In my experience the ultimate prison, sometimes carrying a life sentence, is caused by losing ourselves in the process of obsessively attempting to control the behavior and the outcome of the behavior of someone else. This often occurs, but not exclusively, in the lives of family members & friends of alcoholics or addicts. I say not exclusively because any manner of systematic chaos, such as mental illness or chronic illness, in a relationship or family can cause this outcome. This can also be a learned behavior, many generations in the making. Perhaps the original chaos inducing circumstances are not evident in the current generation. Even so, the controlling traits are learned, practiced & passed on generation to generation.
Do you identify with these characteristics?
- Weak or nonexistent boundaries, you do not know where you begin & the loved one ends.
- Your happiness & peace of mind are entirely dependent on the actions and/ or the inactions of another.
- Fixing and/ or appeasing the other is your primary focus.
- You have lost the ability to detach from the problems of the affected loved one and that person’s problems become your problems.
- Chronically giving too much. Women in particular, especially those in the helping professions, are susceptible to seeing this as a virtue and being rewarded for it.
“Is someone else’s problem your problem? If, like so many others, you’ve lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to a loved one’s self-destructive behavior, you may be codependent–and you may find yourself in this book.
Melody Beatty Codependent No More
I was introduced to the concept of Codependency & to Melody Beatty’s books, Codependent No More & Beyond Codependency, in my mid 30’s when I was a department manager in a hospital.
These books were being used by 2 nurses who traveled around the country training department managers & nurse managers in medical facilities. Healthcare middle managers very often rose through the ranks to a leadership position by always going the extra mile, aka “giving too much”.
However, once promoted, they were unable to effectively manage. They did not understand boundaries, they confused fixing & manipulating with leading.
I was a new department manager at the time, and I found the concept very interesting in theory. Of course, being about as self-aware as most of my colleagues (that is to say, NOT self-aware.) I didn’t see myself in it until we took the quiz in Codependent No More. It was a “check off all that apply” quiz. The more boxes checked, the more strongly you were impacted by codependency. I checked off nearly every box. It was a wakeup call! A call I would take about 10 more years to answer.
So how do we regain our capacity for joy, love, spontaneity, intuition & creativity?
As described by my mentor & teacher, Martha Beck in her inaugural book Finding Your Own North Star, it comes from the balance of your essential self & your social self.
The unique essential self is the part you were born with & that you use to navigate to your true purpose in life. The essential self encompasses the capacity for joy, love, spontaneity, intuition & creativity. The social self, which is your vehicle in the world, is made up of skills, talents, reasoning, intelligence & other learned abilities.
Brain scientists sometimes distinguish these complementary parts of the brain as the left side (social self) & right side (essential self). As people living in this modern era we use the executive function of the brain- social self, almost to the exclusion of feeling, intuition & creativity. That is the essential self.
Here is the problem caused by living without a balance of the essential self & the social self. We can easily get lost in the pain, the chaos, the anguish of living with and entirely focusing on other people. When that happens, we do not have enough bandwidth left to know what we think & feel about anything. In fact, we can come to believe on some level that feeling our own feelings is dangerous.
Often the thing we cannot ignore comes in the form of illness, chronic pain and chronic fatigue. For me, it was chronic anxiety & panic attacks that upended my little shell game with myself.
In an unintended experiment, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor who was a healthy 37-year-old neuroanatomist at Harvard when, one morning in 1996, she suffered a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. In four hours she lost her ability to walk, talk, read, write, and remember parts of her past. For a period of time, she lived on the right side of her brain, in feeling, intuition & creativity.
Dr Taylor chronicled her amazing journey in her book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, published in 2008. There is also a TED Talk on the same subject.
As Martha Beck taught us in Wayfinder Coach Training, the brain can tell us all manner of stories, but the body does not lie.
That brings us to another dimension of finding the balance of the essential self & the social self. To show up entirely as one’s authentic self requires us to tap into the wisdom in the body. So how can finding the real balance of the essential self & the social self help to combat poor boundaries, people-pleasing, and too much self-sacrifice?
Brene Brown has discovered over & over again in her research that humans are driven by a fundamental need for love & belonging. In order to belong, as opposed to fit in, we must tell our truth and have it received by those we love & trust. This is why we don’t recover, survive, or thrive in isolation.
A support group, as well as a coach or therapist, can be vital links to detach from the chaos, put the focus on our own lives and change the behaviors that are blocking the essential self from emerging to set the direction for the life we crave.
My Wayfinder Coach training with the Martha Beck Institute, as well as ongoing study of coaching practices, have given me tools to help my clients come home to themselves. To uncover that core of essential self and to navigate to their hearts desire.
First & foremost, I create a safe space for exploration. I’ve been there & I know how it feels to embark on this journey. My own spiritual awakening put me on the path to a life beyond my wildest dreams.
I use many techniques that include calibrating the body compass, metaphor tools, dream analysis and The Work of Byron Katie to unpack those limiting beliefs that hold us back.
I don’t tell clients what to do or how to live. I join them on a journey of discovery to their own best life. The client is the expert in their own life.
I have seen remarkable breakthroughs for clients. Things that they could not have imagined for themselves.
Freedom lives inside each of us when we create the authentic balance of the essential self & the social self. The journey to this freedom is not easy, but so worth it to experience a life beyond your wildest dreams.