Fear of intimacy is at the heart of codependency. We have a fear of intimacy because we have a fear of abandonment, betrayal, and rejection. We have a these fears because we were wounded in early childhood – we experienced feeling emotionally abandoned, rejected, and betrayed by our parents because they were wounded. They did not have healthy relationship with self – they were codependents who abandoned and betrayed themselves – and their behavior caused us to feel unworthy and unlovable.
“We exited the warm nurturing cocoon of our incubator into a cold, harsh world. A world run by Higher Powers (parents and any body else bigger than us – siblings, grandparents, hospital or orphanage personnel) who were wounded in their childhood. Gods who were not emotionally healthy, and did not know how to Love themselves. Our egos were traumatized – and adapted programming to try to protect us from the pain of emotional trauma that felt life threatening.
The people we Loved the most – our Higher Powers – hurt us the most. Our emotional intimacy issues were caused by, our fear of intimacy is a direct result of, our early childhood experiences. Our lives have been lived in reaction to the intellectual paradigms our egos adapted to deal with emotional trauma.
The part of a child’s brain that is logical and rational, that understands abstract concepts (like time or death), that can have any kind of an objective perspective on self or life, does not develop until about the age of 7 (the age of reason.) As little children we were completely ego-centric and magical thinking. We did not have the capacity to understand that our Higher Powers were not perfect. We watched their role modeling, experienced their behavior as personal, and felt the emotional currents of our environments – worry, frustration, resentment, fear, anger, pain, shame, etc. – and were emotionally traumatized.
Our ego adapted itself to the environment it was experiencing. It developed emotional and behavioral defense systems in reaction to the emotional pain we experienced growing up with parents who were wounded codependents.
If you have ever wondered why it is so much easier to feel Spiritual in relationship to nature or animals, here is your answer. It was people who wounded us in childhood. It is people who our egos developed defense systems to protect us from.
I have told people for years, that the only reason to do inner child healing work is if we are going to interact with other people. If one is going to live in isolation on a mountain top meditating, it will be fairly easy to feel Spiritually connected. It is relating to other human beings that is messy.” – Reprogramming our ego defenses
Relating to animals or nature is safe because we will not be judged. Our pet will not abandon us because we are inherently defective. Nature will not reject us because we are personally shameful. People will – or at least it feels like that is what has happened in the past.
The Truth is that the ways that our parents treated us in childhood did not have anything to do with who we are – was not really personal. They were incapable of seeing themselves clearly. They certainly could not see us clearly – could not see our unique individuality from a perspective that allowed them to honor and respect us as beings separate from them. Their perspective of us was filtered through a prism of their own shame and woundedness. They projected their hopes and dreams, their fears and insecurities onto us. They saw us as the fix for their feelings of unworthiness, an extension of them that gave their life meaning – or perhaps they saw us as an inconvenience and a burden holding them back, preventing them from making their dreams come true. For some of us, a parent(s) was so caught up in their alcoholism or survival drama or career that most of the time they didn’t see us at all.
And both our parents and society taught us very clearly – through direct messages and role modeling – to be dishonest. Our parents taught us that keeping up appearances, worrying about what the neighbors think, was more important than our feelings – because it was so important to them. Or, some of us experienced a parent who went to the other extreme, where they acted like they didn’t care what anyone thought – which caused us to feel embarrassed and ashamed of their behavior because it was so out of balance, and caused us to worry about what the neighbors thought. They taught us to give power to other people by wearing masks and keeping secrets.
Even more importantly, our role models taught us to be emotionally dishonest. Because it wasn’t safe to be emotionally honest we lost our self – did not know how to be emotionally intimate with our self, and instead constructed a false self image to survive. We learned to wear different masks for different people.
As children we were incapable of seeing ourselves as separate from our families – of knowing we had worth as individuals apart from our families. The reality we grew up in was the only reality that we knew. We thought our parents behavior reflected our worth – the same way that our codependent parents thought our behavior was a factor in rather they had worth.
“We live in a society where the emotional experience of “love” is conditional on behavior. Where fear, guilt, and shame are used to try to control children’s behavior because parents believe that their children’s behavior reflects their self-worth.
In other words, if little Johnny is a well-behaved, “good boy,” then his parents are good people. If Johnny acts out, and misbehaves, then there is something wrong with his parents. (“He doesn’t come from a good family.”)
What the family dynamics research shows is that it is actually the good child – the family hero role – who is the most emotionally dishonest and out of touch with him/herself, while the acting-out child – the scapegoat – is the most emotionally honest child in the dysfunctional family. Backwards again.
