Conference #4: Re-centering your life
Our first three conferences have focused on identifying codependent behaviors and consequences. While it might seem like that's giving an undue amount of attention to this topic, it's because I believe this is the most important part of codependency recovery. Until we have a clear intellectual concept of what codependency is, how it works, and how we lose our boundaries in codependent relationships, it will be impossible to re-focus our lives in a healthy direction.
Note my use of the term, "intellectual concept," above. I am aware that people can develop their minds to understand something and still be caught up in it. That's sure to happen with regard to any kind of addiction. But it doesn't follow that developing this intellectual concept is useless. If one is lacking intellectual clarity concerning a complicated issue like codependency, then the systems of denial and delusion that enable the process to perpetuate will continue to keep one trapped. It is our intellects that enable us to critique our behaviors and motives; with more intellectual clarity concerning codependency and recovery, we can begin to re-focus our lives in a healthier direction.
Caring-for vs. Caretaking
One thing I'm sure of from my own experience and from counseling codependents, is that we don't want to stop caring for people who really need our help. Codependency happens when we do for others what they can and ought to do for themselves, but it doesn't follow that we ought to stop doing for others. It often does happen that there are times when we need to do for others what they cannot do for themselves: feeding babies, caring for a sick loved one, driving someone who cannot drive, and so forth.
How to tell the difference between this healthy caring and codependent caretaking? Appendix Two in "Freedom from Codependency" has a good list of comparisons and contrasts. If you haven't downloaded a copy of the book, you can find this checklist at http://shalomplace.com/view/codep.html
No need to give up caring, then. See if our previous worksheets and this one can help you to distinguish between what's healthy and what's not. One good rule of thumb is that when you're doing healthy care-giving, you feel good and peaceful inside; when you're doing codependent caretaking, you feel anxious and somewhat guilty.
Re-focusing on Self
I know that this phrase sounds very unspiritual to some, but I do not mean to suggest that we should become selfish. As emphasized above, care-giving is a good thing. But what happens in codependency is that we lose our freedom to another person; our center of meaning and energy resides in the person(s) or situation(s) we're codependently focused on. We are no longer responsible for our own happiness; the other person or situation comes to control that. Correspondingly, we focus our lives on trying to control them so that we will be happy. Think about that one. Ultimately, codependency is a form of narcissism.
As we continue to clarify our concept and practice abstinence by backing off from situations that do not require our caring or attention, we need to begin to do more to move the center of our lives into our own being. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Check in often to acknowledge to yourself how you feel. Use feeling words like mad, sad, glad, anxious. Do not reference your feeling to another person or external situation. Just be in touch with what it is, name it, and feel it.
2. Begin to develop your relationship with God without referencing the other person or situation (OK, you can turn it over to God once, but that's all). by working Steps 2, 3, and 11 in the codependency recovery process outlined in "Freedom from Codependency" (chapters 3 and part of 6). You might even check out some of the codependency meditation guides sold in the recovery section of bookstores or Amazon.com.
3. Begin to ask yourself, "What do I want for my life?" If you answer the question in terms of other people's behavior, start over. <grin> It's OK to want good things for your life. Let yourself dream . . . visualize yourself experiencing your dreams.
More on all this in our next session. . . Comments, sharing and questions on the discussion forum are welcomed. So far, I think the forum resource has been under-utilized.
Okay, Phil, a question came to me as I read the suggestion about checking in with ourselves and seeing what we feel and naming the feeling without referencing it to a person or situation. I know we don't want to say that a person or situation made us feel that way, because it didn't; it's our beliefs about the person or situation. But if we just name a feeling without exploring what our belief might be that caused us to feel that way, how will that help? Or is that a different exercise? Perhaps just naming the feeling is to help us to begin to see ourselves as separate from what we've been focusing on?
Peggy, I was just recommending noting and being with one's feelings as a way of living more out of one's own skin. Yes, it's a very good and healthy practice to explore what believes and desires contributed to one's feelings. We'll talk more about that with Steps 6 and 7.
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