The codependency movement is NOT ruining marriages! Part 2
By Robert Burney
Romantic Relationships & Toxic Love ~ Marriage & Divorce

"This dance of Codependence is a dance of dysfunctional relationships - of relationships that do not work to meet our needs. That does not mean just romantic relationships, or family relationships, or even human relationships in general.

The fact that dysfunction exists in our romantic, family, and human relationships is a symptom of the dysfunction that exists in our relationship with life - with being human. It is a symptom of the dysfunction which exists in our relationships with ourselves as human beings.

And the dysfunction that exists in our relationship with ourselves is a symptom of Spiritual dis-ease, of not being in balance and harmony with the universe, of feeling disconnected from our Spiritual source.

That is why it is so important to enlarge our perspective. To look beyond the romantic relationship in which we are having problems. To look beyond the dysfunction that exists in our relationships with other people.

The more we enlarge our perspective, the closer we get to the cause instead of just dealing with the symptoms. For example, the more we look at the dysfunction in our relationship with ourselves as human beings the more we can understand the dysfunction in our romantic relationships."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

At the CoDA meeting I am the secretary of here locally, one of the people sharing last week made one of those perfect Freudian slips while sharing. She talked about inter-reacting with someone. That is codependency: two people inter-reacting, each reacting out of their emotional wounds and childhood programming.

If we are inter-reacting, we are incapable of being honest in relating to other people. If we are not seeing ourselves with any clarity and emotional honesty, then we cannot see the other person with clarity - let alone the relationship. No true communication can take place between two people who are reacting to the past instead of being present in the moment - inter-reacting. (I like that word. ;-)

And of course, the type of relationship this dynamic impacts the most is romantic. As I say elsewhere in my writing: romantic relationships are the greatest arena for Spiritual growth available to us - because they are the relationships that mean the most to us, that we have the most at stake emotionally. It is in romantic relationships that our buttons are pushed - that our deepest wounds are triggered. It is in romantic relationships that our core fear of intimacy (Fear of Intimacy - the wounded heart of codependency) is activated. And the problem with far too many romantic relationships - which of course, includes marriages - is that they are inter-reactions, not interactions.


"The single biggest problem with most relationships is that there are too many people involved. A romantic relationship is supposed to be two people in partnership sharing of who they are, sharing their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls with each other.

Anyone who has not done their emotional healing is bringing a plethora of people into any relationship they get involved in. Some of these people include: parents, siblings, relatives; ministers, teachers, the junior high school bully; everyone that they have ever had a romantic relationship with; the Prince and Princess of fairy tales, the lyrics of songs, and the characters from books and movies; etc. Just to think of how many ghosts are in the room, when two unconscious people are interacting, is mind boggling.

Anyone who is unconscious to how the people and events of their past have shaped who they are today, is incapable of being present in the now and having a healthy relationship. When we are reacting unconsciously to the emotional wounds and old tapes from our childhood, we are being emotionally dishonest in the moment - we are mostly reacting to how we felt in a similar dynamic in the past, not clearly responding to what is happening in the present.

As I said in the last article in this series, the single most important component in a healthy relationship is the ability to communicate. We cannot communicate clearly when we are in reaction because we are not being emotionally honest with ourselves.

We all learned to see life and self from a dysfunctional perspective - from a perspective that taught us it was shameful to be bad or wrong. We learned to blame. Since the perspective of life which civilization is founded upon is black and white, right and wrong - we got the message that if we could not figure out how to blame someone else, then it must be our fault. Toxic shame is the feeling that I am somehow defective, that there is something wrong with who I am as a being. That feeling of being defective is so painful that we are willing to do almost anything to avoid sinking into that abyss of pain within.

So we blame someone or something outside of ourselves to protect our self. A dysfunctional civilization which teaches us to look outside for our self worth, also teaches us to look outside for a villain."


In that last line from this quote - "A dysfunctional civilization which teaches us to look outside for our self worth, also teaches us to look outside for a villain." - lies the crux of the problem in so many romantic relationships. When we look to a romantic relationship to give us worth, we give another person the power to make us feel good about ourselves, to feel worthy and lovable. The person who we have given that power to, usually becomes the person to blame when we do not feel good.

The prince or princess who was going to rescue us becomes the villain who is abusing / oppressing / abandoning us. The type of love that we learned growing up in dysfunctional societies is toxic love. (Toxic Love) That codependent, addictive toxic variety of love involves giving another person power over our self esteem - empowering another wounded human being to be our higher power who determines if we have worth. It is a set up to end up feeling like a victim - with the other person as the villain, or our own perceived shameful defectiveness making us the villain who deserves to be abused.

In a healthy interrelationship, we make a choice to love another being - and we give them some power over our feelings - we do not give them power over our self worth. (Codependence vs Interdependence - healthy relationship vs dysfunctional)

And They Lived Happily Ever After

We are subconsciously programmed and emotionally set up in early childhood (by fairy tales which are later reinforced by books, movies, songs, etc.) to believe that a romantic relationship will lead us to "happily ever after." This makes us feel like failures when it does not happen. Because we feel like failures and are codependent, we go to one of the extremes: we try harder to change the other person, to earn their love, to make them available; or we blame. (And trying harder is really about blaming ourselves, thinking that it is our fault, that we are not doing it "right.")

There is no happily ever after in this lifetime, in these bodies - it is a misconception, a misinterpretation of Metaphysical levels of reality. Knowing that consciously, intellectually, does not help us stop feeling like a failure. It is vital to heal our emotional wounds and forgive ourselves for expecting life - and romance - to be something it is not.

""We learned about life as children and it is necessary to change the way we intellectually view life in order to stop being the victim of the old tapes. By looking at, becoming conscious of, our attitudes, definitions, and perspectives, we can start discerning what works for us and what does not work. We can then start making choices about whether our intellectual view of life is serving us - or if it is setting us up to be victims because we are expecting life to be something which it is not."

Consciousness raising is a process of enlarging the intellectual paradigm which we base our relationship with life upon. As I have stated previously in this series, our beliefs, attitudes, and definitions determine our expectations and perspectives - which in turn dictate our emotional relationships to everything and everyone in our environment. And when I say everything, I am not just talking about objects. Everything includes ideas, concepts, opinions, etc.

In order to have healthier romantic relationships it is very important to examine our concept of romantic love. If we do not have a healthy concept - realistic definitions and beliefs about - romantic love, then we do not have much chance of having a healthy relationship. If our concept of romance is based on the fairy tales and books, songs and movies, from our childhood, then we are set up to be disappointed in our romantic relationships.

Read the quotation above and substitute "love" everywhere it says "life" and you might better understand why you have felt like a victim in romantic relationships. We were set up to be victims in romance because we were taught that it is a magical paradise where we will have all of our needs met - and live "Happily ever after". We were taught that getting the romance was the goal and that after that everything was smooth sailing."

We were set up to feel like failures in romantic relationships by dysfunctional societal beliefs. Feeling like a failure is emotional - buying into the belief in failure is mental: two different levels of our being. It is very important in recovery to start being able to practice discernment in relationship to our own inner process. A major component in becoming empowered to take responsibility for being co-creators of our life experience is being able to recognize when our feelings are a direct result of the beliefs we are empowering. Becoming conscious of how our subconscious programming from childhood is still affecting us today is the only way we can change that programming. Consciousness can lead to empowerment when we are willing to focus on the things we do have the power to change - and own our power to make choices instead of being the victim of dysfunctional programming.

The intellectual paradigm we are empowering to define our lives determines our perspective of life and our emotional reactions.

"One of the biggest problems with relationships in this society is that the context we approach them from is too small. If getting the relationship is the goal, we will end up being the victim. If we can start seeing relationships not as the goal but as opportunities for growth then we can start having more functional relationships. A relationship that ends is not a failure or a punishment - it is a lesson. As long as our definition of a successful relationship is one that lasts forever - we are set up to fail. There is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship that will last forever, expecting it to last forever is what is dysfunctional."


When the intellectual paradigm which we are allowing to define our lives - the context in which we are relating to life / love / romance - is based upon the belief that if we do it "right" we will reach the destination of "happily ever after," we are set up to feel like failures when we are not magically transformed by a relationship.

Codependency in Romantic Relationships for Men and Women

I have been using the pronoun we - in this discussion of being set up to feel like failures if we do not reach a destination where we live "happily ever after" - because both men and women are programmed with this unrealistic delusion in early childhood. It is women however, who traditionally were brainwashed to believe that their self worth is dependent upon reaching this destination. As I mentioned in part 1, traditionally women in this society were taught to be codependent upon their relationships with men - while men were taught that their self definition and worth comes from what they do. Additionally, men were taught to be shut down to their emotions.

"In this society, in a general sense, the men have been traditionally taught to be primarily aggressive, the "John Wayne" syndrome, while women have been taught to be self-sacrificing and passive. But that is a generalization; it is entirely possible that you came from a home where your mother was John Wayne and your father was the self-sacrificing martyr. . . . . . .

When the role model of what a man is does not allow a man to cry or express fear; when the role model for what a woman is does not allow a woman to be angry or aggressive - that is emotional dishonesty."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Both men and women had their relationships with their own emotions twisted and distorted by the messages and role modeling of a dysfunctional, emotionally dishonest, patriarchal culture. The traditional societal standards for appropriate female behavior included the belief that it was not appropriate (not "lady like") for a woman to be angry or assertive - which not only makes it virtually impossible to set boundaries but also precludes real emotional intimacy. It is not possible to be emotionally honest and intimate in relationship to anyone with whom it is not okay to be angry. True emotional intimacy requires sharing all of our emotions. Someone who does not have permission to own anger is forced to use other methods to try to get their needs met, learns to manipulate in emotionally dishonest ways - crying when they are angry, or using sex manipulatively to gain power in a relationship, for instance.

And, though the traditional societal standards set men up to be "John Wayne" and women to be martyrs, this role was in reality reversed in many families due to the reactive extremes of codependency. In other words, some men who hated the abusive behaviors of their father / male role models would react to the other extreme, would suppress their own anger and become more passive and martyr like - and would then usually end up marrying a woman who was like their father. While a woman who could not stand the "doormat" role modeling of her mother, would become the angry abusive one in a relationship with a man who would be the doormat. Twisting things even further, in most cases, though the roles were reversed within the relationship inter-reaction, the couple would then try to look "normal" out in society - in other words, they would attempt to keep up appearances and be seen by others as a "normal" couple. Normal in this dysfunctional society meaning the man was the boss and the woman was his helpmate.

Men got the message from societal role models that it was not "manly" to be emotionally vulnerable. Someone who cannot be emotionally vulnerable is truly incapable of any level of emotional intimacy. Both men and women in this dysfunctional society were set up to feel like failures in romantic relationships, but it was women who were taught that their self worth depended upon success in the relationship. It is normally women who seek counseling because their self esteem is invested in the relationship. It is not possible to work out problems in a relationship without dealing with emotions - and a man is taught not to deal with emotions. A man focuses on the work that his self worth comes from and ignores problems in the relationship, and/or blames the woman for them. It is a double set up for women in this dysfunctional, emotionally dishonest society.


"We learn who we are as emotional beings from the role modeling of our parents and the adults around us. I have never had an emotionally honest male role model in my life. I am having to become my own role model for what emotional honesty looks like in a man.

Romance means nothing without emotional intimacy. "In - to - me - see" We can not share our self with another being unless we can see into our self. As long as I couldn't be emotionally intimate with myself, I was incapable of being emotionally intimate with another human being.

It is absolutely vital to learn how to be emotionally honest with ourselves. It is impossible to have a Truly successful Romantic Relationship without emotional honesty. (Truly successful being used here to mean: in balance and harmony between the physical, emotional, mental, and Spiritual levels of being.) Sex can ultimately be an empty, barren animal coupling - involving physical pleasure but really having little to do with Love - without emotional & Spiritual connection.

This results in one of the major problem areas of many relationships. Without emotional intimacy many women get turned off to sex and withhold because their emotional needs aren't being met - and men get angry because they don't even have a clue of what women are asking for.

"Traditionally in this society women were taught to be codependent - that is take their self-definition and self-worth from their relationships - with men, while men have been taught to be codependent on their success/career/work. That has changed somewhat in the past twenty or thirty years - but is still part of the reason that women have more of a tendency to sell their souls for relationships than men do." - Relationships & Valentines Day by Robert Burney

It is a double set up for women in this society. First of all the men were taught that it was not manly to be emotional and that what makes them successful as a man is what they produce - and then women were taught that they needed to be successful in romantic relationships with emotionally unavailable men in order to be successful as a woman. What a set up!

It is not women's fault. It is also not men's fault. It is a set up."


Men were programmed to be emotional cripples whose only acceptable emotional outlet was anger, and women were brainwashed to feel they had worth only in relationships to men. Truly a set up! Women were brain washed into defining themselves so completely in relationship to men that they give up their name for their husband's name. (Of course, the name they give up was their fathers - a symbolic transfer of ownership.)

I will be addressing in more depth the traditional male and female roles in society - and the historical context in which our beliefs have been molded, including some recent changes brought about by the Feminist Movement - in a later part of this series, but I wanted to make the point here of how our early childhood experiences and programming set us up to feel like failures. It is vital to start becoming conscious of this so that we can change the intellectual paradigm we are allowing to define ourselves and dictate our emotional relationship with life and love.

Right and Wrong is a Dysfunctional Dance

Failure and success, winning and losing, right and wrong are part of the polarized belief system - the black and white thinking - that is the foundation, and cause, of codependency. Anyone who is thinking in terms of failure and success according to dysfunctional, delusional definitions is being codependent. They are exhibiting the programming - the brain washing - that results from growing up in a codependent culture.

When we believe in the deepest levels of our being, at the core of our programming, that we have to have a romantic relationship to be whole, to be happy and fulfilled in life, we are making that dream / delusion our higher power which determines if we have worth - which is a set up to feel like a failure. And because failure, being wrong, is considered shameful - a sign of unworthiness, of being defective - we end up putting a great deal of energy into blaming and/or denial. (Blaming is a manifestation of denial - and is only possible because of a polarized belief system.)

When our self esteem is dependent upon reaching "happily ever after," we are set up to give away power over how we feel about our self to a delusion, a fairy tale. We look outside of ourselves and see other codependents - who were taught to keep up appearances and wear masks - who seem to have reached happily ever after. We feel like something is wrong with us because other people seem to be happy and successful and we feel like failures. We judge how we feel on the inside against how they look on the outside. And when those people that we put up on pedestals as having it made, prove to be human - get arrested, get a divorce, commit suicide, etc. - we are shocked (and sometimes secretly pleased) but we go right back to judging our self in comparison to someone else whose life looks better than ours feels.

As magical thinking children we were brainwashed / programmed to believe that love will magically transport us to happily-ever-after. We had that delusion reinforced by songs and books and movies. We are constantly being bombarded with advertising that uses our desire to be loved "happily ever after" to manipulate us into spending money on the magical ingredient that is missing - the right beer / car / clothes / makeup / medication / whatever - that will transform our lives.

It is a false belief, a dysfunctional concept, that sets us up to feel such desperate need for our dream to come true. When our feelings of self worth are dependent upon an illusion, we will put a great deal of energy into convincing our self that the dream has come true. Our investment in the fantasy, the dream, is what can make it so hard to let go of a relationship.

"It is letting go of the dream, the idea / concept, of the relationship that causes the most grief in every relationship break up that I have ever worked with. We give power and energy to the mental construct of what we want the relationship to be and cannot even begin to see the situation and the other person clearly.

Far too often - because of the concept of toxic / addictive love we are taught in this society - it is the idea of the other person that we fall in love with, not the actual person. It is so important to us to cast someone in the role of Prince or Princess that we focus on who we want them to be - not on who they really are. In our relationship with our self, we attach so much importance to getting the relationship that we are dishonest with ourselves - and with the other person - in order to manifest the dream / concept of relationship that will fix us / make our life worthwhile. Then we end up feeling like a victim when the other person does not turn out to be the person we wanted."


What makes relationship break ups so difficult in a codependent society is not the pain of the romance ending - although there is certainly a lot of pain and grief about such endings - it is the shame that our disease beats us up with for: being "failures;" or for being unworthy and unlovable; or for being so "stupid" as to make such a "wrong" choice. Very often we hang onto a relationship long after it is empty and dead because we feel that ending it will prove that we were "wrong" - or that something is wrong with us. This is especially true in instances where our family or friends warned us that the person wasn't good for us - then we have a great deal of ego investment in proving them wrong. This kind of attempt to avoid "failure" - to avoid admitting "defeat" - has caused many a person to stay in relationships that were abusive long after they knew it was hopeless.

The subconscious programming is so strong that it overrides common sense, intellectual knowledge, and conscious awareness - and keeps us putting a great deal of energy into rationalizing and denying reality. It is that subconscious programming - which can not be substantially changed without becoming emotionally honest, which includes releasing the repressed grief energy from childhood - that makes us powerless to live life in any way except reacting to the extremes of codependency. It is powerlessness over that programming that has caused us to be our own worst enemies.

"Because of our broken hearts, our emotional wounds, and our scrambled minds, our subconscious programming, what the disease of Codependence causes us to do is abandon ourselves. It causes the abandonment of self, the abandonment of our own inner child - and that inner child is the gateway to our channel to the Higher Self.

The one who betrayed us and abandoned and abused us the most was ourselves. That is how the emotional defense system that is Codependence works.

The battle cry of Codependence is "I'll show you - I'll get me.""

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

It is a sad reality that many codependents spend their whole lives living in reaction to their childhood wounding. Whether we are trying to earn our parents love and respect by being what they wanted us to be, or going to the other extreme rebelling against them, we are living in reaction to childhood - we are not living our own lives. Many women, and men, have stayed in marriages - that they knew were a mistake on their wedding day - for 20 or 30 or 40 years because they were trying to prove their parents wrong, or trying to avoid the shame of "failing."

As long as we are reacting to some arbitrary, absolute standard - a marriage that lasts is a success, one that ends is a failure; a man who is emotionally vulnerable is unmanly; a women who gets angry is not a lady; etc. - we are set up to live our lives in reaction. We are set up to feel like a failure, or to blame someone or something for how we live our lives. We are set up to feel like a victim. It is only by seeing our self and reality with more clarity that we can start to own our power to make choices instead of reacting. We become empowered to take responsibility for being a co-creator in our lives by owning our power to make choices. (Empowerment and Victimization - the power of choice)

Until we start becoming conscious of the power of this subconscious emotional programming, we are powerless to do anything in our life except react. We do not have the ability to respond - response ability - if our choices are limited to right and wrong according to some arbitrary, dysfunctional cultural beliefs.

