Friday, May 14, 2010

The Codependency of Distrust

In last week’s blog, I somewhat belatedly noticed that there were no explicit references to codependency. Perhaps because, at least in my mind, it is an assumed thing: trust, or to be more specific, self distrust is one of the core components of codependence. Lack of self trust sabotages intimacy and healthy boundaries; promotes cynicism and hijacks innovation and creativity. It underlies a poverty of spirit that defeats us at its more primal level, eroding our will to live: we lose our sense of self and a basic trust in life. We live in fear rather than safety. Charles Whitfield wrote: “Codependence is a disease of lost selfhood. It can mimic, be associated with, aggravate and even lead to many of the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual conditions that befall us in daily life.” If codependence is the disease of lost selfhood, lack of self trust is the virus.

Last week we also discussed how, as a community, we can support the maturation of children into competent adults by just believing in them—instilling in these children some semblance of self trust. Self trust enables us to feel safe in our environment and strong in who we are. Self trust, however, is not a black and white issue. We can, for example, feel that sense of trust (or safety) when we are with animals but feel unsafe, or distrustful, when at work or with certain people. The deeper we trust ourselves, the father afield our sense of safety goes. Moreover, the safer we feel, the less our codependent parts feel the need to take over.

The question to ask yourself then, is when and where do you feel most safe and when and where do you feel unsafe? Who are you when you don’t feel safe? How do you behave, think and feel? What codependent parts are activated when you do not feel safe? And, most importantly, how can you support yourself to feel a stronger sense of inner safety?

By first identifying when and where we don’t feel safe, we can start isolating the codependent parts that tend to take over. In this way we can then communicate with them, much the same as we would any small child. For therein lies the truth, codependent parts are generally formed in childhood and therefore behave and respond like children. So, as with children, we reassure them while providing safe but firm boundaries. I’ve spoken to this subject several times over the past few months but here is another example.

For most of my life, I didn’t feel comfortable or, in other words safe, in groups. I didn’t trust myself enough to feel okay with whom I was in the face of others. Because I didn’t feel good enough, it felt unsafe to let others come close. To let others in would reveal my unworthiness. To protect myself, I either made myself small, as if to disappear, or made myself large and aggressive to keep others away. This was an unconscious response or a reaction to my fears. However, when I took the time to examine where I felt unsafe in life, I was soon able to discover this codependent behaviour. With that, I could then isolate and communicate with the part of me that felt unworthy. I could visualize her (a little girl) and felt her in my shoulders where I curled inwards in attempts to shrink down or tensed up in preparation to fight. I could hear her telling me she wasn’t good enough, wasn’t pretty or smart enough. The more I noticed about her, the more I could gently communicate with her, letting her know she was safe and that if it wasn’t safe, I would get us both out of there. With this burgeoning relationship I started attending different groups, at first with friends and later by myself, pushing the boundaries while continuing to reassure and comfort my little girl. In time the little girl grew to trust my words allowing me to lead, instead of me being dictated by her fears. The trust of this little girl was a metaphor for self trust and in that self trust, I began to feel safer in groups. With increased safety the need to exercise codependent behaviours decreased.

I’ve just given a snapshot of a process that can help create inner safety. It is only one example and a frugal one at that. The process is rarely so linear. My main point, however, is to say that for those of us who didn’t learn self trust as children, we can still learn it today as adults. Moreover, we can share this knowledge with the children that share our lives. Staye tuned for more thoughts and exercises on learning to trust one self.

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