Santa Monica Counseling, Therapist in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Culver City, CA, California - Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Why Romance Turns Toxic

Most everyone wants to fall in love, especially codependents. To us, love is perhaps the highest ideal, and relationships give our lives meaning and purpose. They enliven and motivate us. A partner provides a companion when we have difficulty initiating action on our own. Being loved also validates our sense of self-esteem, overcomes shame-based doubts about our lovability, and soothes our fears of loneliness. But too often a beautiful romance turns sour. What was a wonderful dream becomes a painful nightmare. Ms. Perfect or Mr. Right becomes Ms. or Mr. Wrong. The unconscious is a mighty force. Reason doesn’t seem to stop us from falling in love, nor make it any easier to leave! Even when the relationship turns out to be toxic, once attached, ending the relationship is as hard as falling in love was easy!

The Chemistry of Romance and Falling in Love
Our brains are wired to fall in love – to feel the bliss and euphoria of romance, to enjoy pleasure, and to bond and procreate. Feel-good neurochemicals flood the brain at each stage of lust, attraction, and attachment.  Particularly dopamine provides natural high and ecstatic feelings that can be as addictive as cocaine. Deeper feelings are assisted by oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” released during orgasm. It’s directly linked to bonding and increases trust and loyalty in romantic attachments.

The Psychology of Romantic Love – Whom We Find Attractive
Psychology plays a role, too. Our self-esteem, mental and emotional health, life experiences, and family relations all influence whom we’re attracted to.  Experiences, both positive and negative, impact our choices and make someone appear more or less attractive.  For example, we might find commonality attractive, but avoid someone who cheated on an ex if that has happened to us before. We’re attracted to subtle physical attributes, albeit unconsciously, that remind us of a family member. More mysterious, we can be attracted to someone who shares emotional and behavioral patterns with a member of our family even before they become apparent.

The Ideal Stage of Romance
It’s true that we’re blinded by love. Healthy idealization is normal and helps us fall in love. We admire our beloved, are willing to explore our partner’s interests, and accept his or her idiosyncrasies. Love also brings out parts of our personality that were dormant. We might feel manlier or more womanly, more empathic, generous, hopeful, and more willing to take risks and try new things. In this way, we feel more alive, because we have access to other aspects of our ordinary or constricted personality. Additionally, in early dating, we’re usually more honest than down the road when we become invested in the relationship and fear speaking our truth might precipitate a breakup.

Although, healthy idealization doesn’t blind us to serious warning signs of problems, if we’re depressed or have low self-esteem, we’re more likely to idealize a prospective partner and overlook signs of trouble, such as unreliability or addiction, or accept behavior that is disrespectful or abusive. The neurochemicals of romance can lift our depressed mood and fuel codependency and love addiction when we seek a relationship in order to put an end to our loneliness or emptiness. When we lack a support system or are unhappy, we might rush into a relationship and become attached quickly before really knowing our partner.  This is also referred to as “love on the rebound” or a “transitional relationship” following a breakup or divorce. It’s far better to first recover from a breakup.

The Ordeal Stage of Romance
After the initial ideal stage, usually starting after six months, we enter the ordeal stage as we learn more things about our partner that displease us. We discover habits and flaws we dislike and attitudes we believe to be ignorant or distasteful. In fact, some of the same traits that attracted us now annoy us. We liked that our mate was warm and friendly, but now feel ignored at social gatherings. We admired his bold and decisive, but learn he’s rude and close-minded. We were enchanted by her carefree spirit, but are now appalled by her unrealistic spending. We were captivated by his unfettered expressions of love and a promised future, but discover he’s loose with the truth.

Additionally, as the high wears off, we start to revert to our ordinary personality, and so has our partner. We don’t feel as expansive, loving, and unselfish. In the beginning, we may have gone out of our way to accommodate him or her, now we complain that our needs aren’t being met. We’ve changed, and we don’t feel as wonderful, but we want those blissful feelings back.

