Recognition, awareness, is the first step in healing – as I stated in the previous article. Becoming aware is the beginning of getting honest with ourselves. As long as we are reacting unconsciously out of old tapes and old wounds, we are not capable of seeing ourselves clearly. As long as our emotional experience of life is being dictated by the past, we are doomed to keep repeating and reacting to our patterns. We need to start seeing clearly what our patterns are, and start taking responsibility for our part in them in order to change our experience of life. As long as we are incapable of being honest with ourselves, we will keep setting ourselves up to be the victim of people who feel familiar energetically – we will continue to be our own worst enemies.
“In our disease defense system we build up huge walls to protect ourselves and then – as soon as we meet someone who will help us to repeat our patterns of abuse, abandonment, betrayal, and/or deprivation – we lower the drawbridge and invite them in. We, in our Codependence, have radar systems which cause us to be attracted to, and attract to us, the people, who for us personally, are exactly the most untrustworthy (or unavailable or smothering or abusive or whatever we need to repeat our patterns) individuals – exactly the ones who will “push our buttons.”
This happens because those people feel familiar. Unfortunately in childhood the people whom we trusted the most – were the most familiar – hurt us the most. So the effect is that we keep repeating our patterns and being given the reminder that it is not safe to trust ourselves or other people.
Once we begin healing we can see that the Truth is that it is not safe to trust as long as we are reacting out of the emotional wounds and attitudes of our childhoods. Once we start Recovering, then we can begin to see that on a Spiritual level these repeating behavior patterns are opportunities to heal the childhood wounds.
The process of Recovery teaches us how to take down the walls and protect ourselves in healthy ways – by learning what healthy boundaries are, how to set them, and how to defend them. It teaches us to be discerning in our choices, to ask for what we need, and to be assertive and Loving in meeting our own needs. (Of course many of us have to first get used to the revolutionary idea that it is all right for us to have needs.)
Recovery involves bringing to consciousness those beliefs and attitudes in our subconscious that are causing our dysfunctional reactions so that we can reprogram our ego defenses to allow us to live a healthy, fulfilling life instead of just surviving. So that we can own our power to make choices for ourselves about our beliefs and values instead of unconsciously reacting to the old tapes. Recovery is consciousness raising. It is en-light-en-ment – bringing the dysfunctional attitudes and beliefs out of the darkness of our subconscious into the Light of consciousness.
On an emotional level the dance of Recovery is owning and honoring the emotional wounds so that we can release the grief energy – the pain, rage, terror, and shame that is driving us.
That shame is toxic and is not ours – it never was! We did nothing to be ashamed of – we were just little kids. Just as our parents were little kids when they were wounded and shamed, and their parents before them, etc., etc. This is shame about being human that has been passed down from generation to generation.
There is no blame here, there are no bad guys, only wounded souls and broken hearts and scrambled minds.
Because of our broken hearts, our emotional wounds, and our scrambled minds, our subconscious programming, what the disease of Codependence causes us to do is abandon ourselves. It causes the abandonment of self, the abandonment of our own inner child – and that inner child is the gateway to our channel to the Higher Self.
The one who betrayed us and abandoned and abused us the most was ourselves. That is how the emotional defense system that is Codependence works.
The battle cry of Codependence is “I’ll show you – I’ll get me.” – text in this color are quotes from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls)
The governing principle of life is cause and effect. If you keep doing what you are doing – you will keep getting what you have been getting. In order to stop being our own worst enemies, in order to stop setting our self up to be abandoned, betrayed, and abused – it is vital to get honest with our self.
There are many different levels and facets to the process of becoming honest with self. In these articles I am going to be focusing on three primary areas that are of vital importance in clearing up our relationship with self through getting more honest with self. Those three are: boundaries; emotional honesty; and emotional responsibility.
Self-Honesty – The Foundation
Honesty with self is the foundation of the twelve step program, the cornerstone of any effective healing/spiritual path. Without being honest with our self, we cannot be honest with anyone in our lives. Without being honest with our self, we cannot see our behaviors, patterns, or relationships clearly. Without being honest with ourselves, we cannot know who we Truly are – or see others clearly.
