving, emptiness and depression arrive as we let go of the old systems and destructive behaviors.
... Anger and rage - the stored anger surfaces but often gets misdirected.
... Confusion - too much awareness for us to process each issue; we develop new roles and give up old defenses and coping mechanisms that leave us lost.
... Blocked feelings - we sense we need to be angry or sad and it won't come; we get numb, emotionally constipated or overwhelmed.
... Memory loss - it feels as though we've lost our childhood; some of our memory about present things seems to diminish.
... Shame, feeling diminished - debriefing accesses shame, embarrassing stories; we feel exposed, bad for talking about the secrets.
... Loss of control - as we see how powerless we were and notice our own pathology, we feel more and more out of control.
... Projection - we tend to project our recovery problems and feelings toward the people immediately around us.
... Dissociation - we separate aspects of self, feelings and reality as we move through the pain and trauma of the past.
... Defensiveness - we attempt to avoid overexposure, hide feelings, feel too much and ward off attack by using our defenses.
... Depression - we experience self pity, turn feelings inward, beat up on ourselves and have low energy.
... Hopelessness - we believe nothing will get better - but this is a symptom, not a reality.
Each of these is a normal response to the therapeutic process and journey of recovery.
Staying with the journey means waves of good and bad times with gradual movement toward more serenity and hope. We learn separate-
ness and detachment, surrender and acceptance. We learn our self-destructiveness, pathology and addictions, and intimacy problems are not about who we are but are about what happened to us. We find our humanity and become more affirming and understanding. We discover psychologist Wilbam Glasser's five basic needs: freedom, love, belonging, worth and fun.
On the journey we can travel to:
..... look at helplessness to find powerlessness
..... become fluid, not rigid
..... make meaning of experiences
..... draw away from cynicism
..... stop bonding through complaining.
We get better when we give up the belief that our families will "change:' Of course all families will change - some will get worse!
The more covert the abuse issues we are dealing with, the longer it takes to work out in recovery. The severity of our symptoms does not depend only on what happened to us. It also depends on:
..... what age we were chronologically and developmentally when the abuse occurred
..... what we were told and believed about what was happening
..... the severity, frequency and unpredictability of the abusive events
..... whether we could alter a behavior or role that lessened the abuse
..... whether we had a confidant with whom to share and debrief what
The last point is especially important. It is the therapy process: finding a caring person or persons with whom we can share the details and feelings about what we are going through or have been through.
The Co-Dependent Polar Bear
Polar opposites are set up by neglect and abuse. Children react by complying or defying, acting in or acting out, hyper-arousal or malaise. This polarization is the mark of a person struggling with co-dependency. Balance is the mark of recovery. Each trait of co-dependency includes its opposite. We may swing back and forth between the victim or offender posture, perfectionism or chaos, depressive self-denial or narcissistic self-involvement, under- or over-responsibility, hyperactivity or immobility. Some people find one polar position and remain in it. We truly are polar bears and have difficulties finding our temperate zones.
This book is for people who want to care about themselves, others and the planet we live on. Insights and suggestions are offered for healthy intimacy identity sexuality spirituality feelings, recreation, nutrition and other recovery priorities. Interdependence is recovery from co-dependence. Finding Balance: 12 Priorities For Interdependence And Joyful Living is an opportunity to gain self-acceptance and confidence, experience more choices in your life and learn to live in harmony with each other and our environment.
Terry Kellogg is a family systems specialist, consultant and entertaining speaker. Terry has been on
the cutting edge of the Recovery movement for twenty years and has appeared on Phil Donahue, Geraldo
Rivera and other leading television and radio programs. Terry is the author of Broken Toys Broken
Marvel Harrison, M.S., R.D., is a counselor; trainer and dynamic speaker; specializing in disordered eating, family dynamics, body image and a gentle approach to self-acceptance. Marvel is a Ph.D. candidate in Counseling Psychology and co-author of "attrACTIVE WOMAN: A Physical Fitness Approach to Emotional And Spiritual Well-Being."
Marvel and Terry are faculty members of the Institute For Integral Development and lecture internationally. Together they authored Butterfly Kisses.