Codependents often wonder what is normal. They feel insecure and wonder how others perceive them. Many tell me they don’t really know themselves. They’ve become people-pleasers, editing what they say and adapting their behavior to the feelings and needs of others. Some sacrifice themselves―their values, needs, wants, and feelings―to someone they care about. For other codependents, their behavior revolves around their addiction, whether it’s to a drug, a process, such as sex or gambling, or to pursue prestige or power in order to feel secure. They usually do so to the detriment of themselves and loved ones, and eventually, their achievements feel meaningless. Both types of codependents suffer from self-alienation―an alienation from their true self. They’re disconnected from their true, authentic self. This is the emptiness we feel when a relationship ends, success is achieved, or during withdrawal from an addiction. Hence, codependency is called a disease of a “lost self.”
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.
Denial of Codependency and the True Self
Ideally, our true self emerges in the normal course of becoming an individual, called “individuation,” so that we’re able to distinguish our own feelings, thoughts, needs, wants, perceptions, and actions as separate from our family and others. A dysfunctional family disrupts individuation to varying degrees. Because codependency is transgenerational, in childhood a “false” codependent self is formed. See Conquering Shame and Codependency for how and why this happens.
Most codependents are in denial of this situation, because for so long they’ve organized their thinking and behavior around something or someone external to themselves. Some codependents can’t identify their values or opinions. They’re suggestible and can be easily persuaded to do things they later regret. In a conflict, they can’t hold onto their views once they’re challenged. This makes relationships a mine field, especially with a partner who uses projection as a defense and blames or accuses them of his or her own faults or behavior. You may suspect that you’re being abused, but when you’re blamed, you become confused and doubt your own perceptions. You might end up apologizing for inciting an abuser’s rage.
In recovery, we must rediscover who we are. What should have been a natural, unconscious, developmental process, now as an adult requires a conscious inward reorientation. Effort is necessary, because the tendency is to go into denial and externalize our self. Denial exists on several levels, from total repression to minimization.