I've come from a codependent upbringing. During childhood and teen years, my parents were "abusing" themselves with alcohol and other fixes, and at a very young age, I witnessed this behavior and confused it for love.
Do you ever feel so stuck, you're just praying for the signs to be heard and answered? My prayers were answered, at least for today. Tomorrow is the unknown. Something so simple can spark such great inspiration. And so, in times of chaos and duality, the one thing we can control is ourselves, our focus, and our attitude towards a person, place or thing.
Now that I am an adult, I am experiencing love at first hand and I recognize my tendency to avoid it or "run away" from it, as my little child had done or made the decision to do when she was vulnerable and afraid.
Now that I am an adult, I am my own mother to my inner child. I know that previous illusions of "love" can be dissolved and I don’t need to hide away or run from current relationships (including the relationship with myself) because I know what is safe and supportive for me (and my inner child). I have the opportunity to tell her she is safe and she can be direct about how she feels and when she feels it (and then I give her a long embrace, literally.)
What Our Society Says About Feelings
Our culture splits our feelings into two categories: good and bad. Anger, pain, fear and shame are labeled as bad or negative. Joy, passion and love are considered good or positive. Pia Mellody (Facing Codependence) says that "this sort of black and white categorizing is erroneous and dysfunctional.
We are constantly being labeled and worrying about which emotions are acceptable or not. This puts a lot of pressure on us! For example, if a man is afraid, he's a coward. It's acceptable for a woman to be afraid because she is weak and vulnerable, but if a woman is angry then she is a witch, but a man's anger is him exerting his power…" it’s all a bunch of crap!
Another message society imposes on us is that pain is not acceptable (for men or women). The code I interpret when I hear this is that "I don’t have a right to have pain, or I am not worthy of pain, so I should take what I need to numb it", which leads to higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse/ addictions.
Pia says that, "wisdom and maturity come from facing pain and learning from it... we are a nation of very immature people who don’t have the willingness to experience the pain that leads to authentic wisdom. We haven't learned how to tolerate pain and deal with it as an agent of positive change."
"Emotional damage most profoundly sabotages our lives as adult codependents," says Pia. The moment I decided to understand my emotional numbness (rather than being in denial of it) and slowly open to feel is one great step towards liberation!
A behavior that codependents often have trouble expereincing is setting functional boundries and owning and expressing their own reality. Their needs and wants get mixed up in a storm of what other people need and want (people pleasing) and their personal expression is not being met moderately, nor is it being owned. I've always been very passive aggressive in my words and actions. And up until now, I didn’t realize it was a defect, I took pride in it. (HA!)
I can relate a lot to this… in fact, I am slowly recovering from this dysfunctional, less-than nurturing "parenting" style. As a child, it was all that I knew, the intensity was normal and if I didn’t feel this intensity in myself, in my relationships, sex life, family, food… then I thought something is wrong with me! And worse, I tried to numb myself (and my emotions) for many years in thinking that my behavior was valid and sane when in fact, the more I come to think of it, my life had become unmanageable!
A Willingness to Heal
In Pia Mellody's, Facing Codependence, she explains that feeling healthy emotions is a positive experience. And that as long as each emotion is expressed in a healthy and functional way (not bypassing or numbing), each of our emotions has a specific purpose and can serve as a teacher for us! Below are core emotions and perspective on each:
- Joy gives us hope and a sense of abundance or "I have enough."
- Passion gives us an energy that motivates us to create and to survive.
- Love is a sense of warmth for self or another that motivates us to treat ourselves and others well. It gives us a sense of inherent worth.
- Anger gives us the strength we need to do what is necessary to take care of ourselves. We can use anger in a healthy way to our own best interest by facing it and expressing it in non-abusive ways (to ourselves or to other support).
- Fear helps us protect ourselves. We become alert to the possibility of danger when we feel fear, that way we can safely protect ourselves. Healthy fear keeps us from getting into relationships that would not be in our own best interest. (A question I asked myself during meditation... "Would... be of my best interest? "Would it be of my best interest to...?" and so on... listening to my body's reaction/ and considering your heart).
- Pain motivates us to grow towards increasing maturity. Life is full of pain-producing "problems", that is normal and healthy. Feeling the pain produces growth, ability to heal from past events, and a maturity to learn and move on. Repressing the pain and not facing it (or medicating/ abusing substance in some way) keeps us injured and immature.
- Guilt is a healthy warning system telling us we have transgressed a value we considered to be important. Meaning, what you thought was important and was previously damaged/ hurt by it, is serving as a gentle sign for you to recognize your behavior and evolve. By feeling our guilt, we can shift our behavior and decide to live up to our values.
- Shame tells us that we are imperfect and that we are not God. Although, according to our culture, we may feel shame but "we're not supposed to talk about it... our lives are filled with experiences of shame." Pia says, "codependency is a shame-based illness and it's hard to recover when the one thing we need to talk about is not supposed to be revealed or discussed." Our own healthy shame serves as a reminder to self that we are perfectly imperfect (as I like to say), and we can learn to be accountable and responsible for our own actions and the world around us.
Walking Through the Door
These times bring up so much uncertainty. In a world with so much chaos echoing all around us, it is most important that we listen to our greatest M.V.P... our heart!! As well as trust ourselves and ask ourselves, "What is most important for me right now?" or "What is good for my soul right now?".
I've been the "love avoidant" all my life, because I witnessed a distorted version of love as a child and decided back then to turn away or "avoid" love. Now that I am an adult, I can walk through the shadows, pain and sorrow (all those "black" emotions") and allow them to come up and out without judgement or shame. This is so liberating! I can now see and feel with a new pair of spectacles (and an ever evolving skin suit)! But of course, I had to experience all that I did to come to this realization, how magical!
These days bring so much distortion and it is hard to tell what is true and what is false. Asking ourselves, "What is true?" or "Is it true for me?" is a good place to start when making decisions about your future!! Let's not forget to always invite JOY and PLAY into our relationships, intents, words, and actions!!
It is okay to ask for clarity and take as much time as we need to process our daily experiences. Imagine you get in a car accident and the little child is in the back seat... post accident, everyone is safe, but the little child is traumatized by such an extreme experience. We have to hold our inner child and tell him/ her that we are okay, we are going to be safe, and allow as much time as you need to walk through the door. I always say "take baby steps" or as my mentor says "micro-commitments". And remember, saying "no" is a sentence. When you say "no" to someone else, you say "yes" to yourself.
“Even when I detach, I care. You can be separate from a thing and still care about it.” ― David Levithan
Featured Photo @rosa.scipion
Other photos taken by me on my most recent adventure to Kauai
Highly recommend books "Love Addiction" and "Facing Codependency" by Pia Mellody
For further help/ recovery, reach out to me for support and/or healing breathwork sessions; also visit Al-Anon.org for further support.