The Codependent Myth

A common myth in abusive relationships is that they are codependent – codependency is a label that refers to people who are chemically dependent on substances such as alcohol and narcotics – so that when they try to quit they suffer traumatic physical symptoms.

Applying that label to human relationships is very misleading. If you feel “addicted” to your partner, you are probably feeling the confusing effects of his inconsistent on again/off again behavior. This is called intermittent reinforcement and is intended to keep you off balance. Gaslighting is another way to keep you off balance – making you doubt yourself and question your sanity.

This irrational behavior is confusing and can keep you stuck in a mental loop. That is where the problem lies – in the abuser’s behavior. The fact is, many women stay in spite of this behavior, not because of it. They suffer a loss of confidence that makes them worry about whether they can survive without their abusive partner

It is important to understand what codependency really is and that it has nothing to do with staying in an abusive relationship. This line of thinking blames the victim and makes her question herself – making it even more difficult to move through the mental fog and leave.

Being clear on the terms codependency and gaslighting can be extremely helpful in identifying what is really going on. Then the responsibility rests on the abuser and not the victim.

The False Happiness Revolution

The happiness revolution is designed to keep us so focused on trying to be happy that we are distracted from what is really going on. We are not designed to be “happy” beings – that is a scientific fact – happiness is not our natural state as human beings.

We need our critical thinking and discernment skills in order to protect ourselves. Our anxiety and depression are not guiding us to get happy; rather they are informing us of what is not balanced in our lives and how far we have strayed from our authentic selves – our inner centered awareness.

If we are caught in some fake happy la la land – then we will not see how we are being taken advantage of -how we are being misled -how our sovereignty is being pulled out from under us.

In addition, chasing this impossible paradigm of happiness distracts us and devalues us – we think we are doing something wrong when we are not able to be happy. When we are sad and frustrated, we are guilt tripped into focusing on being grateful for what we have – again, that is not the point. It is not that we are ungrateful, but rather that things are not in alignment with who we truly are – that we on the outside are not in alignment with our inner authenticity. Gratitude is not going to “fix” that.

Sitting with ourselves and really opening up to what our anxiety/depression, etc. are trying to tell us is the way. To be with the unpleasant feelings – they are our teachers.

Shame – Let’s Get Real

People talk about shame many times in a superficial way – from a perspective of privilege.  The shame of losing a race, the shame of failing a test, the shame of getting turned down by a prospective date.  These are entitled shames.  In these instances, we think we have experienced shame, but we are not even close to the deep dark shame that exists for many.

Shame is a very complicated and deep wound.  We are indoctrinated into shame early on in life.  There is deep shame rooted in the feelings of not being enough – not being accepted for who we are – for our authenticity and uniqueness.  If we were raised with narcissistic parents, we were rewarded for giving emotional support to our parents, but shamed for needing that emotional support in return.  We then began a pattern of giving away energy without ever getting our emotional needs met in return so that we could be loved and have our basic needs met for food and shelter.   The flow of energy was imbalanced and unhealthy.  That is one form of shame we can experience.  There are many others – deep, dark and paralyzing.

When I think of shame – I think of people shamed for their very existence.  For instance, the migrant workers who courageously risk their lives to come here and pick the fruit we eat -their bodies broken from horrendously difficult conditions – so they can support their families at home – shamed by structural violence.  I think of the woman who was sexually assaulted and carries the shame of being violated – who now has the task of working through the trauma that was forced on her – her life forever changed.  I think of innocent children physically and mentally abused by unconscious parents – courageously making their way into adulthood – trying to survive – trying to make sense of life when there was no sense in anything they experienced.  I think of young boys shamed for showing emotion – carrying the scars of having their authentic expression being ridiculed and shut down.  I think of the shame of financial abuse inflicted on women leaving abusive relationships – access to joint bank accounts shut down, losing their homes because money is withheld from them, bearing the stigma of financial incompetency that was not their fault, but rather a result of their partner’s illogical need to get even and debilitate them – just because they don’t want to be married to someone who abuses them anymore.

If we are going to talk about shame, let’s get real about it.  We are terrified to go into the depths of shame – yet we need to probe those depths in order to truly heal.  What are the deep dark secrets we have been avoiding by filling our days with constant purchases and activities – not allowing ourselves the time to sit and just be in order to let the things that need to come to the surface rise up for acknowledgement and healing.  It is in sitting with our emotions and feelings from those horrific experiences that we will find our most profound answers.  It can seem terrifying to face the unknown, yet on the other side of that fear and terror is liberation.




