C-PTSD and Co-Dependency
Boundaries and Limits, Limits and Boundaries
February 25, 2021
Today I do my best to stay focused on my life as a Super Co-Dependent. I was born into co-dependency and literally had no choice but to become incredibly good at being co-dependent. Everybody’s needs were more important than mine. I was fluent in phrases like, “Your wish is my command.” “Happy Wife, Happy Life” and my personal favorite from The Princess Bride, “As You Wish.” Simply put, co-dependency is the process of putting your needs beneath the needs of virtually everyone else on earth. If you are a good co-dependent, this is what you do. It is second nature and while you are slowly giving parts of yourself away you are under the delusion that you are righteous in you deeds. Co-dependents either die co-dependent, or they die knowing they took charge of their life and woke up from the hypnotic trance of co-dependency. They die knowing who they are.
Here are some websites that speak to codependency treatment and the healing process. I hope the are helpful. Thank you so much for coming by and giving Out of My Mind in Costa Rica a listen.
PsychCentral has a lot of really good information on their website and they spare no details. Detailed is good when it comes to co-dependency.
I didn’t talk about mindfulness and meditation, but here is a wonderful website where you can get some solid support for the us of mindfulness and meditation.
Here’s a short video from a young clinician, Siobhan whom I thought was wonderful. See for yourself. She provides top notch information in a very adorable way.
Recovery Direct in South Africa is a luxury treatment facility and I really liked a graph they used in their article on codependency. It’s a great article and the programs look fantastic even though I will never be able to afford their programs. I hope they let me use their graph.
C-PTSD and Co-Dependency
Boundaries and Limits, Limits and Boundaries
February 25, 2021
Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host, Ray Erickson. It’s February 25, 2021 and today, I’m taking on co-dependency or what could be called “The Secret Life of Survivors of Complex-Trauma.” It’s a deep well, but I am diving in today and as always, I approach my podcasts from the top of my head and go from there. Let’s see what happens.
Co-Dependency is a big topic. It’s huge and there have been hundreds if not thousands of books written on this subject, many of them I have read. I also treated co-dependency and trained other professionals on the subtle nature of the co-dependent relationship. It troubles me that I had all of this evidence and I was not able to see it in my own behavior. Well, I guess denial is not just a river in Egypt. It’s a real-life perspective. Co-dependency is me, in a nutshell. I am the co-dependent’s co-dependent. Go ahead, look it up in the dictionary and there you will find a photo of me. I am that co-dependent and it pisses me off!
Yes, it does. I am pissed off that for years and through multiple relationship I would chip little parts of myself off until there was nothing left but a small, broken fragment of the man I should be. How did this happen? It’s a long story but I will try to point to only the highlight reel and with luck it will be less than 30 minutes.
Co-Dependency. Everyone has heard of it, but very few people actually understand the dynamics and the etiology of this very destructive pattern. I was not supposed to be co-dependent. I was a professional. I was in private practice. I had my shit together, God damnit! Well, if you believe that then I have a lovely bridge I would like to sell you.
The truth be told I was a mess but one of the things you need to understand about co-dependency is it doesn’t just show up on your doorstep. No, it takes years to develop and maybe even decades to come to full bloom. That’s what happened to me. You can trace back my co-dependency to my infancy. That’s right, all the way back to when I was a baby.
Baby’s don’t get to choose their parents and the family they are born into. If they could and did choose their families, then there would be a lot fewer children because a good proportion of families are, how do I say it? Oh, yeah, fucked up! You heard me. My family was fucked up. Your family was fucked up. Get over it. That’s on them and you had nothing to do with their fucked-upness. You, out of some random process ended up on their doorstep.
On the outside, my family looked good. My father was a hardworking man who rose through the ranks of General Motors rising from the sweat and toil in the 100 degree body shop to taking on the role of Superintended of an entire paint department at the very factory he began working. Fisher Body II. The family was proud of him, the community was proud of him, but he paid a dear price for his pursuit of excellence. Before he retired on a medical disability, he had suffered at least 3 major heart attacks and more than one occasion his survival was deemed a miracle.
