Codependence, Independence and Interdependence – Part 1

Sometimes we experience ourselves in situations with other people that seem hopeless. If we are a practitioner of psychotherapy or related disciplines, we can meet clients who feel trapped in miserable relationships and have lost hope.

Realistic hope is never more important than when we are working with patterns of codependency. The word “codependency” comes to mind whenever we may be working with persistent patterns of relating that, no matter how destructive, seem mysteriously compulsive, even “fated”, to repeat the pain over and over.

That’s why I created “Healing Codependency”, a much requested training for professionals.  I am also posting “Healing Relationships”, a series of articles and exercises for people to help themselves.

We All Need Somebody

We first thought that codependency was mainly connected with past dysfunctional family experience and limited to romantic relationships. We can now understand these patterns, in more or less severe states, wherever we perceive we are controlled and dissatisfied by a relationship yet feel unable to separate from it or improve it. The accompanying feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness and unlovable-ness can manifest in experiences of resentment, anxiety and low self esteem, fuelling the pattern to repeat again. At its worst, codependency is at the core of many abusive relationships, including those that escalate to domestic violence.

Codependency takes on many names and descriptions in the psychotherapy world, from adaptive “attachment styles”, to “relationship addiction”, to “identity fusion”. So why are the symptoms of codependency so widely observed and why can they become so damaging?

The drive to relate, attach and depend on each other is wired deep within the human brain and our species relies on these strong compulsions to connect with others in order to survive. As infants we depend on other people to get our needs met, so we owe our survival as a species to the strong biological drive to seek connection with others.

Enjoying Who I Am

We are also just as compelled to “individualise” or “self-actualise”. This means establishing a sense of ourself as a unique and whole person, able to independently enjoy who we are and build a life where our material, emotional and spiritual needs are met.

These two apparently conflicting drives can land us in insolvable paradoxes if we do not learn to identify and respond to different relating states that we move in and out of, no matter who we are and with whom we are relating, lovers, friends, family, colleagues – even the government!

What are YOUR Relating States?

We are constantly changing, adapting, responding, from situation to situation, from relationship to different relationship. But we have habits of how we relate, repetitive patterns that can become familiar relating states. Take a look at three different relating states, Independence, Interdependence and Codependence. You probably have sufficient awareness to identify an experience of your own in each of these relating states. See how these might feel familiar to you in different relationships and contexts.

Microsoft Word - CoInInter Diagram.docxWhen you have identified a specific experience for each of these three relating states.

Consider these 5 questions

  • Does one of these states feel more familiar to me than the others?
  • Do I spend more time being independent, interdependent or codependent?
  • Which of my relationships are more often interdependent? Which relationship(s) feel more codependent?
  • Do I get as much time as I would like feeling independent? Or am I unhappy when I am alone?
  • Is there a type of relationship where I am more often codependent, such as with partner, children, parents, boss, friends, siblings?

All of us will experience codependency in our lives, whether it takes the severity of mild irritation we feel with some people or of a life-defining pattern that blights our pursuit of love and happiness.

I’ve tried everything. What else can I do???

So if experiences of codependency go with the territory of being human, to a greater or less extent, what can we do about it? One of the common features of a codependent state is when we feel we’ve tried everything to make the situation change and nothing has worked.

A first step to bringing real change is to begin to notice how and when you move in and out of different states of relating with yourself and others. Try this over the next week or so. Make notes if this helps you. It is possible to bring change to your life when you learn how, when and what will help you. Developing your awareness begins this journey. Try it.

We Are Not Alone

There is so much more help available than ever before to find effective ways to generate new patterns of relating so that people no longer need to spend a lifetime repeating the patterns of misery developed in their earliest years.

Something exciting is happening in the world of contemporary psychotherapy and it could help to improve your experience of being human – and that of your clients.

After centuries of isolated strands of competing theories, contemporary psychotherapists have now gained in knowledge and understanding to bring diverse approaches of effective psychotherapy together. We are able to draw on a wealth of inter-connecting theory and practice, from Attachment Theory, Recovery Models and Brain Plasticity, to be more responsive according to the needs and stage of healing of each person. This convergence supports more powerful and effective practice that can meet each individual with a grounded understanding of how humans develop, relate and find love and happiness together and as individuals.

And it means this knowledge is more easily understood and applicable, so that people can begin straight away to make improvements in their day, their relationships and their life, even while they are attending to the very source of ongoing problems they have experienced.