"We must start recognizing our powerlessness over this disease of Codependence.

As long as we did not know we had a choice we did not have one.

If we never knew how to say "no," then we never really said "yes."

We were powerless to do anything any different than we did it. We were doing the best we knew how with the tools that we had. None of us had the power to write a different script for our lives."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

A woman who stays in a marriage because she does not believe she has a choice to leave it, is not making a choice to stay. We can only Truly commit to a course of action by owning that we have a choice in the matter. Staying because we "have to" / it is "wrong" to leave, is not a choice.


Traditional Family Values - patriarchal supremacy

It is people like Dr. Harley who trumpet the sanctity of "traditional family values" - the sanctity of the institution of marriage. The traditional context for family values and marriage in this society is patriarchal supremacy. To speak of marriage without acknowledging the historical reality of the treatment of women in society is not just ignorant, it is downright stupid - in my opinion.

"For all of the so called progress of our modern societies, we still are far behind most aboriginal cultures in terms of respect for individual rights and dignity in some kind of balance with the good of the whole. (I am speaking here of tribal aboriginal societies - not urbanized ones.) Nowhere is this more evident than in terms of our relationship to our children.

Modern civilizations - both Eastern and Western - are no more than a generation or two removed from the belief that children were property. This, of course, goes hand in hand with the belief that women were property."

Marriage has not been a full partnership, a Sacred Union, for most women in this society. It has historically been a form of indentured servitude. It is probably an appropriate irony that marriage is referred to as an institution - since in modern day usage that term is most often used to refer to places where people are locked up.

The first paragraph in Dr. Harley's article is a very revealing one.

"Those of us in the business of trying to save marriages struggle daily with cultural beliefs and practices that make our job difficult. The sudden surge of divorces in the 1970's, that has made America the country with the highest divorce rate, has a great deal to do with changes in our basic beliefs. More to the point, it has to do with a major shift toward self-centeredness. Beliefs that encourage self-centeredness destroy marriage."

The "sudden surge of divorces in the 1970's" for those unconscious souls like Dr. Harley who are not able to understand historical context, coincides with the rise of the Feminist Movement. What Dr. Harley identifies as "self-centeredness" is actually about the liberation of women - women starting to own their right to make choices. What so changed the basic beliefs that this man holds dear, is the empowerment of women to have a self - to be an individual with self respect and rights as a person, instead of an extension of men. Women being so "self-centered" as to want to be liberated from the codependent bondage of being defined in relationship to men, has definitely challenged the traditional marriage of indentured servitude.

He is no different than any small minded bigot or racist. He bemoans the changes in society that led "those people" to forget their rightful place in the white male patriarchal system. In this case, "those people" are women. Women have forgotten their place as the servants of truly self-centered, immature, emotionally crippled little boys masquerading as men. Those same immature men who run the world and are always going to war to protect their right to keep raping the planet and trying to steal all the toys away from the other boys.

"History has been, and is being, made by immature, scared, angry, hurt individuals who were/are reacting to their childhood wounds and programming - reacting to the little child inside who feels unworthy and unlovable."

When someone in a relationship is hanging onto to it for dear life to try to avoid feeling like a shameful "failure" - what could possibly be worse scenario for them than to go to a counselor who believes that relationships that end are failures. The "expert" who is supposed to be helping a couple resolve problems in their relationship has an agenda because the expert's self esteem is invested in saving the marriage. That type of situation is, too often in a dysfunctional society, a sad reality when the people who are supposed to be helpers in the healing process are still unconscious to their codependency.

Any therapist who describes divorce as a disaster and believes his/her job is to save marriages, is empowering black and white, dysfunctional, codependent thinking.

"Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. has saved thousands of marriages from the pain of unresolved conflict and the disaster of divorce."

Dr. Harley defines divorce as disaster, and believes that it is his purpose as a marriage counselor to save marriages. That is the belief system which he empowers. That is the perspective he will bring to any couple that comes to see him. It is impossible for him to see the relationship dynamics clearly as long as he has an agenda that he is projecting onto his clients. He is set up by his own beliefs to try to manipulate and shame people into staying in a marriage - no matter how dysfunctional that relationship may be - because it is what he bases his ego strength upon. Saving marriages is what he does - what he believes makes him successful, gives him worth.

What makes many divorce experiences feel like "disasters" is not the end of the relationship - it is the blaming that goes on to keep from feeling the shame of being a "failure." It is the battle over who is "right" and who is "wrong" that causes so much emotional trauma. It is trying to identify - and punish - the villain, that makes divorce lawyers rich and emotionally wounds the children who get caught in the middle of this codependent dance of blame and shame.

On the day I was finishing this part 2, a man I had never met before came to our CoDA meeting. In the course of sharing, he started to talk about his parents. This man was probably around 50, and was going to visit his parents the next day. He started crying - struggling mightily to control his emotions, gulping shallow breaths and holding them as his body quivered. He choked out that he wished his parents hadn't behaved so horribly in his childhood.

He recounted how his mother had said to him recently, "Oh, but our family wasn't dysfunctional. Your father and I stayed together." He cried as he said in a strangled voice, "That was a big part of the problem."

Children are damaged just as much by parents who stay together in a dysfunctional marriage as children whose parents divorce. Sometimes it is even more damaging in the long run because the delusion that the family was successful is so strong that it makes it hard for the adult children to understand why they have lived their lives so dysfunctionally - after all, they came from a happy family. The happy family myth was the higher power the parents sacrificed themselves to maintain. Keeping up appearances to avoid shame, to avoid "failure." Parents who stay together for "the children's sake," or to keep up appearances, are disasters as role models for what a romantic relationship looks like.

Any counselor or therapist who does not see a connection between the emotional wounds and intellectual programming of early childhood and problems manifesting in a marriage / romantic relationship, is not going to be able to help the people involved deal with the cause of the problems. Focusing on symptoms will not heal the cause.

For a marriage counselor to believe his purpose is saving marriages, without any consciousness of the cause of marital / relationship dysfunction, or of the historical context in which our beliefs about marriage have been programmed - is very diseased, codependent thinking, in my opinion.




The following is something that I wrote some years ago about the online book that grew out of these two articles.  That book which is now entitled Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light  Book 2:  A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life is part of a subscription only section of entitled Dancing in Light - and will sometime in the fall of 2009 become part of a new website that will also be a subscription site.  I wanted to leave these two articles up as stand alone articles because I think they give a very good synopsis of my perspective of codependency. - RB 9/15/09


May 13, 2003:  The following is the paragraph which was included when I originally published this page on April 14, 2002.

This web article ended up growing into 5 pages. I am first going to share the response I wrote in 1998 and talk about the concept of codependency.  Part 2 of this web article will focus on romantic relationships and codependents as emotional vampires.  Part 3 will expand upon and clarify what I said in the 1998 response in terms of levels of motivation - as well as discussing emotional honesty and responsibility.   Part 4 will focus on the reality of dysfunction in patriarchal civilization - specifically in relationship to the role of women and the concept of marriage.  Part 5 will address the destructiveness of black and white polarized thinking in it's impact on any relationship - and specifically in regard to counselors and therapists.

The work grew to something quite a bit beyond what I envisioned when I wrote this paragraph - and includes 15 chapters as of May 2003.  I very happy with, and proud of, the chapters that grew out of this initial source.  It has since grown into an in depth look at the phenomena of codependency on multiple levels - which in my opinion, is really much larger and more important than just a response to the silly article by Dr. Harley.  So, in early May 2003 I am separating this article from most of the chapters that grew out of it - as I spoke of doing in my February 2003 Update Newsletter.

"I have mentioned in previous Updates that this online book pounced upon me when I wasn't expecting it - and turned into something quite different than the article it started out to be.  It has turned into quite a wonderful work in my opinion - and is so much larger and more important in my view than just a response to the internet article that sparked the writing.  One of the things I am going to change is the title - which I really dislike.

What I am thinking now, is that the chapters I have published will be part two (or book 2 perhaps) of the process level book I started to write several years ago:  Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light.  Part 1, or the prequel, or whatever it is, will be focused on how to do the inner child healing / spiritual integration work." - Joy2MeU Update February 2003

I am going to leave this article as it is presently named, as a two part web article, this page and the next one.  I am changing the subtitle of part 2 slightly, but otherwise am not making any changes to either of these pages.  There are some places in these two pages where I use some quite harsh language in reference to Dr. Harley and his beliefs - and I am going to leave that language as I wrote it.  It doesn't have anything to do with Dr. Harley personally, but rather with the type of ignorant and arrogant white male attitudes that he represents to me.  Over a year later, and farther along in my recovery process, I probably would tone down that language some if I wrote these two pages today - not because my beliefs and views have changed, but because I wouldn't be quite so reactive out of my own personal wounds.  Sometimes it takes some harsh language to make a point however, and at this time I do not feel compelled to change the language as I originally published it. ~ Robert Burney


The codependency movement is NOT ruining marriages!
By Robert Burney

I am putting this web article together in response to an article called "How the Co-dependency Movement Is Ruining Marriages" by a marriage counselor named Willard F. Harley, Jr. - who has a web site called 

I first wrote a response to this sadly misinformed article in 1998 on a Question and Answer page on my original web site.  The thought of making a web page based upon the answer on my Q & A page about this article, has been in the back of my mind for a while.  He has extensive discussion lists dispensing his advice on how to save marriages - and still has this article posted to give insight into his belief system.

Willard F. Harley, Jr. reveals himself to be a raving codependent in his article "How the Co-dependency Movement Is Ruining Marriages" - in my opinion.   So, I have been moved to post a web page here on Joy2MeU in direct response to the misinformation and ignorance that this man shows in his article on codependency - and also to use this as an example of how therapists and counselors (and sponsors as well) who are invested in a polarized belief system are set up to try to force their agenda on the people they work with.  A counselor as codependent as this person seems to be from his article, will cajole, manipulate, and bully the people they work with to do what the codependent counselor believes is "right."  And will then shame and abuse the people they are supposed to be helping if they do not meet the agenda he projects onto them.  It is a sad fact that far too many counselors and therapists in our dysfunctional society are not in recovery from their childhood issues / codependency - and are being codependent, and sometimes abusive, in their counseling / therapy.

(This article was published on in April 2002 - and his article is still posted in August 2009 as I prepare for it's official launch.)

This is what I wrote for my Question and Answer page in 1998. The guy he cites - Dr. Edmund J. Bourne - is someone I have never heard of, and that article is no longer at the URL cited. I did some slight editing of this excerpt from the form it appears in on the Q & A page. The quotes from his article are in italics.

The question that was sent to me was, "I found this, please read and tell me where the balance is in your opinion... "

The article on this web page is called How the Co-dependency Movement Is Ruining Marriages by Willard F. Harley, Jr. - he quotes a definition by Dr. Edmund J. Bourne ( ).

"Co-dependency can be defined as the tendency to put others needs before your own. You accommodate to others to such a degree that you tend to discount or ignore your own feelings, desires and basic needs. Your self-esteem depends largely on how well you please, take care of and/or solve problems for someone else (or many others)."

Which is an outdated and very inadequate (in my opinion) definition of codependency which describes the phenomena very poorly and completely ignores the counterdependency which is the other extreme of the disease spectrum. Willard F. Harley, Jr. says:

"I look at that definition and think of Mother Teresa, how co-dependent she must be. Not that I'm a Mother Teresa, but I certainly feel that I aspire to those objectives. What's wrong with being co-dependent? If we were all co-dependent, wouldn't this be a wonderful world?"

The guy who wrote this article does not understand codependence - and is in fact quite codependent himself.

Codependence is about giving power over our self-esteem to external conditions and/or outer forces (including other people) - being dependent on externals to determine how we feel about our self. That is dysfunctional. What we are striving for is to learn to be interdependent - to make allies, form partnerships - not make someone or something outside of us (i.e. popularity, career, money, etc.), or external to our being, our higher power that determines if we have self-worth. I have a column about the difference between co- and inter- on the Codependence vs Interdependence page.

Codependence is a disease of reversed focus - it is about focusing outside of ourselves for self-definition and self-worth. That sets us up to be a victim. We have worth because we are Spiritual Beings not because of how much money or success we have - or how we look or how smart we are. When self-worth is determined by looking outside it means we have to look down on someone else in order to feel good about ourselves - this is the cause of bigotry, racism, class structure, and Jerry Springer.

The goal is to focus on who we really are - get in touch with the Light and Love within us and then radiate that outward. I think that is what Mother Theresa did. I can't know for sure because I never met her, and it can be difficult to tell looking from the outside where a person's focus is. Mother Theresa could have been a raging codependent who was doing good on the outside in order to feel good about herself - or she could have been being True to her Self by accessing the Love and Light within and reflecting it outward. Either way the effect was that she did some great things - the difference would have been how she felt about herself at the deepest levels of her being - because it does not make any real difference how much validation we get from outside if we are not Loving ourselves. If I did not start working on knowing that I had worth as a Spiritual Being - that there is a Higher Power that Loves me - it would never have made any real difference how many people told me I was wonderful.

The guy who wrote the article says:

"What is self-esteem, anyway? It's feeling good about ourselves, feeling that we're okay. Getting back to my earlier question about the meaning of life, what do I have to feel good about? That I exist? No."

I say Yes - I can feel good because I exist and am connected to all things. This guy does not have any kind of Spiritual concept that says that people have worth simply because they exist.

"I don't give myself any credit for my existence. I feel good about the choices I make and what I can do. If I can't do anything, I'm certain I'd have no reason to have self-esteem. Self-esteem is not something that I need in order to be productive. It's being productive that gives me self-esteem."

This is a great example of how dysfunctional codependence is - if this guy has to be productive to feel good about himself then he is set up to feel like a victim when he isn't productive - if he were to get sick, or when he gets old - if he defines himself by what he does he is being codependent.

There is nothing wrong with being productive - if we feel good about ourselves the chances are we will be doing service or being productive in some way - because we know we are connected to others - so doing for them out of our self worth is healthy and is taking care of, doing for, our Self - while doing for them to gain self worth is codependent.

Which brings us to the reason that he is so upset with the codependence movement - he says it is wrecking marriages - he is a marriage counselor - he believes his purpose is to save the marriage (who is he to know if a marriage is worth saving - this is a great example of the kind of counselor who has an agenda - I have no doubt that this guy would be shaming and abusive in his counseling in order to get his patients to meet his agenda.) So it is interfering with his productivity and he is reacting from a victim perspective by blaming the codependency movement.

Links to the question and answer pages from my original site can be found on Joy to You & Me pages.

Behavior wounds no matter how good intentions are

I want to begin this section by saying, that I have no doubt that Dr. Harley has the best of intentions - and is a good person. I also have no doubt that he is severely codependent - or at least he had no consciousness of it when he wrote the article in question, and he still has it posted on his web site in April of 2002. The nature of codependency is that we unconsciously relate to life out of the programming that was adapted by our ego in early childhood - until we get into recovery from codependency and start awakening to consciousness.

It was wounded people who had the best of intentions that most wounded us. There is a very telling statement in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that was really a cover puller for me in early sobriety. It was a statement that said something like: "I always judged myself on my intentions, while other people judged me on my actions." The fact that I always intended to be a nice person and do the "right" thing was really immaterial - it was my actions, my behavior, that other people experienced.

It was the behavior of other people that wounded us - it doesn't really make any difference what their intentions were. In fact, knowing that they had the best of intentions sometimes makes it harder for us to own and honor our wounds - to own our self.

" It is necessary to own and honor the child who we were in order to Love the person we are. And the only way to do that is to own that child's experiences, honor that child's feelings, and release the emotional grief energy that we are still carrying around."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

We are all Magnificent Spiritual Beings who have been wounded by coming into human body in emotionally dishonest, Spiritually hostile environments. We were wounded in childhood and the defenses we adapted (our codependency) caused us to wound other people in our lives by the ways we reacted to protect ourselves.

Codependency is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Codependence as Delayed Stress Syndrome) which was adapted in early childhood to survive the emotional pain we experienced. (Loving the Wounded Child Within) Since we did not have the tools and knowledge we needed to heal our wounds, we were forced to use denial and unconsciousness to deal with the pain of being human.

Codependency can be described in a variety of ways - looking at it from different levels, different perspectives (What is codependency / codependence ?) - but the one I just referenced in part above is a good one. Codependency is a compulsively reactive condition which is the result of growing up in an emotionally dishonest, Spiritually hostile, shame based environment. Spiritually hostile in my definition meaning: based upon belief in separation (from our Source, from other people, from nature) - instead of connection to everyone and everything. Shame based meaning: founded upon the belief that humans are inherently flawed and defective, shameful.

The Magnificent Spiritual Being who is inhabiting the body of Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. in this lifetime, exhibits his shame programming with his statement that we do not have worth just because we exist. He believes that a human has to earn worth. I strongly disagree.

"Life is not some kind of test, that if we fail, we will be punished. We are not human creatures who are being punished by an avenging god. We are not trapped in some kind of tragic place out of which we have to earn our way by doing the "right" things.

We are Spiritual Beings having a human experience. We are here to learn. We are here to go through this process that is life. We are here to feel these feelings."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Beliefs dictate relationships

And therein lies the crux of our differences. The underlying belief systems are completely different - are in fact polar opposites. In my book Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls I use principles of Quantum Physics and Molecular Biology to try to impart some understanding of the Planetary Conditions that caused the condition of codependency - which I believe is the human condition as we have inherited it.

"Due to the planetary conditions, the human ego developed a belief in separation - which is what made violence possible and caused the human condition as we inherited it. The reflection of that human condition on the individual level is the disease of Codependence. Codependence is caused by the ego being traumatized and programed in early childhood so that our relationship with ourselves and the God-Force is dysfunctional - that is, it does not work to help us access the Truth of ONENESS and Love. It is through healing our relationship with ourselves that we open our inner channel and start tuning into the Truth."

Jesus & Christ Consciousness

The foundation belief system - the intellectual paradigm - we are empowering is what determines our perspective of life.