Two things happen next that can damage relationships. First, now that we’re attached and fear losing or upsetting our partner, we hold back feelings, wants, and needs. This puts up walls to intimacy, the secret sauce that keeps love alive. In its place we withdraw and breed resentments. Our feelings can come out sideways with sarcasm or passive-aggression. As romance and idealization fade, the second fatal mistake is to complain and try to turn our partner into who we first idealized him or her to be.  We feel cheated and disillusioned that our partner is now behaving differently than in the beginning of the relationship. He or she, too, is reverting to their ordinary personality that may include less effort made to win you and accommodate your needs. Our partner will feel controlled and resentful and may pull away.

In some cases, we might discover serious problems – that our partner has an addiction, mental illness, or his abusive or dishonest. These are issues that require a serious commitment to change and often years of therapy to overcome. Many codependents, who get quickly involved for the reasons stated above, will sacrifice their own happiness and continue in a relationship for years trying to change, help, and fix their partner. The dysfunctional family dynamics of their childhood often get repeated in their marriages or relationships. They may unconsciously be contributing to the problem, because they’re reacting to an abusive or controlling parent. Change requires healing our past and overcoming shame and low self-esteem to feel entitled to love and appreciation.

Getting to the Real Deal
We might not want to continue a relationship that involves addiction or abuse or has other serious problems. (See Codependency for Dummies for a list of both minimal and optimal ingredients for successful relationships.) Lacking major obstacles, getting past the ordeal to the real deal requires self-esteem, courage, acceptance, and assertiveness skills. It necessitates the ability to honestly speak up about our needs and wants, to share feelings, compromise, and resolve conflict. Rather than try to change our partner, our efforts are better placed on learning to accept him or her. (This doesn’t mean accepting abuse.) This is the struggle for intimacy, and requires a commitment by both partners to get through the ordeal stage with mutual respect and a desire to make the relationship work.

Steps You Can Take for Lasting Love
We will attract someone who treats us the way we expect to be treated. As we value ourselves more, whom we are attracted to will also change, and we will naturally avoid someone who doesn’t treat us well or meet our needs.

  1. Know yourself, your needs, wants, and limits. (Do the exercises in Codependency for Dummies.)
  2. Take time to get to know the person you’re dating. Learn who they really are and how you both resolve conflict.
  3. Remember that sex releases oxytocin and increases bonding (though it can occur without it).
  4. Be honest from the start. Don’t hide who you are, including your needs. Speak up when you dislike something.
  5. Talk honestly about what you want and your expectations in a relationship. If the other person doesn’t want the same things, end it. (This may not be easy, but the relationship wouldn’t have worked or satisfied you.)
  6. Research shows that relationship outcomes are predictable based on the partners’ self esteem. Read “Codependency: The Effect of Low Self-Esteem on Relationships.” Self-worth is essential to healthy relationships. It also enables you to receive love and be repulsed by abuse. Get How to Raise Your Self-Esteem.
  7. Boundaries and intimacy are essential to relationships. Learn to be assertive to express your feelings, needs, and wants and set boundaries. Get How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and the webinar How to Be Assertive.
  8. Read “How to Change Your Attachment Style,” and take the quiz.

©Darlene Lancer 2018

5 Red Flags and Blind Spots in Dating a Narcissist

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People are easily charmed by a narcissist, especially codependents. Narcissists can be beguiling and charismatic. In fact, one study showed that their likable veneer was only penetrable after seven meetings. I’ve had a number of clients who claimed that the courtship with their narcissistic spouse was wonderful, and that abuse only began following the wedding. However, with greater insight, these clients admitted that there were signs that they’d overlooked.

