Imprisoned by MessagesIt is a child-like state that results in having one’s self-worth dependent on external validation. It’s about living from the outside in, molding oneself to fit around others’ lives instead of directing the course of one’s life from internal clues, hopes, dreams, wisdom, and power . . . The underlying cry is, “Am I good enough? Do you love me? Take care of me. Please don’t leave me.”
· Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D. –Many Roads, One Journey
In the women’s circle, Marcella spoke shyly, “I guess it’s my turn.” She was a tiny woman, waiflike, innocent. As she told of her abusive marriage, her sweet, whispery voice did little to conceal her rage. She described her husband’s rude, sarcastic, condescending attitude. She, in turn, shut him out by refusing to speak to him or show him affection, her silent contempt equally effective in building a wall between them. When she finished her story, she was invited to stand. The women stood close as she chanted, “I expect respect at all times.” At first a whisper, a whine, a child begging. Then the other voices joined, and it became a demand, a roar, and Marcella was belting it out: “I expect respect at all times!” tears coursing down her face.
When she returned home from the retreat, her husband sat at the kitchen table, casually stirring his coffee. She noticed the tightness in his shoulders and the fear in his eyes. “Well?” he asked. “It was great,” she said. She walked over and touched his shoulder. “We have a lot to talk about.”
-Linda Kavelin Popov, Sacred Moments - Daily Meditations on The Virtues.©1996
Linda Kavelin Popov co-produced the television series Virtues: A Family Affair and has written the books and materials which form the core of The Virtues Project.
Following is a commonly used list of characteristics of codependency:
1. My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you
2. My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you
3. Your struggle affects my serenity. My mental attention focuses on solving your problems/relieving your pain
4. My mental attention is focused on you
5. My mental attention is focused on protecting you
6. My mental attention is focused on manipulating you to do it my way
7. My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems
8. My self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain
9. My own hobbies/interests are put to one side. My time is spent sharing your hobbies/interests
10. Your clothing and personal appearance are dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me
11. Your behavior is dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me
12. I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel
13. I am not aware of what I want - I ask what you want. I am not aware - I assume
14. The dreams I have for my future are linked to you
15. My fear of rejection determines what I say or do
16. My fear of your anger determines what I say or do
17. I use giving as a way of feeling safe in our relationship
18. My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you
19. I put my values aside in order to connect with you
20. I value your opinion and way of doing things more than my own
21. The quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours
We affirm we have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.
· Step 1, Sixteen Steps for Discovery and Empowerment.
It is difficult to detach ourselves from the events in our life that have brought us to this moment. The messages that my parents, teachers and others in positions of authority gave me combined themselves into one big “you’re no good” message, and it affected my life to its deepest levels. How it became that way is the subject of numerous books on codependency. Authors and therapists, such as Robert Burney and Charlotte Kasl, have built their practice around helping people regain their self-esteem and heal the wounds in their life.
Although there are virtually no humans alive that are not scarred by life in some way, the great majority of individuals who have not recognized the results of their scars are imprisoned by these negative messages. No matter the situation, there is a negative message on a continuous loop, ready to shoot down any thought of self-worth or personal success. Those who live their life listening to these messages live out their daily existence as the victims of any number of psychological or social disorders, parents of dysfunctional families themselves, unhappy in their relationships or their career choices, and working very hard at just getting through the day. Feeling nothing, either by active choice or through self-medication using food, drugs, sex, or alcohol, life becomes a vicious cycle leading to self-destruction, if that which causes this message to play over and over again is not effectively dealt with.
One of the first things I discovered while recovering from codependency and low self-esteem was setting boundaries. Setting boundaries is difficult at first, because it seems that you are limiting what you can do for others – and that seems really selfish, and the last thing I wanted to be thought about me was that I was selfish. What I was doing, without knowing it, was limiting myself to what I should be doing, and refusing to do or give more than I was capable of doing. I learned where that line was, and I had to insist that it be honored. Amazingly, people got used to hearing me say “no” to unreasonable requests for my time or financial assistance. I got used to taking charge of my life. I was out of my imprisonment, and it was a good feeling.
That was the next item on the list: Feelings - learning to feel, without letting what I feel dictate my actions. Feelings demand to be noticed, and healthy people are able to accept that they feel something and get past it, and to make intelligent and appropriate choices in light of what they feel. I learned new ways to cry, to be sad or angry. I learned, too, what it truly felt like to be joyous, genuinely happy, or content. I found that I was able to detach from the outcome of situations, to let the consequences be what they would be. Success or failure of a venture was not me, it was an event I was able to learn from in order to help me make a different or similar choice in other situations. I knew in my heart that I always have had the choice to take all things evenly, and to hold on to nothing. I learned to deal with irritations as if I had only another fifteen minutes to live. Not all the time, mind you, but it got easier with practice. I was not just free, I was empowered.
Melody Beattie has written volumes on the subject of healing from codependency through detachment, saying that it is not a “cold, hostile withdrawal; a resigned, despairing acceptance of anything life and people throw our way; a robotical walk through life oblivious to and totally unaffected by people and problems; a Pollyanna-like ignorant bliss; a shirking of our true responsibilities to ourselves and others; a severing of our relationships. Nor is it a removal of our love and concern . . . Ideally, detachment is releasing or detaching from, a person or problem in love . . . Detachment is based on the premise that each person in responsible for himself, that we can’t solve problems that aren’t ours to solve and that worrying doesn’t help.” Detaching helps me to understand that I am not responsible for other people and their choices.
I hear new messages, now. I am good enough. I am loved, because I am lovable. I take care of myself first, and because of that, I have a wealth of resource that I can willingly give to others.
I am not only empowered, I am secure. And I am truly free!
Charlotte Kasl, PhD has a M.A. in Music and PhD in Counseling Psychology. She is a certified Addiction Specialist in the areas of chemical dependency and sexuality and has had a private psychotherapy practice for 25 years. She is the author of many books, including Many Roads, One Journey, and Women, Sex and Addiction. Dr. Kasl's focus is to help empower all people to come together in a circle of understanding and good will. She works with numerous healing approaches such as quantum psychology, ego state therapy, hypnosis and EMDR to help people heal at all levels. She is scheduled to be a guest on Interconnect on Monday, October 29th, 2001.