In a Codependent society we are taught, in the name of “love,” to try to control those we love, by manipulating and shaming them, to try to get them to do the right things – in order to protect our own ego-strength. Our emotional experience of love is of something controlling: “I love you if you do what I want you to do.” Our emotional experience of love is of something that is shaming and manipulative and abusive.
Love that is shaming and abusive is an insane, ridiculous concept. Just as insane and ridiculous as the concept of murder and war in the name of God.” – quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
Rather our parents made us their reason for living – which is a form of toxic love in which the child is the drug of choice (causing a child to feel responsible for an adult’s self worth is emotionally incestuous and abusive); or a burden to be carried, the scapegoat they blamed for ruining their lives; or treated us like we were an inconvenience in the moments when they even seemed aware of us; it wounded us. We felt betrayed – by our own unworthiness, because we were incapable of knowing they were not perfect. We felt abandoned and rejected by the gods in our lives.
We were wounded in our first relationships with other people. We were tiny, innocent, little beings who were completely dependent upon wounded people who did not Love themselves – and therefore were incapable of Loving us in a healthy way.
Feeling unlovable to the gods in our lives as tiny children was life threatening. It felt life threatening.
Our fear of intimacy is based upon painful, traumatic experience.
in to me see
The simplest and most understandable way I have ever heard intimacy described is by breaking the word down: in to me see. That is what intimacy is about – allowing another person to see into us, sharing who we are with another person.
Sharing who we are is a problem for codependents because at the core of our relationship with ourselves is the feeling that we are somehow defective, unlovable and unworthy – because of our childhood emotional trauma. Codependency is rooted in our ego programming from early childhood. That programming is a defense that the ego adapted to help us survive. It is based upon the feeling that we are shameful, that we are defective, unworthy, and unlovable. Our codependent defense system is an attempt to protect us from being rejected, betrayed, and abandoned because of our unworthy, shameful being.
We have a fear of intimacy because we were wounded, emotionally traumatized, in early childhood – felt rejected and abandoned – and then grew up in emotional dishonest societies that did not provide tools for healing, or healthy role models to teach us how to overcome that fear. Our wounding in early childhood caused us to feel that something was wrong with our being – toxic shame – and our societal and parental role models taught us to keep up appearances, to hide our shamefulness from others.
Toxic Shame – defective, unlovable
It is very important in recovery to start making a distinction – drawing a boundary – between being and behavior. Growing up in dysfunctional societies taught us to equate our worth – and judge the worth of others – based upon external appearances. We experienced love as conditional on behavior. Someone who behaves badly – i.e. not the way we want them to – is a bad person. Someone who behaves the way we want them to is a good person.
It is very important to stop judging our worth based upon the dysfunctional standards of societies that taught us it was shameful to be imperfect human beings.
“When I use the term “judge,” I am talking about making judgments about our own or other people’s beings based on behavior. In other words, I did something bad therefore I am a bad person; I made a mistake therefore I am a mistake. That is what toxic shame is all about: feeling that something is wrong with our being, that we are somehow defective because we have human drives, human weaknesses, human imperfections.
There may be behavior in which we have engaged that we feel ashamed of but that does not make us shameful beings We may need to make judgments about whether our behavior is healthy and appropriate but that does not mean that we have to judge our essential self, our being, because of the behavior. Our behavior has been dictated by our disease, by our childhood wounds; it does not mean that we are bad or defective as beings. It means that we are human, it means that we are wounded.
It is important to start setting a boundary between being and behavior. All humans have equal Divine value as beings – no matter what our behavior. Our behavior is learned (and/or reactive to physical or physiological conditions). Behavior, and the attitudes that dictate behavior, are adopted defenses designed to allow us to survive in the Spiritually hostile, emotionally repressive, dysfunctional environments into which we were born.”
At the core of codependency is toxic shame – the feeling that we are somehow inherently defective, that something is wrong our being.
[And I want to make note here, that anytime I talk about shame, rather I use the adjective toxic or not – I am talking about feeling toxic shame in relationship to “being,” feeling personally defective. Some people in the field, notably John Bradshaw, make a distinction between toxic shame and healthy shame. I find it much simpler, and more useful, to use shame in reference to “being” and guilt in reference to behavior. I believe there is healthy and unhealthy guilt (as I talk about in Discernment in relationship to emotional honesty and responsibility 2) but any time I use the term shame I am talking about toxic shame. (The example that I have heard Bradshaw use of what he calls healthy shame, is that it is what keeps us from running down the street naked. I find that not only blatantly a judgment of behavior – but also based upon cultural standards that are not necessarily aligned with any kind of Spiritual Truth. Some of John’s Jesuit background showing I think. ;-)]
The emotional trauma we suffered in early childhood created within us the feeling of toxic shame.
