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Straight Talk Recovery – Episode 4: Co-dependency


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Transcription of Episode 4: Co-dependency

Adam Kostiw: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of Straight Talk Recovery with myself, Adam Kostiw, and my good friend Raymond Moore. Say hi, Ray.

Raymond Moore: Hi, everybody.

Adam Kostiw: And so on today’s episode, we’re going to talk about a topic that is quite often discussed in our fields, and that is co-dependency. So, I’ll let Ray start off with his ideas behind that.

Raymond Moore: Yeah. So, I think it’s important before we really get going with it to understand what it actually is. So, co-dependency versus dependency is a key thing to to to understand right from the beginning. So, what co-dependency typically consists of is two people that have mutual or sorry, that have needs that are met through another person. So most often times the people who use substances will often say things like they’re co-dependent on their substance, which is not accurate because basically, they’re dependent on the substance. So, in actuality, the substance doesn’t need them. But when you’re talking with a person, it’s a co-dependency, which means that both parties have a need that’s equally met.

So, I know with the population we work with, typically one of the biggest areas that we focus on are people that are in codependent relationships with other people that are using substances. So typically, what this consists of is, say, for instance, Adam, Adam is my partner and he’s using a substance and I’m using a substance. And typically, what we do is we make it easier for each other to continue with, the unhealthy behaviors. So that’s the most basic kind of understanding of codependency, at least with the population we work with. But it definitely is much greater. And really where a lot of people get confused is that family also becomes one of the greatest co-dependent partners there is for many reasons. And I think we’ll kind of expand on it as we go along.

Adam Kostiw: Exactly. And that’s what we see from a therapy side of it as well, is once we start individual therapy and we start taking a look at the relationships in a person’s life dating back to a lot of times early childhood and all of a sudden being able to identify co-dependent relationships either with parents and other family members and how it affects them. It becomes quite evident very quickly for clients once they start looking and asking themselves the questions. And it’s a hard question to ask, you know, am I co-dependent? Nobody wants to be co-dependent, it’s not an easy thing to even admit for most people. But once they start looking through the different characteristics of co-dependent people, right, we can list off a large list, everything from, you know, an exaggerated sense of responsibility. And they have a tendency to confuse love and pity. So, and it keeps going on and on. And as they start going through this, they start realizing and opening their eyes to what’s actually been transpiring in their lives.

Raymond Moore: Yeah. So, I just want to jump back to something you said about growing up in and how co-dependency really for many people start to take form. So, one of the most challenging things about codependency and understanding is whether a relationship is healthy or it’s not. When we look at an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship, because I know I was taught by Walt Disney when I was young, there was something very beautiful about the idea of, you know, I would give my life for this person and I would, you know, basically do anything for this person. And essentially sacrificing your needs to meet the needs of another person. So, co-dependency in its unhealthy form and a lot of people that do tend to have these co-dependent relationships in their life. It is something that is, I’m not sure the correct word to describe it, but almost habitual in the sense that, you know, even if someone is in a position to leave an unhealthy relationship or an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship, they most often find similar relationships that are similar to their past relationship.

Adam Kostiw: That’s right.

Raymond Moore: Right. Go ahead.

Adam Kostiw: And we see that the fact that co-dependency can be intergenerational, that it actually can be passed on from one generation to the other. You mentioned the Walt Disney example, the whole picture. You know, we hear it in the movies. We hear the old saying a parent would give their lives for their child, they would do anything for their child, but when a parent all of a sudden, you know, pulls strings or does whatever they can, that prevents the child from suffering consequences from the maladaptive behaviors. Now, all of a sudden, that crosses a threshold right. Now, all of a sudden, it’s not there protecting the child, but they’re protecting themselves at the same time. And people get caught up in that. They believe that if they protect the child of protecting themselves in the same way, and that’s where the intergenerational part comes along because they’re taught that from one set of parents to the next set and so forth.

