Even though I practiced yoga for over 15 years, had an Indian Guru, and meditated and breathed in silence for weeks at a time, it wasn’t until 2006, after a series of intensely confusing relationship dynamics and subsequent endings, that I discovered my tendency toward “codependent” behaviors and thought patterns. I honestly had no clue what was going awry in these intimate relationships, but I knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.
Over the years I had heard the term codependent, and thought like most people, that a codependent was basically a needy person. This is not exactly the case, although sometimes neediness is manifested when we get the “codependent crazies.” There is much more to discover about the codependent personality that is enlightening, juicy, and life altering. To really catch ourselves in our patterns, we must become keenly aware of our own subtle internal thought processes and feelings when relating to ourselves and others. This is the yoga of self-awareness. We use everything in life as material to wake ourselves up.
Understanding patterns of codependency gives us a framework for intra and inter personal dynamics that maybe we didn’t learn about in a yoga class or training. Understanding our patterns in yet another way, allows for growth and change.
As yogis and yoginis, isn’t awareness of self and other what we aim for in our practices?
Codependents have been known to give too much, too quickly. And as yoga teachers we are giving all the time. By discovering my own codependent patterns over the last 6 years, and by observing thousands of yoga teachers and students, I notice that most women and most yoga teachers have the tendency toward codependent thought and behavior patterns.
What is Codependency?
There are many books and web sites that discuss the traits and habits of a codependent type personality. I am not going to reinvent the wheel here, but I will provide a general list of traits. I encourage you to read some books by Melodie Beattie. The book, “The Seven Jewels of Codependency” by Robert F. Willard and Michael Gibertini, is a great tool for reframing our behaviors in a more positive light.
Codependent, or codependency, is a psychological term denoting a set of recurring thought and behavior patterns exhibited by an individual. These tendencies are said to have originated from experiences in a dysfunctional family system where one or more members had a mental illness, exhibited compulsive behaviors, or abused substances such as drugs or alcohol. These family members may have consciously or unconsciously inflicted physical, emotional, or mental abuse.
Typical patterns of codependency include: over-giving, low or exaggerated self-esteem, challenges maintaining intimate relationships, difficulty in properly caring for one’s own needs, difficulty setting physical or emotional boundaries, excessive care-giving, external focus on approval and self-worth, people pleasing, attempting to exert control over the thoughts, feelings, or actions of others, hyper-vigilance, excessive worry how others may respond to one’s feelings, undue fear of being hurt and/or rejected by others, and perfectionism.
Now I am going to tell you about some of our good qualities. And we get even better once we become aware.
We have a natural intuition that keeps us safe from danger because we can sense when situations are getting weird and vibes are getting sticky. We are fairly psychic and empathic. We are good people. We are devoted friends and are ready to lend a hand or ear when someone needs us. We sincerely care about people, animals, and the environment. We give nice gifts and remember birthdays. We listen well (when we are not obsessing about others, or “spewing our stories”). We have great parties, we’re great hosts, and we draw people together.
We are honest. We make fantastic employees because we work extra hours, do more than is expected of us, and are great team players. As partners, we are very attentive and give lots of compliments. We usually find ourselves in the healing or helping professions, and we actually do help a lot of people.
Codependents have been known to give too much, too quickly. And as yoga teachers we give so much of ourselves, which is a good thing! WE JUST TEND TO OVERDO IT! From my own experience and from watching other codependents in action, I must agree. We are loving people. This is good. We forget to listen to our intuition and body signals.
Sometimes the window of our heart is wide open, and the breeze is flowing in. Sometimes the window is closed shut, and it feels hot and stifling. Sometimes you leap out the window, and sometimes you feel stuck inside the house. I invite you…
1. To notice when you open up to people in a way that feels healthy to you.
2. To notice when you open up in a way that feels unsafe to you.
3. To notice when you close off to people in a way that feels like “healthy protection” to you.
4. To notice when you close off in a way that feels like “shutting down” to you.
When you recall times when your heart was open, and times when it shut down, I encourage you to leave out the mental judgment about these memories as being either right or wrong.
Examining your own patterns with others and life situations will provide you with juicy information to use in your self-discovery process.
Give yourself permission to choose how much you give, when you give, and to whom. Sometimes we need to speak our truth more. Sometimes we need to censor ourselves.
The Sponge Club: An Example of the Codependent Crazies in Action
My codependent yogis and friends and I belong to a club. I invented it, and I call it, “The Sponge Club.” We have a blog, a mascot, and a secret handshake.
We have many things in common. And we love to talk about these things that we have in common! We notice that we think differently from others and each other in distinct and sometimes peculiar ways. So, let me tell you about how I perceive us when we are in the grips of codependency conduct. Please remember as I stated earlier in this article that we have many outstanding qualities, too.
First of all, we notice that we are sensitive to criticism and people’s “energy.” If we can take something personally, we will. We crave acknowledgment and praise from our families and strangers as well. If we don’t get it the way we want it, we can get angry, depressed, and start to turn that anger back onto ourselves. We even speak harshly about those who won’t give us the strokes we want. At times there is suffering, angst and pain in our faces and words.
The world seems to stick to us like flies to glue paper. We can just be taking a simple stroll down the street, or we can be in our cars, and if we are in one of our codependent moods, suddenly we may feel rejected because cashier so-n-so wasn’t nice to us, or Mr. Toll taker gave us a dirty look. We return home with longer faces than we had when we started out on our walk because now we start the internal mental attack. We begin thinking about what it is about us that turn people off, or what we could have done to receive such reactions. Sometimes we feel like we don’t belong anywhere in this world, and everyone is rejecting us. We think that maybe if we were prettier, friendlier, or happier people would treat us better. In some cases, that may actually be true, because we are walking around wearing our dark energy with a funky face. We haven’t learned the delicate skill of separating our self from others. We didn’t have good role models.
Everything feels like our fault! Our boundaries are weak and thin. When we stick up for ourselves we may feel even worse. We absorb problems that aren’t ours to begin with. We want to understand life so badly so that we can help others, but the truth is we have no idea what trouble we are in and how to help ourselves.
We can drown in our own self-pity and tell our stories to others to alleviate some tension, but the next time we go for a walk, we feel rejected again. The patterns keep repeating themselves, until, of course, we become aware of them.
Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit. Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you may be a member of the sponge club, and not even know it yet. Yes, I agree that after reading these initial paragraphs there may not appear to be many benefits to belonging to the sponge club, but becoming aware is the first step to change of any kind.
Stephanie Pappas, E.R.Y.T. 500, has been practicing and teaching yoga and meditation since 1992. She has been training yoga teachers since 1999 through her Devalila Yoga Teacher Training program. Her book for yoga teachers, Yoga Posture Adjustments and Assisting, published in 2006 was just released in Spanish. Her newest book, Yoga at Your Wall, published in 2009, is for all levels of practitioners. All of her books are available on amazon.com. She is currently working on her latest book project, Reflections of a Codependent Yogi. Visit her blog here.
This article was prepared by Sheri McCord.
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