“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 think and feel like we are broken because we were programmed backwards.
We are not broken. That is what toxic shame is – thinking that we are broken, believing that we are somehow inherently defective.
Guilt is “I made a mistake, I did something wrong.”
Shame is “I’m a mistake, something is wrong with me.”
Again, the feelings of that little child inside who believes that he/she deserves to be punished.”
At the foundation of our relationship with our self – and therefore with other people and life – is the feeling that we will die if we reveal ourselves to other people, because then they will see our shameful self. I felt deep within me (in those rare instances of breaking through my denial and blaming to a moment of honest clarity), that if I let anyone see who I really was, they would run away screaming in horror at the grotesque, deformed, shameful being that I was.
Our lives have been dictated by an emotional defense system that is designed to keep hidden the the false belief that we are defective. We use external things – success, looks, productivity, substances – to try to cover up, overcome, make up for, the personal defectiveness that we felt caused our hearts to be broken and our souls wounded in childhood. And that personal defectiveness is a lie. That feeling of toxic shame is a lie.
It was so painful that we had to lie to ourselves about it. We were forced to be emotionally and intellectually dishonest with ourselves by the codependent defenses we adapted. We had to learn how to live in denial of the pain and shame at the core of our relationship with ourselves. Codependency is a vicious form of Delayed Stress Syndrome, of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Codependence as Delayed Stress Syndrome) The emotional trauma caused us to disassociate – to not be present in our own skins in a conscious way – and to rationalize and deny our emotional experience of life. We built up a dishonest self image to try to convince ourselves that we had worth based upon some comparative external factors: looks, success, independence (the counterdependent rebel), popularity (people pleasers), righteousness (better than others, right to their wrong), or whatever. That false self image was not completely dishonest because it was formed in reaction to some basic aspects of who we Truly are – but it was a twisted, distorted, polarized perspective of our self adapted in response to toxic shame for the purpose of giving us some ego strength, some reason we could feel better than others.
That false self image, the masks we learned to wear, is something we invested a lot of energy into convincing ourselves was the truth. But deep inside, in our moments of insight and clarity, we knew we were hiding a shameful secret. Often we got that toxic shame about our being confused in our memories with some behavior in our childhood that felt shameful. It is very common for us to have a secret that involves a way in which we were abused – physically, sexually, etc. – that we go to great pains to avoid because we associate the feeling of toxic shame with that incident and think it was our fault.
We do not want other people to see in to us, because then they will learn our shameful secret. We have a fear of intimacy because of the false belief that our relationship with our self is based upon.
We have spent our lives trying to protect ourselves from a lie about who we are. We have spent incredible energy in our lives trying to keep the toxic shame hidden. The secret that is killing us and has made our lives miserable, the secret we have lived in reaction to – is a lie. We have been compulsively – because we were reacting to what felt like a threat to survival – living our lives in reaction to our need to keep secret who we feel we really are in the deepest part of our being.
“Because as small children we did not have any perspective or discernment (prior to the age of reason, which occurs about 7 as our brains develop) we were incapable as viewing our parents as anything other than perfect Higher Powers. Our God and Goddess. Because our Higher Powers were wounded and did not know how to Love self, we were wounded and got the message that something must be wrong with us. Toxic Shame.
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.
Out of our codependent relationship with life, there are only two extremes: blame them, or blame me. Buy into the belief that they are to blame for what I am feeling – or I am to blame because I am a shameful unworthy being. The emotional pain of feeling unlovable to our parents – which is a reflection of unbearable anguish of feeling separated from The Source – can feel like a bottomless pit of agonizing suffering. At the core of our wounding is the unbearable emotional pain resulting from having internalized the message that God – our Source – does not Love us because we are personally defective and shameful.
Our addictions, compulsions, and obsessions; our continuing quest to reach the destination, to find the fix; our inability to be present in the now through worrying about the future or ruminating about the past; are all tools that we used to avoid the emotional pain. Our behavior patterns and dysfunctional relationships (of all kinds, with other people, with money, with our gender and sexuality) are symptoms. Codependence is a defense system that was adapted by our damaged egos to try to avoid falling into the abyss of shame and pain within.