One of the most important tools in the process of getting honest with our self is detachment. As long as we are reacting unconsciously to old wounds and old tapes, it is impossible to see ourselves clearly – we are dancing in the dark. As long as we haven’t become aware of our patterns, and started healing our wounds, then we can not be honest with ourselves or anyone else.
It is important to start detaching from our own process so that we can observe it instead of just being caught up in our reactions. In order to start seeing other people more clearly, we need to detach from feeling responsible for their feelings and behavior – from taking their behavior personally.
Here is an excerpt from my process level book Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light that addresses this very necessary tool.
“Detach 1. To unfasten and make separate; disconnect; disunite.
Detachment 1. A detaching; separation.
(New Illustrated Webster’s Dictionary)
“The goal of this dance of Recovery is integration and balance. That means celebrating being a tree while also glorying in being a part of the forest. Recovery is a process of becoming conscious of our individual wholeness and our ONENESS with all.”
The healing process is full of paradox and irony on multiple levels. One of those paradoxes is that in order to get in touch with our ONENESS with everything, we must first be able to define our self as separate from others. And in order to become an integrated whole being, we must first separate and own all of the different parts of our self within. As long as we don’t have clear boundaries between our self and others – we cannot know where we end and someone else starts – we cannot get clear on what is our stuff and what is theirs. As long as we don’t have clear boundaries within ourselves, we are set up to be the victim of our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Detachment is a vital technique in starting to see our self and others more clearly.
Most people who have any experience with twelve step programs will associate the term “detachment” with Al-Anon. In Al-Anon terms, detachment means to let go of believing that one has the power to make an alcoholic drink – or not drink. To stop taking an alcoholics behavior personally. It means to let go of feeling responsible for another persons feelings and behavior.
Detaching from feeling responsible for the feelings and behavior of other people is one of the initial stages of any codependence recovery. We learned in childhood that we had the power to make our parents happy or sad, angry or scared. We experienced painful consequences when our behavior was not what the adults around us considered acceptable. Some of us came from families where being a human child was not acceptable behavior. Some of us came from families afflicted with alcoholism or mental illness, in which case the definition of acceptable behavior varied wildly from one day to the next. Some of us came from families where as children we were allowed to have the power and be in control – which is terrifying and abusive to a child. Some of us came from families where no one in the family had permission to be human. None of these environments taught us how to relate to self and life in a healthy way.
We grew up getting the message that we were responsible for other people feelings and behavior. And we were taught to give other people or outside agencies power over how we felt about ourselves. We learned to do life backwards.
“I spent most of my life doing the Serenity prayer backwards, that is, trying to change the external things over which I had no control – other people and life events mostly – and taking no responsibility (except shaming and blaming myself) for my own internal process – over which I can have some degree of control. Having some control is not a bad thing; trying to control something or somebody over which I have no control is what is dysfunctional.”
We tried to control other people so we could protect ourselves emotionally. Some of us (classical codependent behavior) tried to control through people pleasing, being a chameleon, wearing a mask, dancing to other people’s tunes. Some of us (classical counterdependent behavior – the opposite extreme) protected ourselves by pretending that we didn’t need other people. Either way we were living life in reaction to our childhood wounds – we were not making clear, conscious choices. (If we think our choice is to be in an abusive relationship or not to be in a relationship at all, that is not a choice – that is reacting between two extremes that are symptoms of our childhood wounds.)” – Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light
I needed to learn how to apply the Serenity Prayer to my life by learning what I do have the power to change and what I don’t have power over. This was for me the beginning of learning about boundaries.
Boundary 1. A limiting or dividing line or mark.
(New Illustrated Webster’s Dictionary)
Boundaries define limits, mark off dividing lines. The purpose of a boundary is to make clear separations between different turf, different territory.
In terms of boundaries between countries, these dividing lines are arbitrary and mostly man made according to who won the last war – although sometimes natural boundaries such as rivers are a factor in drawing the boundary lines. Likewise, boundaries between states, counties, those defining property lines – are primarily arbitrary and man made.
