I've been wanting to talk about codependency in relationships for a long time, so I thought I'd start chipping away at it in a series of talks and blogs. So, here we go.
Last night in my group, we were talking about the concept of asking for what we need and how difficult that is. A lot of people experience that kind of ask as a confrontation -- and they're really uncomfortable confronting somebody when they're setting a boundary -- instead of just feeling comfortable and confident. Did you ever meet someone that was able to set boundaries really clearly -- yet it didn’t make you feel weird or as if they felt awkward about it? They just said it. It wasn't mean or rigid or awkward. They just set a boundary like, “No. That's not going to work for me,” and then they kept being able to stay connected to you.
One of the things people in my groups are struggling with is how they can reframe the way they are making requests about things to make themselves feel more comfortable. The group was talking about how they were trying to connect with someone, to be able to socialize with them in a group, but really needed something from the other person in order to be able to do that. They couldn't just walk in cold to the situation. They wanted to make sure they connected with the person and they wanted to make sure that they were feeling understood. Many times, in relationships, we aren’t talking about our relevant past injuries -- so we inevitably get triggered. And, we’re not able to explain to the other person what’s going on.
This makes it harder for them to understand us -- and how to help. Of course, we don’t want to bog people down with our history when we’re just trying to connect with them. But, informing people of the places you’re struggling socially and intimately is so important to having a successful relationship. If you are being triggered, maybe that’s triggering them -- it’s worth exploring why.
Here’s more of what I mean…
It's always important, if you feel like, “Oh I just got really triggered by something. It really reminded me of how I was treated when I was a kid,” to talk to your partner or your friend about this and why you had such an extreme reaction. Then, people can better understand where you're coming from and why things are so hard for you in certain areas.
Speaking of boundaries and triggers... now that things are starting to open up, people are socializing again and quickly realizing that their social skills have gotten a bit rusty. Our Group acknowledged that some of our older discussions about setting, maintaining, and respecting boundaries (e.g., when to come over and when to leave) needed to be revisited. One of the thoughts shared was that you might have to be really clear with your boundaries around your expectations when people are coming to visit you.
For example, I had some people dropping by on Sunday night. I was fine with people dropping by to a certain point, and for a while, but I also need it to get things done on that Sunday night- the night before the week starts! The party needed to end. I noticed I moved away from the group, went into my own space, and I started to feel super resentful. Instead of staying in that place, I decided to just say it! Hey everyone-this party has got to end because I have stuff to do-feel free to hang out longer but I can’t hang with you!.” That way, I would’ve given myself permission to take care of myself and not have felt resentful. Boundary setting, freedom for everyone to do with them I want to do. The visitors are freed up -- and so am I!
In the group, we talked about what people do when they don't take care of themselves. How do they act? They may act mean, mad, fiercely independent, like, “I don't need your help. I'm going to go clean the dishes,” or they just leave and they don’t say anything. So, it's really important if you can try to say something and to figure out what ways you can make yourself feel comfortable overtly -- not with just actions -- but words.
What ways can you make yourself feel comfortable, help yourself feel comfortable, so that you can say something? A lot of times in my groups, and in my therapy, I help people if you’re out how to say those things that are difficult to say. So saying what's on your mind is really important -- because if we don’t say what’s on our minds, we end up acting out.
Here's a few signs that you might want to watch for if you feel like you have some codependent characteristics happening in your relationships:
With codependency, some of the challenge is asking for what you need -- while some of it is about setting boundaries, too. They kind of go hand-in-hand; *ask for what you need and *set boundaries for yourself, so that you can actually *show up the way that you want.
I'll continue to talk about codependency because I know people really want to work on their family of origin issues, inner child issues, and the things that stop them from being in really healthy responsible adult relationships.