I was out of the home by this time and the problems I began experiencing with my family did not truly begin until one morning I received a call from my distraught mother. In this call she told me of a phone call with my niece, Wendy who had told my mother of the years of sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of my older brother, John. The timing of this call could not have been more ironic as I was about to start a new job working for an agency that provided treatment to juvenile sex-offenders. Check this irony out. On the day I am to begin working with young men who had committed sex offenses I get a call from my mother, telling me, in so many words, that I grew up in an incest family. Let me repeat that: On the day I begin working with young men who had committed sex offenses I get a call from my mother, basically telling me I grew up in an incest family.
I’m like, “What the fuck?” I was a social worker, and I knew what needed to happen if our family was going to heal from this tragedy. But as I began to drive home my point with my mother, she began to fade away and by the time she hung up, there was no abuse, and the two girls were alright. She fell into her only safe refuge and that was to deny any abuse occurred. Gone, buttoned up tight and locked up in her darkness. But I was not one to give up. Afterall, I just finished my Master of Social Work degree and if I didn’t give up on that, then I certainly wasn’t going to give up on my family.
This was in 1988 and I was 37 years old. The new job was a huge opportunity, and I was in love with the love of my life. Life could not have been better. Of course, I immediately entered therapy and began to, at least try, to put the pieces together. But my family was not going to cooperate and before long, my father said the last words he would ever say to me in a message on my voicemail. He said, “Ray, if you say anything else about this molest crap, then I will have nothing to do with you forever!” I had enough experience with incest families to know that once you were cut off, you were cut off and there was no going back.
Realizing this, I took some time to write a “goodbye” letter where I spelled out all my hope and dreams for us as a family, but I recognized that this is not ever going to be. My family was not what I thought it was and I needed to part ways. I said goodbye and mailed the letter. I had also sent each of them, my mother, my father and my two brothers’ books to address their specific roles in the abuse of my nieces and who knows how many other children in the community. John was definitely a predator sex-offender as well as a clear and present danger to the community. I contacted the local police and made an official child abuse report. Nothing ever happened…of course. One of those books, the one I sent to my mother was called, “Co-Dependent No More” by Melody Beattie. The de facto bible on co-dependency. They quite proudly announced to me that all of the books had been donated to the library. Bless their hearts.
This fractured the denial that had kept me insulated not just to the dysfunctional dynamics of my incestuous family, but also spared me the pain and sorrow by having no memory of abuse. Nothing. Nothing, until much later after years of psychotherapy and the experience of working with families such as mine was I able to break through the denial in a significant way. As much as I searched my inner core for signs of the abuse, I found little information there. Over time, fragments of the picture would slowly expose themselves until I was able to put together a reasonable understanding of what may have occurred. Today is not the day for that discussion, but instead, I want to talk about co-dependency.
Co-dependency results when you are unable to identify, set or maintain appropriate limits and boundaries. Healthy people who have been raised in an environment where limits were set, and boundaries were acknowledged and respected do not become co-dependent. They know where they end that you begin. If you are listening to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica, then more than likely, you did not grow up in such a family. Children in these families are given the opportunity to learn how to set limits for themselves and establish personal boundaries. The family, in support of this secure attachment reinforces setting limits and boundaries.
Now what happens in families like yours and mine is called enmeshment. And this enmeshment creates family roles such as The Hero Child, the Scapegoat Child, the Lost Child, the Mascot Child, the Peacekeeper Child, Mommy’s Confidant, Daddy’s Confidant and so on. These roles exist in healthy families as well, but the roles are flexible, and each family member could be playing any one of the roles at any given moment. In the dysfunctional and co-dependent family, these roles are rigid, and each child is assigned (unconsciously) to a specific role. This is an unconscious process that is responding to the unconscious needs of the family.
For instance, my older brother was a difficult child to manage and became the Scapegoat Child which meant, he was the child who couldn’t do anything right. I was the second born and somehow, I sensed that I needed to be what my parents needed me to be. That was a good boy, so I was assigned the Hero Child role. The child who could not do anything wrong and finally, my younger brother became the Lost Child and mostly he kept to himself and never spoke up. You barely knew he was there. We were all stuck in these roles and we never played together. We were mutually exclusive and we had nothing in common even though we grew up in the same household.
