Codependency: Part 3 - The Tools!

Part 3: The How: The Tools! I wanted to start this section by saying that you do have control and power in whatever situation you’re currently in. You're just not using it now because you can’t see your own power. That’s what I want to help you begin to own: what you can do with your own body and self in every situation, regardless of what anyone else does. You can change everything in your life just by changing yourself.

If you prefer to listen here's the podcast version of this post on iTunes and Soundcloud.

If you're looking for part 1, you can read it here. If you're looking for part 2, you can read it here.


Before we get to the tools, I invite you to do a reflection exercise is your journal. Think on your parents and upbringing and ask yourself, what was the coping mechanism you took on in the face of the type of absent parenting you experienced? What was the behavior you were faced with? How did that affect you? How did you empower yourself in the face of that, based on what you’ve read thus far? The tendency will be to downplay your own experience. Try hard not to do that. Write it like someone else was writing it. Know that the current patterns are something you can undo; they served you at one point, but now you are going to work to let them go. Remind yourself that this is your goal: to become emotionally healthy. Write this goal in your own words, to yourself in your journal. Decide it for yourself. Set your sights on that target and don’t give up on it. Okay here we go – some tools!

Tool 1: The Love Bank, “Get PAAAYD!”

Receiving care equally from others likely feels REALLY uncomfortable. Think about the last time you were sick and someone took care of you – did you feel really bad allowing them to do everything for you? Or think about someone doing things JUST to make you happy, even though they don’t like that thing, themselves – does that feel awkward to you? If not, good for you – that’s a sign of emotional health. If so, that’s because receiving is an issue for codependents: they’re not used to it and therefore, it feels icky. This issue is also a cultural thing – for example, British and Asian cultures are often reserved and not overt with affection, especially physical affection. Regardless of where it came from in your life, it has made you incapable of receiving equally from others. So this tool is kind of like a muscular workout for you!

Think of yourself as having a love bank – it’s like a piggy bank, but it’s shaped like a heart. You have to keep it full by giving and then receiving equally from others. Because that’s not natural to you, you’ve got to train yourself to ask for and cash any incoming checks. That means, when others try to do things for you, you have accept them and be grateful. Imbue this with value that you will grow to feel and enjoy.  This act of “receiving” is like a paycheck you are putting in your bank, one that makes others feel more valuable because you allow them to do them. Don’t dismiss the acts value, accept and welcome these acts – honor them and the meaning of their gesture. Additionally, if you’ve given a lot of yourself to a person without repayment, you’ve got to STOP giving to them. Because this is going to ruin you, financially.

Right now – because of your background – you are constantly depleting your tank until you feel empty. Your receiving department isn’t being used – and you’re not cashing any checks! Instead of looking for ways to give or help others, I want you to ask things of others. Let them give you their gifts. Begin to practice accepting gifts graciously – this will be like learning a new culture and it won’t be very relaxing. Trust me, it gets easier and eventually, it will come naturally– but you’re going to have to “act as if” as a start. This is not about controlling the gifts others choose to give or deciding their gestures are not good enough– it’s about learning to graciously accept and acknowledge the meaning behind an act of love. It’s an art. Currently you’re fixated on OUTPUT: What do they want? How are they feeling? How can I help? I can make it better if they just listened to me!

If this is confusing, here’s some shorthand: you deserve, from others, what you do for them. I want you to assume the receiving position – especially when it comes to new relationships. You are not a fixer– you are a treasure. You don’t have to DO anything to be loved. You are of the same value whether you lift a finger or not. Your value is unchangeable. Take off the tool belt.


