“There are two questions [a person] must ask themselves: The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’ If you ever get these questions in the wrong order you are in trouble.”
― Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man
Before we dive into what codependency is and how to heal it, let’s first take a look at what non-codependent relationships look like.
In a healthy, non-codependent relationship, each person brings 100% of themselves to the relationship. This means they end up with 200% in the relationship. Each person takes responsibility for the success of the relationship. This essentially eliminates the “blame game”.
Each person understand that for the relationship to succeed, they must each be a whole person with or without the other.
If they are not? They become codependent.
Note: there is a large difference between interdependence and codependency. Secure relationships are interdependent, meaning each party is complete as they are and yet is more than than they would be without the relationship.
But this post is about codependency. I’ll dive more into the difference between interdependence and codependency in a later post.
What is Codependency?
A codependent relationship is when two people agree to “hold” different things for the other person (consciously or unconsciously). They believe that they wouldn’t be “complete” or “whole” without the other. Neither person brings 100%, and yet… both parties often feel they are giving more than 100%.
Let’s look at an example.
Let’s imagine you’re an alcoholic. You’re addicted to drinking… and you’re insecure about it. You don’t want other people to know.
Then you meet someone. They “get it”. They come into your life and make that part of you that just wants to drink feel ok. They’re willing to hold your secrets and let you continue drinking. And in return? You accept some part of them.
Codependency is created because neither of you confronts the other to change. You know if you’d confront the other person, they’d confront you to change.
This looks like: “I’ll keep your secrets, you’ll keep my secrets. You’ll keep me safe, I’ll keep you safe. I will allow you to do things, you will allow me to do things. And in doing so we make each other possible.”
What ends up happening is your identity gets wrapped up in the relationship. To maintain any sense of “yourself”, the relationship must continue. The pieces being held for you are not easily integrated into society as a whole.
For example: if two people with a drinking problem come together, it doesn’t seem as severe because “Everybody around me is doing the same thing. My behavior is not that abnormal, my behavior is not that dangerous, my behavior is allowed.”
Somebody who is fully developed or who has done a lot of work on themselves would likely confront their partner and say, “Hey, the way you’re operating right now is not working for me, you need to adjust this.” Then the other person would have to take self responsibility for their actions. But if the status quo is never questioned or confronted, then they can live within it and everything maintains the same.
How I Healed My Own Codependency
A couples therapist shed some light on it for me when I found myself in an adult relationship where my partner and I had the same insecurities.
In a session he said, “I want you to close your eyes and just feel how old you think the energy is that you’re processing and expressing. How old are your reactions here?”
It turns out that I actually felt like a five or six year old.
So in order for me to be in the world with these undeveloped pieces of myself, I had to find somebody who would let me get away with acting like a five or six year old. Like my girlfriend at the time, who had a similar issue.
Now, trying to get a young child to really understand something, or really listen and repeat it and never do it again, or always do it that way, is virtually impossible. All you have to do is try to reason with a five year old to understand how difficult it can be.
After all, that’s the nature of being five years old. You bounce around, and if you’re in a good spot, then you have parents or some structure to hold the parameters for you. They act as your outer edges, so you don’t fall off the cliff.
So what I had to do is go inside myself and heal that particular place inside of me. I had many sessions where I went back to being the age of five or six, and explored why I stopped developing in this particular spot.
Over time, I developed and took responsibility for that very young part of myself. I no longer needed a partner to validate it for me.
How to Heal Codependency
Healing a codependent relationship is really about individual therapy and releasing these old behaviors and patterns. You have to heal yourself before you address any codependent attachments you have with other people.
In my opinion, the best approach for this is Somatic Therapy. Talk therapy absolutely has its benefits, but the somatic experience is so much more effective in this particular arena.
Somatic therapy focuses on the sensations in the body and allows you to release the emotions and tensions being stored there, things that are often beyond words and reason. Because, again, it’s hard to reason with a five year old; it’s hard to get a five year old to move forward emotionally. They’re going to do it at their own pace. But somatic therapy says “Show me how it feels.” And the feeling can be erratic or out of control.
Anybody, even at the age of five, can crawl around on the walls or kick things across the room or yell and scream, something physical that can release the feelings.
If you’re ready to start this process, sign up for a free consultation with me here.