Co-dependency doesn’t pop up randomly in families. When incest is a family thing it usually comes about from previous generations of incest in the family. My work with offenders taught me that the nut does not fall too far from the tree and when it comes to incest, everybody plays the game, even if they do not know they are playing. I don’t know what happened to my parents in their families. They never spoke of their childhood and I have pondered long hours trying to understand what could have happened to them.
How could they allow such atrocities to occur to their children? I will never know but I do know they created an atmosphere where secrecy and distortion was very effective at keeping this dark family secret. I didn’t know my parents. They were the adults in the household, but I didn’t know who they were and my father, who was a man of his word, never spoke to me again. My mother died without my awareness and if it weren’t for a former classmate, I would not have learned that my older brother John had died.
When you get cut off in these families, you are cut off. They really mean business. They cut you off then run a smear campaign to dirty your name in order towash off the stench on them. It is really disgusting the way incest families turn on their members. Incest is the deepest and darkest secret a family can keep, and they will go to any length to keep the secret safe. In this case they killed me off and my eulogy was a 9-page letter from my mother, but I believe the whole family got together and wrote the letter as a group. In this letter every mistake I have ever made was chronicled along with a few I had nothing to do with.
It was so, painful that I could not finish reading it but it was clear to me that I needed to exit, stage left, and get out of this fucked-up toxic family system. If I am going to have a chance to survive, much less thrive, I had no choice. So, I did. I wrote the letter and said goodbye.
That was not the end of it though. Yeah, sure I never spoke to my family again, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t carrying the disease. I didn’t know it, but I was a highly skilled and efficient co-dependent. I was so good that I could help people resolve the codependent issues in their lives, but not recognize it in myself. That is, not until I realize I had Complex-Post Traumatic Stress. When I realized incest was going on, I realized my childhood had to have been much different than I had ever imagined it was. How the hell does that happen? Dissociation happened. Dissociation saved me from all memories of abuse, and I thank God for that. I’d rather live in the dark than be tortured for life and afraid of the dark.
The earmark of co-dependency is a lack of boundaries. Co-dependent people do not recognize where they end another person begins. The co-dependent’s need run secondary to the Big Daddy’s needs. That is what my mother called my father, and my father called my mother Big Mama. Big Mama’s life was centered around Big Daddy, who was probably highly narcissistic. I don’t know enough about either of my parents to get a clear picture of who they were as people. They took on mythical and idealized identities in my world. Identities based upon the 1950’s sitcom, Leave It to Beaver. This is where I dissociated to. I became kind of a blend of Wally and the Beaver in my family and this mental refuge saved me from the bone crushing memories of abuse.
I have only a few memories that speak to the madness that I obviously grew up in. One of those memories has to do with my father and a problem with my little brother. We may have been 6 and 7 years old. We were un our bedroom and somehow my brother teased me until I began to cry. When my father, who was downstairs, heard me crying he stormed up the stairway and into our room with rage in his eyes and shook his giant fist in front of my face screaming, “If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to give you something to cry about!” The tears literally flowed back up my cheeks and into my tear ducts. No more crying. That was it when it came to crying.
My mother had plenty of rage as well. Control of the family image was her domain. She was well known in Montrose as Gabby Aggy. She had plenty of opportunity to create a wholesome family image while styling the grey hair of the local town matriarchs. My mother was always busy which was good news for us. If she was busy then we were free, but every once in a while, we would cross the line with her and she would fly out of her tiny salon, into the kitchen, go straight for the metal vegetable spoon, you know the one with the holes in it and begin chasing us around the house. We had mixed feelings of delight and terror but eventually we made it to our room where we slid under our twin beds in an effort to avoid getting hit with the spoon, which left welts in the shapes of the holes in the spoons. Later, my brother and I would compare our battle scars.
I don’t know how often this kind of stuff went on because I was focused on being the good boy. Don’t make waves, don’t make mistakes and always, always, always, be a good boy. So, I was. I was an incredibly good boy and the small town I grew up in was the perfect background to entertain my fantasy of my perfect life in my perfect family in a perfect little town. Does this begin to sound like 1950’s television? It should because that is where I lived, in my mind, if not in reality. It really saved me and because of this very real fantasy world I lived in, I was able to graduate high school and leave that little town where I went to a big university. This was in 1969 and my mind was about to be blown. I never went back to the family after I discovered university life. I would visit, but I never again lived there.