We formed our core relationship with self, other people, and life based upon this feeling of toxic shame.” – Chapter 2 of Attack on America – A Spiritual Healing Perspective
Because of the feeling that we were somehow shameful, were unworthy and unlovable, we adapted defenses to protect us. Those defenses caused us to keep recreating the emotional dynamics of our childhood.
Repeating Behavior Patterns – looking for love in all the wrong places
Codependence is doubly traumatic. We were traumatized as children – and the defenses we adapted to protect us caused us to traumatize ourselves as adults. We have experienced getting our hearts broken, our hopes and dreams shattered, again and again. We abandoned, betrayed, and set ourselves up to feel rejected over and over again. (Even those “family hero” types who achieve external “success” and financial abundance have to keep running from distraction to distraction and finding someone to blame so that they can deny the hole they feel within themselves. Achieving some material success makes it much easier to maintain the illusion of ego control and stay in denial of one’s wounded soul. Being rich and famous can be a huge block to true emotional intimacy.)
As long as we are reacting unconsciously to our childhood emotional wounds and intellectual programming, we keep repeating the patterns. We keep getting involved with unavailable people. We keep setting ourselves up to be abandoned, betrayed and rejected. We keep looking for love in all the wrong places, in all the wrong faces. Is it any wonder we have a fear of intimacy?
“Codependence is an emotional and behavioral defense system which was adopted by our egos in order to meet our need to survive as a child. Because we had no tools for reprogramming our egos and healing our emotional wounds (culturally approved grieving, training and initiation rites, healthy role models, etc.), the effect is that as an adult we keep reacting to the programming of our childhood and do not get our needs met – our emotional, mental, Spiritual, or physical needs. Codependence allows us to survive physically but causes us to feel empty and dead inside. Codependence is a defense system that causes us to wound ourselves.
Some people, when they first get into Recovery, when they first start on a healing path, mistakenly believe that they are supposed to take down their defenses and learn to trust everyone. That is a very dysfunctional belief. It is necessary to take down the dysfunctional defense systems but we have to replace them with defenses that work. We have to have a defense system, we have to be able to protect ourselves. There is still a hostile environment out there full of wounded Adult Children whom it is not safe to trust.
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.)”
As children we were victims – as adult we kept repeating the behaviors we learned as children – in one extreme or the other. The people in our lives were actors we unconsciously cast in roles that would recreate our childhood wounding so that we could try to heal it – try to get in right this time. We were energetically drawn to, and attracted to us, the people who would treat us in ways that felt familiar – because on some deep level we believed that is what we deserved. If our own parents could not love us, then we must not deserve to be loved.
In my Update Newsletter for October 2000, I talked about a mother and daughter that I had done some work with. After an initial period of intensive counseling for both of them, we had evolved into counseling sessions several times a year with one or both of them as they had opportunities for growth in their recovery. The week that I was writing this article, I had a session with the mother. Her daughter had once again engaged in behavior that was dangerous and life threatening. She was very upset about an incident that her daughter had experienced – and was putting a lot of energy into blaming the daughter’s boyfriend.
She kept saying how controlling, possessive, and abusive this boyfriend was and how she just couldn’t understand it. She felt that her daughter had chosen the boyfriend over her own mother and out of the deep hurt she was feeling she was blaming. She mentioned several times how she had said to her daughter, “What is wrong with you!” Then she would swing to the other extreme and say, “Maybe I failed somehow as a parent.” She was caught up in codependent polarized reaction to her fear, pain, and shame.
After letting her vent for a long period of time, I brought her back to focusing on her Spiritual belief system and applying the Serenity prayer to what was happening. I reminded her that the reason her daughter was in a relationship that was controlling, possessive, and abusive was because that was the only type of relationship the daughter was familiar with. I reminded her that she, in her concern and love for her daughter, out of her fear of her daughters self destructive behavior, had been controlling, possessive, and abusive. I pointed out that it was abusive to say something like, “what is wrong with you.” – because it equates behavior with being. Doing something “wrong” does not mean there is something wrong with us. The daughter was in fact, just repeating her codependent patterns – and to me, her behavior was not only understandable, but very predictable. (And repeating the patterns was not a sign that she had not grown. This was a new opportunity for growth at a higher level of consciousness for her – a perfect part of her growth process, not some regression or slip into old behavior. We make progress gradually.)
Once I got her to stop reacting to her shame, fear, and hurt, and to stop viewing the situation from a polarized black and white, right and wrong, perspective – then she was able to get back to her recovery and start using the tools she has learned to help her let go of things she can’t control and focus on her inner process which she can have some degree of control over in a Loving way.
