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Archive for the ‘over care-taking’ Category

on Jan 30, 2012

Reflections of a Codependent Yogi. ~ Stephanie Pappas

Even though I practiced yoga for over 15 years, had an Indian Guru, and meditated and breathed in silence for weeks at a time, it wasn’t until 2006, after a series of intensely confusing relationship dynamics and subsequent endings, that I discovered my tendency toward “codependent” behaviors and thought patterns. I honestly had no clue what was going awry in these intimate relationships, but I knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.

Over the years I had heard the term codependent, and thought like most people, that a codependent was basically a needy person. This is not exactly the case, although sometimes neediness is manifested when we get the “codependent crazies.” There is much more to discover about the codependent personality that is enlightening, juicy, and life altering. To really catch ourselves in our patterns, we must become keenly aware of our own subtle internal thought processes and feelings when relating to ourselves and others. This is the yoga of self-awareness. We use everything in life as material to wake ourselves up.

Understanding patterns of codependency gives us a framework for intra and inter personal dynamics that maybe we didn’t learn about in a yoga class or training. Understanding our patterns in yet another way, allows for growth and change.

As yogis and yoginis, isn’t awareness of self and other what we aim for in our practices?

Codependents have been known to give too much, too quickly. And as yoga teachers we are giving all the time. By discovering my own codependent patterns over the last 6 years, and by observing thousands of yoga teachers and students, I notice that most women and most yoga teachers have the tendency toward codependent thought and behavior patterns.

What is Codependency?

There are many books and web sites that discuss the traits and habits of a codependent type personality. I am not going to reinvent the wheel here, but I will give a general list of traits.  I suggest that you to read some books by Melodie Beattie. The book, “The Seven Jewels of Codependency” by Robert F. Willard and Michael Gibertini, is a great tool for reframing our behaviors in a more positive light.

Codependent, or codependency, is a psychological term denoting a set of recurring thought and behavior patterns exhibited by an individual. These tendencies are said to have originated from experiences in a dysfunctional family system where one or more members had a mental illness, exhibited compulsive behaviors, or abused substances such as drugs or alcohol. These family members may have consciously or unconsciously inflicted physical, emotional, or mental abuse.

Typical patterns of codependency include: over-giving, low or exaggerated self-esteem, challenges maintaining intimate relationships, difficulty in properly caring for one’s own needs, difficulty setting physical or emotional boundaries, excessive care-giving, external focus on  approval and self-worth, people pleasing, attempting to exert control over the thoughts, feelings, or actions of others, hyper-vigilance,  excessive worry how others may respond to one’s feelings, undue fear of being hurt and/or rejected by others, and perfectionism.

Now I am going to tell you about some of our good qualities. And we get even better once we become aware.

We have a natural intuition that keeps us safe from danger because we can sense when situations are getting weird and vibes are getting sticky. We are fairly psychic and empathic. We are good people. We are devoted friends and are ready to lend a hand or ear when someone needs us. We sincerely care about people, animals, and the environment. We give nice gifts and remember birthdays. We listen well (when we are not obsessing about others, or “spewing our stories”). We have great parties, we’re great hosts, and we draw people together.

We are honest. We make fantastic employees because we work extra hours, do more than is expected of us, and are great team players. As partners, we are very attentive and give lots of compliments. We usually find ourselves in the healing or helping professions, and we actually do help a lot of people.

Codependents have been known to give too much, too quickly. And as yoga teachers we give so much of ourselves, which is a good thing! WE JUST TEND TO OVERDO IT! From my own experience and from watching other codependents in action, I must agree. We are loving people. This is good. We forget to listen to our intuition and body signals.

Sometimes the window of our heart is wide open, and the breeze is flowing in. Sometimes the window is closed shut, and it feels hot and stifling. Sometimes you leap out the window, and sometimes you feel stuck inside the house. I invite you…

1. To notice when you open up to people in a way that feels healthy to you.
2. To notice when you open up in a way that feels unsafe to you.
3. To notice when you close off to people in a way that feels like “healthy protection” to you.
4. To notice when you close off in a way that feels like “shutting down” to you.

When you recall times when your heart was open, and times when it shut down, I urge you to leave out the mental judgment about these memories as being either right or wrong.