The Profound Teachings of Winnie the Pooh

Watching the movie “Christopher Robin”, I was struck by all of the profound wisdom of Winnie the Pooh.  In this version, Christopher Robin is now a middle-aged man dealing with the pressures of profits and bottom lines.  His view of the world has changed since his childhood interactions with Pooh and all of their friends.  Even though he assured Pooh that he would never forget him, he has in fact,  forgotten Pooh and left “childish” things behind for the more practical pursuits of earning a living in a world where companies do not seem to care about their employees.  Where making money is the only goal to be obtained at whatever the personal cost, including working long hours and spending more and more time away from family.

Christopher’s wife is watching him slip away and reminds him that his life is right there in front of him and it is passing him by.  However, he is so engrained in the work culture and providing for his family that he cannot see it.

Meanwhile, Pooh is still in the hundred acre wood – but is troubled – he can’t seem to find his friends, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, and Owl.  On his journey around the wood, he passes by the tree where Christopher Robin used to be and hears his old friend calling to him – the door is open.  Pooh trusts this sign and decides that he needs to seek out Christopher Robin – he will know how to help Pooh find everyone.

He ventures through the open door into the tree from which Christopher Robin always appears in search of his long lost friend.  The timing is perfect as Christopher Robin is “lost” as well – lost in the expectations of the “real world” and so very far away from his own morals and values.  Pooh, in his unassuming way, eventually leads Christoper Robin back to what really matters.  Here are some of his wise Poohisms:

Christoper Robin’s boss emphatically states that “nothing leads to nothing.”  However, Pooh counters – “doing nothing often leads to the very best something!”  When we search so hard for things thinking we need to always be doing something to get something, we miss what is right in front of us.  We miss the path that wants to open up to us if we just pause and let it happen.

Christopher Robin doesn’t understand why Pooh isn’t blindly rushing off to find his friends – Pooh calmly replies “sometimes when I’m going somewhere and I wait, somewhere comes to me.”  Whatever is meant for us will come – we don’t need to go find it, it will find us if we only give it a chance.  If we are open, receptive and patient.

As Christopher Robin and Pooh search the wood for their friends, Christopher gets frustrated because he is in a hurry and wants a plan.  This is not Pooh’s way, rather he explains – “I always get to where I am going by walking away from where I have been.” Again, he is teaching us that we will get to where we need to go by following our inner guidance and being patient – all of the worrying and planning in the world will not move us forward, rather it can impede our forward flow if things don’t show up according to our “plan”.  Stopping and relaxing knowing that we always get to where we are going by following the steps as they are shown – one step at a time – is all we need to do.

Pooh explains –  “sometimes the thing to do is nothing”. Is it the same as “good things come to those who wait”?  Maybe.  Sometimes just waiting when we don’t know the next step is the thing to do – so the next step can be shown to us.  We don’t need to stress about it.  Rather if we can enjoy the quiet time or the time in between, we are in a better frame of mind to take that next step – and also maybe better prepared.  Sometimes, we need to learn things before we can move on from a situation – or we need to heal.  We don’t always need to be pushing for more – getting caught in that chaotic cycle keeps us out of the flow of life in a never ending search for something in the future that is supposed to make us happy when happiness is right here in front of us – if we just let it in.

Pooh spins our culture’s constant push to improve and achieve – he explains – “people say that nothing is impossible, yet I do nothing all the time.”  What a wonderful turn around from constantly striving to relaxing and just being.  Giving us permission to sit back and allow ourselves some space to contemplate – to just be with ourselves and see what we are all about -to get to know ourselves and our desires and preferences, rather than endlessly pursuing some status quo definition of success.

Christopher Robin admonishes Pooh for talking to people and causing a scene.  “You’re different – people don’t like things that are different” he tells Pooh.  Pooh thinks about this trying to understand,  dumbfounded he replies – “so I shouldn’t be me”, leaving Christopher speechless.  How can he get his friend to understand that the real world doesn’t like or want deviations from the status quo – people are quickly put back in their place for being different and not fitting in.

Yet Pooh continues to be himself  –  living in the moment unaffected by the rules and restraints of society.  He wants Christopher to buy him a red balloon because it “would make him happy”.  When they lose the balloon, Pooh wants Christopher to get it back for him.  Christopher doesn’t want to be bothered and tells Pooh he doesn’t need it; however, Pooh tells him sincerely  – “but it made me happy – did it make you happy?”  Christopher dismisses the question finding it irrelevant.  What a different world it would be if all it took was a red balloon to make us happy.

