Photo: Seth Bunting

By Shareshten Senior

What is codependency?

Growing up with my alcoholic and abusive mother (emotionally, physically and mentally) taught me about codependency. She would often experience what is known as ‘narcissistic rage’ and was jealous of my father and my bond with him since before my birth. My parents split when I was 2, and now I see my father was a codependent cutting the ties of narcissistic abuse.

My father and I were always close and I remember being very mindful not to talk about dad with my mom, especially in a positive light so as to avoid an explosion. There were many hoops I jumped through to avoid explosions. It was always a fiesta with my mother’s alcoholic friends around, for whom I was the entertainer, bartending in an apron with a pad. At 6 years old, I was a real bartender – directing the conversation, watching the energy between the drunks, and making sure if it was about to go hostile or confrontational that I could intervene with a funny joke or anecdote just in time.

With my Saturn in Libra, this was my life lesson: how to create harmony in relationships and, as a kid at that time, I had no other choice. If I didn’t have a successful bartending night, the table would be flipped on my mother, sending Vodka and Tonics, glasses and ice cubes everywhere, and her on the ground flipped backwards in her chair. Depending on the level of provocation from my mother’s sassy mouth, perhaps her beloved would deliver a black eye while I screamed and cried, “Please stop!”

Wikipedia defines Codependent relationships as “a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.”

Addiction-specialist psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg states that codependency is an individual disorder that is expressed in a relationship and is not a personality type. It is defined by what you do or don’t do in a dysfunctional relationship. Codependents focus on giving their love, respect, and care freely and abundantly to others, while they simultaneously undervalue themselves and do not demand the same from others.4

“There are many different definitions for codependency. One of them is: seeing a weakness in another, ignoring it and thereby reinforcing it. Any time we “wink” at something destructive, we thereby reinforce it.” -Dr. David Hawkins 

Dr. David Hawkins, director of The Marriage Recovery Center, talks about ‘tip-toeing’ and how it enables an unhealthy relationship to continue. What does this avoidance really do? It creates an environment for whatever problems are occurring to continue without being directly addressed. As children we may have done this to avoid fights, drama and abuse. If your childhood was like mine, your opinion didn’t matter. Your feelings were secondary to big adult problems like money and jobs and all you wanted was peace, so you figured out how to make that happen.1

The codependent is not the cause of the anger and cannot fix it; the behavior is reinforced by acts of avoidance and hence the other person is excused for their lack of integrity and respect by the codependent. Codependents exhibit a lack of relationship with themselves when in groups or when attempting to relate intimately. They live from the outside in instead of the inside out while they try to keep peace in their environment by providing love and devotion to persons who have not earned it, or who don’t value their generosity or moral character. As a result, the codependent feels confused about his or her own feelings and thoughts and often asks: What did I do? How can I fix it? Why doesn’t this person love and respect me?

So let’s back up: How did I get here?

I found myself continuously attracted to and partnering with people who presented themselves as ‘on my wavelength.’ I believed they loved all the things I did and believed in; they wanted to be a part of it, and then they would abruptly change. They would tell lies, and leave me crying, physically sick, and extremely depressed, angry and confused. The cycle sped up and grew worse. I was frustrated and completely baffled about what I had done to deserve this behavior. Then I came across the healing work of Melanie Tonia Evans. I discovered her just when I needed her, right when I was about to dip my toe again in some murky water. I realized then what was happening; her words were telling the story of my life and also telling me to stop doing this to myself.

She explains that we attract those who reflect how we feel about ourselves. We are taught about love by our mothers and if that love was dramatic and contingent on our behavior and performance, then the outcome we internalize is that we are not worthy of love inherently. We learn we have to do something to get love and affection. I experienced an intense two-week period of crying and feeling bewildered in a way I had not felt since my first Yoga Teacher Training in 2009. I felt angry at myself for being an enabler, for being so weak and blind, and for wasting so much precious time. I wondered how I could make this big shift and feared taking another step forward. I did not want to repeat the same detrimental pattern another waking moment. I felt knotted and paralyzed and had to hibernate, sleep, write, and read.