"Our intellectual paradigm - mental attitudes, definitions, and beliefs - determine our perspectives and expectations, which in turn dictate our relationships and emotional reactions. If our intellectual paradigm is limited - if we cannot imagine a larger perspective of life - than what we perceive is limited, is out of focus. If we cannot use our imagination to open up to different interpretations of what we are seeing, then we are wearing blinders - and can only see what we expect to see.

As an example: A traditional therapist / psychologist / psychiatrist has a limited perspective that restricts them to labeling behaviors - that are symptoms and variations of codependency - in such a way that they fit into the boxes their intellectual paradigm dictates."

Attack on America: A Spiritual Healing Perspective & Call for Higher Consciousness Chapter 8

Our definitions and beliefs about any concept / idea dictates and determines our relationship with it. The framework / context / perspective with which we are viewing anything, determines how we relate to that person, place, or thing.

"Perspective is a key to Recovery. I had to change and enlarge my perspectives of myself and my own emotions, of other people, of God and of this life business. Our perspective of life dictates our relationship with life. We have a dysfunctional relationship with life because we were taught to have a dysfunctional perspective of this life business, dysfunctional definitions of who we are and why we are here.

It is kind of like the old joke about three blind men describing an elephant by touch. Each one of them is telling his own Truth, they just have a lousy perspective. Codependence is all about having a lousy relationship with life, with being human, because we have a lousy perspective on life as a human."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

We learned how to view, and relate to, life in early childhood from people who were wounded in their childhood. We learned how to relate to our self and other human beings as children.

"We learned about life as children and it is necessary to change the way we intellectually view life in order to stop being the victim of the old tapes. By looking at, becoming conscious of, our attitudes, definitions, and perspectives, we can start discerning what works for us and what does not work. We can then start making choices about whether our intellectual view of life is serving us - or if it is setting us up to be victims because we are expecting life to be something which it is not.

One of the core characteristics of this disease of Codependence is intellectual polarization - black and white thinking. Rigid extremes - good or bad, right or wrong, love it or leave it, one or ten. Codependence does not allow any gray area - only black and white extremes.

Life is not black and white. Life involves the interplay of black and white. In other words, the gray area is where life takes place. A big part of the healing process is learning the numbers two through nine - recognizing that life is not black and white."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

I not only disagree with Dr. Harley on the definition of codependency, I disagree with him about the meaning and purpose of life. I am going to touch on some different aspects of our differences in the course of this web article. I am going to look at it from different perspectives, on different levels. I am going to discuss some fundamental differences in our definitions about some very basic concepts, including: codependency, marriage, divorce, love, right and wrong,

I do not just have some different opinions and definitions than Dr. Harley, we have completely different world views. I live in a completely different world than Dr. Harley lives in because my relationship with life is so different. I am not writing this web article as an attack on him - although as codependent as he appears to be, he will no doubt take it personally. This does not really have anything to do with him personally - I am simply using him as a symbol for both the arrogant ignorance of the white male patriarchy and the dysfunctional nature of the traditional mental health system in this society. Since he is using the internet to expose his ignorance and limited intellectual paradigm, I am using him as a symbol to expose the dysfunction in the system he represents. It is most likely that the majority of therapists and counselors out there live in Dr. Harley's world. I want to warn people seeking help about counselors and therapists like him - and hopefully maybe even encourage some people in the helping professions to expand their consciousness and break out of the limited beliefs that plague our dysfunctional civilization.

The Concept of Codependency

The description of the Marriage Builders web site states: Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. has saved thousands of marriages from the pain of unresolved conflict and the disaster of divorce.

The first two paragraphs of his article state:

"Those of us in the business of trying to save marriages struggle daily with cultural beliefs and practices that make our job difficult. The sudden surge of divorces in the 1970's, that has made America the country with the highest divorce rate, has a great deal to do with changes in our basic beliefs. More to the point, it has to do with a major shift toward self-centeredness. Beliefs that encourage self-centeredness destroy marriage.

One of these is the belief that co-dependent behavior is self-defeating and that we should rid ourselves of it. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing and a marriage wrecker. I'll try to explain why I feel so strongly about this issue. "

He then goes on to sarcastically pick apart a questionnaire that was included in the article he is using to define codependency. After using sarcasm to demolish the list and prove it inaccurate because he - a healthy person with a wonderful marriage - fits this definition which just goes to prove how mistaken the codependency movement is, he then concedes that the questionnaire fits people in relationships with someone who is addicted/alcoholic. He concludes:

"In my judgment, the co-dependency movement, which began with such valuable insight, has become a monster. In over-reaching, it has subjected healthy people to the same norms as unhealthy people, and in so doing, has caused much more harm than good. Married couples should be on guard from the ruinous effects of the co-dependency movement on marriage, especially if one of them suffers from anxiety or depression."

I was kind of shocked to see this article was still posted on his web site as an example of his beliefs. I would have hoped that he had learned some things in the years since he wrote this article.

The perspective of codependency that he is condemning is in fact, a reflection of a very early understanding of the phenomena, which did more accurately apply to someone who is in a relationship with an alcoholic/addict. The word codependency, and the codependency movement, has grown and evolved since that early understanding.

Here is a quote from my book that is included on my web page about The Evolution of the Term "Codependence":

"The expanded usage of the term "Codependent" now includes counterdependent behavior. We have come to understand that both the passive and the aggressive behavioral defense systems are reactions to the same kinds of childhood trauma, to the same kinds of emotional wounds. The Family Systems Dynamics research shows that within the family system, children adopt certain roles according to their family dynamics. Some of these roles are more passive, some are more aggressive, because in the competition for attention and validation within a family system the children must adopt different types of behaviors in order to feel like an individual."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

The term - which started out as co-alcoholic - has come to mean something quite different than what it was originally coined to describe. In fact, the word codependency or codependence is actually a lousy word to describe the phenomena that it has led us to discover.

"Actually the term "Codependence" is an inaccurate and somewhat misleading term for the phenomenon it has come to describe. A more accurate term would be something like outer-dependence, or external dependence."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

When I speak of someone being codependent, I am describing a phenomena where a person gives power over how they relate to self - allows their self definition and feelings of worth to be dictated by - external or outer conditions / forces / stimuli. We formed our core relationship with life - learned how to relate to self, to other people, and to life - in early childhood from people who were wounded and shamed in their childhood. Our relationship with self and life is dictated by the subconscious intellectual and emotional programming adapted by our egos in childhood. Until we become conscious of this basic human reality and start recovering from it - healing our emotional wounds and changing our intellectual programming - we live life reacting to our core programming.

We survived the environments we were raised in by adapting defenses to protect ourselves. The ways in which these defenses manifest behaviorally can look very different on the outside. Descriptions of these defenses can vary greatly depending on what they are being described in relationship to - but the underlying emotional dynamics are the same for all human beings.

In my article Roles In Dysfunctional Families I describe one way of looking at them (family hero, scapegoat, etc.) - while in the excerpt from my book on the page just quoted The Evolution of the Term "Codependence", I describe them in relationship to the terms aggressive and passive (ranging from bulldozers to martyrs.) The bottom line however, is that the different varieties of codependency are reactions to the same basic emotional wounds from childhood. They are defenses designed to help us survive. They are the ways we learned to try to control and manipulate our environments to protect us from emotional pain that felt life threatening.

"Attempts to control are a reaction to fear. It is what we do to try to protect ourselves emotionally. Some of us (classic codependent behavior) tried to control through people pleasing, being a chameleon, wearing a mask, dancing to other people's tunes. Some of us (classic counterdependent behavior) protected ourselves/tried to be in control by pretending that we didn't need other people. Either way we were living life in reaction to our childhood wounds - we were not making clear, conscious choices. (If our choice is to be in an abusive relationship or not to be in a relationship at all, that is not a choice - that is reacting between two extremes that are symptoms of our childhood wounds.)

Both classic codependent and classic counterdependent behaviors are part of the condition/disease of codependency in my definition. They are just two different extremes in the spectrum of behavioral defense systems that the ego adapts in early childhood."

Codependent Relationships Dynamics part 3 - Codependent & Counterdependent Behavior

The definition Dr. Harley wrote his article in reaction to, is a very weak attempt to describe what I refer to as classic codependent behavior. Counterdependent behavior is just as much a part of the larger definition of codependency as the classic people pleaser, caretaker variety.

The levels, varieties, and permutations of codependency are also greatly influenced by another facet of the phenomena that very directly relates to Dr. Harley's perspective of codependency. This involves the differences in the way society has traditionally treated men and women. This is something that I described in the very first column I wrote for a local monthly alternative newspaper in February of 1996.

"Traditionally in this society women were taught to be codependent on - that is take their self-definition and self-worth from - their relationships with men, while men have been taught to be codependent on their success/career/work. That has changed somewhat in the past twenty or thirty years - but is still part of the reason that women have more of a tendency to sell their souls for relationships than men do. Codependence is all about giving outside or external influences power over our self-esteem. Everything outside of our 'self' - rather that is people, places and things or our own external appearance - has to do with ego-strength not self-worth. We all have equal Divine worth because we are transcendent Spiritual beings who are part of the ONENESS that is the Great Spirit/God-Force - not because of anything outside of us."

Relationships and Valentine's Day

The reason that Dr. Harley betrays his codependency in his statement about the need to be productive, is because that is how codependency has manifested in dysfunctional civilization - men were taught that their worth comes from being human doings, not human beings. Men are defined - and determine their worth - by what they do, their work, fulfilling their role as provider. A man can be a lousy father and husband - can be a really unpleasant and nasty human being - and still be considered successful and worthy of admiration in our dysfunctional society.

The traditional view of a male - female relationship is that: the male has worth because he does (brings home the bacon), and the woman has worth because she serves the male. Is this why Dr. Harley believes his marriage is such a success? I can't know that. It is possible that his wife is independent enough to have carved out a role for herself in their marriage that doesn't conform to the traditional model - and that he could be still be unconscious enough, his ego could be fortified enough by the feeling of superiority/worth he gets from what he does (being an "expert" marriage counselor), to have not integrated lessons learned in the evolution of his marriage into his fundamental belief system. Denial is an incredibly powerful survival tool. When someone is heavily invested in being right, they wear blinders that keep them from seeing any other possibility. What I do know is that an unconscious acceptance of traditional dysfunctional definitions dictates the way one relates to life, to women, and to the institution of marriage.

As I said above, the my differences with him in terms of our perspective of the concept of codependency, is a symptom of differences in the underlying belief systems. He believes that some people grew up in functional homes and are normal healthy people. I believe that all families are dysfunctional to some degree - because civilized societies are emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional.

"In this society, in a general sense, the men have been traditionally taught to be primarily aggressive, the "John Wayne" syndrome, while women have been taught to be self-sacrificing and passive. But that is a generalization; it is entirely possible that you came from a home where your mother was John Wayne and your father was the self-sacrificing martyr.

The point that I am making is that our understanding of Codependence has evolved to realizing that this is not just about some dysfunctional families - our very role models, our prototypes, are dysfunctional.

Our traditional cultural concepts of what a man is, of what a woman is, are twisted, distorted, almost comically bloated stereotypes of what masculine and feminine really are. A vital part of this healing process is finding some balance in our relationship with the masculine and feminine energy within us, and achieving some balance in our relationships with the masculine and feminine energy all around us. We cannot do that if we have twisted, distorted beliefs about the nature of masculine and feminine.

When the role model of what a man is does not allow a man to cry or express fear; when the role model for what a woman is does not allow a woman to be angry or aggressive - that is emotional dishonesty. When the standards of a society deny the full range of the emotional spectrum and label certain emotions as negative - that is not only emotionally dishonest, it creates emotional disease.

If a culture is based on emotional dishonesty, with role models that are dishonest emotionally, then that culture is also emotionally dysfunctional, because the people of that society are set up to be emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional in getting their emotional needs met.

What we traditionally have called normal parenting in this society is abusive because it is emotionally dishonest. Children learn who they are as emotional beings from the role modeling of their parents. "Do as I say - not as I do," does not work with children. Emotionally dishonest parents cannot be emotionally healthy role models, and cannot provide healthy parenting."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Positive Co-Creation

I will address those traditional roles, and beliefs about the "institution" of marriage, in other parts of this article when I look in more depth at the masculine/feminine dynamic as it has evolved in patriarchal civilization. I want to wrap up this page by emphasizing how vital it is to start becoming conscious of how our early childhood experiences have dictated our lives.

"When we were 3 or 4 we couldn't look around us and say, "Well, Dad's a drunk and Mom is real depressed and scared - that is why it feels so awful here. I think I'll go get my own apartment."

Our parents were our higher powers. We were not capable of understanding that they might have problems that had nothing to do with us. So it felt like it was our fault.

We formed our relationship with ourselves and life in early childhood. We learned about love from people who were not capable of loving in a healthy way because of their unhealed childhood wounds. Our core / earliest relationship with our self was formed from the feeling that something is wrong and it must be me. At the core of our being is a little kid who believes that he/she is unworthy and unlovable. That was the foundation that we built our concept of "self" on.

. . . . . . . It is not only dysfunctional, it is ridiculous to maintain that what happened in our childhood did not affect our adult life. We have layer upon layer of denial, emotional dishonesty, buried trauma, unfulfilled needs, etc., etc. Our hearts were broken, our spirit's wounded, our minds programmed dysfunctionally. The choices we have made as adults were made in reaction to our childhood wounds / programming - our lives have been dictated by our wounded inner children."

Loving the Wounded Child Within

We were forced to disassociate from our self in early childhood because of the emotional pain. This is true rather we came from an overtly dysfunctional family or from what appeared to be a healthy, loving family. Those of us that came from families that looked good on the outside - and didn't have some overt, easily identified dysfunction - often have a much harder time getting a handle on our wounding because it was much more subtle. That does not make it any less damaging. Dysfunctional cultural beliefs and emotional dishonesty wounded our parents and they wounded us with their behavior - no matter how wonderful their intentions were.

"On an emotional level the dance of Recovery is owning and honoring the emotional wounds so that we can release the grief energy - the pain, rage, terror, and shame that is driving us.

That shame is toxic and is not ours - it never was! We did nothing to be ashamed of we were just little kids. Just as our parents were little kids when they were wounded and shamed, and their parents before them, etc., etc. This is shame about being human that has been passed down from generation to generation.

There is no blame here, there are no bad guys, only wounded souls and broken hearts and scrambled minds."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Our ego adapted emotional and behavioral defenses to help us survive. We constructed ourselves a defense system that by necessity was built on unconsciousness and denial. As long as we are not in recovery from our codependency, we are not making conscious choices, we are reacting to our childhood programming.

When Dr. Harley says, "I feel good about the choices I make and what I can do." that is Truth - we can feel good about the action we take. An important part of recovery is learning to take responsibility for the things we have some control over. It is vital to start learning how to make choices that allow us to behave in alignment with our intentions and highest beliefs - how to "be" honest with ourselves and others, to "live" our lives with integrity, to walk our talk. If we are reacting to childhood emotional wounds, then what we say and how we behave will be contradictory and self defeating - which throws us into the codependent dilemma of having to come up with some rationalization that makes it someone else's fault, or plunge into the emotional abyss of shame and self hatred within us. Codependents dance through life to the music of dissonance and strife - recovery allows us to start achieving some integration and balance, some peace and harmony in our human dance.

As long as we are reacting out of a limited, polarized, shame based belief system then the choices we make are dictated by the limitations of that belief system. If we are reacting out of our childhood intellectual programming and emotional wounds then we are powerless to be a positive co-creator in our lives - we are only able to react and co-create out of emotional dishonesty. If we are reacting, we are not making conscious, enlightened, mature choices.

Owning our power of choice is the key to empowerment. It is vital to start owning our power to choose the beliefs that we are allowing to define our relationship with self - and dictate how we live our lives. In order to start manifesting Love into the world it is vital to start seeing with more clarity - and understanding our own inner process with more objectivity and compassion. It is essential to become conscious so we can stop reacting blindly out of the dysfunctional programming from our childhood.

"We all observe ourselves, but we do it from the perspective of the critical judge. It is our critical parent voice that provides the witness perspective in our lives. . . . . . .

The critical parent voice is rooted in the subconscious intellectual paradigm that is defining and dictating our life experience. It is the play by play commentator that is providing running commentary on how well we are playing the game of life - and it is judging our performance based upon false beliefs about the nature and purpose of life, based upon a black and white perspective that dooms us to be the victim of being imperfect humans. It dictates how we react to life and then judges us for those reactions.

It is very important to start learning how to take power away from that critical parent voice so that we can start developing a witness perspective with a compassionate level of consciousness. So that we can start learning how to be our own best friend - instead of our own worst enemy."

Co-Creation: Owning your Power to Manifest Love

It is vital to start awakening to consciousness so that we can learn to start Loving our self and our neighbors instead of judging, shaming, and blaming. Instead of either beating ourselves up constantly for our defectiveness or gaining ego strength by self righteously looking down on others.

Your role models for what a romantic relationship looks like, were your parents. Think about that. Dr. Harley seems to think that a marriage that lasts is successful, is producing good role models. I disagree.

Go to The codependency movement is NOT ruining marriages! Part 2 Love & Romance, Marriage and Divorce

Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility part 5
Discernment in Relationship to Emotional Honesty and Responsibility 2
Emotional Honesty

Honesty like any other arena in recovery is not a black and white issue. There are a multitude of levels to honesty, of perspectives in which to view the concept of honesty. Emotional honesty is the one we are focusing on in this article, but intellectual honesty with ourselves is necessary in order to start becoming emotionally honest.

It is necessary to start seeing ourselves with more clarity in order to recognize the attitudes, beliefs, and definitions that are dictating our emotional reactions. Once we start achieving more honesty in our perspectives of ourselves, then we can get more clarity in our emotional process.

For instance, until I started to recognize how I had been programmed to have a dysfunctional relationship with my own emotions because I am male, I could not start giving myself permission to get in touch with feelings which I had been programmed to believe were unacceptable for a man in this society.

There are numerous levels, relationships, that I had to start seeing with more clarity - getting more intellectually honest with myself about - before I could start changing my relationship in those arenas.

"Attitudes, definitions, and beliefs determine perspective and expectation - which in turn dictates our relationships. Our relationships to our self, to life, to other people, to The God-Force / Goddess Energy / Great Spirit. Our relationships to our own emotions, bodies, gender, etc., are dictated by the attitudes, definitions, and beliefs that we are holding mentally / intellectually. And we acquired those mental constructs / ideas / concepts in early childhood from the emotional experiences, intellectual teachings, and role modeling of the beings around us." - The True Nature of Love-part 4, Energetic Clarity

The key in this regard for me, was expectations. I had to start realizing how my expectations were dictating my emotional reactions in order to start changing my relationships with my own emotions.

