We all come into this world as an expression of our natural state, that of unconditional love, joy, and peace. You can feel this in the energy of children, who emanate a natural vibrancy and joy just for the sheer experience of being alive. As we grow older, however, we experience the conditional love from our parents, siblings, friends, and the culture around us.
This conditional love is not given out of ill intent, but rather from fear and a lack of awareness. In order to protect ourselves from this pain of rejection, the ego begins to firmly take root in the psyche during childhood and adolescence. Most of us learn that if we think, feel, and act in ways that please the people around us, than we too can feel at ease. The ego begins to cover over our natural state of love and peace with the false belief that we need to somehow secure these experiences for ourselves from the outside world. This is the heart of co-dependency. It is a simple misunderstanding about the nature of love. It is the belief that love is conditional, and is to be sought outside of oneself. Through our conditioning we have forgotten our own source of Love within.
Because most of us do not have any context for the experience of subtler spiritual energies within, we are constantly seeking this connection from outside sources. We learn that we can feel this sense of love when we control the people and circumstances around us, giving ourselves the chance to relax and feel at ease (if only temporarily). Trying to change, appease, gain validation, or manipulate other people (even in very subtle ways) is a form of unhealthy self-centeredness that can be called co-dependency—you are dependent on another person for your wellbeing, happiness, or sense of self worth.
It is important to recognize that almost everybody has been conditioned, to some extent, to search outside themselves for love in some way, and that many of our familial traditions and cultural values reinforce this phenomenon. Yet the greatest gift we can give ourselves, as well as others, is to take full responsibility for our own mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing to the best of our abilities. In fact, our own state of being is the only thing in life that we actually can control with any amount of certainty. We have absolute control over how we think, feel, and act, independent of the circumstances of life, or how anybody else thinks, feels, or acts. When we redirect our attention to first honoring ourselves, and our own mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, we are learning the healthy art of self-centeredness.
A Culture of Codependency
This can be challenging, for many of us have learned throughout our lives that it is not okay to be self-centered, and that a “good” person puts others ahead of themselves. The truth is that when we neglect to tend to our own wellbeing first, we have very little to offer anybody else anyway. We then feel like we are giving more than we are getting. In relationship this manifests as resentment, becoming bitter, frustrated, and angry that our friend, family member, or partner isn’t reciprocating the attention or love that we are putting out. We become over enmeshed in each other’s lives, feeling weighed down and uninspired.
In addition to seeking out attention and validation from others, a common cord of codependency develops as a person seeks to offer either their approval or disapproval of life events to others. Notice in yourself the moment when you exert your opinions and thoughts to another (particularly when unsolicited). How does it feel to tell other people your opinions on their actions or life events? Are you offering this advice for the highest good of all, or are you benefiting in some way by having others listen to you and give you their attention. You may notice that you feel slightly empowered when giving advice and opinions, feeling your sense of self increase as other people listen to you.
So the first step to healing co-dependency is to begin recognizing the day-to-day thoughts and behaviors that you have been conditioned to believe are expressions of love, but are actually coming from a place of neediness. In what ways are you sacrificing yourself in order to make other people in your life happy (your partner, your family, your friends, your boss or coworkers)? In what way do you seek validation from outside yourself, or put other people’s needs ahead of your own? In what ways do you take care of others, while holding the belief that they should then take care of you? In what ways do you seek to exert influence and control over others? In what ways do you seek to feel empowered by receiving other people’s energy?
Once you recognize the codependent behavior in yourself (or in another), simply pause in that moment and refrain from taking any action at all. Come back to your breath, relax your body, and just be still, feeling whatever you are feeling within your body. You may notice a compulsion to say something, or take some action to appease another, to get the attention from another, or simply to affect the other person in some way. You may notice a sadness or sense of loneliness arising in you as you stay in the stillness. But whatever you are feeling, it is time to sit with it, to feel it, and to no longer run from it by trying to change or manipulate others around you. Honor your feelings as you sit with what comes up from within you. Learn about your own emotional reactions and compulsions simply by observing them in this conscious state. Where do these habitual responses come from? Do your parents or other family members have similar patterns of codependency? No need to blame anyone, just simply be aware. By bringing awareness to these patterns, and then consciously interrupting them through non-reaction, you will begin to dissolve them.
The Root of Codependency
At the heart of codependency is a disconnection from one’s own center. When we don’t feel centered, we look outwards for our balance, wellbeing, and peace. In this state of imbalance, we are likely to feel fear regarding one’s own creative potential and power. We are each powerful creators, and when we have focus and clarity, we can create anything that our Hearts desire. When we don’t know what we are doing with ourselves, confused as to how best to spend our time and energy, or the right direction to take for ourselves in any given moment, we often turn to another to get involved in their experience. By coupling our energy with another person’s energy, we can feel a slight relief from the responsibility of having to make decisions for ourselves about how we are creating our life.
Taking back your power by cutting the cords of codependency means asking yourself the question over and over again, “how do I want to experience this moment?” and, “how am I choosing to create my life?” As you stay in non-reaction, no longer engaging in codependent behaviors with another, you create space for this question to be answered from within your Heart, showing you how to move forward to meet your own needs, and to create the kinds of experiences you desire to have in your life.
Find Your Source of Love Within
By literally placing your attention on your Heart whenever you remember, you can begin connecting to your own source of love and knowingness. This can take practice and time to reestablish a relationship with your heart, but is one of the most transformative practices you can do. As you sit in stillness, feeling your breath, hold the intention to feel the energy coming from your heart. The spiritual heart exists in the body around the location of where the physical heart is, and is the location where our Soul self comes into this human experience. We can access wisdom, intuition, and the deepest connection to our Higher Selves by holding our attention on the Spiritual Heart. Within a few minutes of keeping your attention on this part of your energy system, you will begin to notice a lightness, peace, and love arising within you. It Is almost magical how this works, and is a wonderful reminder of how powerful we are in creating our reality and life experience simply by where we focus our attention.
The challenge that many people experience, initially, is that it is either difficult to actually keep one’s attention on the heart, or by doing so it may bring up pain or sadness that feels overwhelming. It is necessary to first feel what you have been holding onto if you want to let it go, and it can actually take quite a bit of practice to keep your attention on your Heart center in order to release these suppressed emotions. The ego can sometimes be quite sneaky in diverting your attention away from having to feel any potential pain (which the ego views as a threat to your survival), and you may have to bring your attention back to your Heart thousands of times throughout your day.
Releasing Heaviness Around the Heart
If there is energetic heaviness or pain around your Heart, what you may notice as you keep your attention there over time, is that you begin to cry, tremble, shake, or express some other outpouring of emotional energy (which may even take the form of laughter). This is absolutely healthy and is to be allowed to the best of your ability. Let the emotion flow without getting distracted away from the actual feeling of what is going on inside of your body. This is important, because many people—as they begin to feel sadness or pain—get distracted from the actual feelings in their body by thoughts about what is occurring, or stories about why they are feeling this way. Perpetuating old stories and replaying emotional wounding is not helpful in releasing and healing emotional wounds.
If you find that you cannot stay connected to the direct feeling sensations within your body, and that you begin having compulsive negative thoughts, either about yourself, other people, or life itself, then stop the practice. Calm yourself down, return to your breath, and find the peace within. Once you have reconnected to the feeling of peace, then start again, bringing your attention back to your Heart, feeling for the energy within. Over time, this heaviness and pain will lighten and dissolve. Once residual emotional pain has been released from around your Heart, you will then be able to experience deeper states of love and connectivity through this practice.
The Paradox of Self Love
The paradox is that when we begin to really honor our own needs, find our inner balance, and learn to feel the love within our hearts first, we experience a sense of fulfillment, peace, and vitality that is much more satisfying than the conditional attention and validation from others. And it is only when we find this love within first that we can truly offer our love unconditionally to others, without any strings attached. When we take the time to connect to our own source of love, we begin to feel a strong desire to share our love with those around us. This is the nature of love, it always seeks to share and give more of itself for the benefit of all. So the paradox is that by truly being “self-centered,” we discover a deep reservoir of energy and love that wants to be shared with others. Increasing self love moves us along our path of spiritual growth, and emotional healing.
For some people, however, just the thought of not needing anything from anyone may sound almost frightening. The question may arise, “What’s the purpose of being in relationship if I don’t need anything from the other. Won’t I just drift off into the ethers alone, never needing anything from anyone ever again? Won’t I stop interacting with other people altogether?” The answer is, “most likely not.” The reason for this is that as a person becomes more and more energetically autonomous, a deep feeling of love and gratitude arises for all of life, and often a person desires to share this love with others. The sharing of this loving life energy can occur through social interactions or the work that you do, and takes the form of giving your energy for the highest good of all. The initial step in getting to this point, however, is learning to first take care of yourself by connecting to your Heart.
As you practice finding your inner balance, you may notice that your desire to interact with other people changes. You may no longer feel drawn to certain types of relationships (connections, which in the past would have met your needs for balancing your energy or providing you with validation). Or you may notice that you no longer need to be the center of attention, or to be so closely affiliated with any particular group–your family, your religious organization, or a social community, for instance. This doesn’t mean that you won’t still be able to enjoy the experience of being in these group settings, but your self identity and sense of safety will no longer be intertwined with needing to be validated and accepted by others.
As you stay in this alert stillness, you will then have the opportunity to create new thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that come from a deep desire to share love, rather than from a place of neediness. You may find yourself suddenly offering a kind word or a generous act towards another. This energy moved through you spontaneously from a place of inspiration, without any of the accompanying strategizing, calculating, guilt, anxiety, or negativity of the ego mind. You may feel a burst of inspiration in your life to try some new activity, or to interact with people whom you might not have before. This is a wonderful opportunity to begin investigating more fully how you desire to create your life, and the kinds of life experiences that your heart desires. This process initially takes time to dissolve the old patterns of neediness, but over time you will undoubtedly begin expressing yourself in a more natural and loving way. These techniques can dissolve much of the conflict in relationship problems, and are often healed through couples counseling.