At that time, I was planning to attend Envision Festival with a whole bunch of friends. I was excited to spend time with them; however, I couldn’t. I was too weak to subject myself to the energy of 6,000 people. I did not know where my feet would find new ground. Energetically, I felt like I would have been a dead carcass to be swarmed by a narcissistic feeding frenzy. I felt the universe would test me. I decided I wasn’t ready to pass that test yet. I would, instead, take a sick day and keep working on myself.

The emotional manipulation that one suffers from as a codependent is arguably more painful than a slap in the face. I know this, having received both. The smack will end and you will heal,  but the emotional pain from a narcissist’s abuse is something that festers and causes Post Traumatic Stress and makes it very difficult to trust others.  I have found that I was fiercely loyal, and expected that it was reciprocal.  I now know that I must be loyal to myself first; that my intuition always fires off: WARNING! Stop, no, this doesn’t feel right. But my “mud-mind” had always just talked me out of it.

In Dr. Alice Miller’s book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, she explains that the gifted child is able to see the parents’ fragile ego and adjust circumstances to fulfill their parents’ self-absorbed needs for attention. This highly intuitive child develops accurate and reflexive protective patterns. In a sense they overdevelop their radar for what is going on in the world and neglect their own internal compass.7

What I am now learning is that I need to reframe this situation. Here I was, the good person, wearing my heart on my sleeve, and getting thrown under the bus. Now, I choose to reframe: here I was, the hurt child, who had no choice but to accept the environment in which she was raised, and make peace to the best of her ability. I am now an intuitive woman who does not need to waste time with people who clearly are narcissistic, clearly working on their own egos. In my opinion, there are really only two things to be working for: the betterment of all beings, or the betterment of your ego. Only one leads to true happiness, and I will never satisfy someone working for the latter.

Photo: Seth Bunting

I had been baffled for so long by why so many narcissists are attracted to me. The answer was simple: I had not learned to care about me. I had denied my own happiness and I thought that I could not have that while also working for the greater good. It was subtle, under the surface, disguised in things like lessening my needs and feeling unworthy of love. This is where reframing comes into play. One of the inevitable beliefs that will come up when reframing from codependency is, “I am being selfish to think of myself first.”  This is not true. You cannot truly give to anyone or take care of yourself if you are not meeting your needs first. You must give from a place of abundance.

I can do more for the greater good if I love myself, set healthy boundaries, listen to the divine when she speaks through my intuition, and dissolve the duality of what others want me to do. I reframe by choosing to be love instead of seeking love. I choose to take care of my heart and the precious child that was neglected, abused, and never good enough. I am good enough, even if I do nothing for the rest of my life. I am love. But I know I would never be happy doing nothing for the rest of my life. The fire in my soul burns to raise the vibration and promote the liberation of humanity both holistically and scientifically. I have been blessed with remarkable tools provided by my teachers and all the yogis who sought to preserve their teachings. I choose to channel that energy for the rest of my life. But now, I shall love myself first and channel that wisdom for myself, my community, and the people who really care for life.

What is the opposite of Codependent?

The opposite of codependency is being an authentic individual with thoughts and feelings who does not rely on others for their self-worth or decision-making. Melanie Tonia Evans says the opposite is to be ‘Self-Partnered’ and she teaches the ways to get back to a space of self-love. Much like any form of holistic healing, her theory addresses the host, not the germ. We cannot change other people, but we can change our susceptibility to others.

When we become ‘Self-Partnered,’ we are no longer interested in people who only provide negativity and drama. We are in the vibration of love. Self-love! The codependent lives from the outside in; they take inventory of what is happening in the world and then form their actions, thoughts, and speech to try and keep people happy and situations harmonious. The ‘Self-Partnered’ being lives from the inside out; they take note of the feelings and desires emerging from the inside and then decides how to act, speak and think about the situation.

Expectations lead to disappointment when you are dealing with wounded children in adult bodies. All of us are wounded children to some extent. I expected that I would receive truth and authenticity simply because I considered myself truthful and authentic. You get what you believe you deserve and for many of us our first teachings on love were one of two: we were either the apple of our parents’ eyes and our feelings were validated and supported, or our feelings were invalidated and adult problems were the center of our world, forcing us to become out of touch with ourselves and start living codependently- from the outside in rather than the inside out.

What is NPD – Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, and mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and often others. It is a cluster B personality disorder.6 Upon studying these two disorders (Co-Dependency and NPD), I learned that my mother had NPD and I was co-dependent, because I was subconsciously basing my definition of love as contingent on helping others feel better rather than helping myself. This was easy because I always knew all beings have equal potential and always longed for everyone to see their own beauty and power.

