Many people turn to therapy because they feel as though they are not functioning. Most people come feeling depressed or anxious and fear that they are defective. Sadly, they even hear this from many medical and mental health providers. Depression and anxiety are an example of the way our body speaks to us. It is the body's wise knowing that something is wrong, that something bad happened, that you were hurt and that you need attention, a certain kind of attention.
Depression and anxiety are feelings that we would want to rid ourselves of, not turn into and certainly not welcome. And yet that is exactly what we need to do.
Much like you might reach for a crying child. Because this is how humans are built—this is our design. We must be attended to. We need to learn to show up to our dark feelings and our deep pain with love, the unconditional positive regard type of love. Love that is curious and investigative not an attempt to fix it but rather to be with it, to listen to its wanting's, to listen to its needs.
What is it that you are in search for, what kind of love? See it. And become it! See if you can be witness to instead, try not fixing. Try being the love you desire.
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If so, see if you can go into your breath, into your heart and into your belly. Feel into it, feel it through; show up with love and curiosity. I find that codependency is often misunderstood, even among well educated colleagues. Perhaps because its not part of training programs? Perhaps because it is still associated with 12 step programming rather than mental health? It wasn't something that was addressed in my training 17 years ago; it was something I had to learn about on my own, something I had to detangle over the years in my own personal growth work and that work of my clients.
Understanding codependency is something that I see as having moved well beyond 12 step programming and into the general understanding and practice of relationships and mental health. Codependency is a relationship paradigm that goes hand in hand with trauma, abuse, and substance abuse as it inherently involves an imbalance of power and a forfeit of personal power. Codependency almost always walks in the door with a new client.
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Codependency is almost always there with suffering, depression, anxiety and sexual assault to name a few. Codependency doesn't know the word "no". Interdependency is the relationship paradigm we are working in within the therapeutic alliance, what we are training for in communication and self care in relationship with self and others.
Where in codependency, boundaries are seen as mean, in interdependency they are seen as essential for the survival of peace of mind, safety of body, and security of spirit. In the codependent paradigm the sense of self and individuality has been chipped away at through the methods of guilting, shaming and boundary violation.
In interdependency there is a reverence to self and other, a deep respect for difference. I first heard about codependency from my husband. At the time we were only newly dating, I was in my training program at Lesley University, he a young and progressive community minister. He was also in therapy and codependency was something he talked a lot about in relationship to his upbringing. He was fiercely trying to avoid it in intimate relationships.
This was attractive! I allowed myself to date him as I was in recovery from too many of my own toxic, and what I now know to be, codependent relationships. However, I knew none of this at the time. I just liked that he was in therapy, looking at his upbringing and looking not to repeat the same mistakes. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself. Like all of us learning something new, he knew how to identify it and he knew he suffered from it, he knew the rancid stink. I knew of suffering.
I had been in therapy for about three years, but I did not know of codepdenency. For the first time, the elephant in the room was being addressed and if I'm being honest, I didn't even know it. And so, we continued dating and we continued talking about this thing called codependency that I didn't think I had much to do with but it was sexy and offered a sense of security, a man in therapy addressing relationship problems. I'm in! Over the years, I became the one who recognized the stink and even an impatient intolerance for it within my most intimate relationships.
I sadly lost a friend because I became her codepdency coach and radar machine. I was so intolerant! It was as if it was threatening to take me over and I was fighting to breath! With my mother and my husband, when it rears its ugly head I will still grumble but hopefully have softened a bit.
You see—as I was trying to escape codependency and developed a strong distaste for it I was still operating within the system. In interdependency we do not manage others—and with that there is freedom, sweet freedom!
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Sing your praises! It took losing my friend and almost my mother to see this. For sometime now I've even recognized American culture as codependent, involving ourselves in the business of other nations while our own crumbles; children keep killing each other, there are messages everywhere that its not okay to be you, protect you, be respected as you. So, it is virtually impossible to escape this paradigm growing up in this country but this is not an excuse from addressing this within you. You have the right to live freely. You have the right to respect yourself, your needs, your desires.
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You have the right to live your life—to marry or not marry who you love, to choose the career that makes your heart sing not the one you are told is going to bring security , to say NO! You are anxious. You are unable to see your future. You don't have to live your life this way. And you most definitely do have the right to be happy and to live a life that is yours! In interdependency we recognize this as a powerful influence not as the harming of others, most especially those we love.
In interdependency we know that we don't have to leave the ones we love behind, but take them with us as long as they are willing. Giving careful consideration to my office aesthetic has always been important to me ever since I started out working within institutions. It made sense to me from the start that environment plays an important role in healing. By my new co-workers at the time I was seen carrying in small bits of furniture, lamps and always plants in an effort to reduce the institutional feel of the provided office and to create, instead, an environment that was warm and welcoming and that would put my clients at ease.
Hopefully, they would sense that they were walking into a safe and nurturing space. If we nurture our environment, chances are good, we nuture ourselves, and chances are even greater then that we nuture our clients. I was, from the very beginning, told by my clients that they appreciated my efforts and that it made them feel more relaxed.
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Today, in private practice for over 11 years now and in my current space I have a lot more control. For the first few years I was there, it was painted a vibrant and simultaneously warm yellow that I felt invoked hope and warmth—like we were gathering around the hearth. Recently, I chose to repaint. As much for me as for my clients, I felt it was time to simplify, to reduce the clutter that had gathered over the years and to keep what matters most, healing objects. This time around, I wanted my office to feel more spa-like but still intimate. I wanted to bring in the quiet and support introspection and contemplation.
As the world is often so loud so is the interior of our minds and this can make the task very challenging for many of us.
As such, I try to conceal the paperwork in drawers or if I must, keep tidy piles. I have kept the plants and have even added more. I decided to make the plants more of a central focus as they are here to clean the air and offer the courage to grow. I always have tea and water in the waiting room; even if it is not made use of it sends a welcoming message. Often a client just holds the warm mug, uses it as something to gaze into as they prepare the sometimes harrowing journey of gazing into their own mind and heart.
Psychotherapeutically this warm mug and gift of tea represent the caretaker that is needed and longed for.
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Holding space is not just how we show up in the space as providers but it is also the space, the shelter, the container that we create that matters in supporting our clients on their healing journey. When people we care about face deep pain and suffering, we can often in turn experience a sense of helplessness. Questions such as, "What am I supposed to do? I also respond to these types of questions and concerns in my therapy practice; a client may end up feeling responsible for the welfare of a peer or loved one who is struggling.
This can provoke mental health issues for the appointed caretaker as it can be scary and overwhelming and elicit a sense of helplessness that manifests as anxiety and depression. We often think to be a good friend means to offer really good advice and more: to fix the situation and take away the hurt. Of course we'd want to take the pain away! Paradoxically, what our loved ones need is not to be fixed but rather to be free to safely express themselves in their vulnerability.
We need to be seen and heard and offering a space for your loved ones to do that is is not only what they need most, but also simpler for you than attempting the impossible task of fixing it. Another important thing about humans is that we don't need advice. Although we often think we do and often think we should give it, really what we need, what our friends need, is support attending to their hurt and finding resolution. Here are some ways to support a friend in need in a safe and validating way, as well as how to assess risk. Take the time to listen.