Archive for July, 2010

Changing Dysfunctional Relationships

Saturday, July 10th, 2010
Suffering from codependency addiction is like having a cancer that grows and takes over our being, even while we are oblivious to its presence. The behaviors that characterize codependency encompass and affect innumerable aspects of our lives – arguably every aspect of our lives – but the great irony is that most of us don’t even realize we’re doing them. All we know is that our head is frequently buzzing with some obsession, usually about someone close to us who is not behaving the way we want them to or think they should be. And in spite of our attempts to get them to treat us differently, manage their lives differently, or meet our needs and demands in one way or another, they continue the same behavior.
We operate under the illusion that it is our responsibility to “help” these objects of our concern, usually through some type of manipulation or management. It can take literally years for us to finally realize that exerting power over other people, things, or situations is not our responsibility, and doesn’t work anyway. But if we persist under our illusion of power over others or over circumstances that we realistically cannot control, we come to know more and more of frustration and despair. Peace of mind becomes a foreign concept to us as we are surrounded by the wreckage of unhealthy relationships.

If we are lucky, we reach a point where our deeply-ingrained habits of thinking and feeling, usually established in childhood and reinforced by years and years of repetition, are no longer effective. But it doesn’t feel lucky – it feels like sheer helplessness and hopelessness. In order to survive, we must begin a journey which will be emotional, physical, and spiritual in nature. We never imagined taking this journey, and indeed, wouldn’t even consider it unless forced by the pain of our circumstances.

Finally we give up, throw up our hands and face the fact that what we are doing is not working. Intensifying our efforts to manage our lives and those of others is resulting only in more unmanageability. The self-created hell resulting from our own best thinking threatens our very survival.

And so at last…sweet surrender.

Though achieved only through sheer agony, true surrender can lead us to what we have always sought: serenity. This is when we might begin to feel lucky that healing change is possible for us. As we slowly learn to take care of ourselves and practice doing so, we begin to feel the miraculous rewards of self-esteem, peace of mind, and love.

Something new starts to develop inside many of us who have been so consumed taking care of or directing others that we never paid much attention to our own needs. As we rightly return our focus onto ourselves, we become calmer, stronger, and more in tune with our authentic self. We grow to respect our own feelings, thoughts, beliefs, preferences, even knowing these can change at any given time. And at some point, we find we have the courage to express ourselves to those around us, even when we know their ways of thinking are different or maybe even directly opposed to ours.

There will be conflicts with others, sometimes with people who have been in our lives for a long, long time, when we change and transfer a good deal of our energy and caring behavior away from them and toward ourselves. It is likely we forged past relationships based on giving tirelessly to the other person and expecting little to nothing from them. This was consistent with our old belief that we were not worthy of receiving love in return, that we had to compensate for being somehow always inferior.

Some of those old relationships will grow strained or distant, some will end altogether. Friends used to being accommodated are baffled that we are now not always so agreeable to their agendas, so forthcoming with favors. In fact, we may be asking them to give to us, and this will disconcert many not used to having to reciprocate within the relationship.

We may find ourselves speaking up more with people, whether we have known them for a long time or a short one. And because we are not so hesitant to establish boundaries within a relationship right from the start, and comfortable asking for our wants and needs, some people might not wish to participate. Many will opt instead for the people-pleasing types who can be easily managed and manipulated. Others may be such people-pleasers themselves that our evolving honesty and directness is threatening to them.

For we who are privileged to work on increasing our self-esteem, changes in relationships are painful yet therapeutic in a very meaningful way. Friendships that used to work may now be crumbling, and it’s upsetting to let go the familiar. However, the change from low self-esteem to high vastly outweighs the temporarily-troubling secondary effects. Think of it as making necessary and healthful adjustments.

As part of the process of personal growth, loss of the familiar but dysfunctional is a good thing. Now we are free to seek and participate in more balanced and workable future relationships. A new priority is in place, which necessitates that we nurture the most important relationship we have: the relationship with ourselves.