Blind Spots when Dating a Narcissist
There are unconscious explanations why you might not spot a narcissist. Here are some reasons why you might not recognize a narcissist: more

Gaslighting 101: Signs, Symptoms, and Recovery

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Hidden abuse, gaslighting, manipulationGaslighting is a malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter your perception of reality. Like all abuse, it based on the need for power, control, or concealment. Some people occasionally lie or use denial to avoid taking responsibility. They may forget or remember conversations and events differently than you, or they may have no recollection due to a blackout if they were drinking. These situations are sometimes called gaslighting, but the term actually refers to a deliberate pattern of manipulation calculated to make the victim trust the perpetrator and doubt his or her own perceptions or sanity, similar to brainwashing. (Read “How to Spot Manipulation.”) The

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Narcissus and Echo:  The Heartbreak of Relationships with Narcissists

Narcissism, Narcissus & Echo, www.whatiscodependency.comThe poignant myth of Narcissus and Echo crystallizes the tragic problem of relationships with narcissists. They were tragic Greek characters in a story told by the Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses. Sadly, both partners are locked into a painful drama, where neither feel satisfied or sufficiently loved. Although it’s anguish for them both, the narcissist blames the cause on his or her partner, and sees him or herself as irreproachable, and too often his or her partner readily agrees.

The Myth of Narcissus and Echo
Narcissus was a handsome hunter who broke the hearts of the many women. Despite their love, he remained aloof and arrogant. Pridefully, he held them in disdain.

Meanwhile, the beautiful forest nymph Echo had incurred the ire of the goddess Juno, who punished Echo for talking too much by depriving her of free expression. From then on, she could only repeat the last words of others. Echo spotted Narcissus and became infatuated. She longed for his attention, but he was fixated on himself. She tried to call out to him, yet couldn’t.

One day, Narcissus became separated from his hunting companions and called out, “Is anyone there?” Echo could only repeat his words. Startled, he said, “Come here,” which Echo repeated. Echo jubilantly rushed to Narcissus, but he spurned her, saying, “Hands off! May I die before you enjoy my body.” Humiliated and rejected, Echo fled in shame. Nevertheless, her love for Narcissus grew.

To punish Narcissus for his arrogance, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, put a spell on him. When Narcissus next noticed his reflection in a pool of water, love overtook him. He believed that he’d finally found someone worthy of his love and became entirely absorbed with his own beautiful image, not realizing it was actually himself.

Unable to get Narcissus’ attention, Echo’s obsession and depression grew. As the years passed, she lost her youth and beauty pining away for unattainable Narcissus until she wasted away, only leaving behind her echoing voice. He eventually committed suicide, consumed by his impossible love, leaving a flower in his place.

Understanding Narcissists
Despite their seemingly strong personality, narcissists are actually very vulnerable underneath their protective armor. (See “The Problem of Narcissists.”) Command of their feelings and of other people is all important, because without control they feel weak and humiliated. They’re drawn to someone emotionally expressive and nurturing, qualities they lack. Vulnerable feelings, especially shame, sadness, and fear, are relegated to their unconscious. They have disdain for them or any sign of weakness, which arouses fears of being controlled or humiliated. Thus, to feel sad or lonely evokes their need for someone, which would expose them to hurt, rejection, and feeling inferior. They attempt to eliminate these uncomfortable feelings by demonstrating independence, courage, and strength—ideals with which they identify.

Like the myth, narcissists feel superior to others, yet depend upon them to reflect back a positive self-image. Surprisingly, most narcissists are codependent, too. They’re hypersensitive to any perceived challenge to their illusion of being the best, and often perceive slights where none exist. They dread being considered a fraud, having their shortcomings revealed, their opinions or authority questioned, or their self-esteem or pride tarnished. They will do what it takes to prop up their image and block negative feedback. In their arrogance, they can be dismissive and rude, including projecting their shortcomings on others, criticizing and belittling them or unleashing their narcissistic rage. Trying to please them feels thankless, like trying to fill a bottomless pit―their inner emptiness―which they expect others to fill, but of course, it’s impossible.

They may embarrass family and friends with their boasting or obnoxious sense of entitlement, such as monopolizing the conversation and interrupting. To obtain what they want, they may exploit others, regardless of the consequences. Their attitude compensates for unconscious feelings of deprivation and inferiority, which become intolerable when they don’t get their needs met or special privileges.

