The Secret Link Between Instinct and Codependency

 

“Codependency” has become something of a buzzword in the culture lately, right alongside other pop-psychological words, like “narcissist” and others. And it’s no wonder, when considering the way these two issues are attracted to, and can play off of each other. But that’s not the issue this post will endeavor to explore.

What I’m really interested in here is the secret link between codependent tendencies and difficulty hearing, feeling or sensing our own intuitive instinct. This is a topic I’ve rarely found any information on, and I’m starting to privately formulate my own theories about it as it’s appeared in my practice and also in my personal life.

Here is the lay definition of codependency in the dictionary: “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.” Often the word is thrown around culturally when we’re referring to someone who appears overly reliant upon the emotional needs that are met in their primary partner relationship (whatever form that takes), often to the exclusion of other relationships, and to the point that living without that primary partner (or any form of “primary other”) might bring up unbearable pain or emotional desolation for the codependent, which they seek to avoid.

And this is not entirely wrong. This is, in a way, the gist. But there’s a lot going on underneath the surface that eludes easy explanation or definition. Often, when we have codependent traits or patterns, it’s because we were “groomed” by the relational dynamic in our family of origin to be constantly outwardly attuned to others and their needs, preferences, desires and boundaries. And often, we were (in one way or another) relationally trained to attune outwardly to the exclusion of our inherent awareness of our own needs, preferences, desires and boundaries (all those things that make up our sense of ourselves as a defined separate individual). In a healthy individual, our internal sense of our own needs, preferences, desires and boundaries is instinctive. In other words, we experience it as a present sense in the body which cannot be ignored.

But when we were brought up in any kind of codependent dynamic, our nervous system starts to equate ignoring our own preferences, needs, desires and boundaries with normalcy. In fact, it feels so familiar to do this that there is a kind of comfort about it. And when we start to notice that comfortable feeling in our nervous system in the presence of another, we might confuse it with this situation or person being a “good” or “right” one for us. Really, what we are feeling is a deep sense of familiarity.

And we may struggle for a long time to separate out what is actually our instinctive sense about a person or situation, especially when we have become invested with deep care about the person or situation. And yes, we may even come to deeply love said person. That’s when the fog that cuts us off from our instinct is at its very thickest.

If you’ve ever struggled for a long time to find what felt instinctively true for you, especially when it came to whether or not a particular relationship or interpersonal situation was the “right” one for you, vacillating back and forth and seeming to make no progress on strengthening your clarity, it’s possible you were caught in a codependent dynamic that your nervous system found very familiar as the result of relational dynamics in your early life.

As always, there’s so much more I could write on this topic and others. If you think this situation might describe you and you’re done struggling to find clarity, book a free 20-minute Intro call to see if therapy might help.

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