Healing is not just POSSIBLE. It is PROBABLE

While it is true that our early experiences have played a huge part in determining patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving and relating, we now know that there is far greater possibility to overcome, heal and grow from these past challenges. This is what we call “clinical optimism” – or realistic hope. Because of a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of past pain and current challenges, we can address these patterns directly as they occur in our contemporary life and learn to bring effective skills and possibilities to these opportunities for growth and greater fulfilment.

We now know that the adult brain continues to restructure itself when given the right conditions that psychotherapy can provide. New awareness and behaviours bring new experiences, learning and revised meaning to old patterns that seemed to have us in their grip.  This is good news as it means we can grow beyond the automatic reactions that have held us in repetitive and painful patterns and begin to have choice, peace and connectedness in healthier ways.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing a series of posts on these subjects to facilitate a structured pathway, adaptable by each person, to follow a journey of recovery towards improving existing relationships and generating new ones.

If you are a psychotherapy or counselling practitioner, a recovery coach or trainee in these fields you can take part in our highly praised training  “Healing Codependency”, a certificated training to integrate knowledge and practical tools with your existing practice, offered by BeeLeaf Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, a UKCP Accredited Training Organisation.

By Pamela Gawler-Wright, Registered Psychotherapist, Clinical Trainer, Author, Speaker

I’ll be blogging more from my 20 year journey in learning about and working with healing codependency in the coming weeks.

Click here to see details of the 2-day course run by Pam on ‘Healing Codependency’

‘Dry January’ – The Morning After


So here we are, knocking on February’s door, with Christmas excesses a distant memory and 2016 has unfolded its first wet and windy month.

Several people have shared with me their experience of another seasonal ritual growing in popularity known as “Dry January” – a commitment to go without alcohol for a calendar month.

The experience has brought up for many some unexpected results, challenges and questions.

There has been coverage in the media about this, ranging from new guidance on alcohol limits to mockery of any resolutions for change that a person makes in the bleak, dark hours of winter.

First, yes, it’s good to experiment with removing from your habitual consumption this highly calorific, mind-altering substance known to have depressive side effects and links to increased cancer risk…

And no, just thinking of trying this out does not mean you should whisk yourself along to the nearest AA meeting (although if you started January with the intention of not drinking and found it impossible to keep up then it may be time to talk to some one about your relationship with alcohol).

And thirdly, is this a pointless excuse for Christmas excess or can anything lasting and useful be gained from such a trivial exercise?

This article explores the more interesting effects that people are describing from making this one simple, time limited change in their habits. Clients and readers have been reporting more change than they expected, in different ways than they had foreseen.

What happens when we resolve to drop one habit – any habitual behaviour we use to try to make ourselves feel better in specific situations?

Of course, there are the physical responses that let us know our bodies have grown accustomed to something, demanding it even when it’s not needed or healthy. Lots of people get sugar cravings in the evening when they cut out habitual drinking of alcohol.

This suggests that our metabolism has been affected by our previous unthinking resort to drink as a mood booster at the end of the day. It’s interesting to just notice these non-rational messages from our body temporarily begging us to feed ourselves into a blood sugar spike.

Accepting these sensations and thoughts without needing to act on them can allow us to observe how quickly they pass. Watching them pass, without trying to change those feelings, or stop them, can be the start of losing a few unwanted pounds and having more consistent energy levels through the day.

Another reported effect of Dry January is relational. It’s a chance to explore thoughts and reactions we have to saying “no” to something that is normally customary. How do we feel about something being out of bounds? What is it like to not join in when others are drinking? How do other peoples’ responses to this impact us? More than one letter I have received has talked about contrary pressure that came from spouses, friends and colleagues to abandon the plan and drink up, creating unexpected challenges to upholding this simple, autonomous boundary over the decision to not drink alcohol.

The psychological and emotional revelations have been particularly enlightening to many. Yes, many have dreams about enjoying a glass of wine followed by disappointment in themselves and then are relieved to wake up still having kept to their plan, but disturbed that they should apparently be missing a drink even while they are sleeping.

“Is my unconscious trying to tell me something?” one person asked.

Well, if you know me then you know that I believe our “unconscious mind”, or as I prefer to call it, our “Wider Mind”, is always trying to get in touch with us. Dreams, symptoms, strong feelings and strange thoughts may be communications from our Wider Mind. Rather than be disturbed by these, we can welcome them as opportunities to wake up out of automatic patterns that have outgrown their original usefulness.

During my Dry January I had two distinct “waking up” moments when I found myself getting to the end of the working day and thinking “I’d love a glass of wine or a trip to the pub right now!”