Understanding Echo
Not everyone who falls for a narcissist is like Echo, but those who stay resemble her—a stereotypical codependent who sacrifices his or her own needs to accommodate others. Whereas Narcissus is overly self-absorbed, Echo is overly other-absorbed. Like Echo, partners of narcissists idealize them. They like and admire their bold, take-charge attitude. They, in contrast to narcissists, don’t advocate on their own behalf and feel needless or guilty asserting needs and wants.

Caretaking and pleasing give them a sense of purpose and value. Because they feel undeserving of receiving love, they don’t expect to be loved for who they are—only for what they give or do. Without an independent voice, they’re generally passive, compliant, and self-effacing and believe what is said to them is true. They crave being wanted, accepted, supported, approved of, needed, and loved. They may not believe they have any rights and naturally go along or put others’ needs and feelings first, sometimes self-sacrificing at great lengths to please. Like, Echo, this makes them dependent upon the narcissist, even when their needs aren’t being filled. It also allows a narcissist to easily manipulate, abuse and exploit them. Narcissists need partners they can control, who won’t challenge them and make them feel weak.  Typically, their partners accept the blame and try to be more understanding. They stay to prevent their greatest fear—abandonment and rejection and losing hope of finding lasting love―and because periodically the charm, excitement, and loving gestures that first enchanted them return, especially if a break-up is imminent.

In vain attempts to win approval and stay connected, they thread on eggshells, fearful of displeasing their partner. They worry what he or she will think or do, and become preoccupied with the relationship. They have to fit in to the narcissists’ cold world and get used to living in an emotional desert.

The Narcissistic Relationship
It’s easy to fall in love with narcissists. Don’t judge yourself for succumbing, because research showed that strangers’ initial impressions of narcissists for the first seven meetings are positive. They’re seen as charming, agreeable, confident, open, well-adjusted, and entertaining. Their alluring performance is designed to win trust and love, implicitly promising that their attentiveness will continue. Only later did the research subjects see through the narcissists’ likable façade.

Difficulties and conflict arise in longer narcissistic relationships. At home, narcissists may privately denigrate the person they were just publicly entertaining, and after a romantic prelude, they act totally different. Once you’re hooked, they lack the motivation to maintain a charismatic façade. As the excitement of romance wanes, narcissists become disappointed in their partner. Their criticisms escalate, and they may act distant and dismissive. The relationship revolves around the narcissist, while others are viewed merely as objects to use in order to manage the narcissist’s needs and fragile self-esteem. Embarrassed partners watch their mate flirt with a cashier, cut to the front of the line, or castigate a clerk or waitress. They must contend with demands, judgments, and self-centeredness. They’re expected to appreciate the narcissist’s specialness, meet his or her needs for admiration, service, love, or purchases when needed, and are dismissed when they don’t.

Narcissists put themselves first, and their codependent partners put them first, too. Both agree that the narcissist is great and that his or her mate isn’t and should sacrifice! This makes their relationship work . . . in the beginning. Eventually, the partner feels drained, hurt, resentful, disrespected, and lonely.

The children and partners of narcissists share Echo’s experience of feeling rejected, invisible, and unheard. They long to be seen, to have their needs met, and their love returned. Many partners of narcissists sadly pine away for years longing to feel respected, important, appreciated, and cared about. Their self-esteem suffers over time. They risk turning into empty shells of their former selves. Narcissists suffer, too, because they’re never satisfied. Even though Narcissus and Echo both long for love, Narcissus can neither give love, nor receive the love Echo offers.

You have more power than you think. Discover How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, find your voice, and how to determine whether your relationship can improve. There are many things you can do to significantly better your relationship with anyone highly defensive or abusive, as described in Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Your Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People.  This workbook includes a quiz for narcissism and also sets forth criteria that can help you decide if you’re considering ending a relationship with a narcissist. It’s available on my website here as a PDF, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at Smashwords in formats for iPad and other devices.

© DarleneLancer 2017

 

The Power of Self-Talk

Positive Self-TalkAre you aware that you talk to yourself all the time? We all do. Our self-talk makes a huge difference in our lives for better or for worse. The question to ask yourself is whether your inner voice is your friend or foe.