"By having expectations I was giving power away. In order to become empowered I had to own that I had choices about how I viewed life, about my expectations. I realized that no one can make me feel hurt or angry - that it is my expectations that cause me to generate feelings of hurt or anger. In other words, the reason I feel hurt or anger is because other people, life, or God are not doing what I want them, expect them, to do.

I had to learn to be honest with myself about my expectations - so I could let go of the ones that were insane (like, everyone is going to drive the way I want them to), and own my choices - so I could take responsibility for how I was setting myself up to be a victim in order to change my patterns." - Serenity and Expectations

The process of recovery is a journey of continual growth to larger perspectives, higher contexts in which to view everything. Consciousness raising / enLightenment is a process of peeling away layers of denial to get to a Higher Consciousness / expanded perspective / deeper level of honesty. The focus of this article is discernment in relationship to emotional honesty and I just realized that I need to say a few words about why it is so important - about why emotions are important.

Emotions = energy in motion

Feelings, emotions, are energy.

"Emotions are energy: E-motion = energy in motion. It is supposed to be in motion, it was meant to flow.

Emotions have a purpose, a very good reason to be - even those emotions that feel uncomfortable. Fear is a warning, anger is for protection, tears are for cleansing and releasing. These are not negative emotional responses! We were taught to react negatively to them. It is our reaction that is dysfunctional and negative, not the emotion."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Emotions have two vitally important purposes for human beings. Emotions are a form of communication. Our feelings are one of the means by which we define ourselves. The interaction of our intellect and our emotions determines how we relate to ourselves.

Our emotional energy is also the fuel that propels us down the pathways of our life journey. E-motions are the orchestra that provide the music for our individual dances - that dictate the rhythmic flow and movement of our human dance. Our feelings help us to define ourselves and then provide the combustible fuel that dictates the speed and direction of our motion - rather we are flowing with it or damming it up within ourselves.

"Emotional energy is not only supposed to be in motion, to flow, it is also the energy that gets us in motion. It is what drives us, what propels us forward through life. When emotional flow is blocked and suppressed it does not go away. Energy cannot simply disappear. It can transform but it cannot disappear. That is a law of physics.

Emotional energy that is suppressed still drives us. It is what causes obsessive-compulsive behavior, it is what drives addictions. Repressed emotional energy builds up pressure that has to be released. . . . . .

Human beings are not damned with an n. We are emotionally dammed. Dammed up, blocked up - which is what causes us to feel damned with an n."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

"The emotional energy generated by the circumstances of our childhood and early life does not go away just because we were forced to deny it. It is still trapped in our body - in a pressurized, explosive state, as a result of being suppressed. . . . . As long as we have pockets of pressurized emotional energy that we have to avoid dealing with - those emotional wounds will run our lives." - Feeling the Feelings

The reason that it is so important to clear up our relationship with our own emotions, to learn to be emotionally honest with ourselves is because emotions are such a powerful part of our being, such a vital and controlling influence in how we live our lives. The key to learning how to clear up that relationship and start to get some emotional clarity is learning how to have internal boundaries.

"Then we can start setting internal boundaries within the mental, between the mental and emotional, and within the emotional levels of our being. . . . . . .Within the mental we can start discerning and separating the shaming messages that are coming from the disease / critical parent voice from our own wisdom, knowledge and intelligence. . . . . .By learning to set a boundary between emotional and mental, we can stop reacting to life based on the false belief that what we feel is who we are - that what we feel defines our reality. . . . . . Once we start having boundaries within the mental, and between the mental and emotional, then we can also start having boundaries within the emotional level of our being. . . . . . .start discerning between the emotional truth that is coming from our old wounds and the emotional energy that is Truth." - Inner child healing - the process of processing

It is necessary to learn to have a boundary within the emotional component of our being because there are two primary transformers from which emotional energy is generated. Our ego self and our Spiritual Self. Our ego was traumatized in childhood and programmed very dysfunctionally. The ego is the seat of the disease of codependence.

"The key to healing our wounded souls is to get clear and honest in our emotional process. Until we can get clear and honest with our human emotional responses - until we change the twisted, distorted, negative perspectives and reactions to our human emotions that are a result of having been born into, and grown up in, a dysfunctional, emotionally repressive, Spiritually hostile environment - we cannot get clearly in touch with the level of emotional energy that is Truth. We cannot get clearly in touch with and reconnected to our Spiritual Self."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Our Spiritual Self is the True Self, the Higher Self that is an extension downward vibrationally from the ONENESS of the Source Energy. Recovery is a process of reprogramming the ego defenses so that we can bring the ego self into alignment with Spiritual Self. Spiritual Self is our guide through the Spiritual evolutionary process. Our Spiritual Self communicates with us through our intuition. Our intuition is emotional energy - an emotional energy communication from our Spirit.

"Truth, in my understanding, is not an intellectual concept. I believe that Truth is an emotional-energy, vibrational communication to my consciousness, to my soul/spirit - my being, from my Soul. Truth is an emotion, something that I feel within. . . . . It's that gut feeling, the feeling in my heart. It is the feeling of something resonating within me."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

It is very important to start developing internal boundaries so that we can start discerning between the emotional messages that are being generated by the disease, by our wounded self, and the messages that are coming from our Higher Self.

"What we feel is our "emotional truth" and it does not necessarily have anything to do with either facts or the emotional energy that is Truth with a capital "T" - especially when we are reacting out of an age of our inner child."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Healthy Guilt and Unhealthy Guilt

A good example of this discernment process is guilt. Guilt is a feeling - an emotional energy whose purpose is to communicate with our consciousness about our behavior. It is important to make a distinction between healthy guilt and unhealthy guilt in relationship to discernment and emotional honesty.

In my definition shame is a term that relates to being (feeling that something is wrong with who we are, that our being is defective) - while guilt refers to behavior.

"We do not need fixing. We are not broken. Our sense of self, our self perception, was shattered and fractured and broken into pieces, not our True Self. .

. . We are not broken. That is what toxic shame is - thinking that we are broken, believing that we are somehow inherently defective.

Guilt is "I made a mistake, I did something wrong."

Shame is "I'm a mistake, something is wrong with me.""

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Guilt is something we feel to help us be aware of our behavior.

Healthy guilt is what we feel when we violate our own value system. It is an important intuitive component in maintaining a healthy, honest relationship with ourselves. Guilt helps us to be aware of areas that needs some more healing - behavior that is a reaction to old wounds and old tapes. It is generated by our Spirit when we have acted in ways which we need to make amends for, when our humanness has caused us to act in a way that does not respect and honor that we are ONE with everyone and everything.

Unhealthy guilt is when we feel guilty for violating someone else's value system. We were programmed to react to life based on value systems that were dysfunctional, codependent, and unhealthy. We had imposed upon us, and programmed into our intellectual perspective and emotional reactions, value systems we learned from the emotional experiences, intellectual teachings, and role modeling of the beings around us in childhood. In order to survive, we adapted the value systems imposed upon us - even though they often did not make sense to us even then.

The critical parent voice developed in order to try to control our behavior and feelings using the same tools that were used on us - guilt, shame, and fear. As a result of that programming, it is normal for us to feel guilty about violating those value system. Thus in recovery when we start setting boundaries, saying no, speaking our truth, being emotionally honest, etc., feelings of guilt and shame are generated.

In recovery as we awaken to our power to make choices about our beliefs, we can start sorting out which values that we are holding resonate with Truth as we feel it intuitively - and which ones are a result of the old programming. We can start practicing discernment in picking out the nuggets of Truth in the values we learned in childhood, from the twisted, dysfunctional, shame based beliefs. Some of the values our parents held will also be our intuitive values. Many will not because they were programmed in their childhoods. Often we were taught values in theory that are Truth - but which in practice were not followed. This was part of the crazy making inconsistency that caused us to think something was wrong with us.

"The teachings of all the Master Teachers, of all the world's religions, contain some Truth along with a lot of distortions and lies. Discerning Truth is often like recovering treasure from shipwrecks that have been sitting on the ocean floor for hundreds of years - the grains of Truth, the nuggets of gold, have become encrusted with garbage over the years."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

As we heal and awaken we get clearer on what our True values, the intuitive messages from our Spiritual Self, are - and can discern more often when we are experiencing unhealthy guilt so that we do not give it power. As with any part of the process, our intuition is our guide. Our minds have a great tendency to slip back into the polarized ruts of trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong - whereas our gut feelings will most often be coming from our intuition.

The more we are able to develop our observer self, the witness who is viewing our life and internal process from a recovery perspective, the easier it becomes for us to discern between guilt feelings that are healthy - and an important tool in helping us maintain some emotional balance and responsibility - and the unhealthy guilt of our old programming that we can let go of.

In her wonderful daily meditation book , Melody Beattie calls the unhealthy guilt and shame generated when we start to change to new healthier behavior "afterburn," and talks about just letting it burn off without giving it power. This is what I refer to as having a boundary between emotional and mental. We can feel the guilt and recognize it as unhealthy so that we do not give the critical parent voice the power to get us into a frenzy of mental activity worrying if we have done something "wrong." We can talk to the child within us that is feeling guilty for setting a boundary and tell that child that it is good to set boundaries - that it is the Loving thing to do for ourselves. (Melody Beattie's The Language of Letting Go is an absolutely phenomenal book that I think everyone in recovery should have. The Loving Spiritual belief system that is the foundation for her practical recovery advice is one that aligns with what I believe better than anything else I have ever read.)

Worry is negative fantasy

When I catch myself worrying about right and wrong, it is a sure sign that my disease is up and running - that I have slipped back into that rut. When I become aware that my mind has gone into a right and wrong type feeding frenzy, it is usually because I have some feelings going on that are making me uncomfortable. Very often, I am afraid of what the consequences of my choice will be - the outcome of the actions I have set in motion. Sometimes, I am sad that I had to set a boundary. Whatever I am feeling, it is better for me to get in touch with the feeling than to be in my head in a frenzy of worry.

Worry is negative fantasizing. It is a fantasy that is being created in reaction to feeling fear. It is not real - it is something that is being created because my mind has slipped into the old familiar rut of right and wrong thinking. Worry is not a feeling - it is a reaction, an negative emotional state, that is created by the perspectives of a belief system that empowers illusions like failure. The sooner that we can pull ourselves out of that rut and start seeing the situation as part of a learning process - shift back into a recovery perspective - the less negative emotional response we will generate in relationship to the situation.

Emotions do not have value in and of themselves - they just are. What gives emotions value is how we react to them. We were programmed to react negatively to emotions and adapted defenses to try to keep from feeling emotional energy. Being in our head worrying about the past or the future, is a defense against being in our own skin and feeling our feelings. But it is dysfunctional - it does not work. Reacting negatively to our feelings generates more feelings. The more we worry, the more fear we generate. We create negative feeling emotional states because we are empowering negative perspectives of life.

"We are talking about balance between the emotional and mental here again. Blame has to do with attitudes, with buying into the false beliefs - it does not really have anything to do with the process of releasing the emotional energy."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Worry, like blame (and such things as resentment, despair, and self pity), is a negative emotional state that is created by the intellectual paradigm that we are filtering our life experience through, that we are allowing to interpret and translate life for us. The more we try to avoid the discomfort of feeling fear or sadness or anger, the more emotional energy we generate in relationship to whatever situation we are reacting to. It is a really dysfunctional, viscous cycle if our goal is to be happy and at peace. For the disease it is a functional cycle because it creates justification for rescuing ourselves by going unconscious using some self abusive behavior - which then creates more shame, which creates more judgment, which creates more fear, which creates more worry, etc., etc.

"As long as we are judging and shaming ourselves we are giving power to the disease. We are feeding the monster that is devouring us."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

When I catch myself worrying then I know that I am not being emotionally honest with myself. Worry is a symptom that tells me I am avoiding some feelings.

The key is to be aware of when we slip back into those ruts of right and wrong thinking so that we can use our recovery tools to pull us out of the rut and get back into balance. We need to let go of the perspectives or expectation that are causing us more fear. We need to own the feelings instead of trying to avoid them - because trying to avoid them just generates more of them.

When I catch myself worrying it is very important not to judge myself for it. What I need to do is be patient and kind and compassionate towards myself. I can say catch myself, take a couple of deep breaths and say something to myself like:

Oh here I am worrying. I must be afraid. I am feeling fear about of the outcome of this situation. I have bought into the belief that if this does not come out the way I want it to, I am not going to be OK. It is time to stop and remember that I have a Loving Higher Power who is in charge of outcomes. That everything will work out in the way which is best for my growth process. I need to remember to be willing to surrender to the Divine Plan of my Loving Higher Power. I need to let go of those old beliefs in lack and scarcity. I need to remind myself that I don't have the power to screw up the Goddess's plan. That whatever happens will be an opportunity for growth - not a mistake.

Then I may need to specifically deal with some inner child wounds - "How old am I feeling right now." - letting the detective / observer part of me track down why this situation in particular is carrying a lot of charge for me. There may be some grief work to do. I may also need to own that I am angry at my Higher Power because I am in a situation again that causes fear - or sadness, or hurt. A situation that resonates with the energy of one of my core issues - abandonment, betrayal, deprivation, abuse, isolation, etc.

Any time I am worrying, I am back into right and wrong thinking. That tells me that I am not being emotionally honest with myself and that I have gotten out of balance, that my vision is being clouded by reactions from the past. Balance is the key. We are striving for a balance between mental and emotional, between intuitive and rational. It is feeling clear that will show us our path, not deciding what is right or wrong.

"And once again here, I want to make the point that clarity with our self is not an absolute destination. This healing is a gradual process of finding a sense of balance - a sense of what clarity feels like, so that we can look for and recognize when we have it and when we do not. In order to do that it is vital to learn how to be emotionally honest with ourselves so that we can be discerning in our relationship with our own mental and emotional process. Through that honesty we will achieve some energetic clarity as well.

Through that energetic clarity we will be able to access Love from the Source - and we will learn to Love and trust our Self to guide our self through this boarding school that is life as a human." - The True Nature of Love-part 4, Energetic Clarity

Honesty with others

We need to strive for emotional honesty with our self and for our self - because being honest with ourselves is what works best to help us see our self and life most clearly. It is the most Loving thing to do for ourselves.

It is also important for us to learn to practice discernment in relationship to how honest we are with other people. It is almost always the best policy, the strategy that works best in the long run, to be direct and honest with others. That does not necessarily mean emotionally honest. And it does not necessarily mean we need to tell them the whole truth, be honest on all levels.

While I was writing this article I took a break to go for a walk by the ocean. On that walk, my Higher Power presented me with a perfect example of the point I am making here.

I ran into someone I know from AA and had not seen for a couple of months. This is a person that I like and I am happy to see when I run into her. She has around thirty years of sobriety. But she is not involved in the emotional healing, in codependence recovery. She knows I have a book out, and asks me about it when we see each other - but I would never expect her to read it.

The AA community in the small town that I live in has a very high percentage of people with long term sobriety. Many of them are people who retired here from Los Angeles or Fresno and other places. They are old time AA people who are so black and white in their thinking that they get upset if someone mentions drugs in an Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Needless to say, they do not think that codependence has any place in their lives or their meetings. I can share in these meetings using AA language and people will tell me how much they get from my sharing - but if I use the C word (codependence) I can almost hear the snap of the minds closing around the room.

As a result I do not go to a lot of AA meetings here. Inevitably, I walk away from a meeting here feeling sad about the level of emotional dishonesty I observe - or sometimes angry about rigid, judgmental statements or behavior. My main meeting here in town - besides a CoDA meeting that I started and am secretary for - is a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in which it is OK to talk about anything and the people laugh a lot.

So, I ran into this woman from AA on my walk, and she said to me, "I haven't seen you around for awhile." This is AA language for "Why haven't I seen you at any meetings?" And coming from many people in Alcoholics Anonymous carries more than a hint of accusation in it.

I told her that I was doing a lot of phone counseling and the appointments were often in the evenings. I mentioned that the NA meeting was the one I made it to most often. I said that I had been meaning to make it to the Friday night meeting - and I have, and will, one of these days.

I answered her honestly without telling the whole truth or being emotionally honest. There was no reason to share my feelings about the meetings that she attends - because she had not asked for my opinion. People in AA have the same uncanny ability that my family members and many other people out there in the world have - they have a way of avoiding asking direct questions whose answers might make them uncomfortable. I have learned that part of having good boundaries for me includes not offering opinions to, or being emotionally honest with, people who do not want to hear it.

That AA person falls into the category of what I call a "friendly acquaintance." Someone who I am glad to see, feel some affection for, feel a bond to as a fellow recovering alcoholic - but someone who will probably never be a real friend. If she were ever to come to me and ask for my advice or opinion - I would happily share with her. The chances are that will never happen.

I have found it important to have boundaries in terms of how I view other people. If I have one or two people in my life that I feel that I can truly communicate with and be emotionally honest with on all levels, that is an incredible abundance. For much of my recovery I have not had anyone who fell into that category. That is sad, but it is a reality that I have needed to accept. As I have said elsewhere, an important part of empowerment is seeing reality as it is and making the best of it - rather than putting energy into wishing it was different. If I get caught up in wishing it were different, in the "what if"s and "if only"s, then I am empowering a victim perspective which can lead to self pity. (Grieving, owning the sadness, is very different from self pity which - as I mention above -is an emotional state based upon limiting victim beliefs.)

It has been very helpful to me, to accept that people are where they are at - and that it is OK. I have learned to let go of my old pattern of sacrificing myself in the now for the potential of the future. Often I can see who a person really is, and understand their potential - which on my deepest level of honesty usually means their potential to be an asset in my life - but need to accept that they are perfectly where they are supposed to be in their process. I need to accept that, in order not to buy into the illusion that they are doing something to me - that I am the victim of the pace of their process, of their inability to be who I want them to be now.

This was especially important in terms of letting go of expecting my family of origin to change. They are not who I want them to be, they don't understand me and can't see me. It isn't personal - they are just dancing with their wounds and following their path. It is not for me to judge someone else's path. Letting go - especially in terms of doing the inner child grieving about letting go of the myth of family - and accepting, was a necessary component in being able to have a friendly, superficial relationship with my family today. Superficial is what they are capable of - I needed to accept that and make the best of the situation.

