Friday, March 26, 2010

The Triple C

In my last entry (Risky Investments - March 19) I explored possible origins for the early childhood perception that one must earn their value. Today I want to issue a challenge. How can we redirect those childhood tools, that is, the ones we used to “earn” external validation and that later developed into codependent behaviours, towards our self? How can we invest in the relationship we have with ourselves in the same way we invest in the relationships we have with others?

We all have codependent parts, it is, as Charles Whitfield states, the “human condition”. Although we don’t manifest them every day, even a person in recovery is bound to show off a few, at least, and I am being generous here, once a week. I, on the other hand, have been known to entertain them with a nice cuppa, at least once a day. As I’ve said before, we live in a codependent society, its like swimming upstream to avoid not contemplating codependence on a fairly regular basis. Yesterday, for example, sitting on the lee side of a minor bout with depression, I ambiguously waited for someone to either save me while at the same time praying everyone would just leave me alone. This is typical of my codependent parts and the hallmark for my occasional sojourns into darkness. When these parts are in control, I tend to base my emotional wellbeing on the actions or beliefs of another. I either look for a rescuer or avoid human contact altogether in a misguided attempt to find self worth in the former and safety in the latter. In both scenarios, my gaze is turned outwards, rather than within.

Today, however, I did something different. I woke up, and while a part of me wanted the sun to go find some other victim to drag out of bed, another part said, practice what you preach. And so, rather reluctantly, I started the Creative Codependent Challenge (The Triple C). I knew my codependent parts had been at the helm for the last week, I examined my behaviour and said, okay, enough. I realized that one more week of isolation alternating between Giles Blunt (murder and mayhem) and Goethe’s Faust (redemption of the soul); drinking tea (Tazo Awake); soaking in long, hot baths; and ignoring phone messages, and those belittling internal voices labeling me a failure, become a reality—its hard to make money when your life is held betwixt a book and a bathtub.

Creative Codependence, as I teach in my workshops is about incorporating those ingenious childhood tools—the ones that got our needs met—into healthy adult behaviours. Most of us do this naturally, especially those youthful tools that were successful in getting our needs met. For example, as a little girl, I created an entertainer part of myself to get positive attention. Because it was successful, I subconsciously carried it forth into adulthood: I write, teach and give presentations, sometimes in outrageous ways. I am also impulsive and, on occasion, stick a foot or two into my mouth. This part served me as a child and, for the most part, serves me today as an adult.

As a child I was also tough, independent and adventurous, or at least I pretended I was. It got me a certain amount of validation. That role also stayed with me and manifests today in several ways: I prefer to do things alone and I rarely ask for help—“I can do it myself… thank you very much”. That part can also be a self-righteous and autocratic disciplinarian that creates strict rules and, at times, unhealthy guidelines in diet and exercise.

Other successful tools included the part of me that learned to take care of others (in hopes that others took care of me) and the part of me who learned that being sick was another effective attention getting tool.

Reeling ourselves back to the sleepy haze of this morning and the burgeoning Triple C, I asked myself how I could use one of my childhood tools to get me out of this depressing miasma? I didn’t have long to wait. As soon as I asked, my tough part rather sternly said:

“Get out of bed, go for a walk.”

Trying to ignore it, only made it louder: “pull yourself together,” she said, “you’re starting to believe that negative self talk. Move!”

My caretaker quickly came in and admonished Ms Tough. She softly stated that I had needed the downtime; that it was good for me. Not wanting to be left out, my old sicky part squeaked: “yes, she did, she did.”

I let them ramble on for a bit and then, before it escalated into fisticuffs, I interjected. “Listen,” I said, “I hear you all and, in fact, agree with some of it. You have good points but,” adding dramatic pause, for greater effect, “how can I take better care of myself right now?”

“By walking,” insisted tough part.

I gave her response some thought— excess exercise can be an unhealthy coping mechanism for me. So I consulted with my caretaker parts and, after some hesitation, finally agreed. “Okay,” I said, “let’s go.”

During the walk some of my parts had a good cry with my caretaker, turning her skills inward, gently encouraging me to get it all out. (Ms Tough wisely stayed mute during this time). By the end of the walk my entertainer parts felt energized enough to sense the seeds of an article and Ms Tough, unable to withhold her tongue any longer, demanded: “Well, what are you waiting for then?” I shushed her up, somewhat fearful the cycle would begin again, and encouraged my entertainer part to show me what she could do.

The result? Not only did I feel better but I got this week’s blog written. Success on all fronts.

Now I am not going to say that’s its always this easy. Timing is an important element in these things and I truly don’t think I could have done this before today— it was just too damn dark. Then again, as my caretaker part assures me, I needed the downtime: a little bit of melancholy and quiet, intertwined with some Faustian logic. I needed to isolate so to reflect, regroup and finally, rejuvenate. I could say then, that even my few weeks of isolating was just taking care of myself using yet another childhood part. I was taking the Creative Codependent Challenge… incognito.