Our unconscious is impacted by the words we say in the same way that it is when other people talk to us. Thus, how we speak to ourselves can be a powerful tool. Self-talk is the most underutilized available resource to master our minds and improve our lives. Our thoughts influence our feelings, choices, and actions. Positive thinkers are more optimistic, confident, and successful. Their effect is contagious and uplifts friends, coworkers, and loved ones.

Our Role Models

Starting in childhood, our self-talk develops over time. If you’ve ever watched young children play, you’ve overheard them talk to themselves, their dolls, action figures, and their friends in words and tone similar to what they’ve heard from influential adults, especially their parents. How parents talk to them and also how they talk to themselves and each other provide role models. Gradually, children internalize that voice.

This is a positive development that helps children master tasks, comfort themselves, and learn to interact with peers. Patient teachers and parents teach children patience with themselves, but undermining, critical, or angry role models teach children to talk to themselves with doubt, frustration, and scorn.

Codependents grow up in dysfunctional families where parents generally provide ineffective role models, ranging from neglect, emotional reactivity, over-control, disapproval, or blatant verbal abuse. Even when well-meaning parents tell their children they shouldn’t feel ashamed or sad, parents are inadvertently shaming their children’s authentic feelings. This can lead to internalized shame, which can have a major deleterious effect on adult functioning. (See “7 Parenting Essentials.”)

The “Tyrannical Trio:” The Critic, Perfectionist, and Pusher

In Codependency for Dummies, I describe the “Tyrannical Trio” comprised of three inner voices: The Critic, Perfectionist, and Pusher. They work in tandem reinforcing one another and can make life hell. The Perfectionist sets up idealistic standards, the Pusher pushes us to achieve them, and the Critic faults us for never succeeding.

The Perfectionist expects us to be superhuman, ensuring that we’ll fail to meet its unattainable standards; the Pusher is a relentless taskmaster, depriving us of enjoyment of life and pleasure; and the Critic tells us we’re never good enough. The Pusher and Perfectionist can help us achieve our goals if we have positive perfectionism. But of all three, the Critic does the most damage and can significantly undermine our self-esteem. Moreover, trying something new and making decisions can be near impossible because of anxiety that things won’t turn out well. In actuality, we’re afraid of our own inner Critic. The Critic is also the essential difference between positive and negative perfectionism. The trio create anxiety, depression, and inertia. (See “I’m Not Perfect, I’m Only Human”– How to Beat Perfectionism.)

Most people aren’t even aware of the extent to which they accuse, blame, and deny themselves. Many people live with the “tyranny of the should’s.” They order themselves around and second-guess themselves after the fact. There are those individuals who believe that they must push and punish themselves to improve or achieve anything; otherwise, they’re afraid that they’ll end up as lumps on the couch. Never mind that they’re pushing and reproaching themselves into depression by creating greater unhappiness and dissatisfaction in their lives and those of their families.

Our self-talk can swamp us with anxiety and rumination and overpower us with shame attacks and painful emotions. It can offer comfort and encouragement or make us feel anxious and inadequate. It can provide self-discipline and organization or make us feel overwhelmed and defeated. It can ruin our lives, job opportunities, and relationships, or it can be harnessed to raise our self-esteem, achieve our goals, and uplift our outlook and enjoyment of life.

Changing Our Self-Talk

Although we’ve grown accustomed these inner voices, they can be changed. It first requires our becoming more aware of them and developing mindfulness about our self-talk. There are a number of steps to reform these voices that include gaining an understanding of their motives and standards and learning to modify and counteract them. 10 Steps to Self-Esteem: The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism is designed to succinctly lay out specific steps and exercises to do just that. (Learn more about raising self-esteem in the webinar, How to Raise Your Self-Esteem. Watch a Youtube excerpt.) There are several things you can begin doing immediately.

