Specialising in co-dependency; trauma and toxic shame; recovering from narcissistic abuse
Do you have weak or non-existent boundaries? Are you unsure of what boundaries are?
You`re not alone. It`s time to learn about boundaries and create your own so you can experience what a difference they can make in your life.
Boundaries protect you and everything you hold dear – your dreams, your goals, your values, your time, your autonomy, your money, your self-worth, your emotional well-being, your physical health, your safety and your self-respect. Boundaries keep you intact. They allow you to live your life the way you want to live it. Boundaries are invisible and are held in place by your decisions and actions.
No boundaries or weak boundaries = low self-worth, self-doubt, insecurity, fear of rejection, the need or approval, a whole lot of disappointment and resentment.
You walk around each day with no sense of true worth. We believe that other people`s needs and desires are more important than our own. We believe that pleasing someone else is worth sacrificing ourselves for, worth giving up our happiness, our desires, our values, our self-respect, even our most deeply held dreams for ourselves and our lives.
When we don`t have boundaries, we neglect who we are and what we want.
Boundaries are not barriers…at least not to the kind of people you want in your life.
Therapy will help you to get to know yourself better and bring your belief system to light. Once it`s done, you would be able to renegotiate your way of dealing with life`s challenges.
A torn map of the world
‘As children, we start off at the centre of our own universe, where we interpret everything that happens from egocentric vantage point. If our parents or grandparents keep telling us we`re the cutest, most delicious thing in the world, we don`t question their judgement – we must be exactly that. And deep down, no matter what else we learn about ourselves, we will carry that sense with us: that we are basically adorable. As a result, if we later hook up with somebody who treats us badly, we will be outraged. But if we are abused or ignored in childhood, or grow up in a family where sexuality is treated with disgust, our inner map contains a different message. Our sense of our self is marked by contempt and humiliation, and we are more likely to think, “He (or she) has my number” and fail to protest if we are mistreated’ (Van Der Kolk, The Body Remembers).
The ’torn map of the world’ manifests itself in a variety of situations of your daily life: at work, in an intimate relationship, in your parenting style, in your friendships and your relationship with yourself. You may be engaging in behaviours that are not healthy and even dangerous, but seem to be unable to help yourself. Why can`t you just stop overeating? Why do you find yourself dating a ‘wrong’ guy again? Why do you feel unable to have a meaningful relationship with your children, based on mutual love and respect? Why can`t you stop feeling anxious about seemingly harmless situations? The list of questions is way too long for me to carry on asking.
What do you have to do to start living the life that looks like the one you had imagined for yourself? The answer is simple enough – you have to ‘un-screw’ yourself from all the screwed up stuff you have gone through and are still dealing with. Easy enough right? Wrong. To change things for the better, first of all you must know what needs to be changed.
You might think you do, but nine times out of ten you don`t. Your brain is a sophisticated system that has an important job to do – to protect you from perceived (or real) danger and it would do anything to ensure your survival. It employs various defence mechanisms, such as repression, denial, projection, dissociation, rationalisation and a few others. Becoming aware of those defences and taking them down is a job and a half. Moreover, it needs to be done in a safe environment where you can let your demons reveal themselves gradually, allowing you the time to process and respond appropriately. Some defences are there to stay for good, depending on how damaging your experiences were as a baby or a young child.
Defence mechanisms are there for a reason. They have kept you going when you needed it. However, relying on them long-term is not healthy for your psychological wellbeing. This is where all of the ‘unexplained’ stuff comes from, such as hurting yourself knowingly, but being unable to stop it.
What can you do today to start becoming more aware of your so-called programs that were created (most of the time) by the people we relied on as young children?
Journaling. Get a notebook and start writing freely, without giving it much though. Just see what comes out. If you get stuck, write about how you are feeling right here right now. You will be surprised.
Breathe. Take a few minutes out of your day to just sit still and focus on your breathing. Just feel what it feels like to be you. Journal about your experience. It will help to reflect on it and learn something new about yourself.
