Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Emotional Balance




Consider the luminaries in the sky – the moon, the sun, the stars. When they are reflected in liquids like water they appear to be of different shapes - sometimes round, sometimes long, sometimes unsteady and shaky - all due to the movements of the wind. Similarly when we, the dazzling self of pure consciousness, are focused and preoccupied with the emotional alterations of the mind we feel carried away by its ups and downs, while in fact we stand ever unaffected and steady in our true essence. If we don't have a superior engagement, a higher grounding, we get dragged into the inner turmoil and lose our equilibrium. To become aloof to this neverending rise and fall requires spiritual absorption. When we abide in the Supreme, the divine presence, we are able to experience any emotion without getting lost in it.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Flight to Intimacy - The Flight from Intimacy



It's essential to understand that codependency and counterdependency are primarily two unconscious patterns of behavior, ingrained habits supported by nonadaptive values, false beliefs, rationalizations, denial and projection. It is difficult to see the problem if it is all one has ever known; it seems normal, even normative. But with self-observation and a proper understanding of these patterns one can gain the insight needed to get to the threshold of transformation.

CODEPENDENCY - "The Flight to Intimacy"

Let us start by looking at codependency. Basically, codependency is an exaggeration of the otherwise healthy motivation for love/affiliation (which connects one to others). When reduced to its essentials codependency revolves around two core issues: problems about 1) being oneself, and 2) taking care of oneself.

Emotionally healthy individuals can connect with others without sacrificing their own integrity, and meet their own needs without guilt. In codependency these healthy traits degenerate into (a) fusion (loss of one's own identity in social contact), and (b) self-sacrifice (sacrifice of one's own needs to meet the perceived needs of others). Let's explore these two patterns more closely.

Fusion

Codependency is essentially an issue of inappropriate psychological boundaries, a loss of personhood, being out of touch with oneself, a condition of being externally referenced. Codependency robs you of a clear sense of what you think, what you feel, what you need, what you want – of who you are, independent of the people around you.

Self-sacrifice (excessive caretaking)

Codependent individuals haven't learnt the crucial difference between being responsible to people, and being responsible for people. It's a sort of fixation on others at the cost of oneself. One has empathy, sympathy and care for everyone, but oneself. One gives beyond what will hurt one's own well-being, and remember, we're not speaking of a rare emergency situation, but of an enduring lifestyle. They simply don't give their needs status equal to that of others' needs.

To those on the outside a codependent person appears as a purely giving and caring individual. They present a false image (to themselves included) of being completely generous and unselfish and of not wanting any kind of payoff for themselves, when in fact they harbor unacknowledged emotional needs and expectations, which are bound to eventually breed resentment and victim consciousness. The very term ”co-dependency” denotes being mutually dependent. The key to understanding this is that the dependency of the codependent is covert. The gifts and services aren't really for the recipient, but for oneself.

The fundamental difference between healthy love and codependency is the difference between attending to others from the abundance of a healed heart versus focusing on the needs of others from a place of inner emptiness, self-abandonment and hurt. Codependency occurs when we overcompensate for our own wounds and inner emptiness. It is a condition of disguised neediness. On a deep psychological level, codependent individuals are trying to fix and meet in others the hurts and needs they are unable to fully acknowledge or meet in themselves.

It's essential to note that, as in almost everything else in life, codependency occurs in varying degrees, from limited to pervasive, trivial to consequential. Codependency can range from being self-effacing, overtly accommodating, and people-pleasing, to being intrusive, extending unsolicited advice and assistance, and in extreme cases even enabling substance or process addictions in others – helping others inappropriately when it creates dependency on their part, rather than moving them toward independence, and healthy interdependence. (In the 1970's psychologists originally began using the term ”codependent” to denote relationships where one partner was an addict and the other was an enabler.)

The Origins of Codependency

The source of codependency can be traced to systemic and developmental causes.

The systemic cause imply patterns of behavior learned in dysfunctional social systems – any partnership, family, organization or culture in which members are not encouraged to be self-nurturing, inner-directed, genuine and individually responsible. The underlying paradigm is that it is wrong and selfish to acknowledge, express and meet one's needs. As such, taking care of oneself becomes strongly associated with feelings of guilt, shame, and fear.

Codependency can also be caused by developmental trauma during the first six months of life that interferes with the completion of the secure bonding process – the needs for unconditional love, nurturing, protection, and primal trust.