In relationship to recovery and the growth process, I am going to be talking about two primary types of boundaries. Natural boundaries that are part of the way life works – that are aligned with the reality of the rules that govern human dynamics – and personal boundaries.
It is vital in recovery to start recognizing and accepting the reality of the human life experience. We need to learn to live life on “life’s terms” – play the game of life by the rules that actually work, instead of the dysfunctional ones we learned in childhood.
We grew up in dysfunctional families living in dysfunctional societies that were part of dysfunctional civilizations. The definitions we learned in childhood about who we were, how life works, and how to relate to other people were false, distorted, and twisted. Because the definitions, attitudes, and beliefs we were programmed with in childhood were false, they set us up to have emotional reactions to life that gave us inaccurate information.
“Our experiential reality is determined by the interpretations of our mind – by the intellectual paradigm which we are using to define / determine / translate / explain our reality. The attitudes, definitions, and belief systems which we hold mentally dictate our emotional reactions. Attitudes, definitions, and beliefs determine perspective and expectation – which in turn dictates our relationships. Our relationships to our self, to life, to other people, to The God-Force / Goddess Energy / Great Spirit. Our relationships to our own emotions, bodies, gender, etc., are dictated by the attitudes, definitions, and beliefs that we are holding mentally / intellectually. And we acquired those mental constructs / ideas / concepts in early childhood from the emotional experiences, intellectual teachings, and role modeling of the beings around us. If we have not done our emotional healing so that we can get in touch with our subconscious intellectual programming then we are still reacting to that early childhood programming / intellectual paradigm even though we may not be aware of it consciously.” – The True Nature of Love – part 4, Energetic Clarity
Our emotions are what drive us, what propel us, through life. Our emotions tell us who we are. If our relationship with our own emotions is messed up, we cannot see reality clearly.
If life is a dance, then our emotions provide the music. Dancing in the dark according to rules that are dysfunctional is not much fun. Dancing through life believing that we have responsibility for the feelings and behaviors of others, doesn’t allow us to relax and enjoy life very much. Believing that we have to earn love by doing the dance “right,’ by being perfect, in order to reach the destination where we will get to live happily-ever-after – sets us up to be unhappy and blame ourselves for being unworthy and unlovable.
“We were taught that life is about destinations, and that when we get to point x – be it marriage or college degree or fame and fortune or whatever – we will live happily ever after.
That is not the way life works. You know that now, and probably threw out that fairy tale ending stuff intellectually a long time ago. But on some emotional level we keep looking for it because that is what the children in us were taught. We keep living life as if it is a dress rehearsal for “when our ship comes in.” For when we really start to live. For when we get that relationship, or accomplishment, or money that will make us okay, that will fix us.
We do not need fixing. We are not broken. Our sense of self, our self perception, was shattered and fractured and broken into pieces, not our True Self.”
We learned to have a dysfunctional relationship with self, with other people, and with life in early childhood. It is vital to start looking at our self and life from a new perspective, with different eyes. In order to do that, it is necessary to start being very honest with ourselves. Once we start to be honest and see reality with more clarity then we can start changing our relationships, start changing the way we do the dance of life.
The way this works for humans, is that we keep dancing the dance we have known until we get consequences that are so painful that we are forced to surrender the way we have been dancing and consider doing it different. When we get to a point where we are beaten and bloody enough from banging our heads into the same wall, where we are sick and tired of being sick and tired of our consequences – then we become willing to consider changing the way we dance.
For me the original point of surrender came because of alcohol. When I was in enough pain, and my family quit enabling me, I was forced to detach enough from my dance to get honest with myself about the effect that alcohol was having on my life. (Enabling is when family, friends and/or loved ones rescue us from the consequences of our own behavior. As long as we do not have to face our responsibility for what we are getting in life, we are never forced to get honest with ourselves about our part in creating those consequences.)
