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The Relationship Between Codependency and Shame

A woman who's battling with codependency standing in a field thinking.

Codependency is a learned behavior. According to Mental Health America, it’s a learned behavior that often starts very early in life, and is passed down within families. In fact, it’s common to find multiple generations of codependent parents raising codependent children.

Codependency is when people place other people at the center of their lives, struggle and strive for the approval of others, and have no sense of self. These are also people who struggle with setting boundaries and who have extreme difficulty in expressing or identifying what they want and need. They’ve learned to put others before themselves, often to avoid emotional or physical pain in dysfunctional and sometimes abusive family and romantic relationships.

These highly dysfunctional families are toxic, creating a legacy of pain, fear, and emotional hurt. At the heart of much of this emotional pain, isolation, and low-self esteem is the overwhelming emotion of shame.

Feeling Shame
Shame is often harder for people to identify. The symptoms are often mistaken for other emotions and can avoid a flush on the face and neck, an increased heart rate; a cold, clammy, or sweaty sensation; discomfort; and even nausea or other types of physical symptoms.

However, shame goes much deeper than physical symptoms. When I’m working with my coaching clients, shame often becomes overwhelming as a deep-seated feeling of simply being so hateful towards yourself. It’s as if you become your own worst critic, constantly berating and belittling yourself about how you’re inferior, inadequate or loathsome.

In my book, The Marriage and Relationship Junkie, I talk about how shame is often a driving force for codependency and different type of addictions. People who feel ashamed of themselves look for ways to get outside of their own self-loathing and feelings of being disconnected and separated from those around them.

If you stop and consider how dysfunctional parents treat children, it’s possible to see how this sense of shame can develop. As parents in a codependent relationship focus on their own unhealthy need to stay together, they fail to pay attention and love their children.

This message is received by the children and they begin to feel like they’re unlovable, failures, bad people, inferior, or damaged. The more the child struggles to become “perfect” the greater their sense of failure grows, since they can’t achieve the impossible goals before them. Every time the child attempts something and they’re ignored by their parents, the child sees it as the parent saying, “You’re not good enough.” Over time, and with repeated messages, the displeasure or feelings of failure turns into shame, creating a negative loop of self-talk. As a result the child will grow into adulthood continually looking for little mistakes or slight imperfections to build on these negative feelings.

Breaking Free
Through coaching, people with codependency and shame can learn to recognize these negative feelings and behaviors and make changes. This isn’t easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but just as codependency and shame are learned, it’s possible to retrain the mind to see a more realistic and accurate version of the person you have become.

Some of the most effective ways to start to change these negative messages and alter codependent behavior include:

Talking about feelings: Healing starts with recognizing and acknowledging that there’s a problem. Shame is hidden away, and bringing it to light helps someone examine their negative thoughts and let them go.

Doing something new: Trying something new that’s meaningful and interesting is a great way for codependents to start seeing themselves in light of their accomplishments and achievements.

Focus on connections: Reconnecting with positive people can also be a challenge, but it’s an important step. Making a connection with people who are empathetic, supportive, and positive allows those suffering from codependency to start receiving messages that highlight their gifts, talents, and skills. This builds new thought patterns that can stop the cycle of shame and codependency.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She helps singles navigate the dating process to find the love of their lives. Take her quiz to find out if you’re a love addict, sign up for a 30-minute strategy session, or learn more about how to get over a break up. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, and is a sought after online dating and relationship coach. For more information visit of sign up today for Sherry’s online group coaching program for $19/month https:// member-co/.

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