Normally, I’d have done just that…and “gone back to sleep” in the sense that I would not have stopped to pay any attention to what was making a drink feel like the logical and enjoyable accompaniment to my evening.

But I’d committed to breaking this one habit. It was just enough to keep me “awake” and open my eyes to what was really going on inside me.

Instead of dousing my thoughts and feelings with the handy relaxant that alcohol can be (or chocolate, or facebook, or video games), I had to stay with what was happening and wonder. Why now? I haven’t wanted a drink all week. What’s happening in this moment that is making me think it’s a good idea?

And I learned an interesting thing, not about alcohol, but about myself.

You see, in my job I work all day as a Psychotherapist with the range of human emotion. If you need some one to stay present with you when you are experiencing sadness, hurt, anger, confusion, I’m really committed in sharing, accepting and being with another person and letting those emotions process in transformative and healing ways.

People often ask “Doesn’t your job really drain you?” And I can sincerely answer that, no, it leaves me with a sense of privilege and awe at the resilience, sensitivity and beauty of human beings.

But on both occasions when I thought about drinking, when it felt like the most rational, automatic and harmless thing to do would be to enjoy a “drop of something nice”, it was clear that having a drink would be a way of distracting from my feelings rather than staying with them. And I hadn’t even known I’d been doing this.

Instead, with the habit interrupted, I had to stop and not try to brush over what was really happening in that moment  – what my Wider Mind was telling me through the language of sensation, my own emotions.

And both times the message was the same. It took me a while to know what it was. I didn’t even know the real name of this very specific “craving”.

Because it’s not a feeling I give time to normally and allow to healthily pass through me in the way I do other, just as painful or powerful emotions, the ones I accompany my clients through every day, the ones I know in myself and have more resourceful ways of processing.

It’s not a feeling that I feel good about having or even want to admit to. So naturally I have not developed good ways to recognize, listen and respond well to it. Short on options of how to deal with it, my automatic response to having this unidentified sensation in my solar plexus was “get myself a nice glass of something”.

Now before I come clean and tell you the emotion that I am now trying to better own and respond to with more compassion and openness, I want to say that my unmet feelings will almost certainly be different from your unmet feelings.

Where we may be the same is that we all have unnamed, invalidated feelings which hold the key to unmet needs and wants. But instead of listening and knowing those real wants and needs we develop a habit to cover them up when they are present.

Interrupting a habit, any habit that is really not very good for us, can show us a hidden part of self that is longing to be known and cared for. When we drown out that emotion with a knee-jerk distraction or feel-good comfort we continue to repeat the unthinking patterns. For some reason, we haven’t learned to recognise and don’t know how to just be, to attend, name and better understand that specific emotion, until the feeling resolves itself.

If Dry January has brought to your notice a feeling you find difficult to name and respond to in an accepting way, then maybe deliberate attention to this part of yourself, even if that means bearing some temporary pain or discomfort, may bring more long-term comfort and satisfaction.

And the change of habit doesn’t have to be cutting out drink – and it doesn’t have to have anything to do with January. All you need to do is identify a behaviour that you do more of than you intend to, in a habitual way. Then commit to an experiment of interrupting that habit and bringing awareness to what comes up for you.

Just this small change creates an opportunity to open to the wisdom from your Wider Mind. Eventually you will discover that that habit was triggered at key moments – moments when something was happening within you that you haven’t yet understood.

It could be a relatively brief time of stopping any compulsive, automatic pattern that you’ve become aware of that is costing you in some way. Too much time on facebook, eating chocolate, checking emails while out walking the dog, smoking, gossiping, volunteering your time to others.

All of these habitual compulsions that we may get ourselves hooked into, when done without purpose or enjoyment, may be doing an unconscious job of drowning out a part of ourselves that wants to connect and tell us about a way we could be happier.

Here is a simple set of steps you can follow to gain in this way.

1. Notice an habitual behaviour that you do more often than you want to, or that you overly invest with your time and energy.
2. Commit to a period of time (a month is great, and three months can be life-changing) of cutting out this habit.
3. Prepare yourself to uphold this commitment under pressure, such as people trying to dissuade you from your resolution.
4. When you get the urge or craving, or when you have a momentary relapse into this habit – stop and bring your attention to what is going on around you.
5. Then bring your attention inside, to your physical sensations, your thoughts and feelings. Open your attention in a kindly and curious way to what you are really feeling and wanting.
6. Do something different, something more responsive to the genuine need or want that is coming up for you. What is a better way to deal with this than to resort to your old habit?