The reality of codependence is that we get in relationship with people who feel familiar – people who will repeat our childhood emotional dynamics. We keep getting involved with people with whom we can recreate the emotional dynamics from our childhood in some way.
A large part of the tragedy of codependency – the insidiously dysfunctional nature of the disease – is that by repeating the patterns we keep setting ourselves up to be abandoned and rejected. To feel betrayed by our own unworthiness. To reinforce the lie that we are inherently, and personally, shameful and unlovable.
“I spent most of my life being the victim of my own thoughts, my own emotions, my own behaviors. I was consistently picking untrustworthy people to trust and unavailable people to love. I could not trust my own emotions because I was incapable of being honest with myself emotionally – which made me incapable of Truly being honest on any level.”
We are attracted to people who are unable to meet our needs, who are unavailable on some level, as a protection from allowing ourselves to get close to someone who could be available to us – because then they would find out how shameful we are and reject us. Allowing someone to see into us, to see who we really are, feels to the disease like the last thing we want to do – and it generates incredible fear of allowing that kind of intimacy.
Codependency is an emotional and behavioral defense system that does not work. Our defense against pain and shame actually creates more pain – and causes us to keep repeating painful patterns in a way which reinforces the belief that we are somehow defective, that we have good reason to feel ashamed of ourselves.
Our fear of intimacy is reinforced by the evidence of how many “stupid” choices we have made in the past. Our experiences in childhood caused us to fear intimacy and feel that we were somehow unlovable – and our codependency caused us to keep creating new evidence of our inherent defectiveness.
Nasty stuff indeed!
We have a fear of intimacy for very good reasons. We have a lifetime of experiences that reinforce the original messages – that reinforces our feeling of being terrified of letting anyone get too close to us, see into us.
The only way to overcome our fear of intimacy is to get into recovery for our codependency – and do our inner child healing work so that we can learn to be emotionally honest and intimate with ourselves. Integrating a Loving Spiritual belief system into our relationship with self and life is an invaluable step in taking power away from the toxic shame so that we can start to Love ourselves and be open to being Loved by others.
“Learning what healthy behavior is will allow us to be healthier in the relationships that do not mean much to us; intellectually knowing Spiritual Truth will allow us to be more Loving some of the time; but in the relationships that mean the most to us, with the people we care the most about, when our “buttons are pushed” we will watch ourselves saying things we don’t want to say and reacting in ways that we don’t want to react – because we are powerless to change the behavior patterns without dealing with the emotional wounds.
We cannot integrate Spiritual Truth or intellectual knowledge of healthy behavior into our experience of life in a substantial way without honoring and respecting the emotions. We cannot consistently incorporate healthy behavior into day to day life without being emotionally honest with ourselves. We cannot get rid of our shame and overcome our fear of emotional intimacy without going through the feelings.”
“The key to healing our wounded souls is to get clear and honest in our emotional process. Until we can get clear and honest with our human emotional responses – until we change the twisted, distorted, negative perspectives and reactions to our human emotions that are a result of having been born into, and grown up in, a dysfunctional, emotionally repressive, Spiritually hostile environment – we cannot get clearly in touch with the level of emotional energy that is Truth. We cannot get clearly in touch with and reconnected to our Spiritual Self.
We, each and every one of us, has an inner channel to Truth, an inner channel to the Great Spirit. But that inner channel is blocked up with repressed emotional energy, and with twisted, distorted attitudes and false beliefs.
We can intellectually throw out false beliefs. We can intellectually remember and embrace the Truth of ONENESS and Light and Love. But we cannot integrate Spiritual Truths into our day-to-day human existence, in a way which allows us to substantially change the dysfunctional behavior patterns that we had to adopt to survive, until we deal with our emotional wounds. Until we deal with the subconscious emotional programming from our childhoods.”
Codependency causes us to feel like the victim of our own thoughts and feelings, and like our own worst enemy – recovery helps us to start learning how to be our own best friend. Getting into codependency recovery is an act of love for self. Reading my book Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls (links to all of my books in ebook format are on that page) would really help you take your understanding to a whole new level. Understanding codependency is vital in helping us to forgive our self for the dysfunctional ways we have lived our lives – it is not our fault we are codependent.
In the last few years I have also published two more books that can be very helpful. Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light Book 1 Empowerment, Freedom, and Inner Peace through Inner Child Healing and Romantic Relationships ~ The Greatest Arena for Spiritual & Emotional Growth. I have special offers for either or both of these books (or for all three of my books) on this page.