Have you ever spent time observing a toddler or preschooler? Did you notice you could tell how the child felt? Furthermore, the child’s emotions could change quickly—and he or she didn’t hesitate to show this change in emotions, either. A small child can throw a tantrum one minute, but then be smiling and laughing shortly thereafter. The small child doesn’t get stuck in an emotional response. He or she quickly switches behavior as feelings change.
Okay, a child can get away with this. But certainly, it doesn’t work well in adulthood to always make your true feelings visible to the world. Because of this, we teach children how to control their emotions. Parents push for a certain amount or decorum. And actually, socializing children like this is good for society as well as for the children. By learning how to identify their feelings and then express them in appropriate ways, children gain a sense of personal control and personal power, in fact.
Of course, some children don’t grow up in homes where they’re taught how to recognize and deal with their emotions or feelings in healthy ways. Parents may not fulfill their parental responsibility in this arena for reasons including addictions, mental disorders, physical illness, job responsibilities, or narcissistic tendencies which cause their own priorities to take precedence over their children’s needs.
Some parents not only fail to provide this type of guidance for their children, but the way they act, they also cause their children to endure painful experiences. Of course, some of the most common ways this happens is through abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Certainly, each of these can have a profound negative effect on a child’s development and sense of self. In turn, this poor sense of self often carries over into adulthood. Then, the person is unable to function in ways that promote a happy and productive adulthood.
The Legacy of Shame and Codependency
Are you wondering how or why these life events have such a profound and ongoing negative legacy? Well, it’s because they result in the development of feelings of shame. These feelings of shame, however, remain at an unconscious level. Nevertheless, they drive the person.
So, what are feelings of shame exactly? Shame is about never feeling worthy or good enough. In fact, when a person is driven by feelings of shame, that individual may well feel that he or she is the scum of the earth--hardly worthy of taking up space on earth.
People who can be labeled as codependent or displaying codependency are often being driven unconsciously by shame or shame issues. The codependent woman (yes, the person could be a man, but I’m choosing to use the female pronoun) doesn’t feel good about herself. But then, the codependent woman likely believed that she should be perfect—despite the fact perfection is not attainable. It is an illusion the woman suffering from codependency clings to nevertheless. However, because she is not perfect, she also believes herself not enough—as unworthy.
Because she doesn’t feel worthy, the codependent woman will typically be attracted to, as well as attract, people who don’t treat her well since she doesn’t feel lovable or deserving of love. And not surprisingly, many of the behaviors of the woman suffering from codependency will engage in are self destructive. Again, she does these things because of core feelings of toxic shame that remain outside of her level of awareness. Furthermore, she will typically remain unaware of what drives her unless she allows the pain to break through, and then she acknowledges and deals with it.
The woman plagued by codependency often keeps these feelings of unworthiness or shame outside her awareness through addictions and engagement in compulsive behaviors. Thus, she might abuse pain pills or tranquilizers, drink heavily, use sex compulsively to feel better, overeat, shop excessively, become fanatical about a cause or religion, become obsessed about maintaining a perfect house and household, become a workaholic, or try to control everything and everyone in her vicinity. This may include an addicted and likely abusive partner.
In time, the behaviors the codependent woman used to remain unaware of her feelings of shame tend to stop working for her. She must face up to the feeling of shame. She must come to believe that she is a worthy human being. And the path of personal development and spiritual growth can lead her there. That is why many recommend twelve –step programs for the codependent woman. A program like Al-Anon can cause her to move from codependency to being codependent no more because indeed, it caused her to move away from being a spiritually bankrupt person.
If you are a codependent woman in emotional pain, why not attend a few Al-Anon meetings? I suspect that Al-Anon might well become an important part of your recovery from codependency.