Now that you understand how codependency develops in a family surrounding a dysfunctional person, what are you supposed to do next?
Many people have said to me in therapy, “Joyce, now that I understand where my fear of abandonment comes from, how do I stop being so scared of it that I mess up my relationships?”
You can learn to do this, but it certainly isn’t easy. As you go through this series of codependency workbook articles, you may feel uneasy when you try on new behaviors. It’s okay. Try to give yourself permission to be awkward. You don’t have to do everything perfectly. Ideally, you have a therapist available to you or, at minimum, a 12-step program and a supportive friend.
The first step in my series of workbook exercises is to write out or to record a statement about how your family is dysfunctional. I know that you do not wish to dwell in the past, nor do I wish to bring up so many painful memories for you. However, to begin your healing, it is important to face some of the things that you have successfully survived. Denial or constricting your feelings will not help you get to where you want to go.
Try to answer some of these questions in writing:
- How is your family dysfunctional? Is there addiction, mental illness, physical illness, poverty, sexual abuse, something else, or a combination of these things?
- Is it one or both parents? Stepparents?
- Were your parents able to assume most of the normal parental duties? If not, did they get done? If so, who did them? If not, how did that affect you?
- Did odd things happen that you began to see as normal? If so, what?
- Were you afraid to have friends over? Did your parent(s) ever embarrass, scare, or anger you?
- Did family members walk on eggshells to try to avoid an explosion? If so, did they happen anyway?
Okay, I think you get the idea. Some people choose to write their family history in the form of a letter to their parent or guardian. You don’t necessarily have to send it. You can revise it, and it will at least help you begin the process of identifying your feelings. People who are codependent usually learn to constrict their feelings in a vain attempt to keep everything calm. When people write out or record their histories, they often feel angry, sad, scared, and/or hurt.
If you share those painful feelings with your therapist, your sponsor, or a supportive friend, you will find that after letting them out, you will feel some relief. Yes, it is painful, but avoiding it is even more painful in the long run.
If there were a website where people could post their family histories, you would find out that there would be many similar stories. You would realize that you are not alone. Those of you who have found your way to a 12-step program like Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous already know this. Isn’t it a relief?
Take out a sheet of paper or a notebook or a computer and start writing your family history. If you choose to do this in the form of a letter, then tell them that you are writing this letter to let them know what it was like for you to grow up in your home with them. Or, if you prefer, start with a title like “Growing up in my family.”
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