So, now I issue the challenge to you:

How can you redirect your childhood tools, that is, the ones you used to “earn” external validation, towards your self? How can you invest in the relationship you have with your self in the same way you invest in the relationships you have with others today?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Risky Investments

I recently gave a presentation on Creative Codependence to the Solution Focused Coaches Association. It was a dynamic evening, full of ideas and a willingness by all to explore the inner facets of life. One of the things we discussed was the loss of energy that can occur in codependent relationships.

Pietro Abela of The ARC Institute likens codependent relationships to risky investments, ones that are based on hope rather than reality, and tend to expend more energy than is received. With codependency, there is a certain expectancy that if I do “this”, I will get “that” back, but rarely does “that” fulfill the expectation. These investments have an early start, usually in childhood, and are based on the perception (real or not) that the best, and perhaps the only way, to get needs met is to do or be something for another. This could mean anything from getting good grades at school to being a bully, if that’s what gets attention, love ,validation or even safety—basic needs that prove we, as children, have the right to be.

For a child then, this is a matter of survival. This perception may not be based on reality, but if a child does not get the external validation that proves to them that they have the right to be they will feel , at some level, their survival is at stake. They will begin seeing relationships as investments: I must do or be this (whatever “this” is) to get my needs met.

The inherent error in this situation is that the child perceives that they themselves are at the root of the problem. It is not the caregiver that is negligent (however relative this is) but that the child is not up to snuff. The child begins feeling that they need to earn their value rather than that their value is a given. This earning power is analogous to that of employment: stop working and the job security that enables you to live a certain lifestyle ends; cease “earning your value” and your survival chances decrease.

Without a solid conviction that they have a right to be, children can mature into adults that feel that they have to continue proving that they are inherently okay. The irony in this, is that the same lack of inner conviction, or self-validation, will inhibit the person from accepting external love and positive attention, or demand that it come in some unattainable way. Without a basic belief in one’s “okay-ness”, no amount of external validation will be enough, making these relationship investments not only risky but shaky, indeed. We end up losing energy because the amount we expend in trying to show others that we are okay and that we have the right to be, will never balance with what we receive in return. In other words, by primarily looking for self value outside ourselves (rather than within) we lose out. Or, said another way, the depth of love that can be accepted is directly proportionate to how much we love ourselves.

The key then, and the basis for Creative Codependence, is how can we redirect the childhood tools of gaining external validation, love and acceptance, towards our self? How can we invest in the relationship we have with ourselves in the same way we invest in the relationship with others?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Okay, I admit it, I had fun at the Olympics. I didn’t want them, didn’t vote for them and thought they were a bad idea but, having been through them, I’ve changed my mind. This is not to say that we couldn’t have spent the money, perhaps more wisely, on things like health care, education and social housing but, with all due respect to these issues, Vancouverites, at the very least, experienced a morale booster – even if just to chase away the February blues. In fact, I have never seen so many happy people in one place for so long a period. And that is something to be celebrated.

When I talk about codependence, whether in presentations or workshops, I use the Olympics as an example that we live in a codependent society. I suggest that all levels of society tell us to get our needs met by looking outside ourselves. It is not whether we feel good, but whether we look good, get the good grades or promotion, and, in the case of government, did the Olympics come to our city? Remember when Vancouver was “going for the bid”? We were bombarded with images of hope that implied we would be a world class city if we got the Olympics.

My question is, weren’t we already a world class city? Didn’t Expo 86 already prove that? How many events do we need under our belt until we gain “international respect”? Do we really have to look outside ourselves for validation to respect and feel good about who we are? Wouldn’t it be better to gain this respect through prioritizing the care of our citizens: promoting health and welfare, local art and culture, and being a responsible custodian to the environment? In other words, whether we are talking about the identity of a city or an individual, shouldn’t one look first within; practice good self care and be satisfied with the internal or self-validation that the manifestation of this self care provides?

While I still agree with these sediments, Olympics 2010 taught me something about the extremism that codependence can sometimes manifest. One of the main default patterns my codependent parts fall into is to look at things in black and white terms. In respect to the above commentary, one could narrow that perspective down to the following: Any acceptance or reliance on external validation is a sign of codependent behaviour. Self-validation should be complete in itself. But is that true?

Self validation – feeling intrinsically good because of who we are and not what we do—is a healthy aspect of interdependent living. While we should not rely on external validation and recognition, these aspects are a complement to a healthy lifestyle. Before the Olympics, I felt good, internationally speaking, about who I am as a Vancouverite. I was not arrogant or shy about it; but I knew and appreciated Vancouver’s strengths and vulnerabilities and its role as a Canadian city. The Olympics, however, helped me see some of the things I was missing in my self-evaluation. I saw my city, and the people within it, through the objective eyes of the world and felt pride. Yes, we have many things to improve but I went away from those two weeks with a greater appreciation of my Vancouver-self: I feel stronger, more cabable and have a deeper sense of my role as a global citizen.

Codependent or not, the Olympics may have been little more than a morale booster but that little external validation went a long way.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Creative Codependence just joined Facebook. I welcome you to join me as a ... eeks, I hate this term, but a fan. How 'bout joining me as an interested bystander instead? I can handle that. I'll keep you informed of upcoming events and blog entries that may interest you.