Raymond Moore: Yeah, I think one of the biggest challenges, though, is deciphering what is an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship versus what is a healthy one. So, I mean, for instance, look at the relationship between a mother and child. So even if it is a child, a teenager or whatever it may be. Right. Moms or moms, that’s how we typically describe it. Right. At what point does it become unhealthy? So, for instance, if I’m a 28-year-old man, I’m going to make this real. My mom was like this when I was in my 30s, in my 30s. My mom would often ask me, do you need me to do your laundry? I’m a very mature man. I’m very capable of doing my laundry. And at times she would often push this, right. So, she would push this need to to help me and to do things that I was obviously very competent of doing. One of the things I personally realized after some time was that there was a particular need she had. So, it wasn’t the fact that I was incompetent. I couldn’t wash my own socks. Really, what was happening there was this very deep need for her to feel needed. Right. So that, you know, she always would tell me that, you know, I will always be her baby. And I think psychologically and cognitively in her brain that that was very much the case.

But really, the deep-down need is to feel needed and where it becomes challenging and difficult. Is that say for in that situation? If I were to say, yes, you can help me in this situation, that may be fine. And in that moment, she feels needed. But outside of that, if I’m not around and she’s by herself. Right. How does she get those needs met? And I’m not saying personally that was, you know, a codependent relationship in my life. But nevertheless, if somebody is fully reliant on another person in order to achieve or to meet a particular need that they have for themselves, this is the kind of the root of how co-dependency really works. So, and again, if it’s co-dependency and again, in my situation, it doesn’t really match. But if, for instance, taking that situation and let’s say cooking. Right. So, if I rely on my mother for cooking and she enjoys that very clear need of being needed and providing, you know, nourishment and all of that kind of stuff, if I don’t know how to cook and I can’t eat without her cooking. A very basic issue that we have here. Right. So, the need for her to feel needed and then the I don’t know, my examples making any sense here.

Adam Kostiw: So, let me interject here for a second is because it really brings up a strong point, is that person, when we talk about co-dependency and we use a mother, for example, is they also take part of it as part of their identity. Right. And it becomes so important, so ingrained for them, that identity. So, you mentioned, oh, you know, I’m her little boy. I’m old. But it’s also the identity. She’s the mother. I’m the mother. And I do this for this. So, the laundry. So, you know, we’re just using this example and it kind of hits home for myself as well when I was growing up into my 20s like you. But it was also that there was that part of them that, OK, this is their identity, but they also want to be recognized for what they’re doing. So, there are strings attached. Right. So, all of a sudden, yeah, they do the laundry, but they want to make sure that they’re recognized. They want to hear people actually recognize them for their efforts. Right. So, all of a sudden as time goes on, that identity becomes stronger and stronger as time goes on.

It’s interesting since we’re talking about parents and mothers, in particular, I remember once being told to me that parenthood is the one job out there from the moment the child is born, you’re actually learning to let go because every step of development for children is about letting them have more independence, letting them let go more. Well, we see that in co-dependent relationships that letting go is being held back as well. So all of a sudden, it’s where a person becomes a teenager and wants a little bit more independence. And well, no, that’s not good for you. You’re not allowed to do this or that. You know, let’s do this or, you know, a child doesn’t suffer the consequences for doing their homework. So mom or dad or someone is doing the homework almost for them or a project. And we’ve heard that actually. I’ve actually dealt with clients who’ve had their parents while they were in university write papers for them. Right. Because they were so worried about their child failing. And how would that reflect on them as well?

