If you have completed Codependency Workbook Exercise One, congratulations to you. Please take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You deserve it, because it must have taken a great deal of courage to write about your family history. Most people shed some tears in our therapy session when they share it with me. Then they feel very relieved.
Many people are not ready to share the letter with their family of origin right away. If you have a therapist available or a sponsor, discuss it with that person. If not, review it with a supportive, nonjudgmental friend. Before sharing this with your family, it is important that you be ready to deal with their reactions. Unless they are in recovery, most families will not be able to validate your experience. However, it is very therapeutic to put your family history on paper and share it with another person.
Now we are ready to begin the next workbook exercise, which concerns relationships. Please make a list of the most important people in your life. This may include friends, lovers, a spouse, family members, coworkers, or a boss. Spend a few minutes thinking about each relationship. How many people on your list do you believe are dysfunctional? How many are addicts, have untreated mental illness, refuse to work, even if they are able, or have other major issues? Are you taking care of some of the people on your list? Are some of the relationships lopsided, where you do most of the giving?
You may wonder why some of your relationships are lopsided. Dysfunctional people can sense that you are a caretaker and are drawn to you. It is almost as though they can smell you. You may find yourself drawn to them as well.
Last night, I saw a married couple where the wife was unsuccessfully trying to stop her alcoholic husband from drinking. She was anxious, frustrated, and very angry. Of course she would be frustrated. She was trying to control something that she had no control over. The facts are that we are powerless over other people, places, and things. Realizing this is helpful to codependents because they can learn to let go and relax. Trying to fix others is impossible, and just upsets the fixer. It also is not helpful to the dysfunctional person. Normally addicts only get help because of the consequences of their using. If the caretaker undoes the consequences, they caretaker unknowingly helps enable the dysfunctional person to remain sick.
Since caretaking may make you miserable and help your loved one stay sick, maybe we can work on not doing it. How? You can begin to learn to set boundaries. For example, you might tell the loved one that you will no longer bail him or her out if he is arrested. You may tell him that you will no longer call in sick if he is too hung over to work. You may tell her that you will only talk with her when she is sober.
I suggest that you put your list away for at least 24 hours. Then pick the relationship that causes you the most stress. Think about a boundary that you may set and write it down. Practice telling your loved one about the boundary. He or she will probably not like it, but in the long run it will be good for both of you. Be sure that you are prepared to maintain the boundary before you set it. The first time you do this, you are taking a major step in your recovery. Be sure to spend some time with someone who will support you setting a boundary.
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