Codependency being a coping mechanism serves several purposes for us. It attempts to be a surrogate for stable emotional connections with others. It tries to be a means of getting emotional, physical, and mental nourishment. It strives to “create an identity” for us.
These are all interconnected with what I call the Love Wound (which is directly addressed and healing started in HEAL). The Love Wound is the result of a person internalizing 3 core messages:
1) I’m not worth loving
2) I’m not worth being loved
3) My love isn’t wanted, desires, or valued.
All of these have to deal with Emotional/child-level attachment to a parent or caregiver.
In stable, loving attachments, the parent creates a space container for the child to come to know themselves. The parent serves as a source of protection, comfort, guidance, and play for the child. This allows the child to discover themselves, discover the world, and individuate from their mother into a whole, self-contained individual.
When this attachment is injured or ruptured, the container is destroyed. This leaves the child exposed to a world they do not understand and instinctively know they are highly vulnerable to. Their identity development halts until there is a safer space in which to explore. Their focus turns to survival. This is where our brilliance in pattern recognition, anticipation, and pleasing/fixing/rescuing/controlling/avoiding come into play.
It is also where we began to fill a sense of self in with shame rather than love. Our self-image became distorted and our sense of “self” fixated on the feedback from the other person. This helped us “fill in the gaps” of “who we are” until we could come to a safer space to re-engage our genuine development.
You see, codependency isn’t a “negative”. It is how you survived till you could get here. Where is here?
Here is a place and time where you can re-engage that inward self-development that stopped when life became threatening. Here is where we begin to reconnect with the pain of the ruptured attachment and resume the process of growing into who we are.
This, though, is complex now. We are older now. Our parental connection was likely hostile to us, making our need for attachment threatening to us. We’ve struggled to find ourselves through others for so long it is difficult to get a bearing on “who am I?”
So how do we go about healing this attachment rupture?
First, we must understand that healing this isn’t about fixing anything (healing is never ever fixing). The attachment is hurting and will be calmed when it is connected with safe, platonic sources of support.
Secondly, healing the attachment is more about maturing the attachment from child to adult. This means we must give ourselves a support network of peers and surrogate “wise ones” we can turn to for guidance, support, play, and nurture. Often we already have at least ONE of these in place and can use that to build MORE from.
Having the safety net of loving, supportive, attentive friends and “wise ones” allows us to resume exploring who we are and coming to a deeper awareness of our brilliant, beautiful beingness. We will be better able to attach and detach from relationships as necessary (especially in dating) and know we have support, care, and love.
Building this, though, comes with a paradox. How can I have close, safe friendships if I don’t know how to have safe, close friendships?
I address this paradox in 5 ways:
1) Identify current safe friends and re-engage them in play, then support requests and contributions
2) Begin the inward work of releasing the shame that binds you, integrating love that completes you, and discovery of the Real You (HEAL’s 3-step process. Learn more in my training here: http://workshop.freetheself.com).
3) Begin to venture out and experiment with new opportunities (just like a child does). Build new friendships. Share vulnerable moments in existing, safe ones. Let yourself be seen and let the love and connection in. This means taking action. This means risk. This means failure and success. This means maturing growth. It means play!
4) Ask for support, let yourself receive it all the while keeping your sense of self and individual nature
5) Build healthy resiliency skills that address loss, grief, rejection, and failure (these are developed and practiced in #3)
In a very real way, we become our own parent with a platonic and then later romantic support net.
This isn’t a series of events, though. This a journey. And journeys often have twists, turns, “set-backs” which are really switchbacks that give you new chances at different perspectives, and beautiful places of rest and times of adventure.
You will likely wrestle with insecure attachment for a long time. I personally deal with it when forming new intimate relationships. It ends when I come to know the person is reliable, secure, and dependable.
It is natural and ok. The goal isn’t to overcome it. The target is to experience secure attachment and build on it while caring for yourself during insecure attachment experiences (like getting to know someone or facing deeper connection with someone you’re in love with).
Attachment is natural and when matured, it will set you free. Start healing today through HEAL or discuss it with your therapist.