This is a silly visual metaphor but here goes: you are a cop on the beat in the city of Me. Meaning, your jurisdiction is not someone else’s city – you have no authority, you are not there to protect and serve, you are crossing a boundary and they don’t abide by your laws in other territories. When you try to patrol other people’s cities – you’re like a regulator – you’re unwanted and you’re going against the code “To protect and serve” by trying to regulate the lives of others. (Deep exhale.) Yeah that was a long one. The point of this one is, everyone’s responsible for their own destructive behaviors. Whatever’s going on in someone else’s life is not for you to solve. This is a tool to help you begin to practice exercising a lack of control over the lives of others. Embrace your job – which is to protect and serve YOU. Let the people around you make a mess! Let them destroy everything again and again! It’s not your job. If you stop obsessing about whether or not they’re messing up, your life becomes more manageable and therefore, happier. Not to mention, being forced to confront the work you’ve got to do is the best way to start change. If you intervene all it does is enable the bad behavior. You are a cop in the city of me, not a regulator.

Tool 3: Let’s Build an Internal Veggie Bed!

Aka, let’s start building some healthy boundaries. This is another visual metaphor for a new practice I want you to take on for building new boundaries – one new one, each week. Think of yourself like a rich and beautiful garden that’s unable to thrive because you’re not keeping out the weeds. They’re growing all over you! To fix this, you need to build some wooden retaining walls – boundaries – to give yourself the space and healthy soil to grow.

This is a once a week assignment you will do in your journal. So much of being a codependent is about being a martyr and not having healthy boundaries. “Doing it yourself” even though you shouldn’t have to, allowing people to ask anything of you, feeling obligated to help, tolerating rude and selfish people and giving them what they want. If you relate to this, it’s because you do not have healthy boundaries. A big major fat heads up: when you enact this process of retraining yourself, it will NOT FEEL LIKE YOU. It will feel foreign and unlike you. But you’ve got to act as if and make YOU important in your own eyes. Slowly it will become synonymous with who you are.

How do you build a new boundary? Choose one thing that makes you annoyed – that tests your tolerance. Or one thing you do for others that makes you wish you could be treated the same way. Or one thing that takes the focus off you and your feelings, and puts it on someone else.

A few examples:

  • You always do what a friend decides when you’re out and having fun. Whether or not your friend meets a date decides if you go home early or not, no matter how you feel.
  • You constantly surprise your significant other with gifts that are perfect for them, you plan everything around them, and they don’t even return your calls promptly.
  • When your friend is mad at you – even if you can’t tell why or you know it’s for an irrational reason, you will do anything you can to make them like you again.

So a part of this exercise is to start enforcing a new boundary each week. If you are setting a boundary around something like reciprocation – you want to be reciprocated for the efforts you put in, you must enforce this by NOT coming to a person’s rescue the next time they fall apart. Take care of you, first. Your needs should always come first. If you are working on feeling controlled by others – your new boundary will be to not respond to manipulation tactics. You might write in your journal your new boundary is: If someone is not respectful of me and my time, they are not allowed to have access to me. What does that mean when it comes to enforcing the boundary? Don’t call the person back. Do not engage. Do not respond to their pokes and threats. If they are not being respectful and loving, they are not allowed to be in your life. You set the terms by whether or not you give another person your time and attention. Turn the spigot off.

This is tough! It can take a few tries before you’re ready to commit, just because it’s new and scary. If you fail the first time at setting a boundary, try again – it just means it wasn’t fully baked yet, inside you. You weren’t angry enough, yet. You’ll get there it– will just take a bit more time to really see and “know” the truth of your situation.

Tool 4: Remember to Let Go

This is one of my favorite tools ever!!!! It’s a little mantra/meditation to use in moments when you recognize yourself getting attached to a future outcome before it’s happened. You can embrace the unknowing and your lack of control by accepting all outcomes, ahead of time. A way to remember it is imagine you’re holding onto a rope attached to a bull and that bull is at the gate of a cage. Before they open the cage door, remember to let go of that rope. Let go of your attachment to the thing altogether and welcome anything that might happen. Quite literally go through a mental visualization where you play out the future outcomes happening – and plan out that you will be okay with it. Even if you want one outcome over another, mentally practice being okay with both good and bad outcomes. Tell yourself what you need to hear if things go the way you don’t want them to – for example, if you’re waiting on hearing back about a job interview: “I will be fine no matter what. If they don’t want me, that’s because this job isn’t meant for me.”