I had to get honest with myself enough to stop blaming other people and life for the reality of the dance I had been dancing. I had to detach enough from my reactive process to see clearly that alcohol and drugs were not serving me anymore – that my relationship with them was dysfunctional. I had to set a boundary with myself mentally about my beliefs in relationship to alcohol. I had to stop seeing alcohol and drugs as a solution, as a tool for coping with life that I could not live without – in other words, I needed to change my relationship with alcohol and my beliefs about alcohol and drugs. I had to get honest with myself about the consequences of my drinking.
I was forced to look at the reality of my life, to get emotionally honest with myself, and own that I had a choice to do things different. I had to start taking some responsibility for my life, instead of blaming it on others. I had to own that I had a choice to set a boundary with myself about my behavior in regard to alcohol – that I could choose to learn how to live life without drinking and using by having boundaries with myself.
Hitting bottom, the point of surrender – rather it is because of alcohol, or an eating disorder, or abusive relationships, or whatever – is a gift from the Universe. It is the point where we are forced to start becoming honest with ourselves. It is the point where we start awakening to the reality of the dysfunctional dance we have been doing. It is the point where we start recognizing natural boundaries and start setting personal boundaries.
Recognizing that alcohol was not working for me anymore, was to become conscious of the limitations set up by the disease of alcoholism. It was a recognition of the natural boundaries that my body was setting about my use of alcohol and drugs. Once I got honest with myself about the reality of my life, then I could recognize that I had a choice to not drink one day at a time by starting to have a personal boundary with myself about picking up the next drink.
Getting honest with myself and seeing life more clearly was the beginning of my journey of recovery. Emotional honesty, taking responsibility, recognizing and setting boundaries were all necessary ingredients in beginning to awaken to a new way of living life.
The Rules that Work
In terms of the Serenity Prayer, I needed to figure out what I did have the power to change and what I did not. I needed to learn the extent of my own personal power. I needed to detach from my own reactive relationship with life enough to start seeing with some clarity where the boundaries of my power ended so that I could figure out what I was responsible for – and therefore what I could change – and what I was powerless over, and therefore needed to accept.
The Serenity Prayer states;
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The wisdom to know the difference is, of course, the key here. As long as I was looking outside of myself for a way to fill the hole I felt within, I was set up to fail. As long as my relationship with life was being dictated by the false beliefs and definitions I had learned in childhood, I was destined to have a dysfunctional relationship with life.
I do not have the power to make other people be who I want them to be. I am not in control of life. I cannot dictate the outcome of situations. I can take actions in a direction to try to make something happen. I can plant seeds in hopes that they grow. But ultimately I am not in control of life events. It was very important for me to accept that in order to start seeing life more clearly.
It was very important for me to realize that what I do have some power over is my own attitudes, behavior, and feelings. It was very important for me to recognize that other people did not have power over my feelings unless I gave it to them. It was vital for me to start realizing and taking responsibility for how I was setting myself up to be the victim because of my childhood programming.
“There is an old joke about the difference between a neurotic and a psychotic. The psychotic truly believes that 2 + 2 = 5. The neurotic knows that it is 4 but can’t stand it. That was the way I lived most of my life, I could see how life was but I couldn’t stand it. I was always feeling like a victim because people and life were not acting in the way I believed they “should” act.
I expected life to be different than it is. I thought if I was good and did it “right” then I would reach ‘happily ever after.’ I believed that if I was nice to people they would be nice to me. Because I grew up in a society where people were taught that other people could control their feelings, and vise versa, I had spent most of my life trying to control the feelings of others and blaming them for my feelings.
By having expectations I was giving power away. In order to become empowered I had to own that I had choices about how I viewed life, about my expectations. I realized that no one can make me feel hurt or angry – that it is my expectations that cause me to generate feelings of hurt or anger. In other words, the reason I feel hurt or anger is because other people, life, or God are not doing what I want them, expect them, to do.