This is a deceptively simple process. Don’t underestimate that it can take practice to begin to really put it into action, and it can take time to really listen and understand what is going on inside when we trigger an unhelpful habitual response.

But give it a go and over time you might begin to understand something new coming through from your Wider Mind.

As Carl Gustav Jung said
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

For me, the message from my Wider Mind soon became more clear. This feeling, that was just under that urge to pour a drink, was the heavy hollowness of feeling frustrated and powerless. It occurred in response to the same situation, something I’ve been banging my head against for too long without progress.

But my self-perception didn’t allow me to admit it’s time to just walk away. Because I don’t relate well to that feeling in myself and so I haven’t yet developed better ways to allow myself to get the message and be guided by my Wider Mind. Instead I’d tell myself it was pub-time or wine-o’-clock.

“What’s the fxxxing point?” that feeling was saying, a state that I was horrified at first to find within me  –  it goes so counter to my perception of myself and why I get up in the morning.

No wonder I had learned to numb myself and deny when this sensation came over me. But that sinking feeling was falsely named as a “let’s pour a glass of wine” feeling.

So instead of “giving myself a well deserved drink” I’ve been dialoging with that sensation of frustration and powerlessness. Knowing what’s really going on has given me new options to recognize and respond differently to situations that make me feel there’s no point in continuing to struggle for healthy change.

So what can stopping one habit do for you? What unnamed and valuable message is trying to get through to you? What will be possible when you listen to what has been silenced for longer than is useful?

As a result of my Dry January I am giving myself permission to listen to my inner messages of when I want to walk away from a situation I can’t improve or healthily engage with, to genuinely sooth my disappointment and channel my energy, hope and creativity into more fruitful environments and relationships.

It hurts for just a little while.
And then it helps.

So Cheers for That!

Book on 2-Day Trainings with Pamela Gawler-Wright

Healing Codependency Part 1 20th & 21st February 2016

Healing Codependency Part 2 7th & 8th May 2016


What Kind of Psychotherapist Could You Be?

I was recently asked by a colleague “How do BeeLeaf trainees and graduates do so well in gaining placements, employment and establishing busy practices?”

Well, first answer is that through our supportive application process we get great trainees who are outstanding individuals, each on a unique life-path with something important they want to contribute.

They come from very diverse backgrounds, and each goes through rigorous and personalised learning processes to hone their potential skills, understanding and professionalism.

And how we support and nurture that contribution lies in developments in training philosophy honed over decades and informed by the historical journey that the practice of psychotherapy has taken over centuries, most intensely in the last 100 years.

Taking this wide view and integrating it with individual experience of our graduate psychotherapists, there are two consistent principles we see.

One is the ever growing and rebalancing relationship between psychotherapy, psychotherapists and the people who seek psychotherapy as a way to address the challenges of life.

The fact is, the psychotherapy of the 20th century changed us, our understanding of what it is to be human and how to live with the most authenticity, courage and resilience. It even lead us to seek a sense of wholeness and flow, engaging with life’s problems and opportunities, something very few people were encouraged to think about in previous ages.

Arguably, the increased individual freedoms and rights to be who we are would not have come to us in the 21st century without the influence of the pioneering psychotherapists like Freud, Rogers, Bowlby, Beck and Erickson.

The other principle is how these changes, that people face individually and as groups in society, keep challenging psychotherapy to grow with them.

Psychotherapy as it was practiced 100, 50, even 20 years ago, within contrasting schools, drew upon principles that are just as relevant today – and psychotherapy is also very limited if we do not continue to evolve psychotherapeutic practice and philosophy to address the living experience and needs of people facing distress today.

With changes in culture and society, with scientific progress and economic upheaval, the Contemporary Psychotherapist is challenged to creatively integrate from several models of psychotherapeutic provision to address today’s challenges.

The all-important relational component of holding a person’s process of growth requires collaborative personalisation with each client, often drawing on connected pools of knowledge such as psychobiology, social influences and, above all, in-the-muscle relational skills that enhance respect and flexibility.

Due to the success of psychotherapy as a force in the world for better lives, the contexts within which the Contemporary Psychotherapist works are varied and have different demands.

Graduates from BeeLeaf acquire so much more than Accreditation and Registration with the United Kingdom Council of Psychotherapy, one of the leading professional bodies, holding the highest standards of training and professional accountability of any psychotherapy and counselling organisation in the country.

They graduate having benefitted from a training pathway that understands what they need to build their own flexible interface with the demanding working world of a professional psychotherapist. That includes an integrative working knowledge of complementing theories and practice, suitable to varying clinical environments and client needs, making their work attractive to public and employers alike.