Co-dependency, Co-dependency, Co-dependency. How does one know when they are co-dependent? It’s not easy, because looking normal is what we do best. We look like the healthy one in the family. We are keeping the family from falling apart or imploding because of the immense gravity of the family secrets. If there are family secrets, then there is co-dependency. If there is abuse of any kind, then there is co-dependency and if there is codependency it is reasonable to believe that there is likely severe dysfunction going on beneath the surface. Afterall, the Erickson family was beyond reproach and I was a big part of keep that mask alive. Look how fucked up my family ended up being.
I was born into co-dependency and by taking on the Hero Child role, I was groomed to be co-dependent and as a result of this grooming I learned that giving myself away and asking nothing in return was the greatest virtue I could aspire to. Sports are based upon the player’s never dying commitment to the aims of the coach. Like the perfect Hero child, I played football, baseball, and basketball throughout high school. These teams became an extension of my family and a perfect venue for me to focus on doing everything I was told. Tell me what you need me to do and I will do it. I became co-dependent because setting limits, establishing boundaries and speaking up for my needs was not an option.
There is obviously a lot more to this story, but that will need to be another time. I don’t know if I defined co-dependency adequately, but you think you may be co-dependent, then you probably are. You are not alone. We are everywhere. Look to your right. Do you see that person? Well, they are co-dependent too. Look to your left and the person there. Are they co-dependent too? Damn right they are. Co-dependency is one of the ways the brain operates to keep itself safe The brain doesn’t care about happiness. It is only concerned with safety and survival. That’s what the brain does, and co-dependency is just another state of mind where you put your needs beneath the needs of everyone else.
When you have co-dependency and you finally get fed up with all the bullshit, there is only one person you can fault for it. That person is you. In my case, me. At this moment, I am responsible for my co-dependency and nobody else is. For decades I rationalized my societal role, my training, my efforts to heal as insulation against the reality that I too was co-dependent, and I was pretty darn good at it. I was so good at being “Co” that I could not see that I was “Co”. That’s how co-dependent I was. In order to shift the tide, I needed to shift my focus. It wasn’t my fault I became co-dependent, but it is my fault if I choose to remain co-dependent. This is an exceedingly difficult path because if you were born into co-dependency it may be next to impossible to see yourself as a problem.
Looking at yourself is the only way to shed the armor that co-dependency has falsely offered you as protection. It is not protection; it is a projection. Co-dependency is a projection of the earliest lessons we learned about being safe and sound in what probably was a pretty fucked up place to be. Some of you suffered your way through it while some of you dissociated, like me, and still others fought tooth and nail against the system only to be swallowed up and digested. That is what incest families do. They devour their young in order to keep the secrets. Your best bet if you grew up in an incest family is to get out now and don’t look back. Your life will heal if you put your attention to it.
Healing from co-dependency is a long process and many mistakes and regressions occur along the way. It is critical to not attempt to do this healing work on your own. Remember, you have a blind spot, and you need the watchful and loving eye of another human being to fully comprehend what you are dealing with. I know today’s episode is just a drop in the bucket in the lives destroyed by well, intentioned co-dependents, so if you are going to lick this thing, you need to get started right away. I am here to help you along the way. That’s all for today.
Thanks for making it through another episode of Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I really appreciate you coming by and taking in what turned out to be more of a rant than anything else. Sometimes the rant comes on and you just have to go with it. All of this is meant to heal and if you resonate with what has gone on in my fucked-up life, then maybe you will take that next step and courageously go where you have not gone and do a deep dive inside your mind. Trust the process. If anything comes up, it will be for your own good because, like I say in my intro, “What you don’t know can hurt you.”
Please take some time to check out the Episode description where I share some links to websites that will take today’s focus and supersize it to the next level. I am doing this podcast for you, so let your voice be heard. Write me an email at [email protected]. I respect your time and will get back to you right away. Make a comment or leave a review on those platforms that allow you to do so. If you know anyone who is suffering from PTSD or C-PTSD, pass Out of My Mind in Costa over to them. The more people I reach, the more people I can help. So, until the next time.
Be courageous. Be Strong and Be Kind. I’ll catch you later. Bye.