If you go through this exercise before something big is about to happen, you will find that you are mentally way more okay with what happens, regardless of the outcome being good or bad. Because you expected it – you are prepared and because of that, it’s way more doable.   Welcome the fact that what is meant to be, will be. When you fixate on an eventual outcome – this is truly what sets you up for hurt. It’s less the actual outcome, more the expectation. We lump on soooo much pressure that creates how “major” the shock becomes. Additionally, when you fixate on what’s out of your control, you lose access to your real power in any situation. You cannot see what is in your control, only what you’re upset about. Surrender to the moment, accept all outcomes and then you will be able to say, “I need to be with friends who remind me of my best self.” This practice will just give you the safety buffer before anything happens – the outcomes will be the same but this keeps you safe in how you emotionally react to it.

Tool 5: Date Yo Self!

This is a tool that I want you to do from this point forth, forever and ever. Part of codependency is believing what you want is wrong or too much. It comes from ignoring and negating your own needs growing up, but now it’s blocking you from placing value in yourself. Not being focused on your needs is a habit that creates a perception, but it can and will be retrained.

The easiest way to act-as-if is to pretend you are dating yourself and you are really into you. Treat yourself like you’re trying to impress you in as many ways as possible. So imagine it right now: how would you treat someone you wanted to impress?  Smile when you see yourself in the mirror. Be kind and sweet to yourself. Make sure your room is nice and tidy for yourself. If you’re cold, get yourself a jacket. Prepare yourself a nice dinner that takes time and light a candle.  Rent a movie and give yourself a nice foot massage. Beyond the pampering, I want you to listen intently to your needs. Since you have been cut off from your own needs, it’s going to be a very acute listening process. Am I stressed? Do I need to get to a gym class? Even if your brain is obsessed by thoughts of someone else, I want you to go through the motions of caring for yourself. Do whatever you can to support yourself with a distraction.

To be emotionally healthy, you should treat yourself like you’re perfect and worthy, exactly as you are – everything you want in your life, is valid. That is the truth. If no one has ever told you that before, I am telling you that right now. You deserve to be loved and coveted, no matter what you do for others or what you give to others. Your value exists at priceless, permanently. You don’t have to change A THING about yourself or DO ANYTHING FOR ANYONE in order to earn kind and loving treatment. It isn’t about what you do or don’t do and it has nothing to do with what you have or how you look.

Tool 6: Put Your Shoes On!

Imagine me rapping this: “If you’re runnin’ ‘round in pain, stop n’ put your shoes on!” Or don’t, but it’s funny, trust me. This is a visualization tool to remind you in the moments of powerlessness, when you’re running in circles, the only thing you need to do is take a step to empower yourself. Big or small, just do anything you can think of that will get you closer to grounded and rational. When you are calm and emotionally sober, you can navigate the hurdles vs when you’re freaking out and panicking, you break things and start fires.

If it’s taking a break from the issue and calming your chemicals, or calling a close friend, or eating some food, your first step is simply to get more grounded – don’t skip to the future or fixate on the past. Don’t further engage the issue, get closer to the most capable, balanced You that you can. Everything you need to know is already inside of you – how you handle yourself doesn’t require anything from anyone else. Step back and empower yourself to be calm.  Soothe yourself so you can let go of what others think and simply try to define how it is you truly feel. Fear will cloud your judgment – it will make you feel like you need to fix something or everything will hurt too much. “Put your shoes on” means take a step in a direction that will protect you and support you. Head to a meeting, call a wise friend, go to a yoga class – return to your journal and write what you know to be true. Empower yourself in as many ways as you possibly can. Your power lies in how you care for your own body and in getting grounded in the truth of that self.

Your job is to stay aware of what’s happening and how you feel, separate from anyone else. If you’ve been manipulated over and over again for a very long time, it’s likely created a false reality and the outcome is not trusting yourself. If this is the case for you, you need to get back in touch with how you really feel based on REALITY.  So your first step will be create enough distance and room for yourself, so that this awareness is possible.