In terms of friends, there are going to be people in my life, who I can share certain things with - but not other things. Some people that I can relate to on certain levels, or about certain issues. To expect that I can be emotionally honest with everyone in my life in a way that works (is safe, is heard, is understood) is an insane expectation in such a dysfunctional society with relatively so few people actually doing the healing work.

(I want to make a point here also, that when I say "safe" in terms of being emotionally honest, I am talking about what will work best. In earlier recovery, when I was still giving a lot of power to the old wounds and old tapes, it could feel devastating to me to have someone judge and shame me. Then safe referred to danger, to people who would judge and shame me. It also meant people who would try to fix me. Trying to fix someone else is not support, it is codependence. When someone starts trying to rescue me it imparts a judgment on where I am at - it means they are not comfortable so they are going to try to change me to make themselves comfortable. This is tied into what I was speaking of above about offering advice or opinions to someone who hasn't asked. It can be a form of abuse.

As I have gotten healthier in recovery, with more capacity to be balanced and see life with some clarity - other people and life events have less power to effect me. The more I am grounded in the Spiritual belief system I have integrated into my internal process, and have done my inner child healing - the less power any of my old buttons hold. The better I have become at letting go, the shorter the periods of time have become that I am giving others the power to rock my emotional boat. The term safe for me transformed into meaning something more like: safe from wasting time and energy trying to communicate with someone who can not hear. To get into an argument, a power struggle over right and wrong, with someone who doesn't speak my language is dysfunctional - is actually, pretty silly.

Of course, romantic relationships are much more complicated.;-)

Pay Attention

The primary purpose and most important reason for me to share my feelings with anyone is because I need to do it for me - to take care of me. In order to be emotionally healthy I need to express and release my feelings - but that does not mean that I have to necessarily express those feelings to the person involved. The farther along I get in recovery, the more I have the tools and resources I need to do my healing internally where it really matters, the less need I have to share my feelings with people who can't hear me.

The secondary purpose of being emotionally honest with another person is to develop emotional intimacy with that person. If the other person is not capable of emotional honesty, then I am setting myself up - empowering expectations that are not realistic.

Of course, when we first meet someone we do not have any data to base a discerning decision upon. We gather data by paying attention. The more we heal, the more ability we have to be in the moment and pay attention. People give us signs and signals about themselves right from our first contact with them. The most Loving thing we can do for ourselves, the most functional behavior, is to be present and pay attention.

So, we observe. We pay attention not just to what they are saying, but also to their body language, their eye contact, the feelings we get in our gut while interacting with them.

As I state in the quote above, we are never going to meet someone who doesn't have some red flags. Everyone we meet is going to be someone who is a teacher of some kind. By paying attention, it is possible to choose rather we want to explore our connection to them further or rather this is a opportunity to set a boundary with ourselves about where to expend our time and energy.

If we discern that we do not feel comfortable with seeing this person again, we can be direct and honest with them - without necessarily being emotionally honest.

We do not have to say, for example: You scare me because it appears that you are not really hearing what I am saying to you, that you are unable to be conscious and present. (This would almost certainly engender a defensive reaction from the other person and lead to more time and energy expended)

We do not have to lie to them either: I am so busy this week. Maybe later in the month. (This sets us up to keep putting them off.)

We can say something like: Sorry, but I am very busy these days and just do not have time to hang out.

So, we tell a little fib by saying we are sorry when we probably aren't - and we do not tell the whole truth which is: I choose not to hang out with someone unless I see the possibility of a healthy relationship with them, or sense a strong connection that I feel a need to explore.

And then we do not have to explain. We do not have to explain ourselves to anyone unless we choose to. We have a right to make choices without having to justify them or defend ourselves.

This is, of course, one of those places where it is important to be able to recognize that any guilt feelings that might arise, and cause us to feel we have to explain, are most likely unhealthy guilt - codependent reactions to being programmed to feel responsible for other people's feelings.

There are many people out there whose codependent defense system falls into what I describe in my book as bulldozers. The will push and push and push. They will demand explanations.

You do not owe them an explanation. With bulldozers it is often necessary to get down right rude with them before they will hear us. Anyone who pushes against a boundary we set is obviously someone that we may want to choose not to be around. If someone gets pushy, then we can say something like: "I don't want to see you again because you don't respect the boundary that I just set."


Many of us, of course, have a real terror of conflict - either because we have inner children who are terrified of someone else's anger, and/or because we are programmed to feel responsible for other people's feelings and have great fear of hurting others.

What is important is to start being honest with ourselves. To say you didn't want to tell the other person the truth because it would hurt their feelings is codependent. The truth is we didn't want to tell them because we wanted to protect ourselves from feeling codependently responsible for hurting their feelings. It is not about them - it is about us.

To avoid setting boundaries because we are afraid of the other persons anger, is a set up to be a doormat and a victim. It is deadly to our own self respect. It usually means we are reacting out of an inner child wound. As children we had to learn to not have boundaries in order to survive. As adults, it is our responsibility to our self and to our inner children to start setting boundaries in order to become empowered in our life.

As I stated in my article on setting personal boundaries, we not only need to set them, we need to be willing to defend them. Defending our right to set boundaries means knowing we do not have to justify or explain. The chances are the other person will react defensively, take our boundary personally, and push for an explanation. We do not owe them an explanation. One of the reasons we learned to fear confrontations, was because of how unpleasant power struggles over who is right and who is wrong can be. Defending our right to set boundaries, means learning (a gradual, stumbling process) to stand up for ourselves and say: "No! I do not have to explain myself to you." (This of course, also applies to our feelings. We do not have to justify how we feel to anyone.)

People come into our lives to help us learn about ourselves. The people who will feel hurt when we say no to them, are people who are helping us get in touch with dysfunctional beliefs about being responsible for other people's feelings. They are helping us get in touch with some inner child wounds, and practice letting go of unhealthy guilt.

People who are bulldozers, whose anger we are afraid of, are teachers that force us to learn to stand up for ourselves. Without them we would never have to learn how to set and defend boundaries.

These types of confrontations are opportunities for growth. The more we grow the more we have a choice to avoid these confrontations by being honest with ourselves so that we can employ the strategy that works best. What works best - to help us keep from expending our time and energy on people that we choose not to invest our self in - is to set a boundary and be direct up front.

It takes a great deal of courage in recovery to start standing up for ourselves. To start saying no straight out instead of making excuses and vague promises that we do not intend to keep. Learning to be more honest in our interactions is a process that we evolve through - not something to judge ourselves about.

Sometimes we go through stages where we need to come from a pretty black and white extreme. As I said, we go through stages in the growth process.

I had very powerful patterns of avoiding conflict. Those arose out of the traumatic effect my fathers raging had on me, and the emotional incest from my mother that caused me to feel responsible for the feelings of others.

I had a great ability to intellectually rationalize away the need to stand up for myself. There were always multiple reasons I could come up with to rationalize why the other person was acting that way - or why it wouldn't do any good to stand up for myself. The first instance was masked as unhealthy codependent "compassion" - which wasn't really about them at all, but was about protecting me. And the second was about manipulation - about what strategy would best protect me, get me what I wanted.

There was a stage in my process where I had to let go of trying to figure it out intellectually, let go of strategy, let go of trying to be discerning - and just make the first priority stopping the emotional and verbal abuse. I needed to make protecting myself the first priority. That meant that I shared my feelings anytime someone said something to me that felt abusive. That meant that I reacted out of unresolved grief and anger from the past in my reactions to people. That often meant I had to go back and make amends later.

It was an important phase in my process. I went from having no honest boundaries - to throwing up boundaries and spewing my feelings everywhere with everyone - and then was able to move through that stage to a point where I had more choices.

It may be dysfunctional to share your feelings with your boss or a parent - but it might be a necessary part of owning yourself to do just that. The more we heal the more discernment we can practice in where, when, and to whom we are emotionally honest.

As I have stated elsewhere, we need to own our feelings and set boundaries as a way of Loving ourselves, being a friend to our self - not to obtain a certain outcome. When we set boundaries, we let go of the outcome.

Which doesn't mean that we do not want the outcome - it means that we choose to take care of ourselves and take a risk that the outcome will not be what we want. It is very important to take risks in recovery. The purpose of getting emotionally honest with ourselves and owning our responsibilities is so that we can make better choices about the risks we choose to take.

Discerning strategy and letting go

As I said in part 1 of this discussion, we are learning how to live in balance, in the gray area of life. We are learning that there are numbers 2 through 9 instead of just 1 and 10.

We need to learn to be emotionally honest with ourselves - and direct and honest with others - in a way that works for us. Having a healthy relationship with our self involves living according to value system that we resonate with - living with integrity.

We want to own our feelings and release them in a healthy way that works to help us have some balance in our life. We are learning how to stop giving power to the old wounds so that we do not behave in a manner which is harmful to us - the "I'll show you, I'll get me!" patterns of codependence.

That involves seeing ourselves and our lives as clearly and honestly as possible - and responding to other people and life events by making the best choices possible.

To be angry at your boss and be emotionally honest about that anger - could be dysfunctional to your well being. Could get you fired.

It is important to own that anger and release it in a healthy way - through talking a friend or in a twelve step meeting, through doing anger release work, etc. We also need to look at how we are setting ourselves up to generate that anger - take responsibility for our part in the situation. We do that by getting in touch with any victim perspective we are empowering (the "I have to go to work" victimization we are taught in our society - Empowerment and Victimization - the power of choice) and observing any childhood wounds that are involved so that we can focus on the real cause instead of just the presenting symptom.

We also want to own all of our choices, rather than just the 1 or 10 of being the poor self righteous victim or exploding in profanity and quitting. We can look at our choices 2 through 9, and decide upon the strategy that will work best for us. If we decide that we need to quit the job, we can choose to have another one lined up when we quit - choose the time that works best for self instead of reacting in a way that hurts our self.

We can learn to respond to situations with discernment that allows us to make choices about what is in our best interests. We can choose a strategy that is most likely to have an outcome that will work for us.

We need to let go of thinking we can control the outcome. We need to not allow our fear of the outcome to cause us to be emotionally dishonest with ourselves. But letting go of the outcome does not mean abrogating our responsibility as co-creators of our life. We have responsibility for the actions we choose to put in motion - and we want to be discerning and choose the best strategy possible to get us what we want - but ultimately we need to have faith that taking care of ourselves will lead us to someplace better. We need to surrender to whatever outcome the Universal Plan has next for us in our lesson plan of Spiritual growth and emotional healing.

Recovery keeps getting different

While we are in the process of learning how to be emotionally honest and emotionally responsible we will go through different stages of growth. And we will be in process for the rest of our lives - on progressively more advanced and usually subtler levels. This process is why we are here, it is not something we do and then get on with our lives. Growing, learning, healing, awakening to our True Spiritual nature so that we can integrate that Truth into our relationship with our selves and life - is what this adventure in body is all about.

When I first got into recovery I was told that "it keeps getting better." That has not been my emotional experience of recovery. As I talk about in my article about Loving and Nurturing self, the process of life involves falling apart, losing it, etc. - as we reach new levels of growth and have to surrender some of our old ego definitions. So, from a higher perspective, a Spiritual growth perspective - yes, it does keep progressing and getting better once we start making the shift of seeing life as a growth process. It sure doesn't feel that way however.

A couple of other things that I was told in early recovery have more closely matched my experience of the process. "More Will Be Revealed" and "it will keep getting different" are two expressions that have always been true for me. Every time a new layer of the onion gets peeled, a new octave gets reached - more is revealed on a deeper emotional level with a higher degree of honesty. That higher level changes my perspective of my self, of life, of the past, of other people - which changes my relationship to my issues. Surrendering my old ideas and old tapes does not just mean letting go of the programming from childhood - sometimes it means letting go of what I thought was truth 2 weeks ago.

We are a work in progress. There is no destination. We have different chapters to our story, different stages of our journey - but our relationships with everything keep evolving and changing.

That includes our relationship to our own emotions. In early recovery, when I was trying to get in touch with and own my feelings, I would often say "That makes me angry," or "That hurts," - not because I was actually feeling the feelings, but rather because I knew that it was appropriate to feel a feeling in that situation.

Later, as I got in touch with the emotional energy that was in my body, it would often explode out of me. So that I would say, "I feel angry" when I was really feeling, and expressing, rage.

It was progress for me to express that I was angry and actually feel the anger at the same time. Because of that, I often expressed that anger in ways that were out of balance and inappropriate. That was a stage of my growth process.

Getting in touch with the feelings eventually caused me to get in touch with my grief and rage. It was impossible for me to start owning my feelings without eventually owning the repressed feelings from my past. So there were times when my expression of feelings would be very out of proportion to the stimulus that was triggering those emotional releases. That is an inevitable part of the path.

One of my ways of trying to control the feelings was to be in my head trying to figure out what was happening and how to express it in a healthy way. In the process of pushing myself beyond the mental defenses of rationalizing, intellectualizing, analyzing, etc., it was impossible to be in balance and healthy in all of my expressions of emotion.

The more I did my grief and rage work, and changed the dysfunctional perspectives that were setting me up for emotional responses, the more emotionally balanced and responsible I could become. But it is a process that evolves over time.

It was progress in early recovery for me to start vocalizing feelings even though I wasn't actually feeling them. To say, "I am angry," to own my right to be angry - was a breakthrough.

It was progress to vocalize the feelings at the same time I was owning and feeling them - even though that caused me to overreact and explode at times. To say, "I am angry" while sounding angry and really feeling angry was a breakthrough.

It was progress to take responsibility for my feelings so that I could use the tools I had learned to feel and release the feelings in my own way, at my own time - so that at times, I wouldn't have to actually be angry when I was expressing those feelings to someone else. To say, "That caused me to feel angry" without actually being angry while I said it - was a breakthrough.

See how things spiral around? Vocalizing a feeling without feeling it - was in early recovery a symptom of my level of emotional dishonesty. While as my recovery advanced, vocalizing a feeling without feeling it at that moment - could be a symptom of emotional balance.

The energy of those two examples, was however, very different. Prior to having owned my rage, saying I was angry without feeling it did not carry much power. After having done grief and rage work, and having owned the power that comes from owning my feelings, when I told someone that some behavior of theirs had made me angry, they heard me much more clearly. By owning my feelings, I was owning and respecting myself. The more I own and respect myself, the more clearly I can communicate. Now when I set a boundary, I can usually do it firmly from a place of power and strength that lets the other person know that I will defend that boundary. I can communicate strength without ever sounding angry.

Once we start to become grounded in the powerful energy of our True Self, once we start respecting ourselves and Knowing that we have rights, then we start to be capable of communicating from a place of power that does not require raising our voice to be heard. The more we are centered and balanced in Truth, the more we are able to perceive the gray area where we can own our side of the street and hold other people responsible for theirs, the more we can communicate in a manner which maximizes the possibility of being seen and heard. (Of course, we are powerless over others and need to be willing to let go of the outcome, so there is no guarantee about how the other will react/respond. Accept the things we cannot change - change the things we can, take responsibility for ourselves and our side of the street.)

Progress not Perfection

It is important to look at our process from the perspective of the progress we have made rather than trying to do it perfectly. In making progress we have to breakthrough to new ways of doing things. We need to explore new territory and give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves in whatever way is necessary. That sometimes involves swinging to the other extreme so that we end up having to make amends for how we expressed ourselves. It is important to celebrate our progress and not shame and judge ourselves for any mess that the way we breakthrough may entail.

An example of the point I am trying to make here, is the story of a client I worked with some years ago. This person was a social worker who was very good at doing her job. In the role she was playing at work she could be fierce and have strong boundaries. In her personal life however, she had no permission to have any boundaries at all because of her childhood wounds. My homework assignment for her was to tell someone to F___ off. I chose something so harsh because it was so out of character for her. She was appalled and horrified at the thought of saying something like that to someone. It was not even conceivable to her because it was so contrary to the self definition she had adapted in childhood.

One of the reasons that I give people assignments is to expand their consciousness, to give them permission to act in ways they would never consider. It took her about 3 months before she completed the assignment - and when she did, she said it to the biggest cop in town at a professional gathering. She was horrified that she had done it. I was very excited for her and heaped congratulations on her. The point was, she had stood up for herself spontaneously. I told her that she could go back and make amends for how she expressed herself - but that it was a wonderful breakthrough that she had defended herself.

That particular expression may be one that she will never in her life use again - and it certainly is not an example of the way in which we are learning to communicate. The breakthrough was that she had started to respect herself enough to be willing to go to any length to defend herself. She spontaneously set a boundary and communicated that another persons behavior was not acceptable to her.

The more we heal our core relationship with ourselves, the more we start to respect and Love ourselves, the more we start automatically and spontaneously owning our right to speak up and set boundaries. Often when we are breaking out of the old patterns, jumping out of the old ruts, we will swing to the other extreme. That doesn't mean we are going to stay there. It means we are doing a paradigm shift in our relationship with self and others. It means we have broken through to a different way of doing things.

In recovery, our experience of life keeps getting different.

"When I talk about ways that we use to go unconscious - like workaholism, or exercise, or food, or whatever - I am not saying that you should be ashamed if you are doing some of these things.

We cannot go from unconscious to conscious overnight! This healing is a long gradual process. We all still need to go unconscious sometimes. Recovery is a dance that celebrates progress, not one that achieves perfection.

A significant breakthrough in my personal process came when I was able to recognize, and give myself credit for, the progress that I had made - when I realized that a pint of Haagen-daz was lasting me three days instead of being gone within twenty minutes of when I bought it.

That was a very big breakthrough for me, to be able to give myself credit for the progress instead of judging and shaming myself for not being perfect, for still feeling like I needed the nurturing of ice cream.

We had to learn to go unconscious in order to survive! Thank God for alcohol or television or romance novels. Thank God for ice cream!

We need to stop judging ourselves - that means allowing ourselves to do whatever it takes, whatever works. There are times when we need to go unconscious. There are times when we need to stuff our feelings in the moment. There are times when it is not safe to be vulnerable and emotionally honest.

This Recovery process is a gradual transition from using our old tool box to using the new tools. The old tools - the ways we used to go unconscious so we could survive - are not "bad" or "wrong." They were life savers - without them we would be either dead or mass murderers, or dead mass murderers.