Examining your own patterns with others and life situations provides you with juicy information to use in your self-discovery process.

Give yourself permission to choose how much you give, when you give, and to whom. Sometimes we need to speak our truth more. Sometimes we need to censor ourselves.

The Sponge Club: An Example of the Codependent Crazies in Action

My codependent yogis and friends and I belong to a club. I invented it, and I call it, “The Sponge Club.” We have a blog, a mascot, and a secret handshake.

We have many things in common. And we love to talk about these things that we have in common! We notice that we think differently from others and each other in distinct and sometimes peculiar ways. So, let me tell you about how I perceive us when we are in the grips of codependency conduct. Please remember as I stated earlier in this article that we have many outstanding qualities, too.

First of all, we notice that we are sensitive to criticism and people’s “energy.” If we can take something personally, we will. We crave acknowledgment and praise from our families and strangers as well. If we don’t get it the way we want it, we can get angry, depressed, and start to turn that anger against ourselves. We even speak harshly about those who won’t give us the strokes we want. At times there is suffering, angst and pain in our faces and words.

The world seems to stick to us like flies to glue paper. We can just be taking a simple stroll down the street, or in our cars, and if we are in one of our codependent moods, suddenly we may feel rejected because cashier so-n-so wasn’t nice to us, or Mr. Toll taker gave us a dirty look. We return home with longer faces than we had when we started out on our walk because now we start the internal mental attack. We begin thinking about what it is about us that turn people off, or what we could have done to receive such reactions. Sometimes we feel like we don’t belong anywhere in this world, and everyone is rejecting us. We think that maybe if we were prettier, friendlier, or happier people would treat us better. In some cases, that may actually be true, because we are walking around wearing our dark energy with a funky face. We haven’t learned the delicate skill of separating our self from others. We didn’t have good role models.

Everything feels like our fault! Our boundaries are weak and thin. When we stick up for ourselves we may feel even worse. We absorb problems that aren’t ours to begin with. We want to understand life so badly so that we can help others, but the truth is we have no idea what trouble we are in and how to help ourselves.

We can drown in our own self-pity and tell our stories to others to ease some tension, but the next time we go for a walk, we feel rejected again. The patterns keep repeating themselves, until, of course, we become aware of them.

Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a bit. Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you may be a member of the sponge club, and not even know it yet. Yes, I agree that after reading these first paragraphs there may not seem to be many benefits to belonging to the sponge club, but becoming aware is the first step to change of any kind.

Stephanie Pappas, E.R.Y.T. 500, has been practicing and teaching yoga and meditation since 1992. She has been training yoga teachers since 1999 through her Devalila Yoga Teacher Training program. Her book for yoga teachers, Yoga Posture Adjustments and Assisting, published in 2006 was just released in Spanish. Her newest book, Yoga at Your Wall, published in 2009, is for all levels of practitioners. All of her books are available onamazon.com. She is currently working on her latest book project, Reflections of a Codependent Yogi. Visit her blog here.

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stefpappasI bet you are thinking, what the hell does that title mean. Where is she going with this one?

Well, it is a long, long standing tradition that my mother must comment on my hair, for some reason, every time I see her. Even yesterday, after 3 weeks in her hospital bed, in and out of states of delirium and dementia. I hoped that maybe this time the goodnight goodbye “I love you” could just have ended at that…sweet and silent. But noooooo. It STILL had to be followed by a comment about my hair. By the way, I happen to LIKE my hair.

A month ago at my only uncle’s funeral service she just couldn’t help but toss a comment. There I was, feeling pretty and dressed up for the occasion. Hell, even my long lost cousins said I looked great (at 48 this feels like a nice compliment).

Mom turned to look at me. I thought she was going to blurt out something special, deep, or touching. After all, we were at a funeral. But nooooope. She just uttered, “You need to condition your hair.”

And I still felt a sense of shock and wonder, after all these years. Somewhere inside me I know it is coming from her love for me, but it never feels that way when it happens.

The button is still there. There is yet more work to do on my part.
This last time in the hospital I asked more. I am actually becoming intrigued by this phenomenon. It may seem like nothing to you, but it was new for me. “Why are you still so obsessed about my hair?” I asked her. “I remember how it used to be.” She replied. “But I am almost 50 years old now!” I almost shouted. I left the hospital, still astounded by her constant focus on my hair, and even more perplexed by my own reactions.