By the end of the movie, Christopher Robin is brought back to himself by his childhood friends – back to what really matters.  And in finding that place inside of himself, he is then able to come up with a solution to his company’s bottom line that is a win/win for everyone.  Yes, this can seem simplistic; however, when we follow what is most important in life – our deeper values, we are able to see solutions that we might have otherwise missed.  Changing our thinking changes what comes back to us because it opens new pathways in the brain.  It is that simple.

Your Own Personal Treasure Map

Much of our society’s focus and energy seems to be centered on attaining the status quo.  From a very young age, we are taught that attaining the status quo will make us happy and fulfilled.  However, many times when people finally reach that impossible place if they even can, they find that they are still just as unhappy and unfulfilled or worse.  The outer attainment of status and success, while promoted by our culture as the way to happiness and joy, often feels empty and meaningless.

Many of my clients come in overwhelmed and burned out from pushing and driving themselves towards this false destination at the cost of their health and well-being.  They have symptoms of anxiety and depression because their bodies are trying to get them to listen and pay attention.  Many are forcing themselves on this climb up “fake mountain” in direct opposition to what their bodies are trying to communicate to them.  They have no idea what their authentic values, desires and talents are – and even if they do, they have pushed these gifts aside for a path that they feel will lead to certain financial security and that perceived American Dream.

What exactly is this status quo we are all mesmerized with?  The media constantly floods us with images of beautiful houses, perfect bodies and perfect lives if only we can reach the top of that mountain.  Yet at what cost?  Most people will never attain the status quo – and really, if you think about it – it is a rather boring journey anyways.  What excitement is there in following the same path as everyone else?   We seem to want our paths to be straight lines full of guaranteed steps  – making life safe and predictable.  Yet our true paths are full of twists and turns that create interest.  Perfection is boring – it is our failures and the obstacles that we overcome that endear us to others.  Who would want to be around a perfect person – never having failed – always having the right answer?  It is our quirks and our struggles that make us lovable – not our drive for perfection.

Each person has an individual and unique path.  The adventure is in uncovering that path step by step – much like a treasure map.  There is no manual for life or one path that fits everyone.   We each have our own distinct treasure map inside of us.  The excitement is in accessing that map, which is informed by our own inner guidance system.   Learning to access that map and its messages through your guidance system sets you on an exciting quest towards discovering your own authentic gifts and talents  – your inner gold.

Bypassing your own uniqueness is a surefire path to mental health issues.  We cannot ignore our own individual path, for if we do, our bodies will rebel against us – and for good reason.  They are trying to get us to listen.  We are here to express our own authentic version of being human.  Not to follow along like robots.    

Think of an orchestra.  If there were only violins playing the same part over and over in unison, it would be rather uninteresting.  However, multiple instruments with multiple harmonies all playing at the same time create beautiful music and perfection.  It is the same with being human -we each have a harmonious part to play.  It is our duty to find our own individual contribution.  In doing so, we create a more beautiful, diverse and perfect world.

I recently read this quote and loved its message – “when you don’t follow your own individual nature, there is a hole in the universe where you were supposed to be”.


Boundaries and Personal Value

Boundaries are such an important piece of healing. Setting up and enforcing good boundaries will allow you the space to sit with your own emotions and feelings in a protective bubble.  This is what is needed for healing to occur.  In setting boundaries, you get to determine what you want to let in and what you don’t – what feels right to you and what doesn’t. It is a way of valuing yourself.  When you feel valuable, you rise to a level of wholeness and expectation that demands respectful and kind behavior from others.  When that behavior is not what you encounter, you can firmly set a boundary and walk away.  That is your right as a human being.

Many times anxiety and depression can be traced back to a violation of boundaries – often trauma related.  Most people do not understand that they have a right to exert boundaries, even with their family members.  In fact, family members can be the biggest offenders when it comes to boundaries – feeling an entitlement or special privilege and right to do whatever they want.  Yet family members should be our greatest allies – protecting and standing up for us.  Unfortunately, that is not usually the case.  Dysfunction is passed down from generation to generation – patterns are deeply engrained.  It takes a very strong and aware individual to break those patterns.  It is no wonder that the people I see in therapy have no idea what a boundary is and/or how to firmly enforce it.

Anyone that does not respect a boundary you have clearly placed, does not respect you as an individual.  If someone becomes angry with you for placing a boundary, they are not someone you want to be around.  The people you want to be around are those that would never think of violating a boundary in the first place.  They are genuinely respectful – innately possessing things like integrity, ethics, honesty, loyalty – virtues that show a person’s character and come from within.   They lift you up – not tear you down.