Raymond Moore: Mm hmm. So, what is wrong with that? Right. So, I know a lot of times when we’re kind of working through developing individuality and stuff like that, a lot of people want to question what exactly is wrong with that. And I know at least with people that have been in more intimate relationships that are in codependent relationships, they always seem to fight very hard to rationalize and make sense. For instance, and I’m sure you’ve heard this, I mean, I think sure, many people have heard it. You have friends out there. You have a couple that’s together that is very clearly not doing very well. And you’ll often hear a line, something like you just don’t understand. You just don’t get it. They love me. I love them. It’s something that you just don’t quite understand. A lot of times I’ve worked with people that have been or sorry in my personal life that people actually get angry and upset. Right. Because what they see is that there’s this other person that kind of completes them kind of back to that Disney analogy that I used earlier. Right.

Adam Kostiw: Right.

Raymond Moore: So that idea of actually completing somebody. So, what that actually means when you kind of get through everything is that there’s something in that particular individual that is missing and this person that comes into their life, even whatever it may be, makes them feel a certain way. And one of the clearer examples I think, that we give to people is oftentimes I work with populations of people that always say the same thing. My entire life I’ve dated or I have been with people who are crazy. You know, my ex is crazy. Everyone I’ve ever dated is crazy. So on and so on and so on.

So, people that are in relationships, tend to have this void. And I know they translate it in the 12-step world, they actually call it a God-shaped hole or a God-shaped void, that something’s actually missing for that person. And a lot of times what people do is they end up getting into relationships with people, even with people who may be abusive, even with people who may speak down to them or avoid their needs or whatever it may be. But for whatever reason, that piece that’s missing in that individual, for whatever reason, feels filled. So even though somebody is in an abusive relationship or struggling in a marriage or whatever it may be, oftentimes what they’re trying to do is fulfill a particular need, even if that means that they’re sacrificing many other things in their life. So, you’ll see a lot of times with co-dependent people, is they’re often very specific to what it is or sorry, people that are in co-dependent relationships. You may often see that they are in relationships with people and are not necessarily having their particular needs met.

Adam Kostiw: Right.

Raymond Moore: Right, the reliance then shifts to the other person in order to meet those needs, which would you think would not be that much of a problem? I mean, if you’re sharing an intimate relationship, however, that becomes an all-encompassing thing. So ultimately, you are responsible for how I feel. So, if for whatever reason you were to leave me, if any, for any reason we had to part, ultimately, that piece of me goes.

Adam Kostiw: Right. And when you talk about that it brings me back to a discussion I had with a client before, is regarding the comfort that people actually can have with discomfort. I know that sounds strange, but we talk about that all the time. And sessions are the fact that it becomes the norm for them. It becomes as you said, they may be in an abusive relationship. They may be having to do, in one case, all the work or accept all the work from someone else and that burns people out. Yet all of a sudden, that’s where it can be verbally abusive, physically abusive, all the different ones. But that’s what they know and they become comfortable with it. And then it becomes the oxymoron that if they are leaving that relationship or moving outside of it and all of a sudden start experiencing something different, they don’t know what to do because all of a sudden now what should be comfortable, you know when we’re using the word should. You’ve got to be careful with is now all of a sudden what someone else may, consider healthy they have discomfort with that because they don’t recognize that. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know what the role is here all of a sudden. Right. So, someone in a co-dependent relationship who has done all the work, who bends over backwards and never takes care of themselves, but take care of the other person all of a sudden if things change and there all of a sudden with someone else who is actually doing things for them, that’s strange. That’s going to be uncomfortable for them.

Raymond Moore: Yeah. And maybe a deal-breaker for them as well. When you talk about comfort, it gets to the point where it’s so uncomfortable that even ideally I use the example of when people look around you and are like, you know, your relationship is a disaster, what are you doing that it is possibly healthy, good relationship ends up getting ruined by fear.

Adam Kostiw: Yeah, yeah. It really is fear. It’s because they don’t know what to do. They don’t know who they are at that moment, because all of a sudden now it’s OK. What’s my identity in this relationship. What what’s my role. I’m used to this. This is not what I’m used to. That’s uncomfortable. Right. And so, and that’s when we hear all too often people sabotaging themselves. Right. Without even recognizing that’s what they’re doing. Well, all of a sudden, they start falling back on old habits or something like this, or they run, the biggest one is they start shutting down, they stop sharing, they stop talking, they stop validating their feelings or anyone else’s feelings at that time.