So, I wonder what the humid, wet, NJ weather will do for my hair tomorrow. I’m going to the hospital to see her.

Let’s see what she has to say.


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Freedom from the Leash

Freedom from the Leash

Letting go of the leash we grip onto leads to spiritual, mental, and emotional health. It frees us and those we love to let go and not hold too tightly. Lyrics to so many songs come to mind as I write this. It may be my most cliche yoga blog yet.

Letting go of the leash applies to our relationships with animals, people, houses, jobs, identities, expectations and sticky attachments of any kind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that attachment is unhealthy. But I have caused myself much emotional/mental pain and drama in the past, when I clinged too tightly, and have watched my friends suffer immensely.

After almost 3 weeks containing (as per the veterinarian’s suggestion) my recently immigrated kitty Franki from Mexico in our new Lambertville apartment, and walking him on a harness and leash in the yard, I let him go free. In Mexico, he is free to come in and out as he pleases, but he grew up there and knows the turf. He speaks Spanish. Many people told me to keep in inside. “Don’t risk it,” they warned.

For those of you who love animals, you know how tricky this can be, and know the fear of losing your beloved animal forever to unknown dreadful elements in your neighborhood.

I let him out anyway. I wanted us both to be healthy and free.

The first time I let him out he ran up the tree outside the kitchen window, as if to quickly conquer the looming Maple he had been drooling over for three weeks. Then he ran back in. I was delighted. I gave him a treat.

The second time he munched some grass, sniffed a little, and then ran back in. I was delighted. I gave him a treat.

But last night was different. We were both outside in the cool misty rain, and I turned my back for a second – he was gone.

Funny how small things like this can bring back memories of losing other things and people. I lay in bed and noticed the thoughts and little worries, but didn’t buy into them. However, I admit that I got up every half hour to see if he was around, but he wasn’t.

I finally surrendered to sleep with a sense of trust and confidence as I remembered that old, over-used expression, “If you love something let it go, if it comes back, it was meant to be, if not, it wasn’t meant to be with you.” Or something like that.

I suppose in yogic terms I would interpret it more like, “Hey, we are all living out our own karma, our own unique path and destiny. Don’t take it personally if I go.”

After two hours, I woke up and went out to call him again. It was still raining, dark, and cold. He was nowhere in sight. Then after a few minutes he playfully peeked his head over the edge of the second floor rooftop above me and meowed. Running down  two flights of steps and into the kitchen, he was back.

I was delighted. I gave him a treat.

Franki Goes to Lambertville

Franki Goes to Lambertville

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I feel like a tomato without its skin. It’s that sinking feeling in my stomach again. Did I just divulge too much about my recent tragedies, hardships, bad luck, or bad karma to a new friend? The doubt creeps in when I begin to hear her well-meaning advice coming toward me instead of the shared empathy I crave.

The extremes of codependency can appear in a single conversation! Amazing! One person is exposing themselves too much, or “spilling it all too quickly” as it is referred to in certain literature about codependency. And the other person is reacting out of their unconscious need to help, over care-take, or correct the situation. Instead of just listening or empathizing from their own shared experience, they quickly begin to give advice, admonitions, and astute observations as if they were somehow privy to insider information.

Both people in the conversation mean well, but the conversation begins to spiral downward.

I wanted to jump out of my body like it was a Halloween costume worn too long.

“You should pray more.” ” Hum…do you notice a pattern here?” she says to me with her index finger placed over her lip , and eyebrows furrowed a bit like my therapist.

I become queasy. How do I stop this runaway train now? Dizzy discomfort. Oh no! The conversation has turned to “fixing” me. Oh no!

My soul cries, “I don’t want to be fixed! I don’t need to be fixed!”

And simultaneously, another truth dawns on me: I recognize my own self in this situation. I am reminded of the times that I so wanted to help others, I couldn’t plain old listen.

For a moment, I am consoled by this realization, and that the fact that I can empathize even though I am uncomfortable.

I renew my efforts to catch myself in the quest to change anyone. I feel redeemed, and

then I jump back into my exposed pealed tomato body.

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