We can be born into a family where these virtues do not exist, yet it is our responsibility to do better.  It is never an excuse – we always have choice.  That is our gift – we can always choose differently.  We do not have to be what we came from – we can change the patterns.  However, it takes great awareness and courage and the inner drive to be different – to do the right thing.

It can be a challenge to enact boundaries – especially when you are sensitive and empathic.  In fact, the therapy clients I work with are most often predisposed to sensitivity.  It is the way they are wired.  My job is to help them manage that sensitivity and protect themselves from others that want to use them and manipulate them.  The manipulators of the world are looking for those with a sensitive nature because they want to feed off of their kindness.  They can suck you in and drag you all over the place with their drama.  It is imperative to become aware – learning to identify when your boundaries have been violated.

When our boundaries have been walked all over, we can feel like we have been bull-dozed – our sense of self obliterated.  The work is to develop a strong inner core that cannot be rattled.  To believe so strongly in your own personal value that you will not tolerate disrespectful, dishonoring and rude behavior.  To know deep within you that you have a right to demand appropriate behavior from others and if you do not receive it, you can remove yourself from the situation.  You are not responsible for fixing another person’s drama or for making them feel better about themselves – that is their own responsibility.

When we have boundaries, we are affirming our value. And when we do that – other things start falling into place – the right people show up – the right opportunities come together because we are in alignment.  We are congruent.  That is the goal of therapy – to lead us towards alignment so we can successfully navigate the challenges life presents.  Challenges will aways be there -that is the journey; however, we can learn to have tools in our toolbox that help us move through the challenges and keep us safe at the same time.

Petty Tyrants

We all have encountered people that try their best to get under our skin. The ones that attack us for the pettiest things – things that do not matter or that seem irrelevant. The verbal attacks they level are unexpected and can be quite blind siding and unsettling. These people are called “petty tyrants” because they lord over us with petty attacks as a way of chipping at our self-esteem and maintaining control. The whole point of their attacks is to throw us off balance. Focusing on their critical comments can leave us feeling disempowered and confused – our forward momentum disrupted.

Many of the clients I see for therapy come in confused and beaten down by the petty tyrants in their lives. I find that much of the anxiety and depression my clients experience can often be the direct result of interactions with petty tyrants. The work I do is to first educate my clients by debunking the confusing, antagonistic attacks and then work to build up their core confidence level so they can start taking their power back. We also focus on safety – maintaining safety in all interactions is important.

Petty tyrants are everywhere – bosses, partners, co-workers, relatives, etc. Their comments are never constructive, but rather critical and demeaning with a hint of shame attached to them. For example, you could be all dressed up looking fabulous and rather than compliment you, they will make a snide comment about how the perfume you are wearing annoys them. You could be giving the best customer service and yet they will tell you that you are not enthusiastic enough with customers. Or their tactics can be more insidious – for example, giving you a look that clearly implies they disapprove of you. They will take things that you say and do out of context, turn them around and reframe them against you – thus depleting your energy and giving you a feeling of being on edge.

The intent is to leave you doubting yourself and can put you in a state of mental paralysis – your energy scattered. The goal is to get you to focus so much on yourself and your perceived imperfections that you lose sight of the bad behavior of the petty tyrant who is attacking you. If you are so focused on yourself, you will not have the time or energy to see what “they” are doing – belittling you and disempowering you. It is undermining and debilitating. Again, that is the goal.

Everyone has access to their own inner power reserves – the petty tyrant looks to steal that power from others rather than developing their own inner power. The more power they take from you, the more they want – much like an addiction. Their actions are based on jealousy, envy and a deeply rooted insecurity. Consequently, if they are able to knock you down and bring you to their level – it makes them feel better about themselves.

One very important thing to remember is that you did not attract this person – do not blame yourself for being involved. Petty tyrants are magnetized to kind-hearted, caring people – people that are following the beat of their own drum. The tyrant lashes out because these kind souls threaten the tyrant’s toxic, status quo way of life. Tyrants are very skilled at manipulating using small-minded, petty behavior – thus the name “petty tyrant”.

The best way to deal with a petty tyrant is to turn and walk the other way if you are able. Do not waste time and energy trying to defend yourself or convincing them – that will only suck you further into their clever trap. The key is to rise above their comments – pause and reflect rather than react – work to come from a place of neutrality – do not engage.

Another one of their tactics can be to escalate things by creating a lot of unnecessary drama. Again, don’t engage – work to pull your energy back by remaining calm and centered. If you have to engage – state only the facts and remain as neutral as possible. Their goal is to get you riled up and to react – this gives them something to use against you. The more you remain calm and centered, the more it will frustrate and disempower them. They want your power – don’t give it to them.