This letter started out as an essay from the perspective of someone who suffers with severe codependency issues. Someone who’s been targeted by a narcissist (aka co-narcissist) typically suffers with severe codependency issues. I want to acknowledge that up front so that you can easily recognize such a person – and thereby increase your ability to heal by turning toward the pain (yours or someone else’s) with validation and compassion.
Dear Friend or Therapist or Coach,
I’m sorry to let you down. I’m sorry my behavior is so confusing. I know you want the best for me. I know you see my strengths and that you truly want what’s best for me. Your advice is truly spot-on. And I feel terrible for not just being able to follow through. I’m just now learning where the mix-up has been in my brain, and I’m sharing this letter with you in the hopes that it will help me take responsibility for my part in maintaining the bridge between us, and that it will help you understand me better. You are important to me. Thank you for trying. Thank you for caring. I appreciate you.
I want to share my experience with you. It’s not meant to shift blame or make excuses. It’s meant to help me take responsibility. It’s meant to shed light on the story I’ve been living, deep inside, and how I came to be that way. My aim is to heal, and to live a normal, happy, joyful life.
In order to survive severe childhood trauma (which may have been physical or “only” emotional), I developed extreme and rigid rules to survive. It was like a warzone. No one could see just how painful the experience was for me, and that lack of compassion and validation caused me to hide very deep inside myself.
Hypervigilance – scanning the environment – became a way of life for me. I learned to view my most important relationships through tunnel vision. Drama became my companion, and I learned to cope by compulsively running away from my feelings. Contentment and relaxation were strangers to me; they still are. Solving problems and/ or running from them is an uncontrollably habitual experience in my inner world.
The 4F’s of dealing with trauma: fight, flight, freeze and fawn (people pleasing) are a normal way of life for me. Codependency is a combo of freezing and fawning. If I’m really frightened, I typically freeze. I go numb. I find myself unable to act on what I know is healthy and good and right for me, such as the advice that you so kindly offered. I’ll overwork, overeat, oversleep, overgive; self-care practices fly right out the window!
Here’s what’s tricky. I may look “normal” to you; you probably witness me doing things in the world that make me appear to be smart, courageous, and even brilliant. Without a problem. Without a hitch.
But here’s the hitch. It’s a rule I developed as a child: I can help others and be brilliant as long as I (my true self, my authentic power) stay hidden (under the radar, out of the spotlight); only then am I SAFE.
The MOMENT I begin to get evidence of my greatness in the actual world, or the MOMENT I begin to move toward leaving a bad relationship… that’s when the self-indoctrinated survival-based program kicks in. It looks like a monster and it sounds like a tyrant:
HIDE! RUN TO YOUR ROOM! GET UNDER THE TABLE! DO NOT – DO NOT – I SAY DO NOT – LET YOURSELF BE SEEN. HIDE! NOW!
All of a sudden, I’m FROZEN. To top it off, I also feel ashamed because I’m letting you down. I’m letting myself down. And I can’t seem to stop the insanity. I’m in the eye of a hurricane. I feel so alone. This experience – the heart of codependency – is like living inside of a cave that’s inside a cave. I can see out. But no one can see in. The loneliness can be excruciatingly painful, especially when shame mixes in.
By sharing this letter with you, I’m hoping to let you see what goes on inside of me. I’m learning about this dynamic, this relationship that I have with myself. One of the things that’s challenging is this: dismantling the tyrant directly (through affirmations or telling it to stop or calm down) only causes the storm to get bigger. I end up feeling more terrified and frozen. I am taking steps to learn to heal and dissolve this monstrous force and to take my rightful place in the world, but this takes time, energy, education and courage. It’s not an overnight job.
So, what I want to say is, thank you for your advice – but I’m (currently) terrified of my own power. So please be patient with me. Please hold space for me. Please continue to envision the best in me, and for me. See me feeling calm inside my mind and inside my heart. See me feeling strong and worthy and in my power in the world. And then, to the best of your ability, please meet me where I am. It will help greatly if you can make yourself comfortable with words like trauma, toxic shame, CPTSD/CPTSR, and grief. This healing process is a bit daunting, but I believe I’m worth it.
Thank you. And I love you,
ps. My compulsive need to deny my own neediness – doubles my pain – and I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s too lonely. This article, Hey, Your Neediness is Showing (the worst thing to say to someone with codependency issues) made me laugh and also shed light on this healing path.
pps. There is leading edge literature which you might be interested in studying: Pete Walker’s books The Tao of Fully Feeling and Complex PTSD; Richard Grannon’s course on Healing the Super Ego; Christine Louis de Canonville’s ebook When Shame Begets Shame. Foundational skills are available right here at Joy-Based Living in the 12 Practices e-book (which contains a journal and videos). I wish these were in everyone’s toolkit.