Raymond Moore: Yeah, definitely. You know, I’m sure a lot of our listeners are really kind of listening to what we’re saying and getting an understanding of what it is and probably relating on one level or another. But how does this break? I mean, we’re talking from the beginning of the podcast about how this could be intergenerational. It does happen. It becomes comfortable. So how do we start really looking at what relationships or if our relationship is codependent, how do we start making those changes?

Adam Kostiw: Right. It takes time. It’s actually not an overnight process. And unfortunately, most people want change fast. Right. That’s the biggest thing we hear is, you know, it’s I want it right away. It’s going to happen. Right? Know it’s not going to happen. People are going to fall back into tendencies. But it’s actually about starting off and recognizing what it is that you want. One of the first things that we normally do when we’re working with someone is, OK, so what is a healthy relationship? They’ve actually first had to define that and come up to, you know, their definition of what a healthy relationship is and then start looking at the different points in it on whether it actually matches up to that. Right. One of the most difficult things in the codependent relationship, especially for someone who does a majority of the work in the relationship, is to get them to actually start spending time focusing on themselves. That’s one of the most difficult things we’re so used to, focusing on the other person and hear it all the time is, you know, they’ll do something for the other person. Oh, did you like that? They want that gratification. They want to feel good because of what they’re doing. But actually, they’re scared of not making the other person happy and not fulfilling what the other person needs.

Right. So, by turning it around and say, OK, so what was it? What it is that I actually need for myself right now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking someone for what you need or giving yourself permission to give yourself what you need. You know, in this industry, we see it all the time. What do we do? We’re always when we’re working with people, we’re helping others. We’re doing things for others. And one of the most important things for us is self-care. Right. And so, we need to know and we need to give ourselves permission. Hey, you know what? I’m getting burnt out. I know this is getting hard on me. I need to take care of myself. Well, for a person, co-dependent relationships, they need to be able to say that for themselves. Right. Say, OK, what do I need to make myself move forward? What do I need right now for myself as opposed to what is it the other person needs? And you said it well before is you know, we’re looking at people and could have been in relationships, are looking at validating themselves by someone else. So, all of a sudden, if it’s not there, they don’t know what to do. Right. And so, beginning with a focus on the self in even validating. You know what? I’m not happy and remembering that we know this all the time is nobody can be happy 24/7, 365 days a year.

Understanding, you know, it’s actually even OK for me to have a down day, give yourself that permission. Right. So, these are ways you start, but it’s a slow process. It’s not overnight. And again, also, one of the biggest mistakes I hear all the time is they’re expecting the other person to change. Right? Well, we can’t have some you know, force someone else to change, all we can do is actually make changes with ourselves. And that’s where it’s got to start is those small steps. The analogy I use a lot with clients. If we’re especially we’re sitting with a window. I said, you know, they want that change quickly. And I say, OK, well, while you’re here, think of a compass and all you’re actually looking to do is move half a degree on the compass and look across the field. Across the field, you see a tree. So right where you stand, if you move a half degree, you can barely feel the movement if you turn in your spot. Yet if you were to do that half a kilometer or kilometer walk out, you are now two hundred feet to the right of the tree. Right. So those little changes here have big results later on.

Raymond Moore: Yeah. And I just want to go back a little bit and that’s where the tough work comes in. I mean the looking at self-part. Right. Especially with codependent relationships, both parties. One of the most challenging things is to break that focus of each other, right? So, if the other person changes, that will ultimately lead to my change and I think you hit it right on any growth within a relationship needs to start with each individual looking at their particular self. So, I know a lot of times would working with the co-dependent population of people most often the question I always ask first and it’s always the first thing I ask is, are you happy? And there’s always this five-second pause, like this kind of shock on their face. And they have to think about it. They most often will say yes. But it’s interesting that you know, if you talk to anyone that’s in a happy, wonderful relationship, they typically say, yes, I’m very happy with the person I’m with. When you’re looking at the co-dependent relationship, a lot of times you kind of see that gap. It’s almost like the individual does not fully know if they’re happy and almost intellectualize why they believe they should be happy.