So the Contemporary Psychotherapist garners an appreciation of working in brief, mid-term and long-term cases according to client needs and resources.

They are committed to updating their knowledge according to research and their own creative pioneering journey. They are developed as individuals, with heightened skills in communication, both verbal and non-verbal, modeling therapy to meet the strengths, values difficulties in each person’s journey.

At BeeLeaf we offer an in-depth, extensive training pathway, guiding you through stage appropriate clinical practice that is flexible to your life-experience and interests, according to the highest national standards and professional expectations. We will not indulge applicants by giving a false impression that a briefer training will take them to some random income bracket. And we certainly don’t suggest that becoming a psychotherapist is a good or realistic option for everybody and anybody.

But if you are interested in learning more about yourself, more about others and joining them in a professional role that can help them to change their life for the better, in ways they and you might sometimes feel are impossible, then enrolling on the BeeLeaf Foundation Training in Contemporary Psychotherapy can be the first stage in the unbelievably rewarding profession of psychotherapy.

Full Details can be found on the BeeLeaf Website


A Gift for the Codependent

Here comes the season of giving…and giving…and giving…

This blog contains a gift for people who have Codependent patterns (that usually includes anyone whose role and identity are focused on giving care to others).

Before I unwrap it, consider this.

Ever opened a Christmas or New Year gift and found that inside was something that really the giver wanted themselves?

The Winter holidays are a tough time for the Codependent person. At this time of year, when the themes of giving and receiving are forefront, the patterns of Codependent thinking, feeling and relating come up big, bright and boiling over.

The sense of imbalance in the Codependent’s life is constellated around feeling they give more love than they receive. They only have one way to try and get the love they need, and that’s by giving, giving, giving.

They often start off this season of giving in good energetic form. The material gifts they search out will be chosen with care, and often they will have a diary booked full of people they must do something for. It’s not that convincing when a Codependent ‘complains’ how much they have to do for the holidays, how many people are dependent on them, how obligated they are and how serious it will be if they let anyone down.

To some one else listening it sounds like they are trying to say “I have so many people who need me, I am so serving of others, people would be so disappointed without me and my actions.” And the undertone is “I am worthy of love. Really, I am.”

The Codependent Person struggles to admit, or even to know how they want to be loved. To even suggest that they are hoping for a return of love for all their frenzied giving would be felt by many Codependents as an attack. Somewhere they learned you mustn’t want to be loved – you must seek to love, love, love, and one day, when you have loved enough, love will come back in return.

Only, this isn’t how Santa’s gift bag works.

And come the end of the season the Codependent is in bad shape, often following rows, tears, despair. “Couldn’t anyone have thought of me? Didn’t anyone think to help me out with how much I had to do?” They may be full of recriminations about people’s thoughtlessness, being taken for granted, and how nobody, nobody, gave as much thought to them as they did to others.

And it will be true.

Because throughout all these mixed messages, the Codependent person not only does not ask for what they want, they do not even know themselves what they want. They have so little practice in recognising and saying “I’d really like it if…”, “It would make me really happy if somebody did this….”

Some people with Codependence have a pernicious double bind embedded in their thinking: “I want, doesn’t get.” It is a frightening thing. Don’t want love or you will never be loved!

Here is my Christmas Gift to people who are struggling to overcome the patterns of Codependence, who feel they get trapped in relationships where they are always the more giving person.That they get passed over when it’s time to receive.

It’s this secret. Learning it changed my life.

We all give love in the way we would like to receive it.

Yes, that’s simple, even maybe obvious. But really understanding this and putting it into practice can be the beginning of not only feeling more love for yourself but actually growing relationships in your life where you can experience a balance of giving and receiving love.

So here are some key ways to begin to change your thinking, feeling and communicating to finally break free from the compulsive patterns of Codependence and the misery of feeling alone and unappreciated.

Click here for details of the 2-day course run by Pam ‘Healing Codependency’

1 Keep Giving – When you want to

The worst thing you can say to a Codependent person is “So if it makes you so unhappy, just stop giving so much to people!” To suggest to a Codependent to stop giving is like telling Michelangelo to stop painting if that Chapel ceiling is making them so miserable. The Codependent is compelled to give – and it can be the one thing they actually value about themselves.

Instead of resentfully withholding what you have to give, when you find that you are giving to some one, notice it and notice how it feels. Be honest with yourself. Are you enjoying the moment, or are you hoping that giving will get you something you crave, such as being liked, noticed, protected from criticism?