Mindfulness

Until you’re acutely aware of your inner voices, you can’t change them. Write down your negative self-talk on a daily basis. (Watch this Youtube.) Writing down your negative self-talk, including all the “should” and “shouldn’t’s,” will make them more conscious and provide you with choices.

Self-Distancing

Practice positive self-talk by addressing yourself in the third-person. This has the effect of “self-distancing” by shifting the focus away from the self.

Research has shown that by calling yourself by name, you begin to talk to yourself as you would a third person. It helps you regulate your emotions, because you’re less emotionally involved and acquire a larger perspective. In effect, your emotional brain is less triggered, and you become wiser. This small change has a profound positive impact in reducing shame, anxiety, and depression. It provides you with increased clarity and better judgment in dealing with work  and relationships.

Affirmations

Build positive thinking habits. Spend time each day and throughout the day repeating positive self-talk. If you say a prayer each morning, but negate yourself the rest of the day, which words do you think will have more impact? Try to make your positive self-talk outweigh any negative self-talk. This way you can develop an improved outlook and attitudes, which can lead to better health and decisions and greater success in your relationships and work. There are tips and guidelines for creating affirmations discussed in 10 Steps to Self-Esteem.

©Darlene Lancer 2017

Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

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Our mother is our first love. She’s our introduction to life and to ourselves. She’s our lifeline to security. We initially learn about ourselves and our world through interactions with her. We naturally long for her physical and emotional sustenance, her touch, her smile, and her protection. Her empathetic reflection of our feelings, wants, and needs informs us who we are and that we have value. A narcissistic mother who cannot empathize damages her children’s healthy psychological development. Like Narcissus in the Greek myth, she sees only a reflection of herself. There is no boundary of separateness between her and her children, whom she cannot see as unique individuals worthy of love. Symptoms of narcissism that make up narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) vary in severity, but they inevitably compromise a narcissist’s ability to parent. more

Narcissists are Codependent, too

narcissism, shame, and codependencyWriters often distinguish narcissists (someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and codependents as opposites, but surprisingly, though their outward behavior may differ, they share many psychological traits. In fact, narcissists exhibit core codependent symptoms of shame, denial, control, dependency (unconscious), and dysfunctional communication and boundaries, all leading to intimacy problems. One study showed a significant correlation between narcissism and codependency.[i]  Although most narcissists can be classified as codependent, but the reverse isn’t true – most codependents aren’t narcissists. They don’t exhibit common traits of exploitation, entitlement, and lack of empathy. more

5 Life-Changing Habits that Build Self-Esteem

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Raise Your Self-EsteemOur thoughts are powerful – for better or worse. Thoughts can set off chain reactions that build self-esteem or undermine it. Authority over our mind is the ultimate power. “Mind is everything. What you think you become,” said Buddha. Thoughts affect not only our mental health, relationships, and the ability to achieve our goals, but also our physical health – our digestion, circulation, respiration, immunity, and nervous system.

Next are our actions. Change begins in the mind, but is manifested and amplified by our actions. How we behave can change our thoughts and feelings. They change us. Spend 15 minutes doing the following each day, and watch your whole life change: more

Authenticity Heals: 6 Steps to Being Authentic

Authenticity HealsAuthenticity is the opposite of shame. It reveals our humanity and allows us to connect with others. Shame creates most all codependency symptoms – including hiding who we are, sacrificing our needs, and saying yes when we rather not – all to be accepted by someone else. It warps our communication and damages our relationships so that we control, patronize, criticize, blame, deny, withdraw, attack, and make empty promises to keep a relationship and reassure ourselves we’re okay even when we don’t believe it.

