Facing Codependency: The Big Kahuna

I thought being a friend meant always being there when they needed you.

I thought being a “good wife” meant never saying “no” when my husband wanted to have sex.

I struggle to say “no,” even when it is obvious that I don’t want to do it…I still end up, somehow, saying “yes.”

If I’m honest, I routinely blame others for my own emotions, especially….when I’m angry. I don’t like to take ownership of that.

Any of these sound familiar? All of these are real life examples of people who struggle with…boundaries.

In Facing Codependency, Pia Mellody explains 2 types of boundaries: internal and external.

The internal boundary refers to our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It keeps them sane…functional, even. When a well developed–healthy–internal boundary is in place, we are able to take ownership of what is ours and what is not ours. In other words, we’re able to “own” what we’re thinking, how we’re behaving and why we’re feeling a particular way. It is ours.

An external boundary is viewed in 2 ways: physical and sexual. The first refers to how close you allow others to get into your physical space and whether you will allow them to touch you and/or your property. The sexual piece refers to how, when, where and why you will be sexual with someone. Having a healthy external boundary let’s other people know where you are in space and where they stand with you.

Boundaries are like fences. You are the house. You decide what your fence looks like, who is allowed in, when they can come over. Once inside the fence, you also have control over who can come into your home (internal boundary). Boundaries are extremely helpful and required in healthy, loving, intimate relationships. They protect you. They protect others. They give you a sense of “who you are,” where you end and where you begin.

Boundaries, in relationships, are one of the most loving things you can set up from the get-go.

Mellody provides a helpful distinction on the 4 different types of boundaries that codependents often embody:

  1. No Boundaries: Someone with this type of boundary cannot say “no” in situations. They are not protected thus often being abused and taken advantage of physically, sexually, emotionally, intellectually. “A codependent with no boundaries not only lacks protection but has no ability to recognize another person’s right to have boundaries with the codependent. Therefore, a codependent with nonexistent boundaries moves through other people’s boundaries unaware that he or she is doing something inappropriate” P. Mellody (p. 15).

2. Damaged Boundaries: Has “holes” in it. It is inconsistent. Confusing. Chaotic, even. This person can set boundaries and say “no” to some people but cannot with others. For instance, you can say “no” and take care of your own needs with everyone BUT your husband, your kids, or a caregiver. With this type of boundary being inconsistent, this person is only partially aware of other’s boundaries. They cannot fully see someone else’s fence. Perhaps they can with certain people, again, but not with others. “Damaged boundaries could cause a person to take responsibility for someone else’s feelings, thinking, or behavior, such as when a wife feels shame and guilt because her husband insulted someone at a party” (P. Mellody, p. 16).

3. Walls Instead of Boundaries: “substitutes for an intact boundary and is most often made up of either anger or fear” (Mellody, p. 16). Have you ever felt stone-walled by someone or bulldozed? They likely have a massive wall up instead of healthy boundaries. Someone who embodies a wall of anger gives off the VERY clear message, “if you get near me or bring THAT up, I’m going to explode.” The same thing with fear, they often retreat, stay small and isolated so they can be “safe.” The wall of silence and the wall of words are very common ways of connecting with others, as well. The first is exactly what you would imagine, someone who is a wallflower, they choose to sit back and watch rather than participate. The person who uses the wall of words most often runs all over people and doesn’t let others talk or engage. All 4 of these walls, though, are a front to stay hidden, mysterious and unknowable and thus untouchable…If you can’t get to me then you can’t hurt me.

4. Moving Back and Forth from Walls to No Boundaries: This can happen a lot, initially, when an individual risks being vulnerable with someone else. They often retreat back to the walls, though, because they feel defenseless, naked, exposed and too vulnerable. For this person, living with no boundaries is unacceptable. The risk of exposure is too great. “The sad thing about walls,” according to Mellody, “is that although they give solid protection, they do not allow for intimacy and leave the codependent even more isolated and lonely” (Mellody, p. 18). This isn’t too suggest that walls are always bad, no, in fact, they can be very good and helpful for someone who is being abused. However, when they are the only means by which you connect with others…then it becomes dysfunctional and unhelpful.

Do you see yourself in any of these boundary strategies? Whether you believe it or not, you engage others in a specific way with a specific set of boundaries.

Dig in. Invest. You’ll be able to give so much more of yourself in healthy, intimate, loving relationships if you get under a microscope and figure out what is keeping you small, isolated and hidden.

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Olivia specializes in restoring relationships and helping people identify what is keeping them from living in the full expression of who they were created to be. Check out her website to get to know her a bit better and how counseling could be the key to unlock all that is keeping you small, insignificant and disconnected from yourself and others.

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