The giving you do that repays with joy in the moment of giving is what makes it great to be a human being. Keep it up.

It’s the giving when you are really in a place of want that leads us into difficult dynamics with others, may not be well received and can even cause resentment on both sides.

2 Notice What you are Giving

Any time you are giving to another person, giving anything – time, attention, praise, affection, advice, practical help, anything – notice exactly what you are giving.

Not because you are keeping an account, but because it is giving you vital information about yourself. You are responding to that person’s needs from your own perception of what would be helpful.

Why? Because that is what you would like to receive if you were in their position!

This is a key that can help unlock a person’s understanding of themselves and their needs, and also free them from the toxic shame they may have had installed about asking for what they want in life, to be loved in the way that would really help them.

So notice, when some one is low, do you offer them practical help? Attention and listening? Assurance? Affection? And ask yourself “Is this the way I would like to be loved today?”

Begin to be aware of the way you give most naturally and spontaneously and acknowledge the value of what you give, but also the value that being loved in this way would bring to your life and sense of wellbeing.

3 Balance Your Own Inner Account

Many years ago a Cherokee Medicine Woman said to me:

“Just remember, Pam. No matter how hard you try, your ability to give will always be directly proportionate to your ability to receive.”

That struck like a thunderbolt but it took me some time to really understand what she meant. When you make it practical, it is really quite simple.

So you are noticing when giving feels good and not so good.

You are using those moments to identify what it is you are offering and how that is influenced by your own sense of what would be good to receive.

Now, slow those moments down just a little when you can, to include yourself in who you are giving to.

For example, you just gave 15 minutes of your attention to the neighbor who wanted to talk about her children. OK. So, now take a moment and consider what would you want to talk about if some one listened to you. And now give yourself that listening. What’s on your mind? What are your thoughts about today?

Or maybe you sorted out that dodgy wiper on the family car that no one has bothered to address, again! Sure. So now that is done, what practical thing, just for you, can you prioritise next?

Did you just give warm praise to some one and encourage them to keep going? So, it only takes a moment to find something to praise yourself for, to find the right words of encouragement that you really want to hear. Give a second or two to really making the words in her head, in a tone of voice that is sincere and really touches you where you need to be touched.

At this stage, many people find it is harder than it may sound to give yourself these balancing moments of really receiving what you want from yourself. It can reveal how Codependence often thrives on a lack of practice in letting ourselves be the receiver.

If you are finding this stage hard, it may reveal just how helpful this small change can be over time. Be accepting of yourself for any resistance you may feel. The resistance may even inform you of deeper needs, such as assurance that you are still a strong person even though you have some basic, deep needs.

Repetition makes a habit. And giving to yourself and receiving what you really want is a great habit to develop.

4 Ask and You are much more Likely to Receive

So, practicing these tiny changes will already be setting off some changes in your compulsive behaviours, help you to wake up to what it is you really want and open a channel for you to safely and privately practice receiving love in the way you would really like to.

Now you know, who is the safest person to begin to tell how you would like to be supported, noticed, loved? Start with small things, steering clear of recriminations that anyone needs to be explicitly told the way that they could show love to you.

One of the Codependent’s biggest barriers to receiving the love they really want is the notion that if you have to ask for it, it isn’t really love. That’s a really self-defeating idea. Drop it, and learn how much better things can be when you just ask for what you want.

You may not always get it. But there’s no shame in asking and there’s no shame in some one saying “No”. But it’s a real shame to let false pride keep you from the loop of love going round that you so want to be a part of.

5 Be Better at Giving

What? Doesn’t the Codependent person always try to give too much???

Yes. And they often aren’t as good at giving as they would like to think they are.

Now you know this secret. We all give love in the way we’d like to receive it.

So look around at the people you share your world with. They are the same as you in many ways. They too, are guided in how they give by what and how they would really like to receive from others.

So next time you want to help some one, stop. How does this person do things? When they try to offer something to some one, how do they do it? What do they try to give? They are unconsciously letting you know one of the ways they like to receive friendship, support, care.

So next time you give, you and they can both give and receive more of what you both really want.


Codependence, Independence and Interdependence – Part 2

How some pennies can drop

Sometimes I describe a certain scene to a person, couple or family I am working with and I can almost hear the pennies drop as it offers them a way to understand the hurt and dissatisfaction they have been feeling within their relationships.

It goes like this.

Imagine you are playing on a fruit machine, the kind of thing that sometimes gets called a “one-armed bandit”. It might have colours and lights, jingles and rhythms and three wheels that spin and stop. And spin again and stop again. You are inserting coins into it. Pulling on the handle that sets the wheels turning. Pushing and nudging buttons to try to manoeuvre some advantage.