We adopted the old tools because they were the best choices that were available to us at the time. We adopted them in response to intuitive impulses that were right on. Those impulses were "protect myself, nurture myself." It is the nature of the defense system that is Codependence that the ways we learned to protect and nurture ourselves are self-abusive in the long run.

So we need to stop shaming ourselves for the behaviors that we adopted to protect and nurture ourselves, at the same time that we are transitioning to behaviors that are less self-abusive.

Notice that I say less self-abusive. We are talking progress, not perfection here.

If you have an image of what completely healthy behavior is, and you will not allow yourself to accept and Love yourself until you get there, then you are setting conditions under which you decide when you will become Lovable. You are still buying into a concept of conditional love and by extension, the concept of a Higher Power that is conditionally loving. You are still trying to earn, and become worthy of not only self-Love, but also God's Love. That small child inside of you is still trying to earn your parents' Love and validation.

That is a natural, normal thing for humans beings on this Codependent planet. Try not to judge and beat yourself up for it. Try to observe it and say, "Oh, isn't it sad that I am still doing that? I think I will try to learn some ways that I can change it.""

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility Part 4
Discernment in Relationship to Emotional Honesty and Responsibility 1

"Learning discernment is vital - not just in terms of the choices we make about who to trust, but also in terms of our perspective, our attitudes.

We learned about life as children and it is necessary to change the way we intellectually view life in order to stop being the victim of the old tapes. By looking at, becoming conscious of, our attitudes, definitions, and perspectives, we can start discerning what works for us and what does not work. We can then start making choices about whether our intellectual view of life is serving us - or if it is setting us up to be victims because we are expecting life to be something which it is not.

One of the core characteristics of this disease of Codependence is intellectual polarization - black and white thinking. Rigid extremes - good or bad, right or wrong, love it or leave it, one or ten. Codependence does not allow any gray area - only black and white extremes.

Life is not black and white. Life involves the interplay of black and white. In other words, the gray area is where life takes place. A big part of the healing process is learning the numbers two through nine - recognizing that life is not black and white.

Life is not some kind of test, that if we fail, we will be punished. We are not human creatures who are being punished by an avenging god. We are not trapped in some kind of tragic place out of which we have to earn our way by doing the "right" things.

We are Spiritual Beings having a human experience. We are here to learn. We are here to go through this process that is life. We are here to feel these feelings."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

One Through Ten

When I first got sober in early 1984, my mind was mush. I couldn't read and comprehend a page in the AA Big Book for months. After three or four months, one of the signs I got that my mind was coming back was that I was able to start working crossword puzzles. It was a tremendous relief to find out that tequila hadn't killed so many brain cells that my mind couldn't recover.

I mention this because it points out what a tremendous impact something that I heard in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in my first 60 days of sobriety had to have on me for me to have a very clear memory of it all of these years later. It was obviously something that resonated as Truth so strongly that it cut through my fog enshrouded brain to my core.

This was in Lincoln Nebraska where I had gone through a 30 day treatment program after an intervention by my family on New Years Day. What I think of as a grizzled old timer (although I really have no idea what the guy looked like or how old he was) shared a simile about how his mind worked. He said, "My mind is like a dirt road out in the country that got really muddy - with some really deep ruts in it - and then the ground froze. It is real hard to drive down that road straddling those ruts without slipping back into them. And once I slip into them it is hard to get out again."

Having grown up on a farm on dirt roads in the part country where spring means lots and lots of mud - where snow storms and frozen ruts are common into May - I really knew what he was talking about. And obviously, the comparison to the way my mind works hit home with me.

The reason that this story has anything to do with Discernment in relationship to emotional honesty and responsibility, is because those ruts are still there. They are not nearly as deep now, but my thinking will slip into some of the old patterns / ruts very easily without me noticing until something happens to draw my attention to it.

The old pattern/programming that pops up the most is the rut of black and white thinking. Slipping into a perspective that only recognizes the extremes of 1 or 10. (The black and white perspective is the foundation of the blame them or blame me, victim of them or victim of my own shameful defectiveness, extremes that govern the dynamics of the disease of codependency.)

Another romantic relationship, or (10) we will move in together and be fully immersed in the relationship. A watered down, less powerful version of the choices I learned in childhood from my role models - either completely unavailable or completely enmeshed.

My thinking, in relationship to a relationship, is much healthier and more balanced than it used to be - but it still tends towards the extremes within the spectrum of what is possible. It feels more natural for me to completely let go of the idea of having a romantic relationship or to think in terms of what it is going to be like when we are living together then to think in terms of getting to know someone gradually. Kind of like, either pretend the water isn't there, or dive into the deep end without looking first to see what may be just under the surface.

It is easier for me emotionally to not even consider going in the water than to gradually ease myself into the shallow water - because if I am even looking at the water it gets me in touch with grief about being alone. The abyss of wish-to-die pain and desperate loneliness from my childhood - the deprivation issues that I spent so much of my life either denying or allowing to run my life - do not have anywhere near the power they used to because of the healing I have done. It is relatively easy now for me to separate out the childhood feelings of loneliness - and they do not any longer have a life threatening feeling of desperation to them. But I also have been very deprived in my adult life - of Love, companionship, affection, touch, sexual fulfillment, etc. - because of the patterns caused by my fear of intimacy. So the grief around those deprivation issues still has some power because the deprivation is still happening.

The healthier we get, the more emotional healing we do, the less extreme our emotional reaction / response spectrum grows. The growth process works kind of like a pendulum swinging. The less we buy into the toxic shame and judgment, the less extreme the swings of the pendulum become. The arc of our emotional pendulum becomes gentler, and we can return to emotional balance much quicker and easier. But we don't get to stay in the balance position. Life is always rocking our boat - setting our emotional pendulum to swinging. By not taking life events and other peoples behavior so seriously and personally, by observing our process with some degree of detachment instead of getting so hooked into the trauma drama soap opera victimology that is a reaction to our childhood wounds, we learn to not give so much power over our emotions to outside influences and events.

I have choices today in regard to how I am relating to myself, to other people, to life. I am able to accept the things I cannot change much more quickly, and change the primary thing which I have the power to change - that is, my attitude toward the things I cannot change - so that I do not get caught up in a victim perspective. By not buying into the illusion that I am a victim - of myself, of other people, of life - my emotional swings stay on a much evener keel and I experience a much gentler emotional spectrum in my day to day relationship with life.

But it is still a spectrum, and as such involves swings between extremes. Those extremes are less powerful reflections / reverberations of the wildly divergent extremes my process used to involve. To maintain some balance in my life, to keep owning that I am not a victim - that I do have choices - it is important to shine some Light onto the gray area between the black and the white extremes, to be aware of the 2 through 9 options.

Discernment in Relationship to Emotional Honesty and Responsibility

The purpose of this article is to shine some Light on the gray areas of emotional honesty and responsibility. Until we get aware that there are choices in between 1 and 10, then we don't have a choice. As long as we bouncing between black and white, we miss the gray area entirely. The gray area is where life takes place. It is important for anyone in recovery to become aware of all of their choices - of 2 through 9 - so that we can see ourselves and life as clearly as possible. We all have a set of ruts in the pathways of our mind that cause us to slip back into old thinking patterns and perspectives, that cause us to give power to old tapes. Those ruts do not change as we heal - they get shallower and easier to get out of - but they don't go away completely. As we heal our basic underlying patterns don't change substantially, we just get healthier in those patterns.

"We are never going to meet someone who doesn't have red flags, who isn't wounded - the healthy behavior is to pay attention and take responsibility for our choices. To take calculated risks that will not be "mistakes" or "wrong" but lessons. The more conscious we get of our choices, the more we release the grief energy / take power away from the childhood wounds - the more we can trust our self to listen to our intuition instead of the disease yammering in our head.

And we are never going to completely change our basic patterns - we get healthier within those patterns. If you are attracted to alcoholics - then progress is getting involved with a recovering alcoholic. We are attracted to certain energies for reasons in alignment with The Divine Plan - our choices in the past felt like mistakes because we weren't aware that we were at boarding school learning lessons." - The Emotional Dynamics of Dysfunctional Romantic Relationships

"We, in our Codependence, have radar systems which cause us to be attracted to, and attract to us, the people, who for us personally, are exactly the most untrustworthy (or unavailable or smothering or abusive or whatever we need to repeat our patterns) individuals - exactly the ones who will "push our buttons."

This happens because those people feel familiar. Unfortunately in childhood the people whom we trusted the most - were the most familiar - hurt us the most. So the effect is that we keep repeating our patterns and being given the reminder that it is not safe to trust ourselves or other people.

Once we begin healing we can see that the Truth is that it is not safe to trust as long as we are reacting out of the emotional wounds and attitudes of our childhoods. Once we start Recovering, then we can begin to see that on a Spiritual level these repeating behavior patterns are opportunities to heal the childhood wounds."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Romantic relationships are one issue that can be discussed in relationship to the rutted perspective of black and white thinking. All of our issues can be discussed in relationship to certain dynamic patterns of the disease - polarized black and white thinking is the primary, foundation rut upon which the dynamics of codependence and recovery can be examined.

In my first attempt at this article it spiraled off into the realm of Metaphysics - specifically an explanation of the vibrational dynamics of the growth process from an energetic perspective. An explanation of how our repeating patterns are in fact a reflection of the Octave Principle (do, re, me, fa, etc.) in energy interactions dynamics. In our disease we keep repeating the same octave over and over again - and sometimes even descending to lower octaves. In recovery we are spiraling upward to new levels - so that each "do" feels somewhat like the "do" before it, but in reality reflects a higher vibrational level - a Higher level of consciousness, a more enlightened perspective.

Interesting stuff, that is a more complex, higher level perspective of the topic - but not really functional in relationship to the goal of this article. I want to communicate about some specific facets of discernment regarding emotional honesty and responsibility as clearly as possible in a web page of reasonable length. So, that information will be part of another web article about Higher Consciousness and Enlightenment. When I will finish it is in the more will be revealed realm, since I have so many different writing projects percolating.

The point that I want to make about this however, is that in recovery we are spiraling upward. We go through different levels, different stages in our growth process. The "do" I hit upon in my discussion of romantic relationships above, is probably quite a few octaves higher than where I was when I started recovery - but it still feels somewhat like, resonates with somewhat the same vibration, as the "do" from over 17 years ago when I got into recovery. (Actually, though the basis for my codependence recovery was laid in my first few years of recovery from alcoholism, my conscious codependence recovery began on June 3, 1986 - so it is possible that my relationship to romantic relationships didn't start ascending until then.) I mention this to emphasis how important it is to not shame and judge ourselves for how we feel - because sometimes when we break through to a new level, a new octave, the familiar feeling / reverberation of it causes the critical parent voice, the old tapes, to feed us the lie that we have slipped backwards, that we are at the bottom of the whole process again and have made no progress. The feeling of shame, of having made a mistake, of failing because we feel like we are in the same place again emotionally, is a product of the old wounds and the dysfunctional perspectives of the disease.

We are Spiritual beings having a human experience. Life is not a test that we can fail. It is a process of learning to accept that we are Lovable and worthy no matter what we feel. Life is a journey that we are being guided through, not punishment for being unworthy - or something we have to do "right" in order to transcend. Recovery is a process of learning to own that who we are is Transcendent Spiritual Beings so that we can integrate that Truth into our emotional relationship with life.

"I needed to learn how to set boundaries within, both emotionally and mentally by integrating Spiritual Truth into my process. Because "I feel feel like a failure" does not mean that is the Truth. The Spiritual Truth is that "failure" is an opportunity for growth. I can set a boundary with my emotions by not buying into the illusion that what I am feeling is who I am. I can set a boundary intellectually by telling that part of my mind that is judging and shaming me to shut up, because that is my disease lying to me. I can feel and release the emotional pain energy at the same time I am telling myself the Truth by not buying into the shame and judgment.

If I am feeling like a "failure" and giving power to the "critical parent" voice within that is telling me that I am a failure - then I can get stuck in a very painful place where I am shaming myself for being me. In this dynamic I am being the victim of myself and also being my own perpetrator - and the next step is to rescue myself by using one of the old tools to go unconscious (food, alcohol, sex, etc.) Thus the disease has me running around in a squirrel cage of suffering and shame, a dance of pain, blame, and self-abuse.

By learning to set a boundary with and between our emotional truth, what we feel, and our mental perspective, what we believe - in alignment with the Spiritual Truth we have integrated into the process - we can honor and release the feelings without buying into the false beliefs.

The more we can learn intellectual discernment within, so that we are not giving power to false beliefs, the clearer we can become in seeing and accepting our own personal path. The more honest and balanced we become in our emotional process, the clearer we can become in following our own personal Truth."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Stages in Recovery

"Writing this article (which appears to require at least three web pages) has been difficult because of all the levels involved. I received some e-mails with some basic questions that I wanted to answer in as complete a manner as possible - but answering some of the basic questions takes me into some quite advanced levels of recovery. I realized that I had never really written previously - except for a line or two here and there in the middle of something else - about such issues as: the misconception of many recovering people that emotional honesty means we are supposed to be emotionally honest with all of the people in our lives; or, specifically about what our responsibilities are in relating to others." - Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility part 1

Emotional honesty is the bedrock upon which codependence recovery is possible. Until we start learning to be emotionally honest with ourselves, we cannot began to see ourselves or life with any clarity.

The key here is learning to be emotionally honest with ourselves. That doesn't mean that we need to be emotionally honest with all of the people in our lives. It is often not safe or functional to be emotionally honest with people who are not being emotionally honest with themselves, who are not on some kind of healing / recovery path. And even with people who are also in recovery it is often not safe to be emotionally honest.

If someone is in recovery from alcoholism/addiction, it is possible for them to focus on the black and white issue of rather or not they are drinking and using. This makes it possible for someone to be clean and sober for many years without being forced to become emotionally honest with themselves. Many Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are not safe places to be emotionally honest. It is a sad fact that it is very possible to be shamed and judged in AA meetings by people who are reacting out of a rigid, black and white, right and wrong belief system.

It is also unfortunate that some people, who are involved in codependence or Adult Child recovery, use emotional honesty as an excuse to be abusive. I have encountered people who claim to have years of codependence recovery who will use a question like "Do you mind if I share something with you?" as a way of getting my permission for them to be verbally abusive. People who will say something abusive, shaming, and/or judgmental - and then say "Hey, I am just being emotionally honest." These are people who think they are being emotionally honest but have no concept of emotional responsibility.

We need to learn to be emotionally honest so that we can take responsibility for our feelings - not so that we can inflict them on others. When I first got into recovery, I mistook being rigorously honest in working my program with being vigorously honest in sharing with others my insights into their issues. It took me several years in recovery to realize that sharing my advice or opinions with others - without being asked - can be abusive.

It is not healthy or appropriate in recovery to use being emotionally honest as an excuse to abuse other people - including the people who abused us. Going from being abused to being the abuser is swinging from one extreme to the other.

Now, we all go through stages in our recovery - as I mentioned in the first article in this series.

"Discovery, recognition, that we have been victims of abuse is vital. Rather that is emotional abuse, or any of the other kinds of abuse that also cause emotional abuse - physical, verbal, mental, sexual, spiritual. etc. It is vitally important to own our own victimization - and at some point start getting angry about it. Getting angry about how the behavior of others has wounded us is a vital step in owning ourselves - of honoring our Self.

I have often told clients that going from feeling suicidal to feeling homicidal is a step of progress. It is a stage of the recovery process that we will move into - and then at some later point will move beyond. An incest victim transforms into an incest survivor. Owning the anger is an important part of pulling ourselves out of the depression that turning the anger back on ourselves has created. It is often necessary to own the anger before we can get in touch with the grief in a clean and healthy way. If we haven't owned our right to be angry, it is possible to get stuck in a victim place of self-pity and martyrdom, of complaining and gathering sympathetic allies - instead of taking action to change.

So, it is very important to own our right to be angry. That is a stage of the process that also needs to be moved through so we don't get stuck in an angry victim place. In order to heal, it is usually not necessary to confront our abusers. For some people it is an important part of the process to confront their abusers with their anger. Hopefully this can be done in an appropriate therapeutic environment - although sometimes that is not possible. What is important to emphasize, is that we can heal without confronting our abusers directly - because the relationship that needs to be healed is within. To go to a place where we are lashing out at our abusers will often be just going to the other extreme - where we abuse the people who abused us.

There was a point in my codependence recovery where I would rage in AA meetings at old timers who were shaming and emotionally abusive out of their untreated codependence - their rigid, controlling, black and white thinking. That was a stage in my recovery that I outgrew - that I realized was not healthy. It was not bad or wrong (although the behavior was sometimes something I needed to make amends for afterwards) - it was a stage in a growth process. I learned to confront that kind of behavior in a gentler, kinder - and more effective - way as I grew.

Sometimes in our growth we find ourselves lashing out and being abusive. When that happens we can make amends for how we expressed ourselves - we never have to apologize for having the feelings. We cannot go from repressing our feelings and being emotionally dishonest to communicating perfectly in one step. Communicating in an appropriate way is something we learn gradually - and something we will never do perfectly every time." - Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility part 1

Sharing my opinions and advice without being asked in early recovery was a stage I went through. Raging in Alcoholic Anonymous meetings was a stage I went through. Getting in touch with our feelings can be a messy process. It is vitally important to learn to own ourselves and our feelings. While we are doing that, there will be times when we express our feelings in ways that we later need to make amends for. We will sometimes need to apologize for the manner in which we expressed ourselves, and/or the timing of our expression - we do not have to apologize for our feelings.

We are not responsible for other peoples feelings. We do have some responsibility in how we communicate and when we communicate.

For example: if we use abusive language, profanity, or name calling in our communication; if we scream and yell; if we throw or break things; if we communicate in front of other people instead of to that person privately; if we express ourselves at a time when the other person is particularly vulnerable; etc.

We also have responsibility for the perspectives which we are empowering that are causing us to react emotionally to the other person. We have responsibility for separating out grief and rage caused by wounds from the past that the other person is triggering, from the part of our reaction that is about them now.

We may need to go back to that person and say something like these examples:

I want to make amends to you for how intensely I expressed my feelings to you. What you said to me was inappropriate and abusive - and was not acceptable to me, but the intensity of my reaction was caused by the fact that you triggered an old wound from my past. Thank you for helping me get in touch with the old wound that needs some more attention and healing - but also know that that saying things like that is not OK. I will not allow you to talk to me like that.

