In part I of this codependency series, we demystified codependency and debunked the shame that comes along with it. In part II, we discussed what non-codependent love looks like and the ways to begin to practice healing by identifying where to set boundaries. In this final part of codependency, we are discussing one of the greatest aspects of healing codependency, which is by experiencing the big F word..feelings. This is so we can relinquish the control that is really quite frankly stifling us. A huge part of the healing codependency journey is learning about them, what they have to tell us, and actually feeling them.
But First- why are we the way we are?
When I was a child, my dad would yell at me at the drop of a hat. I had a young developing mind and was not sure what would set him off at any moment. This caused me to be extremely sensitive and to have to read the room for my own emotional safety. It is important for us, as adults, to reflect on our environment growing up. A lot of times people veer away from inner child work because their parents were good people who loved them very much. But good people are also imperfect people. Even the most evolved, well-intentioned, loving people can impact our emotional development without meaning to. Examining how we grew up is not a moral indictment to our parents because they did the best that they could. However, doing so helps us to have compassion toward ourselves for the patterns that have carried over into adulthood.For example, one of codependency.
I have a strong desire to control my environment and oh pretty much everything in my life because of this defense mechanism I learned at a young age. Melanie Beattie writes, “The biggest codependent issue many of us have is our need to control. Underneath that behavior is fear. Under that is a lack of trust. We’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t micromanage (a savvy new word for control).”
There is always a reason why we move through the world and show up in relationships the way we do. Whatever you experienced growing up- abuse, addiction, affairs, codependent authority figures- was absolutely not your fault. Having knowledge of this gives us some context. It lends its way for us to extend compassion toward ourselves, which allows us to truly feel and then release on our journey of healing our codependency.
There are a lot of negative connotations around this phrase. Its even looked down on in society to be a person who has big feelings and cares greatly, (more to come in the future on this!). But feeling feelings is what makes us alive and fully human.
The word feel is just four letters, two vowels and two consonants. As simple and easy to roll off the tongue as the word is, to feel is actually one of the hardest things for humans to do. I don’t know about you, but my natural bend is to think about my feelings as I strategize about how to make them go away. Really feeling the feelings and sitting in the tension of them actually releases their power over us.
In the 1960’s we were really made aware of all our possible feelings, and the color wheel of hundreds of emotional shades and hues was created. But don’t you worry, there were ways to cope and numb way before we were aware of what feelings actually were…hello valium or “mothers little helpers” AKA amphetamines.
So now we’ve learned these feelings are there, what are we to do with them? Beattie shares, “We need to know, not hope, that what we’re feeling right now is perfect and important, but not concrete. Each emotion will come and go in its own time.” Feelings do not dictate reality. They are simply information for how we are processing it.
When we sit with, feel, and get curious about our feelings, it helps us to respond rather than react out of them. Codependency is a reaction to our feelings out of fear. So… what does the practice of healing codependency through feeling and processing our feelings look like?
Take time- as much as you need- to identify and feel each feeling. See what it is trying to tell you. This may seem redundant and overwhelming. But the truth is, whether or not you take time and space to feel and acknowledge these feelings, they will impact how you show up in life and in relationships. You will respond in a way that may be interpreted as over reacting to some because something ignited the feeling that you have been avoiding. So taking the time to sit with and feel them is proactive.
How to take time with feelings so we can release the need to control
- Evaluate whether or not you are in a strong enough headspace to sit still and journal what is happening inside for just five minutes. If this feels too daunting and painful, it is an indication that outside support from a therapist would be especially beneficial.
- Start by noticing everything that day…got off an intense phone call and decided to head to the fridge for something yummy? What felt too strong to feel? Felt jealous of a colleague who just got promoted (which for the record is not this horrible emotion.It is simply information sharing with you what you want. See, emotions are information!) Just notice. Look at the feelings wheel and jot down a few.
- Practice not placing judgement or resistance on a feeling. Doing so can make them more unpleasant and painful. It’s really the judgement and stories we tell ourselves about the feelings that cause us to suffer. Cultivate the practice of surrendering to the feeling (which is literally like growing a muscle). This nonresistance helps neutralize the pain so that we do not react from this pain.
Healing codependency begins when we take a genuine inventory of ourselves while relinquishing the need to control and fix ourselves. I found when I began this journey I had put a great deal of pressure on myself to get it just right, which is another form of control. Imagine that…
We are already whole and complete humans. The process of healing codependency is about uncovering the junk that hinders us from living out our most authentic, beautiful lives. It is not a linear journey and it requires a great deal of self-compassion.
Beattie shares a reminder of the beauty of feelings:
“Feelings are colors of life. Whether it is pain, joy, deep sorrow, or tears of joy- each feeling is important. We don’t have to tell the world what we’re feeling. We don’t use our feelings to control other people, or tell them what they’re doing makes us sad, so they need to stop doing it to us so we don’t feel….color life vibrantly. Extend our emotional pallet. Go beyond agitation and irritation. Stretch. Reach for the feelings we can experience. Feelings won’t hurt us. They’ll bring us back to life, wake us up.”
This series barely scratches the surface, but there are tons of support systems out there for this very process. May you lean into your worthiness and cultivate gumption on your journey.