And somewhere in the back of your mind you can remember that there was once a big pay-out from this thing, when coins fell down in a clatter of what felt like reward for all that investment of time, attention, effort and resources. Jackpot!

So you keep finding more coins and sliding them into the slot, keep pulling the lever, keep pushing and nudging because you are sure that if you just get it right again you’re bound to get another hit.

And keep dropping….

As it goes on and on, as you dig deeper and deeper into your pockets, you get frustrated, resentful, confused, stressed. You wrack your brains for a better way to crack the method of how to play this game. For brief moments you think you understand and a short-lived wave of relief comes over you. But pretty soon the fruit machine seems to have cottoned on to your “system” and has changed the way it was behaving before.

You start to calculate what you are losing and the shame and loss of that makes you try even harder to figure how to make this darn thing respond to you.

Every now and then the despair becomes too much and you slow down, take stock, and make one last attempt at getting something back. And suddenly – there! In a loud clatter, some coins drop down and you have just enough hope, and pennies, to try again. Surely this time you have cracked how to get back what you have put in.

But it is only a matter of time before you hit broke, despair and resignation again, only to be pulled back in by ever decreasing scoops of clattering coins that the fruit machine reluctantly spits out whenever you say “I’m done. No more. This isn’t working for me.”

And is it really the fruit machine’s fault? After all, it’s just doing what it always does. Who said that putting enough effort and money into this thing was going to bring you a sense of a balanced investment and return?

Love is a different currency.

When I describe this scenario, you may very quickly recognise that the behaviour is not working. That continuing in this way will only cause more loss, resentment and shame. Somehow it is easier for most people to recognise this when the investment is money and the recipient is an insentient machine.

So what has that got to do with the investment of love in our relationships? Love is not a course currency and people are not machines designed to fleece us of everything we have. People are responsive to each other, surely.

Absolutely right.

But when the patterns of codependency have taken hold in a person’s life they have started to unconsciously become like that person, shoving money into a heartless slot machine, unable to stop. Trying again and again, in infinite combinations, to give enough, in the right way, so that finally, surely one day, they will get back from other people what they have been endlessly putting in since, well, it may may seem like, since forever.

I hear “Maybe it’s me who’s a loser, unlovable, unworthy. Why else do I not get loved back when I give so much and try so hard.”

Sometimes we have to stop to consider, is it really the “slot machine” of the system of people in our life that is doing bad to us? Or are our behaviour, feelings and needs keeping us trapped in an addictive cycle of pain and disappointment in how we relate to people?  Perhaps more crucially, maybe this pattern is dictated by how we recognise, communicate and satisfy our deepest needs for love, connection, respect and security.

Damn It! We don’t live in a perfect world.

So how did it get to be like this?

In future posts I will offer insights through various models of developmental psychology, such as Attachment Theory and Adult Attachment Styles, Recovery and 12 Step Psychology, to Evolutionary Psychology and Neuroscience as to how people develop codependent patterns in their relating behaviours and states.

For now, let me tell you about the sort of person who is likely to develop codependent patterns.

When we are very young, we depend on other human beings to have all of our needs met. These are food, warmth and physical safety and, to the developing child, essential needs  also include positive attention, affection and soothing when we become afraid, confused or lonely.

Now, maybe our parents were great or maybe far from it, but no parents or caregivers are going to get it right all the time. They are juggling their child’s needs with their own needs as a person. Depending on how good they are at taking care of their own genuine needs, the more capable and available they will be in recognising and responding to those of their child.

If we lived in a perfect world, we’d learn from adults as we grew up about how to know, name, respect and meet our needs, so that we could also healthily know, name, respect and support these in others.

Codependency is not for wimps!

If a child’s caregivers are not able to recognise and respond to the growing child when they need care and soothing then the child has to start to develop ways to manage these themselves in the best way they know how.

Some will learn to do this by freezing out feelings, possibly developing compulsive patterns later on such as using drugs, drink, work, success, sex, to drown out the uncomfortable emotions that are part of every day life.

But some little babes are very clever, sensitive, intuitive and persistent. Some little people, even before they can speak sometimes, begin to notice that they can make the adults around them become less stressed, and in turn pay the baby more soothing attention. They learn all kinds of ways to please people. Watching, smiling, cooing. Their nervous systems become finely tuned to those around them, picking up on the stress of adults and experimenting with how they can make themselves feel more safe by making the people around them feel better.