Examples of Codependency

Consider the simple scenario of meeting an acquaintance or a complete stranger. The codependent individual immediately pours his mental energy into figuring out what the other person wants and feels, in order to adjust and respond so as to earn and maintain the esteem and liking of the other person. He is too eager to please. In the meanwhile he completely neglects the existence of his own feelings, needs and values. He is much more concerned with what you think of him, than what he thinks of you. Adopting a surface cheerfulness, forced smiles, affirming nods of assent, and a way of jumping to agree with whatever one says, the codependent person seeks to give the impression of being kind and considerate, a really ”nice” guy. Yet the kindness and consideration are determined by his concern to protect himself from unkind, disapproving, or critical response, anxious not to lose the other person's esteem and approval. He may continue talking with the other person despite feeling uncomfortable and wanting to end the conversation. He rationalizes that he does not want to hurt the other person's feelings. In reality it's a matter of fencing himself against the guilt of asserting and standing up for his own needs, and the discomfort of the other person possibly thinking less of him. This then is being ”externally referenced”, believing and perpetuating the idea that worth, happiness and pain come from people and things outside of ourselves, rather than from inside of us.

Let's take another example. Imagine a friend asks you for a ride to work because she is having car trouble. This is the time to clarify some agreements, such as, how long will she need your help, pick up times, expense sharing, days off, etc. A boundary or limit is set when you clearly let your friend know what you are willing to do and not do. A codependent individual will not respond in this manner. Problems arise. The friend's car has been in the shop for weeks because she cannot afford to get it out. She has not offered to help with the expense, nor does she seem concerned about the arrangement. She is frequently not on time morning and evening. The codependent individual waits and ends up being late. Your friend has transferred her problem to you and you have accepted it by rescuing and not setting boundaries or limits on your participation in her problem.

Codependent individuals do not feel entitled to the legitimate rights of all people. Fear of being considered a nuisance often keeps them from daring to ask for a favor or service from others. Let's say the person is out to eat, and when she gets her food, it is cold. But she wouldn't tell the waitress to take it back. She keeps the food, and she eats it, though she may complain about it to her companion the whole night. The argument (rationalization) often used behind this fear of asking for a service is that, they do not assert what they want because their desire or the issue seems too trivial. But in the end, when you add all the trivial issues together, you are left with a life in which few of your needs are met.

Codependent individuals tend to be most attracted and drawn to needy, and even dysfunctional, people who need you to take care of them. These people generate very high chemistry as partners and companions. The give-get ratio in these relationships is naturally off-balance. They are one-sided relationships, not one of equality. Codependent individuals always end up taking care of everyone else. They want others to need them (their love, advice, approval, guidance). That's how they maintain their sense of self. They confuse love and pity and tend to "love" people they can pity and rescue. They feel the best about themselves when they are giving advice or handling a problem or need of someone else. When it's their turn to receive help from others they usually decline, feeling uneasy when others focus their attention on them. In essence it could be said that codependent individuals believe and feel that it is more blessed to give than to receive, contrary to the healthy paradigm of interdependence: it is more blessed to give and to receive.

Codependent individuals make it their business to solve everyone's problems. When someone shares a life or relationship problem with them, but doesn't ask for help, they offer help or advice anyway. They hover and interfere, intruding into situations, and imposing themselves on people, all in the name of love and good intentions. Consider the relationship of a mother and her eighteen year old son. The boy leads an irresponsible and reckless lifestyle. He never cleans his room or does his dishes or laundry. He doesn't share in the household chores, is always late to school and other appointments, and his overall laziness and neglect of his personal health repeatedly causes excess expenditures and strain to the household. The mother complaints, intimidates, threats, belittles, shames, scolds, and endlessly voices her frustration. But no matter what she says, she keeps making up for all that he neglects and doesn't do. She cleans his room, washes his dishes, does his laundry, wakes him up in the morning, nags about his upcoming appointments, and pays his excess expenditures. Her excessive caretaking doesn't allow her son to mature, to experience the natural consequences of his own actions, and learn to take responsibility for his own life. She is unable to set and maintain clear boundaries with him, unable to see that all she is doing is keeping him from learning how to find his way and become independently responsible.

COUNTERDEPENDENCY - "The Flight from Intimacy"

Let us now turn our attention over to counterdependency, which is fundamentally an exaggeration of the healthy motivation for autonomy/differentiation (which creates individuality). Counterdependency is characterized by an adverse or even defensive attitude toward intimacy and exposure of personal needs and vulnerabilities.

There is a certain level of closeness that when others get to, a counterdependent individual starts to feel uncomfortable and either withdraws or pushes people away. They have trouble being close in relationships. There is a fear of intimacy. They may cultivate and express professional friendliness and energetic perkiness that substitutes for real intimacy and connection, but don't really allow others to come too close to them.

In counterdependency we encounter a spectrum of behavior ranging from superficial contact, emotional distancing (detaching emotionally from others), to creating rigid and impenetrable boundaries, and at worst being outright defiant, using blame and rage to feed one's need for control. This pattern of resistance to emotional rapport often comes along with a fixation on perfection and self-sufficiency, trying to "look good", and not asking for help to not venture exposing oneself and become vulnerable.

In the consciousness of counterdependent individuals vulnerability and intimacy is associated with abuse and pain. Their discomfort with authentic emotional orientation and personal vulnerability is rooted in the underlying fear of being controlled and emotionally hurt by others.