My mistake was thinking that the narcissist wanted to heal themselves; I know it’s harsh and hard to believe, but they don’t. Sadly, they can’t; he or she absolutely believes there is nothing wrong with them. Now, I know we could all say there is nothing ‘wrong’ with us, but few of us would blame our problems on everyone else and claim we have never made any mistakes. As a child of an NPD, I can vouch that my mother lives in terrible health, extreme anger, total dependence on anyone who will house and feed her, and with two estranged children who were left no choice but to run away from her jaw-dropping, vodka spilling fights and belligerence.

As individuals it is normal for us to want to care for someone and have someone care for us… that’s what love, humanity and human connection is all about. What is so incredibly painful about narcissistic relationships is that at the beginning the extremes of feeling totally cared for is present, but then the co-dependent comes to a place of feeling devalued and discarded. In the case of family members, the painful feelings are about knowing this person should care, and at times may seem to, but they are just as capable of pulling the rug out from underneath their supposed loved one.

When the switch is flipped by any narcissist, we bear witness to words and actions of punishment that deliver the point blank evidence that not only are our emotions completely irrelevant to them, there is also no compassion or care for our ‘self’ at all. In fact, the cruel behaviours can even cause our very security and survival to be at jeopardy via emotional, physical and even financial abuse.’5

Narcissists don’t say sorry like Melanie Tonia Evans says above; instead, they supply excuses for their anger, drug addiction, manipulation, lies, and lack of loyalty to their word and you. They are the kings and queens of what is popularly known in the conscious community as “reframing.”  Reframing is the idea that if you change the social context of the same event it can take on new meaning. This happens when they say things like, “I did the best I could and this was my survival system then because of my childhood trauma. Now I can see that.” But they continue to engage in the harmful behavior.

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Reframing: A tool that can be used for real healing!

Reframing, just like placing a photograph in a new frame, does not change actual event, or in this case the actual picture. However, it does make the picture look different, bringing out different colors and giving the photo a different shape. Reframing is something narcissists do epicly. Their whole life involves reframing, so it is important not to use this as a way of life, but rather a tool to actually heal and release old ways of habit. One way is to constantly justify habit and the other is to help change that habit. One way is to boost the ego, and the other is the way of higher Self- to be a whole being in full responsibility for your actions.

Reframing can be a helpful tool, like all the magic of yogic science. However, the consciousness using the tool is the only thing that can determine if it really works for the benefit of all beings. There is one huge difference between the narcissist and the codependent: The codependent is an empath that feels everything connected to his or her consciousness, while the person with NPD is cut off from empathy. He or she feels alive by being the center of attention, whether that attention is positive or negative. Their games don’t work on people who are “self-partnered.”  Only the codependent latches onto the drama, so the co-dependent and the narcissist constantly find themselves in a dance together. The “self-partnered” person will not latch onto the narcissist’s behavior because he or she holds a standard of love and respect that can’t host someone without love and respect.

This idea set me free: you cannot help a narcissist. For years I grieved over not being able to have a relationship with my mother even though I was in even more grief when I tried to relate to her. The guilt, shame and judgement within said, “You aren’t a real yogi because you can’t handle this.” I finally understood that narcissists have a serious psychological disorder; the part of their brain that considers other people’s thoughts and feelings is literally switched off. So much made sense to me upon this realization.  I was finally able to let her go and bless her.  It felt like a dark cloud had been lifted and I finally understood and felt compassion for her.

How do I know if I am a codependent or have NPD?

It is pretty safe to say that you would not be interested in this article if you had NPD, unless your intention in reading this article is to gather ammunition against me or someone else in which case you may have NPD. We know that those with NPD suffer from an inflated sense of self that makes examining their behaviors (Svadhyaya, or Self-Study) in response to their own suffering out of the question. The NPD thinks they are fine and nothing needs to be changed about them.4

Narcissists always have an excuse and a way to reframe the action or event to make their behavior accepted by you. They expect love regardless of their disrespect for you, or for others. For example, a pretty typical evening in my household would start with me pouring mixing vodka and tonics and ending with mommy drooling, crying, and slurring excuses about why she drinks. The excuses for why she drinks was phase three of our evening, and in phase four she would be slumped in front of the TV until she fell asleep.

