Individual and family counselor Marcia Ertola (MSEd, LCMHC) recently answered the following inquiry:
What helps you in your role as a counselor at the Family Foundation School not becoming codependent with students?
Codependents Anonymous! There are many things that help me with this issue but first and foremost it has been working the 12 Steps of Codependents Anonymous (Coda). Coda has helped me to see that neither caretaking nor controlling was helpful to the students, staff, or families that I work with.
Here are some examples of control and caretaking patterns:
- I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
- I keep score of good deeds and favors becoming very hurt when they are not repaid.
- I am always offering others advice and directions and do little listening.
- I attempt to convince others of how they “truly” think and “should” feel.
- I am afraid of my anger yet sometimes erupt into a rage.
- I cannot tolerate seeing others in pain.
- I assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors.
- I feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors.
- I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel and sometimes don’t even know what I feel.
- I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
Here are some differences between codependency and recovery:
- In codependency, your struggle affects my serenity;
In recovery, your struggle matters because I care about you but it does not control how I feel about myself.
- In codependency, I’m afraid of your anger – it determines what I say or do; In recovery, I have no control over your anger and it has no control over me.
- In codependency, I use giving as a way of feeling safe in our relationship;
In recovery, I can still give because pleasing you pleases me, but I want to receive as well. And that two way connection has nothing to do with safety or fear.
- In codependency, the quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours;
In recovery, the quality of our lives is separate with clear boundaries separating the two.
I think we all feel powerless at times in helping others. The ensuing emotions from that sense of powerlessness can cause much inner turmoil. When we are in that place of pain and confusion it is a step one experience. In step two, I learned that there is a power greater than myself that can bring me to place of serenity despite what is occurring or not occurring with the person I am trying to help. That higher power takes a myriad of forms for different people. I choose to define that power as God, Truth, or an energy that when I am aligned with (Good, Orderly, Direction) it helps in ways that I could not even have imagined. In order to reap the benefits, it is essential to turn my will over which is probably the most difficult step for most of us.
The 12 Steps have been a life saving event but they are not always easy to work. The most difficult step for me is usually Step 3 – turning my will over and trusting the process. All of the various 12 Step programs teach you to check your thinking. Here at the Family School, I check my thinking with family leaders, other staff in the family, students’ sponsors, my supervisor, and with the members in our team meetings. The 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions have taught me to place principles over personalities and to adhere to group conscience rather than my own personal view of a situation. I have learned to give my best and to turn the rest over. Over the years I have learned not to get attached to the outcome and to trust the process even in the most difficult times. In the beginning (and occasionally even now), I did (do) it kicking and screaming but I do it. When I began to experience that trusting the process really does work, non-attachment to outcome became easier. Another important element in dealing with codependency is to take care of myself by leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. In regard to this aspect, I needed to learn and maintain healthy boundaries.