I had to learn to be honest with myself about my expectations – so I could let go of the ones that were insane (like, everyone is going to drive the way I want them to), and own my choices – so I could take responsibility for how I was setting myself up to be a victim in order to change my patterns. Accept the things I cannot change – change the things I can.” – Serenity and Expectations
If someone is emotionally abusive, and I keep expecting them to treat me in a loving respectful way – then I am the one who has the problem. I give them the power to push my buttons because I am empowering an insane expectation. I think they “should” act different, so I keep setting them up to be the bad guy, and me to be the poor abused victim. This is a codependent pattern that allows me to feel superior to others because of my self righteous indignation.
It is very sad that one of my main sources of self esteem for much of my life was to feel morally superior to the people who were abusing me. It is not bad or wrong or shameful – but it is dysfunctional, and it is very sad.
“We cannot become clear on what we are seeing or hearing if we are reacting to emotional wounds that we have not been willing/able to feel and subconscious attitudes that we have not been willing/able to look at.
We cannot learn to trust ourselves as long as we are still setting ourselves up to be victimized by untrustworthy people. We cannot learn to Love ourselves enough to meet our own needs until we start to release the attitudes and feelings that tell us that we are unworthy – that it is somehow shameful to be ourselves. We cannot learn to Love ourselves without learning discernment.
The black and white thinking of Codependence causes us to either keep the baby in the dirty bath water or throw out both. Discernment is picking the baby out of the dirty bath water.
We can learn to trust and Love ourselves through learning to make healthier choices about who to trust and what to believe. We can begin to be able to recognize Truth and throw out the distortions, false beliefs, and lies. By doing our emotional healing, by changing the dysfunctional attitudes, we can start being responsible in our lives – that is, we can begin to have the ability to respond to life honestly in the moment.
Until we heal our wounds, until we become honest and clear in our emotional process, we are not able to be discerning. We are not capable of responding to life in the now – we are only able to react out of old grief, out of old tapes.”
One of the trickiest challenges with codependence recovery is escaping from the black and white thinking. Out of our codependence – from an emotional reaction level – there were two options: blame them, blame me. It is vital in recovery to start taking the blame out of the process. We need to learn to take responsibility for our side of the street, and hold other people responsible for their side of the street.
As we become aware of how we have set ourselves up to be emotionally abused it is important not to judge and blame ourselves for behavior and attitudes that we were unconsciously empowering. If we beat ourselves up for being emotionally abused, then we are emotionally abusing ourselves.
It is vital to start recognizing how the childhood emotional and intellectual programming set us up. It is very important to start recognizing our powerlessness to change our patterns until we became aware of them. In order to stop emotionally abusing ourselves, and allowing others to emotionally abuse us, it is very important to become aware of how powerful our childhood programming has been in our lives.
“We must start recognizing our powerlessness over this disease of Codependence.
As long as we did not know we had a choice we did not have one.
If we never knew how to say “no,” then we never really said “yes.”
We were powerless to do anything any different than we did it. We were doing the best we knew how with the tools that we had. None of us had the power to write a different script for our lives.”
I am going to wrap up this article by giving two examples of how powerful the intellectual and emotional programing is until we get conscious of it and honest with ourselves about how the past is dictating our lives today. The first example is from my own personal process about the breakthrough that started my codependence recovery. The second is about someone I worked with and points out how necessary it is to do the emotional healing to get in touch with the subconscious intellectual programming
“I went home to do some writing and was pretty amazed at what it revealed. I realized that I was still reacting to life out of the religious programming of my childhood – even though I had thrown out that belief system on a conscious, intellectual level in my late teens and early twenties. The writing that I did that night helped me to recognize that my emotional programming was dictating my relationship with life even though it was not what I consciously believed.
I realized that the belief that “life was about sin and punishment and I was a sinner who deserved to be punished” was running my life. When I felt “bad” or “bad” things happened to me – I tried to blame it on others to keep from realizing how much I was hating myself for being flawed and defective, a sinner. When I felt good or good things happened I was holding my breath because I knew it would be taken away because I didn’t deserve it. Often when things got too good I would sabotage it because I couldn’t stand the suspense of waiting for god to take it away – which “he” would because I didn’t deserve it.