Right. So, I definitely believe and I think the next podcast we’re going to do, when we look at self-compassion, I think this is really going to kind of tie in with it is is kind of understanding what is that’s happening for ourselves. For instance, I had mentioned earlier too about the idea of if you’ve been in numerous relationships that have looked identical to each other, that perhaps, perhaps it’s time to do exactly what you said, maybe even step away from being in relationships and really looking at what that void is that that I spoke about earlier is really looking at that piece of you that is missing. Right. And whatever that may be. And most often, I think we’re codependent relationships. It’s also it’s usually the need of being loved or feeling loved by somebody else. And I think you can definitely attest to the population we work with; they most often say I mean, one of the things I struggle with feeling is love. So, you know, if you’re actually able to fill that void, which is most often that need to be loved, doing the work on yourself can actually fill that void when you actually start to learn to love yourself.

Adam Kostiw: Exactly. And so, you know, on the other hand, of that, there is they believe and they say they have this need, but in so many cases, we see that it’s actually not the need for the relationship, but it’s actually the fear of abandonment, because like you said, when we hear someone have that great of a need for something to be loved, to be this, what we’re actually hearing is how terrified they are of abandonment. Right, and usually what happens when a person is not comfortable in their own skin, when they’re not comfortable with themselves, they don’t know how to validate their own feelings. They don’t know how to be happy with themselves. Right. And that’s why we see all of these people go, even if a co-dependent relationship like you mentioned earlier, you know, does break up or whatever, you see the people going and doing the same thing over again with other relationships. Right. Because that’s what they know. And instead of taking the time to be with themselves, they throw themselves back, they’d rather to themselves back into a bad relationship than not a relationship at all.

Raymond Moore: Right. And I want to go back to, I like to call it wiring. You talked earlier about being comfortable within that relationship. Our brains to some extent really get wired with a particular way of treatment. And I think with getting better, it’s about kind of unravelling old ideas because one of the things that happens is there’s kind of collateral damage that comes with these types of relationships. So most often you may be in a relationship. I did mention abusive relationships earlier where people may often convey messages to the other person in which they adopt and really start to wire the way they think. So, if the other person you know, this is a classic line, I hear, you know, you would not be where you’re at today if it wasn’t for me. That is a really good manipulation technique. Until that individual can stop and be like, whoa, actually, I am where I’m at today because of me, because I got up, I did the things I needed to do because of that.

So, part of this whole process is actually to start changing the way we think and really start adopting our own way of thinking rather than simply adopting the manipulation of past relationships or whatever it may have been, and fully owning our own thoughts and really starting to rewire how we think and believing in ourselves to even if it is I don’t feel loved or I’ve never felt that. And the lack of it or the fear of abandonment and this, again, that can go much, much deeper. But ultimately that the beginning of just telling yourself, you know what, I’m worthy. I think worthy is a keyword worthy of love. I’m worthy of respect. I’m worthy to be in a relationship with somebody who respects me, who loves me, et cetera, et cetera. Part of that is, is kind of rewiring how we think of these past relationships.

Adam Kostiw: Right. And that’s the perfect segue. As you mentioned before, our next topic is going to be self-compassion and self-forgiveness. So, I’d like to take this time to say thank you so much for listening to another edition of Straight Talk Recovery. Again, thanking you on behalf of myself, Adam Kostov, and my buddy and partner here, Raymond Moore. Just want to remind you all, keep talking.

Raymond Moore: Bye, everybody.


Other Episodes

Episode 1: Introduction

Episode 2: Anger

Episode 3: Relationships

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