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Codependence: The struggle to own YOUR reality

Difficulty owning your own reality is a crucial symptom to address in the pursuit to overcome codependent-linked thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

“Codependents often report that they don’t know who they are.” – Pia Mellody

Author and speaker, Pia Mellody, maps out several eye-opening insights in her book Facing Codependence: What it is, Where it comes from, How it sabotages our lives. Among which is a list of core symptoms that many individuals with codependent tendencies struggle with. I particularly found powerful meaning in the third core symptom that she identifies as ‘Difficulty Owning Our Own Reality.’ What should this mean to you? Well, it means a lot! This line of thinking is a means to chipping away at the tip of the iceberg. It also equates to self-discovery and fuel to exact actual change in your relationship with yourself and others. 

Four components

Mellody identifies four aspects that generally constitute our “reality”:

  1. Body: How we look/body operates

  2. Thinking: Meaning assigned to incoming data

  3. Feelings: Our emotions

  4. Behavior: What we do and don’t do

She goes on to assert that codependents struggle with owning all or some parts of the four aspects.

Within the reality of the body, codependents struggle with seeing or accepting the true appearance of how they look. Perhaps you are wearing a new outfit to a social function. You are showered with compliments. You know you look great, but you will not accept the compliments and possibly downplay or ignore the admiration. 

When it comes to the component of thinking, there is a struggle to know your own thoughts. If thoughts are known, it is really difficult to share them with others. This inability to accurately share your thoughts leads to skewed interpretations of perceived actions and speech of others (incoming data). A good example of this would be going to the movies with a group of friends. Let’s say the group picked a movie that you have no interest in. You end up hating the movie. Your group members are raving about the film. Rather than share your true thoughts, you obediently agree that the movie was great. 

Mellody goes on to note that a codependent’s struggle with feelings is difficulty discerning what their actual feelings are or a difficulty feeling overwhelmed by their emotions. How often have you noticed within yourself that you “did not know what to feel” when a significant event unfolded? Notice your thoughts and reflect on why you were unable to feel or identify with emotion at that moment.

Finally, codependent’s often struggle with awareness of dos and don’ts of their behaviors. With this comes a difficulty with owning the impact of the behavior on others. A good example of this would be forgetting to remove frozen chicken from the freezer in order to defrost before dinner. You forget. Your partner realizes your mistake when it is time to being dinner preparations. When your partner confronts you, rather than admit to forgetting and disappointing him/her, you lie or provide a very complicated or vague reason as to why you did not defrost the chicken. 

I encourage you to use the above information and take a personal survey of your life and interactions with others. Is codependency something that you struggle with? Are you currently struggling within any of the four aspects?

Where it comes from

The struggle to own one’s reality typically begins in childhood, according to Mellody. Children within family systems that ignore, attack, or abandon them tend to adopt a belief that it is not safe or worthwhile to express themselves. 

The acts of ignoring, attack, or abandonment can be simple and subtle. For instance, a child hurts himself while playing. He goes to receive comfort from his mother, but she ignores him and continues with her household chores. A parent loses their patience when a teen becomes emotional because the teen’s emotions are “too much to deal with right now” for the parent. Or you tell a small child that a horrific or traumatizing event is “okay” that everything is “fine” despite the child’s emotional response. 

The take-home message here is one of intentional responsiveness to children. If you struggle with codependency you can end the cycle within your own relationships by taking time to become more aware and meet the emotional needs of others, especially children.

If you found this information meaningful, I encourage you to check out the book by Pia Mellody. 


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