Pretty soon that little baby adds to their repertoire of people-pleasing behaviours. If the parent has exceptional needs or lives their life chaotically the child soon learns how to take more and more responsibility for how people around them feel.

Some people who have codependent patterns have made a deal with life very early on. If it is their job to make people happy around them then any unhappiness is their fault, evidence of that they have done something wrong. And if it is their fault then, if they just try harder, one day the people around them will be happy enough to turn around and notice them and it will be their turn to get love.

Eventually this clever, sensitive, strong, persistent person only knows how they feel by observing other people around them. If anyone is unhappy they feel anxious, worthless and compelled to try to make it better.

They grow up knowing themselves to be perceptive givers, sometimes they even get praise for it, so they become expert at finding and getting involved with people who are ready to be taken care of. The codependent has an almost mystical talent to attract and get involved with people who are so needy themselves that there never seems to be much left over for them.

And to a person who is fixated on their own needs, like some one with alcoholism, workaholism, or some other pressing reason why they must always come first, the codependent is an absolute gift. Some one who not only tries so hard to “fix” the other person by meeting all their needs, but who is also strong enough to stick around, even on the tiniest morsels of thanks or affection. The codependent has learned to give all they can and get by on receiving very little.

Where’s my jackpot?

And it can be pretty cruel, because the codependent person, while trying so hard to be perfect for others and deny that they expect anything in return, is so often perceived as controlling, manipulative and bitter. The codependent person tries more and more desperate ways to stop people from leaving them. If they give out selflessly they are sure to get love back one day, aren’t they? Surely one day it will be jackpot time for them.

Yet to be around a person with codependence can be far from comfortable. People who need to be needed can force their attentions onto others, creating unwanted obligation, conflict and confusion. It’s as if being with that person brings a constant undertow with them, something draining that others may instinctively pull back from.

Because when the codependent made their deal with life, life did not make the deal back. When the child decided “If I’m good enough, give enough, try hard enough, one day it will be my turn to receive love and care” the world and the people in it never shook on it and replied “Agreed”.

If the codependent person is so invested denying and not knowing their own needs, how should anyone else know what they are either, let alone know how or feel inclined to meet those needs?

For now, here is some good news.

For some time, psychotherapy was less optimistic about the possibility of change in our engrained relating styles, that may have been laid down in the earliest days of our life. We now know more about the conditions and processes that continue throughout life to influence brain activity and structure and enable new learning, behaviour and experience.

Even though our patterns of codependent relating may be biologically, socially and behaviourally wired into unconscious compulsions and head-spinning rationalisations, we are able to learn and develop new ways to relate with ourself and others so that we and the people we relate to can be more satisfied, loving and respectful with each other.

Small, simple steps.

Problems in relating are often big and complicated. Solutions therefore often need us to make changes that at first are simple and small.

In Part 1 of “Codependence, Independence and Interdependence” I invited you to recognise different relating states and to raise your awareness of when, where and with which people you experienced different ways of experiencing and being in your relationships with others.

So that we can begin to recognise and understand the small changes that can start to make a big difference in our relating patterns, I’m going to invite you to get even more observant  about your interactions that may resemble patterns of codependency. You may experience these with with loved ones, friends, family, or others – neighbours, colleagues, even internet groups.

Identify when you feel most frustrated or dissatisfied in these interactions. Notice when you get that feeling that you are repeatedly giving something and in return you feel disrespected, unnoticed or even abused.

Take a few moments and ask yourself “What is it that I’m trying to give to this person?”

That’s no trick question. You are probably giving time, attention, tolerance, explanation, patience, energy, care, advice, kindness, freedom. Even in your most frustrated state you are probably trying to extend something of humanity to the person or persons you are caught up with in this dynamic that can feel like all-giving, no-receiving.

You might like  to make a note of what you try to offer people regularly in your attempts to make things better between you.

My Jackpot Penny

In Part 3, I am going to tell you about a penny that dropped for me about giving and receiving which changed the way I understood myself and my relationships for good. Call it “insight”, “ah-ha” or just a “blinding flash of the obvious”, but when I had this realisation it was like I’d won a jackpot. And it is so very, very simple.

It changed my life and started me on a road to more genuine love, intimacy and co-operation with people in my life, and feeling that I could be genuinely loved for who I am. I have shared this since with many clients in over 20 years of working as a psychotherapist and it is one of the most profound yet simple adjustments I know of that can make lasting and growing change to our actions, thinking, feeling and quality of relationship with self and others.

 Click here to see details of the 2-day course run by Pam on ‘Healing Codependency’