Hiding Who You Are

For most of us, our self-doubt and hiding has been going on so long that by adulthood, we’ve lost touch with who we truly are. We’ve grown accustomed to behaving in certain predictable roles that worked in our more or less troubled families, in school, and in our work. In the process, we sacrifice a degree of freedom, spontaneity, vulnerability, and parts of ourselves. When we marry, for most of us, our personality contracts further into the role of husband or wife, father or mother, and what is acceptable to maintain the marriage. more

Getting Triggered and What You Can Do

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getting buttons pushedGetting your “buttons” pushed or getting “triggered” is an opportunity to heal and grow. The more hurts we’ve endured and the weaker our boundaries, the more reactive we are to people and events. Our triggers – our buttons – are our wounds. Codependents are off the charts when it comes to reacting to others’ feelings, needs, problems, opinions, wants, and more. When we react, we permit our insides to be taken over by someone or something outside of us. There’s no filter or boundary. We’re pulled off center and might start thinking about that person or about what might happen in the future. Negative reactions easily escalate hurt feelings and conflict. Often, however, we’re really reacting to someone from our past.

A wise, apropos Al-Anon slogan is “Q-Tip,” – “Quit Taking It Personally.” Interpreting someone else’s words or actions to be a comment about us is taking another person’s feelings personally. We might react with guilt or defensiveness, because we assume we’re the cause of someone else’s negative emotion or problem. We have just taken on the other person’s problem or shame when they shame or blame us. Our peace of mind and self-esteem now resides with someone else. more

Codependency is based on Fake Facts

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Symptoms of Codependency

Codependency is based on a lie. Its symptoms develop to cope with the deep, but false and painful belief – that “I’m not worthy of love and respect.” In the chart to the left, core symptoms of codependency are in red, but nearly all the symptoms revolve around shame – the shame that accompanies rejection. This entire system operates beneath our awareness, and until we know it and feel it, we’re caught in its grip. more

Relationship Killers: Anger and Resentment

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Anger managementAnger hurts. It’s a reaction to not getting what we want or need. Anger escalates to rage when we feel assaulted or threatened. It could be physical, emotional, or abstract, such as an attack on our reputation. When we react disproportionately to our present circumstance, it’s because we’re really reacting to something in our past event – often from childhood.

Codependents have problems with anger. They have a lot of it for good reason, and they don’t know how to express it effectively. They’re frequently in relationships with people who contribute less that they do, who break promises and commitments, violate their boundaries, or disappointment or betray them. They may feel trapped, burdened with relationships woes, responsibility for children, or with financial troubles. Many don’t see a way out yet still love their partner or feel too guilty to leave. more

Codependency Addiction: Stages of Disease and Recovery

stages-of-codependencyCodependency has been referred to as “relationship addiction” or “love addiction.” Our focus on others helps alleviate our pain and inner emptiness, but by ignoring ourselves, it only grows. This habit becomes a circular, self-perpetuating system that takes on a life of its own. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our behavior compulsive, despite adverse consequences. Examples might be calling a partner or ex we know we shouldn’t, sacrificing ourselves, finances, or values to accommodate someone, or snooping out of jealousy or fear. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction. more

Sociopath or Narcissist?

sociopath charles mansonIf you’re in an abusive relationship, you may wonder if your partner is a narcissist or sociopath and whether or not the relationship will improve. If so, or if you recently ended such a relationship, it can undermine your self-esteem and ability to trust yourself and others.

The labels sociopath and psychopath have often been used interchangeably; however, sociopathy is correctly referred to “Anti-Social Personality Disorder.” (APD) Unlike mood disorders, which fluctuate, personality disorders, including APD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), are enduring, pervasive – affecting a wide range of situations, and are difficult to treat. Signs may be evident by adolescence, but a diagnosis isn’t made until adulthood.

Diagnosis of Anti-Social Personality Disorder

To qualify for a diagnosis of APD, the patient must have had a conduct disorder by 15 years old, and show at least four of these traits: more

10 Habits that Cause Low Self-Esteem and Depression

self-love, self-esteemWhen our self-esteem is low, which is typical of codependency, we’re at greater risk for depression. Codependency is learned, and so are self-esteem and the beliefs and habits that cause both low self-esteem and codependency. Self-esteem is what we think about ourselves. It includes positive and negative self-evaluations. Good self-esteem is a realistic, positive self-concept. It reflects self-respect and implies a feeling of worth that’s not determined by comparison to, or approval from, others. Self-acceptance (which some writers include as part of self-esteem) is even deeper. It’s a feeling of being good enough, neither perfect, nor inadequate. We feel we have worth and are lovable, not merely because of beauty, talent, achievement, intelligence, status, or popularity. It’s a sense of inner contentment. more