I want to make amends to you for reacting out of a victim place. Your behavior was unacceptable to me, and I had a right to be hurt - but I reacted by blaming you for my feelings and that is something which I am learning to stop doing. So, I am sorry my reaction came from such a black and white perspective because it was not helpful in communicating with you about why your behavior bothered me.

These are very general examples, and in actual practice it is best to use the guidelines that I talk about in my page on setting personal boundaries. That is: describe the behavior specifically rather than our interpretation of the behavior - both their behavior and our own.

I am sorry I called you a ____ (profane name) when you told that joke about ____. I felt hurt, discounted, put down, violated, angry, and shamed. I found what you said offensive and unacceptable - but it was not appropriate for me to use that kind of language in expressing myself.


In early recovery, I used to refer to responsibility as the R word. It was a trigger word for me that carried shame and judgment. I thought of it as having chains hanging off of it because being responsible to me seemed to mean being what society (and my parents) wanted me to be. That I wasn't living up to those expectations seemed to reinforce my feeling that I was unworthy and defective. It was only in my codependence recovery that I came to realize that such behavior as not getting the grades I could have in school was in reality a passive aggressive retaliation towards my parents - the "I'll show you, I'll get me" battle cry of codependence. And I came to understand that not fitting into society's idea of how to live life and define success, was in reality being true to myself by not conforming to standards that did not resonate with me.

It was a big relief for me in recovery to encounter another perspective on the term responsibility that allowed me to change my relationship with the word and the concept it embodied.

"As long as we are reacting to old wounds and old tapes we cannot respond to the now. The more we heal, the more responsibility we have - that is, ability to respond. The ability to respond in the moment."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

As a little boy I got the message from my father's perfectionistic standards and raging verbal abuse, and from my shameful inability to fulfill the role of surrogate spouse and protector for my mother, that there was something wrong with me. I was raised in a religion that taught me that I was born shameful and sinful, and if I did something "wrong" I would burn in hell forever. Because of my fear of doing it "wrong," of making shameful mistakes, I did not want to take responsibility for my life. Because of my emotional wounds and all of the anger and rage I was suppressing, I was powerless to do anything but react to life. I reacted to expectations by passive aggressively sabotaging myself. I rebelled against society's standards in ways that hurt me.

I did not trust myself for good reasons - because of the reactive way I was living my life. I did not want to take responsibility for my life, for my choices and the consequences of those choices, so I set other people up to make the choices. That way I had someone to blame.

Blaming others - or the system or whatever - was a defense. I was stuck in the black and white perspective of the disease.

Being honest with myself emotionally led me to wallowing in self hatred - blaming myself for being unworthy and defective, for being a loser and a failure. Focusing on something or someone outside of me, that I could blame for victimizing me or obsess about because it/she would fix me (relationship, money, success, etc.), was an attempt to avoid having to feel the incredible hole within me - the abyss of wish to die pain and shame, the pressurized Pandora's box of terror and rage, that I had to keep suppressing and denying. Survival involved using whatever means I could to go unconscious and/or deflect the blame away from me. Unconsciousness was my main tool for protecting and nurturing myself - my only real escape from the emotional extremes spawned by the black and white thinking of codependence.

In my personal journey, I had to encounter the concept that I was not shameful and defective as a being but rather had a disease that I had been powerless over, before I could start to shine some light into the darkness of the abyss within me. Working a 12 step program of recovery taught me that it was necessary - and it worked much better - to take responsibility for my life, for my choices, for the consequences of those choices. Starting to be open to the possibility that perhaps there is a Loving Higher Power, that I wasn't being punished but was rather being given opportunities for growth - helped me to start letting go of some of the fear of making choices and some of the shame about the consequences I had experienced.

When I got into recovery I was launched into an adventure of discovering and exploring the gray area that is life. I learned that it was possible to take responsibility over behaviors and choices that I had made from a place of powerlessness without taking blame for those experiences. I learned that there were choices in between blaming them or blaming me.

"We need to heal the wounds without blaming others. And we need to own the responsibility without blaming ourselves. . . . We are talking about balance between the emotional and mental here again. Blame has to do with attitudes, with buying into the false beliefs - it does not really have anything to do with the process of releasing the emotional energy.

We also need to own and release the anger against those whom we feel victimized us as adults - and we need to take responsibility for our side of the street, own our part in whatever dysfunctional dance we did with them.

We need to own, honor, and release the feelings, and take responsibility for them - without blaming ourselves."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

I learned that my emotional reactions were being set up by my expectations and perspectives - which in turn were dictated by the definitions, beliefs, and attitudes I was allowing to define my experience of life. I was horrified to discover that my behavior patterns were being driven by, my emotional reactions were set up by, subconscious programming from my childhood.

"Our experiential reality is determined by the interpretations of our mind - by the intellectual paradigm which we are using to define / determine / translate / explain our reality. The attitudes, definitions, and belief systems which we hold mentally dictate our emotional reactions." - The True Nature of Love-part 4, Energetic Clarity

I started to become empowered to change my relationship with myself and life when I started realizing that I have choices about the beliefs I allow to dictate my relationships. Instead of living life in reaction to old tapes - I could change that programming.

By changing that programming, it was possible for me to start taking responsibility for the areas of my life that I can have some control over, that I do have the power to change - and I could start to let go of trying to control things which I don't have the power to change.

"I spent most of my life doing the Serenity prayer backwards, that is, trying to change the external things over which I had no control - other people and life events mostly - and taking no responsibility (except shaming and blaming myself) for my own internal process - over which I can have some degree of control. Having some control is not a bad thing; trying to control something or somebody over which I have no control is what is dysfunctional. It was very important for me to start learning how to recognize the boundaries of where I ended and other people began, and to start realizing that I can have some control over my internal process in ways that are not shaming and judgmental - that I can stop being the victim of myself."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

The timing and manner in which I communicate with others.

The attitudes, definitions, and beliefs that I allow to define me and my relationships.

My own emotions to a great extent. By being willing to change my relationship with my own emotions by changing my intellectual paradigm and becoming willing to face the terror of owning my grief - doing the grief and anger release work that took power away from my old wounds - I have a much greater deal of control over how and when I express myself emotionally. I also gain the ability to let go much more quickly of any expectations or perspectives that are increasing the intensity of my emotional reactions - therefore decreasing the power and magnitude of the emotional energy generated by day to day life events. Owning my power to change my attitudes towards the things which I cannot change (other people and life, being human and having feelings) gives me a degree of healthy control over how I respond emotionally. Our life experience will always include waves that rock our boat. Learning to accept, respond to, and go with the flow of the waves works to help us have more peace and Joy in our lives. Taking the waves personally and reacting out of fear and shame is dysfunctional if our desire is to enjoy life.

I have the choice to align my willpower with recovery so that I can take actions that are aligned with healing and recovery instead of engaging in behavior that empowers the disease. Recovery is a process of learning to take care of ourselves in Loving, healthy ways - of being our own best friend and ally - instead of being allied with, and giving power to, the self destructive reactions of the disease.

The people that I choose to spend time with. That includes family members. I have a choice about rather I have contact with my family of origin. If we don't own we have a choice then we will feel like a victim of what we think we "have to" do. So, if I choose to spend time with my family (or anyone) knowing they are unhealthy, then I am responsible for the feelings I experience in our interactions - they are not doing something to me. In recovery I have choices - and choices have consequences. It is not a right / wrong, blame / mistake thing - it is about owning my side of the street, my part of the responsibility for the consequences that are manifesting in my life, so that I do not buy into a victim perspective and slip back into the rut of blaming them or blaming me. If I am blaming, then I am not seeing reality clearly within the context of my Spiritual growth process. Consequences are the Universe's way of giving us feedback so that we can learn to make healthier choices. Consequences are messages from our Higher Power that guide us on our Journey home to Love.

I also have a responsibility to the people I choose to spend time with. I have a responsibility to communicate as clearly and honestly as possible. That does not just mean verbal or written communication. It also means the messages I am conveying by my actions. One of my old patterns was to have an emotional intimate friend who was a woman that I was not attracted to physically / romantically. I would be real clear in telling this person that I was not interested in that type of relationship and that I wanted to just be friends. Then I would feel betrayed when that person let me know that she wanted to be more than just friends. I used to fall back on the excuse that I had told them clearly and therefore I wasn't responsible for their feelings. I learned that setting a boundary verbally was not enough to absolve me of responsibility of my actions. I was not responsible for their feelings, but in investing time and energy into the relationship, in exposing myself to them emotionally / being intimate with them on an emotional level, I was denying a basic reality of human interaction and setting myself up to feel like a victim. (The belief that our intense emotional hunger and incredibly powerful sexual energies will not come into play in an emotionally intimate relationship between individuals of the opposite sex - or same sex if homosexual - is an insane expectation as unrealistic as expecting everyone to drive the way we want them to. Denial is one extreme - letting our desires rule is the other. The gray area in between is where life takes place, is the arena we are learning to play in.)

Most importantly, I have some control over, and therefore responsibility for, the quality of my life experiences today. The quality of my life experience is directly related to the kind of Spiritual belief system that I choose to empower. By choosing to believe in a Loving Higher Power / Universal Force, I have been able to change my relationship with myself and life into one that is not defined by shame and fear. By choosing to empower the belief that everything happens for a reason in alignment with a Loving Divine plan, that there are no accidents, coincidences, or mistakes, I have accessed the ability to be more Loving to my self. To - some of the time - be accepting and patient and compassionate towards my human self. By choosing to have the faith to believe that there is a Loving meaning and purpose to life - despite all the seeming evidence to the contrary - I have dramatically changed the quality of my life experience from a hell to be endured to one that includes a great deal of Joy.

"One of the ironies of this whole business is something that physicists have learned from quantum physics. They have learned that the physical world is made up of energy fields that are temporary manifestations of energy interactions. All of the energy fields of the physical world are temporary. Some last for fractions of a second, some last for billions of years - but they are all temporary illusions.

This means that the Truest reality in the physical world is in the interaction. It is in our interactions that we can access Truth and Joy and Love. In other words it is in our relationships.

The most real thing here, the place where the highest Truth exists, is in the interactions: in our relationships. Our relationship with ourselves is a reflection of our relationship with our Creator, with the Great Spirit. And our relationship with ourselves is reflected out into our relationship with everyone and everything in our environment.

Spirituality is about relationships. God exists in the quality of our relationships.

When I look at a beautiful sunset - I am a temporary illusion and the sunset is also a temporary illusion - the most real, God-like quality is the energy of Beauty and Joy that I allow myself to access by being open and willing to experience the sunset. If I am caught up in one of my ego's "trauma dramas," then I will not be conscious of the sunset or open to experiencing the Joy and Beauty of the moment.

A very important part of this healing process is taking time to smell the flowers. Our job is to be here in the now and to do this healing.

I spent most of my life trying to become - perfect, loved, accepted, respected, etc., etc. It did not work because I was looking outside for something that can only be found within.

Now I know that I am not in control of this process and that what I am becoming is in the hands of a Loving (although somewhat slow-working) Great Spirit. I do not have to worry anymore about becoming - all I have to do is be. I just have to suit up and show up for life today and do what is in front of me. And everything will work out better than I could ever have planned it."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Of course, we only have choices once we become aware that we have choices, and we can only start responding to life instead of reacting by being in recovery and doing the emotional healing. Our growth process evolves over time, and as we reach new levels we become empowered to have more choices. These are areas that we are learning to take responsibility for - not right and wrong standards to judge ourselves by. The disease will always take any new awareness on our part and try to turn it into something we can judge and shame ourselves for - it is important to own that we are in process making progress and to defend ourselves from the critical parent voice.

"It is necessary and healthy to take responsibility for our choices, to accept our consequences, and to try to make healthy decisions on a human level. Integration and balance involves a process of learning to accept healthy responsibility on a human level at the same time that we know we are being guided by a Loving Spiritual Force."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility Part 5

Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility part 3
Setting Personal Boundaries - Protecting Self

Earlier in this series I mentioned that I would be focusing on three primary areas in relationship to learning to have a healthier relationship with self and others: boundaries, emotional honesty, and emotional responsibility. The three areas are intimately interrelated, and because I do not feel I can talk about one area without also discussing the others, I may have gotten the cart before the horse in a sense in this series. I started the series in the first two articles focusing more on emotional honesty and responsibility - and learning to have internal boundaries with ourselves in terms of seeing the process of life more realistically (what we need to accept, and what we can change) - and starting to take responsibility for our behaviors and emotions.

The reason I started there, is because changing our relationship with ourselves and life is vital in order to make any long term changes in our relationships with others. It is vital to learn to respect and honor our selves, so that we can awaken to the need to have boundaries that let other people know that we deserve and demand respect.

What is so powerful and effective about the inner child healing process, as I have learned to apply it, is that it changes our core relationship with ourselves. Once we start having a more Loving relationship with ourselves, everything changes. We start to naturally and normally: set boundaries with others; speak our Truth; own our right to be alive and be treated with respect and dignity.

To start by learning how to set boundaries and assert ourselves, without changing the core relationship with ourselves, will ultimately not work in the relationships we care most about. It is relatively easy to start setting boundaries in relationships that don't mean much to us - it is in the relationships that mean the most to us that it is so difficult. That is because, it is those relationships - family, romantic, etc. - that our inner child wounds are the most powerful. The little child within us does not feel worthy, feels defective and shameful, and is terrified of setting boundaries for fear everyone will leave. The other extreme of this phenomena is those of us who throw up huge walls to try to keep people from getting too close - and sabotage any relationship that starts getting too intimate - to try to protect the wounded child within from being hurt.

With boundaries, as in every area of the healing process, change starts with awareness. I had to hear about boundaries, and start learning the concept before I could even realize that I didn't have any. I had to start getting some glimmer of an idea of what boundaries are, and how to set them, in order to understand how hard they were for me - and how absolutely vital to learning to Love myself.

So, in this third article of this series on emotional honesty and emotional responsibility I am going to be focusing on setting personal boundaries with other people. I am going to attempt to keep the focus on a very basic level for those readers who are new to the concept of boundaries.

Personal Boundaries

"Boundaries define limits, mark off dividing lines. The purpose of a boundary is to make clear separations between different turf, different territory. . . .

In relationship to recovery and the growth process, I am going to be talking about two primary types of boundaries. Natural boundaries that are part of the way life works - that are aligned with the reality of the rules that govern human dynamics - and personal boundaries." - Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility Part 2

"The process of Recovery teaches us how to take down the walls and protect ourselves in healthy ways - by learning what healthy boundaries are, how to set them, and how to defend them. It teaches us to be discerning in our choices, to ask for what we need, and to be assertive and Loving in meeting our own needs. (Of course many of us have to first get used to the revolutionary idea that it is all right for us to have needs.)"

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. A first step is starting to know that we have a right to protect and defend ourselves. That we have not only the right, but the duty, to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us.

We need to start becoming aware of what healthy behavior and acceptable interaction dynamics look like before we can start practicing them ourselves - and demanding the proper treatment from others. We need to start learning how to be emotionally honest with ourselves, how to start owing our feelings, and how to communicate in a direct and honest manner. Setting personal boundaries is vital part of healthy relationships - which are not possible without communication.

The first thing that we need to learn to do is communicate without blaming. That means, stop saying things like: you make me so angry; you hurt me; you make me crazy; how could you do that to me after all I have done for you; etc. These are the very types of messages we got in childhood that has so warped our perspective on our own emotional process.

I grew up believing that I had the power to make my father angry and to break my mother's heart. I thought that I was supposed to be perfect, and that if I was not, I was causing the people I loved great pain. I grew up believing that something was wrong with me because I was human. I grew up believing that I had power over other peoples feelings - and they had power over mine.

In my codependence I learned to be enmeshed with other people - to not have healthy boundaries that told me who "I" was, and that I was a separate person from them. I had to become hyper-vigilant in childhood. I learned to focus on trying to interpret what my parents and other authority figures were feeling in order to try to protect myself. As an adult, I unconsciously tried to manipulate people - by trying to be what they wanted me to be if I wanted them to like me, or trying to be either intimidating or invisible if that seemed the safest course. I had no real concept of being responsible for my own feelings because I had learned that other people were responsible for my feelings - and vice versa. I had to learn to start defining myself emotionally as separate from other people in order to start learning who I was.

I was not able to start seeing myself as separate in a healthy way (I had always felt that I was separate in an unhealthy way - shameful and unworthy) until I started to see that I had been powerless over the behavior patterns I learned in childhood. Since my behavior patterns, my behavioral and emotional defense systems, had developed in reaction to the feeling that there was something wrong with me, I had to learn to start taking power away from the toxic shame that is at the core of this disease. Toxic shame involves thinking that there is something wrong with who we are. Guilt - in my definition - involves behavior, while shame is about our being. Guilt is: I did something wrong; I made a mistake. Shame is: I am a mistake; something is wrong with me.

"On an emotional level the dance of Recovery is owning and honoring the emotional wounds so that we can release the grief energy - the pain, rage, terror, and shame that is driving us.

That shame is toxic and is not ours - it never was! We did nothing to be ashamed of - we were just little kids. Just as our parents were little kids when they were wounded and shamed, and their parents before them, etc., etc. This is shame about being human that has been passed down from generation to generation.

There is no blame here, there are no bad guys, only wounded souls and broken hearts and scrambled minds."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

In order to stop giving the toxic shame so much power, I had to learn to detach from my own reactive process enough to start being able to see a boundary between being and behavior. I had to stop judging myself and other people based on behavior. I started to learn how to observe behavior without making judgments about myself and others. There is a huge difference between judgment in my definition and observation. It is vital for me to observe other people's behavior in order to protect myself. That does not mean I need to make a value judgment about their being based upon their behavior.

Judgment is saying, "that person is a jerk." Observation is saying, "that person seems to be really full of anger and it would be better for me to not be involved with them."

"[When I use the term "judge," I am talking about making judgments about our own or other people's being based on behavior. In other words, I did something bad therefore I am a bad person; I made a mistake therefore I am a mistake. That is what toxic shame is all about: feeling that something is wrong with our being, that we are somehow defective because we have human drives, human weaknesses, human imperfections.

