Written by: Casey Burden
Read more on Casey here
A patient recently asked me how I would define the term codependence. I responded with, “I look at codependence as the caretaking of other’s emotions over your own.” My patient responded to this simplified definition with, “so it’s essentially not having your own sense of boundaries?” Exactly.
In my work as an individual and group psychotherapist, a common denominator I observe amongst many individuals is this theme of having poor boundaries. What results when we do not maintain healthy and functional boundaries with those around us? This is where the concept of resentment shows up. When we feel resentment towards others, we have failed to set a boundary. Resentment is the haunting concept that codependent adults experience on a daily and even hourly basis. Not setting boundaries and living in resentment is essentially committing to consistently identifying with the “victim role.” Many of us are survivors of trauma, abuse, and/or dysfunctional/less than nurturing parenting. How can we allow ourselves space for healing if we are continuously committed to the “victim role?” The answer, I believe, is that we cannot have corrective experiences if we have this commitment to shame. Unfortunately, I often see individuals who are unaware that they are indeed allowing themselves to be placed in that role over and over. What results is what is described as “victim anger.” The individual believes (incorrectly) that she has no control over what to do in response to her boundaries being violated. The belief is often that one cannot do anything about the boundary violation. Because of this common response, I often ask my clients, “What is your role in the resentment? What is it that you have control over in this particular situation?” Survivors of trauma often feel as though they have no choices. I explain to my clients that this thought response is a trauma reenactment.
You have choices.
Much of the work I do involves providing psycho-education and applying real life experiences in order to help explain the disease of codependence. Once we learn how to keep our boundaries healthy enough, and only our truth is allowed in, we can no longer be victimized. In turn, we can then stop pointing the finger/ blaming others for “making” us feel the way we do. As adult survivors, we now define what it is we feel. The trauma of the past does not have to define us anymore and it is the internal boundaries we develop in recovery which allow us to detach from the abuse and codependent ways of our past.
An essential component to the work I do is to help people understand their true potential and capacity for growth. Assisting others in developing healthy boundaries not only leads to a better life on a daily basis for my clients, but to a spiritual growth that empowers individuals to face life’s challenges by not trying to fix, manage and control others…but by taking a look in the mirror and focusing on what it is that he or she actually has control over. If we take ownership for our decisions and the boundaries we set with others and with ourselves, we can begin to get rid of this ubiquitous, toxic feeling of codependence, that haunts so many of us and seemingly takes control over our lives without us even knowing.
Recommended readings: “Facing Codependence” by Pia Mellody, “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie