Examen, co-dependency relationship, and the twelve steps for recovery

August 13, 2010

I was reading a book that I bought titled “Sleeping with Bread”. It’s about doing the daily examen of the Ignatian spirituality. There was one sharing from Sheila (one of the authors) that caught my attention. She shared how she recovers from co-dependent relationship and how the examen help her. I was wondering what co-dependent relationship is. Well, you can do a google and type “co-dependency”. This is some extract from one website:

It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.

From this website, it seems that the cause is dysfunctional family. And how does these people behave?

Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” […]

They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. […]

The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the co-dependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.” When the caretaking becomes compulsive, the co-dependent feels choiceless and helpless in the relationship, but is unable to break away from the cycle of behavior that causes it. Co-dependents view themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in the love and friendship relationships.

And from another site, these are the characteristic of co-dependent people:

Following is a commonly used list of characteristics of codependency.

  1. My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you
  2. My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you
  3. Your struggle affects my serenity. My mental attention focuses on solving your problems/relieving your pain
  4. My mental attention is focused on you
  5. My mental attention is focused on protecting you
  6. My mental attention is focused on manipulating you to do it my way
  7. My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems
  8. My self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain
  9. My own hobbies/interests are put to one side. My time is spent sharing your hobbies/interests
  10. Your clothing and personal appearance are dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me
  11. Your behaviour is dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me
  12. I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel.
  13. I am not aware of what I want – I ask what you want. I am not aware – I assume
  14. The dreams I have for my future are linked to you
  15. My fear of rejection determines what I say or do
  16. My fear of your anger determines what I say or do
  17. I use giving as a way of feeling safe in our relationship
  18. My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you
  19. I put my values aside in order to connect with you
  20. I value your opinion and way of doing things more than my own
  21. The quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours

How is it treated?

Because co-dependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment includes education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through which co-dependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behavior patterns. Treatment also focuses on helping patients getting in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood and on reconstructing family dynamics. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again.

At this point, I recalled from the book that the twelve steps program which is used in many recovery groups, is based on Ignatian examen. It helps people to “acknowledge” and so called to “share” it with others. This is the twelve steps that is used in the Co-dependency Anonymous.

The Twelve Steps of Co-Dependents Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over others – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other codependents, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The difficulty is that most of these people also give a symptom of denial. And so the twelve steps program helps them to really admit what is lacking, and seek for help, and by sharing it with others who have the same problem. The Ignatian examen helps us to get in touch with our feelings, admit it, know more about ourselves and our weaknesses honestly, and ask for God’s grace.

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