Steps to Be Empowered and Not a Victim

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victimIn recovery circles, being a “victim” is frowned upon. Decades ago, when I heard people say they were no longer a victim, I had no idea what they meant. Actually, a victim is an individual who has been fooled, hurt, or harmed, due to his or her own emotions or ignorance, an unfortunate event, or the actions of someone who deceived, cheated, injured, or killed him or her.

At the time, I really was a victim. I was in a relationship where I experienced systematic, emotional abuse, but due to my ignorance, I didn’t know it. Many people, particularly codependents, are in relationships with addicts or abusers, including relationships with partners or parents who have mental illness, such as a bipolar mood disorder or borderline, sociopathic, or narcissistic personality disorders. They suffer from frequent and often malicious verbal and sometimes physical attacks, betrayal, manipulation, and other forms of abuse that can alter their perception, self-image, and ability to protect themselves. Many victims in abusive relationships don’t recognize it as such, because it’s reminiscent of the shame, neglect, or other mistreatment they experienced in their families of origin. As children they were unprotected victims; hence, they didn’t develop adequate self-worth or learn how to stand up to abuse. more

How to Spot Manipulation

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manipulationWe all want to get our needs met, but manipulators use underhanded methods. Manipulation is a way to covertly influence someone with indirect, deceptive, or abusive tactics. Manipulation may seem benign or even friendly or flattering, as if the person has your highest concern in mind, but in reality it’s to achieve an ulterior motive. Other times, it’s veiled hostility, and when it becomes abusive, the objective is merely power. You may not realize that you’re being intimidated.

If you grew up being manipulated, it’s harder to discern what’s going on, because it feels familiar. You might have a gut feeling of discomfort or anger, but on the surface the manipulator may use words that are pleasant, ingratiating, reasonable, or that play on your guilt or sympathy, so you override your instincts and don’t know what to say. Codependents have trouble being direct and assertive and may use manipulation to get their way. They’re also easy prey for being manipulated by narcissists, borderline personalities, sociopaths, and other codependents, including addicts. more

Codependency, Addiction, and Emptiness

empty1Emptiness is a common feeling, and there are distinct types of emptiness, but it’s psychological emptiness that underlies codependency and addiction. Whereas existential emptiness is concerned with your relationship to life, psychological emptiness deals with your relationship to yourself. It’s correlated with depression[i] and deeply related to shame. Depression may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including sadness and crying, anxiety or restlessness, shame or guilt, apathy, fatigue, change in appetite or sleep habits, poor concentration, suicidal thoughts, and feeling empty. more

Trauma and Codependency

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A father is threatening his little boy with a fingerYou can make significant strides in overcoming codependency by developing new attitudes, skills, and behavior. But deeper recovery may involve healing trauma, usually that began in childhood. Trauma can be emotional, physical, or environmental, and can range from experiencing a fire to emotional neglect. Childhood events had a greater impact on you then than they would today, because you didn’t have coping skills that an adult would have. As a consequence of growing up in a dysfunctional family environment, codependents often suffer further trauma due to relationships with other people who may be abandoning, abusive, addicted or have mental illness. more

6 Keys to Assertive Communication

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how to speakCommunication is so important that it can make or break a relationship, is critical to success, and instantly reflects your self-esteem to listeners – for better or for worse. Assertive communication commands respect, projects confidence, and inspires influence. It’s respectful, direct, honest, open, non-threatening and non-defensive. It’s not demanding, aggressive, or manipulative.

Communication is learned. With practice you can learn to communicate assertively, which will raise your self-esteem and self-assurance and improve your relationships and professional performance. Research has established that even fetuses can learn to communicate with their mothers.  To learn the keys to assertiveness discussed below, remember the 6 C’s: more