Do one new thing regularly (once a day, once a week, or once a month). Take a new route to work, have a different kind of coffee, cook something you haven`t tried before for dinner – anything that would not feel like ‘you’. Notice your reactions and experiences. Get your journal and write it down. When we start a new routine, we may experience resistance. If you stay with it long enough you might get to know yourself a little better. When you know what needs to be changed and how you got to where you are now, you are more likely to know how to make things better.
Those are just a few small tips to start ‘readjusting your map of the world. The most important thing is to listen to yourself and pay attention to your experiences in various situations. If you have a habit of neglecting your needs and feelings then I recommend you do something about it right now.
A "faulty" strategy
Co-dependence is a “faulty” strategy for getting needs met in relationships. A person suffering from co-dependence holds a set of incorrect rules about how relationships work. I am not just talking about intimate relationships; I am talking about relationships in general.
This strategy/set of rules is developed by children living in stressful circumstances to gain love and approval from their troubled caregivers or peers.
What are those unrealistic rules?
1) I must never ask for what I want, because I will be a burden to others. My feelings are bad, wrong, and unimportant. I must pretend that I have no needs and instead focus on fulfilling the needs and feelings of others. I live in hope that people will ‘guess’ what I want without me having to say anything.
2) I must never say ‘no’, because it is selfish. Nobody would love me or like me if I don`t accommodate them.
3) I can fix other people and make relationships work all by myself. I can make others happy and ‘lead by example’ of how I think they should behave and wait for them to change (i.e. stop being abusive, start treating me with respect, stop drinking, etc.).
4) My mood and feelings of self-worth depend on another person`s behaviour and their opinion of me.
Every Part of me is okay
You needed to ‘know’ a couple of things when you were a child in order for you to develop into a healthy, well-integrated adult.
Believing that the world is a safe place is one of them.
Believing that YOU matter is another one.
How do we come to believe those important things as young children? We rely on our parents (or caregivers) to show us; they model life for us.
As children, we completely depend on how well our parents are within themselves. If the parent has not healed their wounds, they would most certainly project them onto us. They would not be able to accept us for the person we are. As a result, a certain ‘unacceptable’ part of us (anger, frustration, sadness) would be denied by the parent. If the parent was not allowed to feel angry or sad when they were a young child, they would not know how to deal with that emotion when manifested in their own child.
As a result, the ‘undesirable’ quality or emotion would ‘split off’, making us unable to integrate it. It would be somewhere outside of us and we will have trouble feeling it and expressing it in the future.
Needless to say, it is extremely important to be able to feel and express those feelings in order to build healthy happy relationships in adult life.
To accept the fact that every part of you is okay it is first of all important to recognise what part of you is NOT okay (what needs to be healed). What emotion are you struggling with? What experiences would you rather forget or not talk about? What qualities or emotions do you struggle to accept, express or deal with?
Anger is very often considered bad or even threatening. Therefore, some people may struggle to get angry – they get upset instead. This may be a good indicator that anger was not ‘acceptable' when you were growing up and is now being rejected or even feared by you. You may have been told to not feel angry or that there is nothing to get angry about and so on. You may feel like you would not be accepted if you were to show your anger.
Discovering, acknowledging, accepting, taking responsibility for and learning to express all of your feelings in a healthy way requires a LOT of work on your part. Pausing and noticing your feelings as they come may be a good way to start getting to know yourself better. The important thing to remember is to not judge whatever comes up and always treat yourself with compassion.
P.S. the aim is not to blame the parents, but to demystify them. They are ordinary people who did the best they could with what they had. Our responsibility as adults is to heal and to live life the best and healthiest way possible for us.
If you are a mum
If you are a mum, I have a book for you: Resourceful Mum: take the first step to the life you love.
You will learn how to make yourself a priority whilst being busy looking after your family. If you know that you are destined for bigger things, but want to know where to start, click here.