Tool 7: Unlock Obsession

Obsession is painful and degrading because of how helpless you feel in the moment. So the next time you are in a state of obsessing – remind yourself that there’s a magic key to unlock it. Obsession is a symptom of something else – deeper, related to you. It’s not about what it’s about. It’s happening because it’s telling you something about yourself: it’s resistance to a truth. Obsession is often our way of not arriving at acceptance – the habit is self protective – a way of hiding from truth.

Often it’s an automatic reaction to something that isn’t acceptable to us. Obsession is a natural part of grief - it’s part of the path to healing. But outside of grief, it’s a roundabout way of dealing with feelings. Like covering your eyes and singing loud so you can’t hear what’s being told to you. So to unlock this obsession, the key is to look beneath the surface and examine what it is that’s unacceptable to us. What is the feeling that threatens our feeling okay? We can directly deal with the fear by confronting the feeling beneath it and choosing to know it, process it, and then release it. It also helps to name it – “I am afraid to be sad. I am afraid to be alone.” Once you can see the truth that the obsession is shielding you from a feeling that is already inside you, you can help yourself and soothe.

If you cannot stop your obsession even though you have become aware of the pain, I also recco scheduling your obsession to take place solely within a certain window of time in the following day. It must be scheduled so it doesn’t take over your life.

Before I wrap up the tools, here’s something to look out for in the future: Codependency is thought of by many as a first stage to grief– the stage following is anger. So you might find as you move through your particular baggage that you feel an intense rage and anger. Don’t worry, it’s intense but it’s a sign of healing – it happens when you’re safe enough and strong enough to look at whatever you were not capable of seeing before. Keep going and keep investing in your health.

One more thing I recommend is the personal priorities pond episode – this will help you grow stronger for the healing process. It can be hard to feel like your own person when you are strongly addicted to another person. I also suggest you go to a help group that’s specific for family members of alcoholics – why? Because this type of dynamic is PERFECTLY aligned with children of alcoholics. Same patterns manifest.

In closing …

I want to say Thank you to all my awesome new sponsors!! Justine, Ariela, Ty, and Johnathan and Hollie! You are amazing!! I heart you.

A large part of codependent behavior is actually grieving for what you never got during childhood. It’s like being stuck in a desperate clinging position. Like a reaction to feeling like you’re losing what is out of your control.  Most of the time what you see and feel is an extreme reaction – because the nature of codependency is control. When something isn’t in your control, it feels overwhelmingly painful and threatening. So more than anything, moving forward I want you to tell yourself to just soften. Release the need to clench and solve. Let go and remind yourself that everything is much more okay that you perceive it to be. Your job is not to control everything and make it better. It’s just to take care of you, and enjoy this day as best you can.

This is not about not needing anyone or never being needed by a loved one – we need human connection and we thrive with relationships! Feeling like a vital part of another person’s life is a great thing!  But it doesn’t mean you can’t be happy, alone. The goal is balance: so you are safe and autonomous and strong, not being dependent on the love of others. You can be proud of who you are and grow that self as an individual and rely on others to be strong when you need them, too.

Much of this process will be about nurturing yourself and not judging yourself. Know that you are strong enough now to support yourself through the learning process. It will be a mental excavation that will bring up some overwhelming stuff, but it leads to lightness and love. You are capable of growing to know real and equal love. It starts by saying you want it – that it’s your goal, and then committing to that process. Don’t turn back – don’t say you don’t want it. It can and will be yours – but it starts with acknowledging you are this way, understanding how it happened, and choosing to train in your new, healthier habits. I know that’s true for a fact – I did it myself! And it’s soooo worth it. At the beginning, this process will feel like you’re trust-falling backwards. But if you practice the actions of a healthy persona, the rest will follow. Don’t give up!  With that, I wish you luck and love and all the happiness that is meant for your future. This is a great gift in disguise. Be brave and smile.

Essential reading list:

Codependent No More

Courage to Change