If you want to know if you are codependent then you can look at your close relationships and ask yourself if you over-accommodate. Do you ignore your own needs in order to ‘help’ the other without reciprocity? Remember, your childhood can provide some answers. Were your emotions validated? Can you trace a time when you felt fear of abandonment or that your basic needs were not met? Did your brain function under fear regularly?

How do I validate my emotions and those of others?

Melanie Tonia Evans states that we are ‘Thrivers’ once we wake up from the codependent cycle. She teaches us to engage in ‘holding space.’ Simply put, it is just being present, listening, and not offering any advice.

I first learned of this practice at my teacher-training in Mexico. We held Satsang three times per week at Yandara Yoga Institute with our trainee group. In this shared time, only one person was allowed to talk and the rest had to hold space, listen, be there, and not try to fix or help.  As I continued my yogic journey, this practice frequently crossed my path. I see my next level of growth as taking that satsang practice outside of the circle and into my daily work and life.

Ultimately, we can only heal ourselves, but it inspires so many others to heal, and brings a sense of purpose to our lives we can not get from momentary feelings and material items. Bring these realizations onto your mat and sitting cushion and be present with what arises. We access the greatest healing when we know how to breathe, be still, be present, and fully feel into the moment.

What is the work from here?

My hope is that by reading this article we will all (including myself) be able to expand into more compassion for people who engage in emotionally abusive relationships, and that we may be able to more easily identify our own feelings and needs and anchor ourselves. We are raising the vibration every time we choose to be love by taking care of ourselves and allowing that to flow into our loved ones and communities as gifts to share, not payment for something in return. When we truly give from a place of abundance and not need, we set ourselves free of old karmic bondage.

For those of us taking these realizations to heart and finding ourselves in need of further healing, I have compiled some resources at the end of this article. These resources have greatly helped me reframe my ideas of love and self-love. Healing from codependency is a life-long journey but the tools available make everything a little less daunting and help us realize we are not alone.

Personally, my work entails remembering that there is nothing I could have done to make it better. I can only make now better by choosing not to live in fear and not to live from the outside in, taking inventory for everyone but myself. Now, I can take care of that little girl who was so scared of messing something up or stumbling into dark waters of emotion and being used as a dumping ground. I choose now to listen to myself first and others second. I choose to trust my gut feelings about people without needing to figure out their story or how I can help them.

If someone makes me feel icky inside, I have the right to leave. If someone doesn’t appreciate my love or presence, I will leave, even if they say I appreciate all that you do. They always list out your attributes and you think, “Wow, this person sees me,” but really the person who sees us and actually appreciates us will show that through action. When they do observe something about us, it will be insightful, interesting and probably an original observation. Don’t fall for flattery- you are amazing and you don’t need anyone else’s approval to keep being amazing and empower your light of divinity from within. Join me in a quest to be more intuitive, embodied and fearless.

Action Steps for Healing Co-Dependency:

1. Stop People Pleasing and get in touch with your emotions and desires especially when relating to others. Make regular times throughout the day to take 3 deep breaths and check in on how you feel, what may be bothering you, and them make an action step that addresses the issue.

2. Download Melanie Tonia Evans’ FREE ‘New Life Starter Pack’ with two great articles and some powerful video tools when you sign up for Melanie’s free newsletter on her website:

3. Writing Exercise: Are you ‘tip-toeing’ around anyone in your world? Who? What issues are you tip-toeing around? What needs to be addressed in your life?

4. Buy a book about this (lots listed in references below)

Suggested Videos:

1. Melanie Tonia Evans – ‘Thriver TV’ YouTube Channel

2. Lisa A. Romano – Breakthrough Life Coach Youtube Channel

3. ‘Groundhog Day’ – the ultimate narcissist movie. Notice the subject of love was immune to all his attempts until he got real and into his heart. This is what we are working to do – be uninterested completely when we don’t feel authenticity coming from another.

Other Suggested Reading:

1. Codependent No More, By Melanie Beatty

2. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, By Henry Cloud

3. The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations for Codependents, By Melanie Beatty

4. Women Who Love Too Much: When You Keep Wishing and Hoping He’ll Change, By Robin Norwood

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