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Breaking the Codependency Trap

Boy, there is nothing like the Holidays to bring on the codependency trap. The good news, however, they are also the perfect time for us to practice breaking the trap and it comes with learning how to effectively disappoint others. I know that sounds harsh, but stick with me.

Now if you are like me, you may have grown up being handed down the “How To Be a Good Codependent" booklet. Now I don’t mean that it was intentional, these patterns are deeply ingrained and often deep in the subconscious and we don’t realize we pass them down. Literally, the Codependent No More book sat on my family bookshelf my whole childhood and I don’t know if anyone ever read the damn thing.

But maybe your like me and are ready to dust off that book and committed to showing up differently and breaking patterns that don’t support the highest good for all. So what do I mean by that? It means that we put an end to managing other people’s emotions and expectations and set loving and flexible boundaries while also letting people have their own feelings about said boundaries. We say no to things that are not supportive and nourishing to our well-being while also finding ways to say yes to things that do. The tough and most uncomfortable part of this for us people pleasers (yep that’s me) is letting people feel disappointed by you taking care of you. And let’s face it, you will also feel disappointed at times too, and that is ok. You are both allowed to disappoint and feel disappointed.

As a recovering codependent, practicing healthy boundaries is vital. However, let me be honest, boundary work has often been a comedy of errors. When I thought I was setting boundaries, I was actually building iron-clad fortresses to keep people out that I had let trespass time and time again or when I simply went above and beyond to caretake another needs without taking care of my own. Hello, “self-betrayal.” My “no’s” either came with over-the-top excuses or came out rough and edgy, then with remorse, and finally a full-on “get the hell out” and then remorse again. But through this learning process, I’ve learned to be more graceful about taking care of myself while also showing up for others authentically with joy. I’ve learned to put myself first and fill my inner well to be able to pour over into others. Ok, well at least more than I used to. Hey, I’m a work in progress and I imagine you are too.

Here are a few tips to break the codependency pattern while also finding ways to consider the other person's feelings and needs.

1. Speak your need, your yes, or your no to others in a neutral tone without ANY justification. You don’t need to explain or justify yourself, period. Your no or yes is justification is enough. In addition, if you feel highly triggered and emotional, see if you can do something to let that pass before communicating what you need. This might be taking a walk, moving the body, or talking it out with a trusted friend first.

Here is an example of how you might effectively share your need in a noncodependent way.

  • "I’m not getting a Yes to that event so I will pass on that. However, I would be open to considering something else or a time that might work for both of us, would you be open to that?"

Here is an example of how it might sound in a codependent way.

  • "I’m sorry to disappoint you but I just feel like I have too much going on (crying) and I’m just trying to do so much and please everyone and I just can’t do it anymore, please don’t hate me. Do you hate me? Ok maybe I’ll go, I don’t want to disappoint you. (But now I’m willing to disappoint myself! Damn it.)"

2. Allow others to have their own uncomfortable feelings. Likely by speaking your need or setting a boundary, you may disappoint the other. Your job is not to manage or change their feelings. You’re only job is to notice and manage yours. If you feel sad or guilty that you have disappointed someone, then it is your responsibility to recognize those emotions and do what you need to tend to them. Don’t expect others to try to alleviate your sadness or guilt after you express your need, this is your work.

3. Give other’s a break from the codependency trap too. Notice when you are over-asking, over-demanding, or having too high of expectations of others. If you are in a codependent dynamic, you will either be on one side of the coin or flip-flop between both, either feeling like you’re the one walking on eggshells or making others walk on them. Remember, it’s not just about you.

4. Be gentle with yourself and take small steps. Recognize that the codependency pattern took a lifetime or generations to develop and you won’t likely break the pattern in one day or season. Take small but effective steps, and take care of yourself if you fall on your face.

Breaking the codependency trap and learning to disappoint ain’t easy. Take it easy and lighten up. A lot of laughter and lightning up goes a long way and is the best medicine.

Have fun out there, you got this! Oh yeah, and Happy Holidays!

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