. . . I said to myself – this is no way to live life, I need to change this. So that night I started to focus on changing the subconscious programming from my childhood. I didn’t know how I was going to do it – but I was determined to find out. (That was an act of Love for myself that at the time I wouldn’t have known to call Love.)” – Joy2MeU Journal Premier issue The Story of “Joy to You & Me”
“We cannot get clearly in touch with the subconscious programming without doing the grief work. The subconscious intellectual programming is tied to the emotional wounds we suffered and many years of suppressing those feelings has also buried the attitudes, definitions, and beliefs that are connected to those emotional wounds. It is possible to get intellectually aware of some of them through such tools as hypnosis, or having a therapist or psychic or energy healer tell us they are there – but we cannot really understand how much power they carry without feeling the emotional context – and cannot change them without reducing the emotional charge / releasing the emotional energy tied to them. Knowing they are there will not make them go away.
A good example of how this works is a man that I worked with some years ago. He came to me in emotional agony because his wife was leaving him. He was adamant that he did not want a divorce and kept saying how much he loved his wife and how he could not stand to lose his family (he had a daughter about 4.) I told him the first day he came in that the pain he was suffering did not really have that much to do with his wife and present situation – but was rooted in some attitude from his childhood. But that did not mean anything to him on a practical level, on a level of being able to let go of the attitude that was causing him so much pain. It was only while doing his childhood grief work that he got in touch with the pain of his parents divorce when he was 10 years old. In the midst of doing that grief work the memory of promising himself that he would never get a divorce, and cause his child the kind of pain he was experiencing, surfaced. Once he had gotten in touch with, and released, the emotional charge connected to the idea of divorce, he was able to look at his present situation more clearly. Then he could see that the marriage had never been a good one – that he had sacrificed himself and his own needs from the beginning to comply with his dream / concept of what a marriage should be. He could then see that staying in the marriage was not serving him or his daughter. Once he got past the promise he made to himself in childhood, he was able to let go of his wife and start building a solid relationship with his daughter based on the reality of today instead of the grief of the past.
It was the idea / concept of his wife, of marriage, that he had been unable to let go of – not the actual person. By changing his intellectual concept / belief, he was able to get clear on what the reality of the situation was and sever the emotional energy chains / cords that bound him to the situation and to his wife. He was then able to let go of giving away power over his self-esteem (part of his self-esteem was based on keeping his promise to himself) to a situation / person that he could not control. He gained the wisdom / clarity to discern the difference between what he had some power to change and what he needed to accept. He could not change his wife’s determination to get a divorce but he could change his attitude toward that divorce – once he changed the subconscious emotional programming connected to the concept.” – The True Nature of Love – part 4, Energetic Clarity
Our childhood programming, our codependence, is incredibly powerful. It is so important to have compassion for our selves. We truly were powerless to do the dance of life in a functional way as long as we were reacting unconsciously. Becoming conscious, starting to get honest with ourselves so that we can see reality more clearly, is the beginning of an incredible adventure – an E ticket ride on the biggest roller coaster imaginable.
It is not our fault that we were wounded. It is not our fault that we have had dysfunctional and dishonest interaction patterns. It is very painful to start getting honest with ourselves. It is also the beginning of learning to Love our self. The traumatic event that forces us to start awakening,, the roadblock that is keeping us from getting where we thought we wanted to go, is actually a detour that puts us on the path back home to Love. It really is good news.
The is the second in a series of 5 articles focused on emotional honesty and emotional responsibility on Robert’s website. The one that proceeds it is: Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility – the one that follows it is Setting Personal Boundaries – protecting self.
Joy2MeU.com includes over 200 pages of free original content on codependency recovery, inner child healing, relationship dynamics, alcoholism/addiction, fear of intimacy, Twelve Step Spirituality, New Age Metaphysics, emotional abuse, setting boundaries, grief process, and much more. Here is the site index page of his site. He also has a mobile friendly site focused on his work: http://recoverycodependence.com/
The approach to the inner child healing that he talks about on his web site is one he pioneered – and is not widely known yet. The formula – which includes learning to set the internal boundaries – is something that he teaches people how to do through telephone counseling and periodic Day long Intensive Training workshops in San Diego.