The Origins of Counterdependency

Counterdependency often arises from early traumas surrounding the limitsetting process in a child's upbringing (between the ages of six months and three years). Either the limits were unclear and inconsistent, or the child was emotionally (and sometimes physically) hurt through unhealthy boundary setting (i.e. with shaming messages, ridicule, coercion, manipulation, humiliation, isolation, threats of abandonment, the withdrawal of love, overprotection, and violence). Of course, such abuse and hurt may have also taken place at a later point in life. As the case may have been, they have had a bad experience in terms of being vulnerable and emotionally available and intimate with others and as a result have developed resistance in these areas.

Examples of Counterdependency

Consider the case of a woman who embodies charm and excellence, always the “star”, always seeking to be the best, but who deliberately and delicately avoids involving her needs and vulnerabilities, her personal failures and struggles, of really being known by someone else. She can't bring herself to trust that anyone would appreciate her for herself, and not just for her achievements and perfection. She makes sure that no one sees her secret weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Despite her popularity and charming disposition, she feels very uncomfortable when someone starts to get too close to her. Her fear of intimacy can subconsciously bring her to sabotage the relationship by discounting the credibility of the other as a companion on the grounds of some perceived fault or weakness. She may create a conflict when the relationship is becoming too close, or may suddenly become unavailable, and get out of touch for a while – no letters, no phone calls, no visits.

We can further look at a man who even after months and years in a friendship, is capable of great mistrust. It is hard for him to trust people, even the ones closest to him. He can't believe that his friend won't let him down. His world view is based upon the idea that people cannot be trusted. He has a tendency to think others are out to use him or take advantage of him. There is an impoverishment of tender qualities in him. He is over-masculine, overly-detached and insensitive. He has a hard time experiencing other's goodness and goodwill instead of anticipating their affronts. He can't let his guard down. He has a suspecting eye and presence, uptight and anxious. Even after years of acquaintance the friendship never becomes truly intimate.

In a more extreme scenario we may consider a counterdependent individual who is convinced that everybody at bottom is malevolent and crooked, that friendly gestures are hypocritical, that it is only wisdom to regard everyone with distrust. Here fear of intimacy swings to the opposite end and we see a problem with aggressiveness and domineering. Since he expects the other person to attack or hurt him, he makes sure he attacks first. He attempts to defend himself by rejecting others first. He may take a person's weak spot and expose it. He wants individual control of events, being “in charge.” He does not want to allow others to have power over him, whether the power is psychological, social, financial or spiritual. He is desperately afraid of being hurt emotionally and beneath the tough façade is vulnerability, although it has been covered over by layer of emotional armor. He “shuts down” emotionally, becoming hardened and rock-like. He resists showing affection and does not like touching or hugging. Since love gives the other power over him, he is blocked in his ability to connect with people, to love or be comforted by others and touched by their care.

SUMMARY

In summary we may define codependency as a covert psychological dependence on outer sources for self-worth and self-definition, a condition when people need other people’s needs to fulfill their own need for validation. Counterdependency in turn may be defined as resistance to exposure and intimacy for the sake of autonomy and guard against hurt.

Once one understands his or her relationship patterns, the work needs to focus on restoring a balance between connecting with and being autonomous from others. Individuals with codependent behavior need to experience and learn ways to care for themselves, while people with the counterdependency pattern need to learn and experience safe ways of connecting.

Gloss:

*non-adaptive values* refer to values that fail to serve an adjustive purpose, they are dysfunctional, like an inaccurate map, or an inappropriate tool, comparable to trying to play tennis with a golf club. The idea is that such values don't serve to bring one into harmony with reality, with one's true nature, with the principles that govern health and happiness. Non-adaptive values are values that don't adapt, don't make one suitable or fit, for effective living in one's environment.

*enabler* is technically one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Living In Balance


One amongst the many current lessons of my life:

You have to learn when to let go. Perform your work as much as is expected of you - good enough effort will do - and then disengage and come to rest. There is much value in unpressured, stressfree, calm, loving presence.

The urgent and important should certainly be seen to. Sadhana and duty can't be compromised in the name of recreation. Healthy discipline is truly the pathway to stillness and calm. But once you've effectively executed your essential duties, in a responsible manner, it's TIME TO FEEL OK ABOUT YOURSELF and your life, a sense of noble, legitimate, guiltfree leisure and rest.

So don't forget moderation, don't forget when to stop and take time for stillness, presence, gratitude, self-acceptance, self-care. Because BEING is as essential as DOING, ACCEPTANCE is as important as TRANSFORMATION, GRATITUDE for what is is as essential as ACCOMPLISHMENT and PRODUCTIVITY, SELF-LOVE is as important as SELF-DISCIPLINE.

Let's celebrate life's wonders and all the beautiful blessings of the Lord! Let's take time to affirm and cherish the good and magical about our lives, about ourselves, about others, and about the Divine! Let's take a break from work, performance and productivity! Let's smile, be happy, dance, sing, play, dine! Let's take time to be free, grateful, and content!