Last week, we discussed what codependency is and why there is no shame in the desire to show loving care. The reason why codependency needs to be healed is that when we love from a codependent place, we are loving someone at our own expense. Our lives are too precious and valuable to be losing ourselves in loving others.
Healing codependency means placing energy in loving ourselves, which in turn actually allows us to genuinely love from abundance and authenticity rather than lack and resentment. This also allows us to reap the benefits of intimate relationships- whether romantic, friendship, sibling, child, etc. A huge part of the practice of healing our codependent habits is letting go of the need to control (no big deal, right…) and instead connecting with ourselves
In her book, The New Codependency, Melanie Beattie shares,
“A woman told me about her son, now a healthy grown man. He spent most of his teenage years addicted to drugs. He overdosed and almost died several times. ‘In the beginning, I went crazy reacting to him. I gave him so much to rebel against that he’d probably be dead if I hadn’t learned to detach,’ she said. ‘He was my teacher about letting go.’”
Oh to let go of needing to control the things we can’t control… If only we could make a decision once and that would be that. But alas, that is not how this process goes. It is a choice to be made daily and needs to be snuggled in a great deal of self care. When we let go of the need to control the things we can’t, it’s almost as though we are letting go of a small piece of ourselves. This is followed by some small or great waves of grief depending on the gravity of what you are letting go of. This is why self care is such an important part of the process.
Porn vs. Real Sex is Codependent Love vs. True Love
Caring for ourselves does not mean that we don’t care for others. It means that we are learning the meaning of true love, not one that has to control and manipulate. Codependent love is kind of like mainstream, misogynistic porn verses experiencing real sex. In her book Untamed, Glennon Doyle is talking with a friend whose young son is sexually curious and learning about sex through violent porn. Doyle states,
“…here’s the problem with using the internet to learn about sex: You cannot know who is doing the teaching. There are people who have taken sex and sucked all the life out of it to package it and sell it on the internet. What they’re selling is not real sex. It lacks connection, respect, and vulnerability which is what makes sex sexy. This kind of porn is sold by people who are like drug dealers. They sell a product that fills people with the rush that feels like joy for a short while but then becomes a killer of real joy. Over time people prefer the rush of drugs to the real joy of life.”
Similar to that type of porn, codependency and control does offer a rush that feels really good in the moment. Control, which unfortunately is an illusion, does offer this sense that we are safe. However, like that of unethical porn, the rush of codependent love fades and we are left without joy and feeling pretty lonely because we have abandoned ourselves. What makes sex sexy: connection, respect, and vulnerability, is also a cocktail that makes up love and are missing in the realm of codependency.
What Does Non-Codependent Love Look Like?
Think about when you get on an airplane and the flight attendants go over the plane protocols. One of the more profound guidance they share in their presentation is, in case of emergency, to place your own oxygen mask on before helping others. That is a pretty solid metaphor for love. There are lots of terrible examples we have been taught about love through culture. There is nothing wrong with having needs. However, building a strong connection with yourself and placing your oxygen mask on first, is a vital component to true love.
Self care is a buzz word that has many connotations to it. It is not just bubble baths and shopping, although those can be part of it. Self care looks different for everyone and what would feel really good for you is something that you have to give yourself space and permission to ask yourself. Sometimes we feel stuck in our own life’s rhythms and do not allow ourselves to connect to our own personal agency.
For example, you have signed up to be a part of this committee because you felt like your friend really wanted you to. But this thing is the last thing you want to do after work and you feel resentful for doing it. Guess what, you can decide to not be a part of that committee and sit in the tension of disappointing your friend.
These life situations can make us feel like we do not have choices in the matter, but a part of healing codependency and caring for ourselves is connecting to our own personal agency and taking responsibility for our lives. Self care means focusing on what we CAN control. We can’t control whether that friend likes us, but we may try to do it by being a part of that committee they want us to be on. That is an example of manipulation rather than true love for your friend.
Ouch. I know. This is all about the journey of learning about ourselves and gathering data. There is no moral indictment that comes along with this process. So please be gentle with yourself in this process.
And lastly, we can’t talk self care and connecting to self without talking boundaries! Boundaries are a part of being compassionate toward ourselves. Contrary to social conditioning of having to be the martyr or the good girl, boundaries allow us to live as our wildly authentic selves.
A boundary is a line you draw in the sand to honor yourself. I’ve heard a therapist say that boundaries aren’t these rigid hard lines, they look more like the waves hitting the shore. The process of creating a boundary is a giant experiment. Sometimes we don’t know where to place a boundary until that line has been crossed. Life has pushed us to pain and that’s where we know to place the boundary.
Boundaries are very personal and are a sign of respect for yourself and for others. A part of placing our own personal boundaries is also respecting others’. People who know themselves well and their own personal boundaries are, according to Brene Brown, some of the most compassionate and loving people.
In her book, Melanie Beattie lays out WHEN to set a boundary:
- We’re done saying yes when we mean no.
- Hurtful disrespectful behavior must stop.
- We’re willing to part ways unless we have equal rights in relationships that become one way streets.
- We’re ready to let people feel awkward by reminding them they didn’t pay back money they borrowed, instead of us feeling awkward when we didn’t do anything wrong.
- We can’t stand what’s happening.
- We’re done letting someone drive us crazy.
- The pain of living without someone is less than the pain caused by living with the person.
- We’ll go to court instead of letting the injustice occur.
- We want to stop doing something but people want us to continue, or we want to start or continue doing something, but people don’t want us to do that.
These are just a few examples. It’s important to remember that the process of creating boundaries can cause tension and awkwardness. This is normal. Beattie uses an analogy in her book that reading a travel guide is not the same as going on the trip. Learning about healing codependency is just the beginning. Practicing it is where the adventure really takes place. This is a journey that requires support. A few ways to seek support are finding a really awesome therapist, finding a Codependency Anonymous group, a book club with raw vulnerable safe humans, or discussing your journey with good friends. Wherever you are on the journey, know you are not alone and that you are worthy and so deserving of true, authentic, life-giving love and joy. There is no need to settle for the shitty porn of love.