There may be behavior in which we have engaged that we feel ashamed of but that does not make us shameful beings We may need to make judgments about whether our behavior is healthy and appropriate but that does not mean that we have to judge our essential self, our being, because of the behavior. Our behavior has been dictated by our disease, by our childhood wounds; it does not mean that we are bad or defective as beings. It means that we are human, it means that we are wounded.

It is important to start setting a boundary between being and behavior. All humans have equal Divine value as beings - no matter what our behavior. Our behavior is learned (and/or reactive to physical or physiological conditions). Behavior, and the attitudes that dictate behavior, are adopted defenses designed to allow us to survive in the Spiritually hostile, emotionally repressive, dysfunctional environments into which we were born.]"

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Formula for emotionally honest communication

So, it is very important for us to learn to communicate about how another person's behavior is affecting us - without making blaming "you" type of statements. There is a simple formula to help us do this. It is:

When you . . . . .

I feel . . . . .

I want . . . .

Since I am powerless over you, I will take this action to protect myself if you behave in this way.

The fourth part of this formula is setting the boundary. I will get to that in a moment. The first three parts of the formula are a very important part of taking responsibility for our self - an important step in learning to define ourselves as separate in a healthy way.

When you . . . . .

The "When you . . ." statement is a description of behavior. It is very important actually describe the behavior. To say to another person: when you get angry; when you shame me; or such statements - is too general, not specific enough. These types of general statements do not really describe the behavior - they are our interpretations of the behavior. A major facet of codependence is assuming, interpreting, mind reading, and fortune telling - due to our childhood conditioning. We think we know the intentions and motives of others. We assume that they are conscious of their behavior and will know what we are talking about.

It is vital to realize that we do not know how to communicate in a direct and honest manner. We need to stop interpreting and start communicating. It is important to describe the behavior rather than our interpretation and assumptions about what the behavior means.

"When your face gets red and your voice gets louder and your hands clench into fists" - is specific and descriptive. It does not assume - rather it describes the behavior that appears to us to indicate anger.

"When you look at me with a frown on your face and your eye brows slightly raised and give a loud sigh" - is a description of behavior that causes us to react with guilt and shame. Usually the other people have no idea of what their behavior looks like. Our parents tried to control our behavior with fear, guilt, and shame because that is how their parents tried to control their behavior in childhood. We react in the ways we do because of the emotional buttons, the triggers, that our parents behavior toward us installed in our programming.

Usually, when we first confront such behavior in a healthy way, the other people will profess innocence and ignorance of what we are talking about. But, by describing the behavior, we will be planting seeds of consciousness in them that may eventually cause them to get more conscious of the sound of their own voice, or their sighs. Describing behavior is an important step towards making it possible for the other people to get past their toxic shame so that they can start seeing a boundary between being and behavior.

We of course, are powerless over them - over whether they get it, understand what we are doing. But in learning to communicate in a healthy way, without blame and shame, we are maximizing the possibility of communication.

I feel . . . . .

This is the part of the formula where we start learning to express our emotions in a healthy and honest way. This is a vital part of the process of owning our emotions. Anyone who is fairly new to this process, and isn't sure what I mean by owning the feelings, would probably benefit from reading these two short articles about emotions and emotional defenses: The Journey to the Emotional Frontier Within and Further Journeys to the Emotional Frontier Within.

It is best to use primary feeling words (described in the articles above) when expressing the "I feel . . . ." part of this formula - but it is also OK to use words that describe the messages we feel are inherent in their behaviors.

When your voice gets louder and your face gets red and you clench your fists,

I feel scared, intimidated, unsafe. I feel like you are going to hit me.

When I try to talk to you while you are watching television and I have to say your name 3 or 4 times before you respond,

I feel angry, hurt, discounted, unimportant, insignificant, invisible, like I am being punished. It feels like you do not want to communicate with me.

It is important to state our feelings out loud, and to precede the feeling with "I feel." (When we say "I am angry, I'm hurt, etc." we are stating that the feeling is who we are. Emotions do not define us, they are a form of internal communication that help us to understand ourselves. They are a vital part of our being - as a component of the whole.) This is owning the feeling. It is important to do for ourselves. By stating the feeling out loud we are affirming that we have a right to feelings. We are affirming it to ourselves - and taking responsibility for owning ourselves and our reality. Rather the other person can hear us and understand is not as important as hearing ourselves and understanding that we have a right to our feelings. It is vitally important to own our own voice. To own our right to speak up for ourselves.

As we get farther along in the process, and start to get more aware of our inner child wounds, we can start being more discerning in our communications techniques. For instance, if one was hit as a child, then a raised voice is a trigger to the child's fear of being hit. For the little child it was life threatening when a giant adult raged. In your adult relationship, you may feel very confident that your significant other (or boss or whatever) would not hit you - but when we are triggered, we react out of the emotional wounds of the child, out of the child's emotional reality.

So then you might say something like:

When your voice gets louder and your face gets red and you clench your fists . . .

I feel scared and hurt. I react out of the 5 year old in me who got hit when my father raged. I react to a loud voice by feeling like I am going to be hit.

(Often someone that comes from a loud expressive family will get involved with someone that comes from an very emotionally repressive family. Then the first person will not think anything of being loud - while the second will be very upset by loudness. The only way to work through the programming from our childhood is to be able to communicate with each other so that we can start becoming conscious of our behaviors and how they affect others.)

I want . . . .

I want is pretty self explanatory. But again it is important not to be too general. Saying something like: "I want to know I am important to you. I want to know you love me." is not specific enough. Describe the kind of behaviors that would give you the message that you want from the other person.

"I want you to answer me when I talk to you. I want you to tell me you love me - and show me with funny little gifts and cards and making plans on your own for a special date for just the two of us. I want you to ask me how my day went and really listen to my answer." etc.

Setting Boundaries

The purpose of setting boundaries is to take care of our self. Being forced to learn how to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to own our self, of learning to respect ourselves, of learning to love ourselves. If we never have to set a boundary, then we will never get in touch with who we really are - will never escape the enmeshment of codependence and learn to define ourselves as separate in a healthy way.

When I first encountered the concept of boundaries, I thought of them as lines that I would draw in the sand - and if you stepped across them I would shoot you (figuratively speaking.) (I had this image of some place like the Alamo - from a movie I guess - where a sword was used to draw a line in the sand, and then those that were going to stay and fight to the death stepped across it.) I thought that boundaries had to be rigid and final and somehow kind of fatal.

Some boundaries are rigid - and need to be. Boundaries such as: "It is not OK to hit me, ever." "It is not acceptable to call me certain names." "It is not acceptable to cheat on me."

No one deserves to be treated abusively. No one deserves to be lied to and betrayed.

We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. If we do not respect ourselves, if we do not start awakening to our right to be treated with respect and dignity (and our responsibility in creating that in our lives) - then we will be more comfortable being involved with people who abuse us then with people who treat us in loving ways. Often if we do not respect ourselves, we will end up exhibiting abusive behavior towards people who do not abuse us. On some level in our codependence, we are more comfortable with being abused (because it is what we have always known) than being treated in a loving way.

Learning to set boundaries is vital to learning to love our self, and to communicating to other's that we have worth.

There are basically three parts to a boundary. The first two are setting the boundary - the third is what we will do to defend that boundary.

If you - a description of the behavior we find unacceptable (again being as descriptive as possible.)

I will - a description of what action you will take to protect and take care of your self in the event the other person violates the boundary.

If you continue this behavior - a description of what steps you will take to protect the boundary that you have set.

One very drastic example (in the case of someone who is just learning about boundaries and has been physically abused in the past) would be:

If you ever hit me, I will call the police and press charges - and I will leave this relationship. If you continue to threaten me, I will get a restraining order and prepare to defend myself in whatever manner is necessary.

It is not always necessary or appropriate to share the third part of this formula with the other person when setting a boundary - the first two steps are the actual setting of the boundary. The third part is something we need to know for ourselves, so that we know what action we can take if the other person violates the boundary. If we set a boundary and expect the other person to abide by it automatically - then we are setting ourselves up to be a victim of our expectation.

It is not enough to set boundaries - it is necessary to be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them. We need to be willing to go to any length, do whatever it takes to protect ourselves. This is something that really upset me when I first started learning how to set boundaries. It took great courage for me to build myself up to a point where I was willing to set a boundary. I thought that the huge thing I had done to set a boundary should be enough. Then to see that some people just ignored the boundaries I had set, seemed terribly unfair to me.


It is very important to set consequences that we are willing to enforce. If you are setting boundaries in a relationship, and you are not yet at a point where you are ready to leave the relationship - then don't say that you will leave. You can say that you will start considering all of your options including leaving - but do not state that you will do something that you are not ready yet to do. To set boundaries and not enforce them just gives the other person an excuse to continue in the same old behavior.

If you verbally abuse me by calling me names like stupid or jerk, I will confront you about your behavior and share my feelings.

If you continue that behavior I will leave the room/house/ask you to leave.

If you keep repeating this behavior I will start considering all of my options, including leaving this relationship.

~ If you break your plans with me by not showing up or by calling me at the last minute to tell me that you had something else come up, I will confront your behavior and share my feelings.

If you repeat that behavior, I will consider it to mean that you do not value or deserve my friendship - and I will have no contact with you for a month.

Since behavior patterns are quite ingrained in all of us, it is important to allow the other person some wiggle room to make a change in behavior - unless the behavior is really intolerable. To go from one extreme to the other is a reaction to a reaction - and is codependent. There are choices in between which are sometimes hard for us to see if we are reacting. To go from tolerating verbally abusive behavior to leaving a relationship in one step is swinging between extremes. It is helpful to set boundaries that allow for some gradual change.

When I ask you what is wrong and you say "Never mind," and then slam cabinet doors and rattle pots and pans and generally seem to be silently raging about something,

I feel angry, frustrated, irritated, hopeless, as if you are unwilling to communicate with me, as if I am supposed to read your mind.

I want you to communicate with me and help me to understand if I have done something that upsets you.

If something is bothering you and you will not tell me what it is, I will confront you about your behavior and share my feelings.

If you continue that behavior, I will confront your behavior, share my feelings, and insist that we go to counseling together.

If you keep repeating this behavior I will start considering all of my options, including leaving this relationship.

The consequences we set down for behavior we find unacceptable should be realistic - in that, the change that we are asking for is something that is within the others power (rather they are willing to take that responsibility is another thing altogether) - and enforceable, something that we are willing to do.

It is also important to set consequences that impact the other person more than us. Often when people are first learning how to set boundaries, they do not think it through far enough. They set boundaries that impact themselves as much or more than the other person. For example, a single parent with a teenager who needs to set consequences for coming home late, or bad grades, or whatever, may be tempted to say something like "If you miss your curfew again, you will be grounded for a month." The reality of grounding a teenager for a month is that it often means the parent is also grounded for a month. If taking away driving privileges means then you will have to drive them to school - maybe you want to choose some other consequence.


Setting a boundary is not making a threat - it is communicating clearly what the consequences will be if the other person continues to treat us in an unacceptable manner. It is a consequence of the other persons behavior.

Setting a boundary is not an attempt to control the other person (although some of the people who you set boundaries with will certainly accuse you of that - just as some will interpret it as a threat) - it is a part of the process of defining ourselves and what is acceptable to us. It is a major step in taking what control we can of how we allow others to treat us. It is a vital step in taking responsibility for our self and our life.

Setting boundaries is not a more sophisticated way of manipulation - although some people will say they are setting boundaries, when in fact they are attempting to manipulate. The difference between setting a boundary in a healthy way and manipulating is: when we set a boundary we let go of the outcome.

We want the other person to change their behavior. We hope they will. But we need to own all of our choices in order to empower ourselves to take responsibility for our lives and stop setting ourselves up to be a victim. One of our choices is to remove ourselves from relationship with the person. We can leave a marriage. We can end a friendship. We can leave a job. We do not have to have any contact with our family of origin. It is vitally important to own all of our choices.

If we do not own that we have a choice to leave an abusive relationship - then we are not making a choice to stay in the relationship. Any time we do not own our choices, we are empowering victimization. We will then blame the other person, and/or blame ourselves. It is a vital part of the process of learning to love ourselves, and taking responsibility for being a co-creator in our life, to own all of our choices.

It is essential to own that we have choices in order to escape the codependent suffering victim martyr role - or the other extreme, which is being abusive in order to try to make others do it "right" (that is, do what we want them to.) Both, the people who appear to be victims and the people that appear to be abusers, are coming from a victim place in terms of blaming others for their behavior. "I wouldn't have to hit you if you didn't talk to me that way" is a victim statement. Both victim and perpetrator are coming from a victim perspective, blaming their behaviors on others - or on themselves, "I can't help it, that is just how I am."

"When we look outside for self-definition and self-worth, we are giving power away and setting ourselves up to be victims. We are trained to be victims. We are taught to give our power away.

As just one small example of how pervasively we are trained to be victims, consider how often you have said, or heard someone say, "I have to go to work tomorrow." When we say "I have to" we are making a victim statement. To say, "I have to get up, and I have to go to work," is a lie. No one forces an adult to get up and go to work. The Truth is "I choose to get up and I choose to go to work today, because I choose to not have the consequences of not working." To say, "I choose," is not only the Truth, it is empowering and acknowledges an act of self-Love. When we "have to" do something we feel like a victim. And because we feel victimized, we will then be angry, and want to punish, whomever we see as forcing us to do something we do not want to do such as our family, or our boss, or society."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

"And we always have a choice. If someone sticks a gun in my face and says, "Your money or your life!" I have a choice. I may not like my choice but I have one. In life we often don't like our choices because we don't know what the outcome is going to be and we are terrified of doing it 'wrong.'

Even with life events that occur in a way that we seemingly don't have a choice over (being laid off work, the car breaking down, a flood, etc.) we still have a choice over how we respond to those events. We can choose to see things that feel like, and seem to be, tragic as opportunities for growth. We can choose to focus on the half of the glass that is full and be grateful for it or to focus on the half that is empty and be the victim of it. We have a choice about where we focus our minds.

In order to become empowered, to become the co-creator in our lives, and to stop giving power to the belief that we are the victim, it is absolutely necessary to own that we have choices. As in the quotation above: if we believe that we "have" to do something then we are buying into the belief that we are the victim and don't have the power to make choices. To say "I have to go to work" is a lie. "I have to go to work if I want to eat" may be the truth but then you are making a choice to eat. The more conscious we get about our choices, the more empowered we become.

We need to take the "have to"s out of our vocabulary. As long as we reacting to life unconsciously we do not have choices. In consciousness we always have a choice. We do not "have to" do anything.

Until we own that we have a choice, we haven't made one. In other words, if you do not believe that you have a choice to leave your job, or relationship, then you have not made a choice to stay in it. You can only Truly commit yourself to something if you are consciously choosing to do it. This includes the area that is probably the single hardest job in our society today, the area that it is almost impossible not to feel trapped in some of the time - being a single parent. A single parent has the choice of giving their children up for adoption, or abandoning them. That is a choice! If a single parent believes that he/she has no choice, then they will feel trapped and resentful and will end up taking it out on their children!" - Empowerment and Victimization - the power of choice

We always have a choice. The choices may seem to be awful - but in reality, allowing ourselves to buy into the illusion that we are trapped will have worse consequences in the long run. It may seem ridiculous to suggest that a parent can abandon or give a child up for adoption - but owning our choices no matter how outrageous is a step in owning responsibility for being co-creators in our life. If we are blaming and being the victim we will never be happy.

(And this is a good example of when sharing the 3rd part of this formula is not appropriate. It would be abusive to threaten a child with being put up for adoption. This is a choice that we need to own to escape feeling trapped in our relationship with ourselves - it is strictly an internal thing. With children it is vital to not project our own internal struggle onto the child - it doesn't have anything to do with the child, it is all about our relationship with self.)


We set a boundary to define our territory, to protect our space - physical, emotional, mental, sexual, spiritual, financial, etc. We set the boundary because it is what we need to do for our self, to protect and take care of our self. We set it knowing that the other person may not be able or willing to change their behavior - and that we are prepared to take whatever action we need to take if that proves to be the case. That action may include cutting that person out of our life completely.

I was scared of setting boundaries because the little boy in me was afraid of: hurting other people; having other people be angry at me; being abandoned; losing the relationship. Ultimately, it came down to: people will go away if I say no or set a boundary with them.

I had to become willing to take that risk. I had to decide that I had enough worth to stand up for myself even if people did go away. And some people did go away. Some people do still when I set a boundary. But I was also amazed to see that some of the people that I set a boundary with started to treat me with more respect. They were able to hear me and valued me enough to change their behavior.

By becoming willing to take the risk of setting boundaries, I got the wonderful gift of getting what I wanted - some of the time. I had to let go of the outcome and learn to accept the situation however it unfolded. I had to let go of a lot of people that I had considered friends. I came to the realization that the people I had been calling friends, were not really friends at all - because as long as I did not know how to be a friend to myself, I could not truly recognize friendship in others. As long as I was unconsciously reacting out of my old programming, the people I was attracted to were people who would abuse me, shame me, abandon and betray me.

I came to the realization that anyone who is a friend is someone I can communicate with - and be able to negotiate boundaries with. The vast majority of boundaries are in fact a negotiation rather than a rigid line in the sand. Adults need to negotiate boundaries between themselves. This is very true in romantic relationships - and is the standard for all relationships.

What we are striving for is healthy interdependent relationships. We want friends who are allies. With alliances it is necessary to negotiate boundaries. Here is what I am willing to do, and here is what I need from you. We want a romantic relationship with a partner who will share our journey with us. In order to make that possible it is necessary to communicate, share feelings, and negotiate agreements about behavior. By setting boundaries, we are communicating with another person. We are telling them who we are and what we need. It is much more effective to do that directly and honestly than to expect them to read our minds - and then punish them when they cannot.

Often it is little things that seem inconsequential that it is most important to set boundaries about. Irritating little habits or mannerism of another person. The irritating little things will grow into huge monsters unless we learn to communicate and negotiate. When we stuff our feelings we build up resentments. Resentments are victim feelings - the feeling that somebody is doing something to us. If we don't speak up and take the risk of sharing how we feel, we will end up blowing up and/or being passive aggressive - and damaging the relationship.

Learning to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to communicate in a direct and honest manner. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly, and honestly. Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to ourselves. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves - to protect ourselves when it is necessary. It is impossible to learn to be Loving to ourselves without owning our self - and owning our rights and responsibilities as co-creators of our lives.

Emotional Honesty and Emotional Responsibility Part 4