By Marshall Burtcher.
Codependency’s drive is to keep us safe by nurturing a sense of connection, safety, and worth through pleasing others, minimizing upsets, and promoting a sense of belonging through appeasing and tolerating unhealthy or incompatible behavior patterns.
This is what is called, “The Fawn Response”.
This makes codependency a response to unhealthy, unsafe relationships, rather than a disease or addiction.
When we understand and view codependency through this lens, our healing becomes deeply empowered.
The work becomes about cultivating real safety, real connection, and real self-worth rather than preventing codependent behaviors, fixing ourselves, or building up coping mechanisms.
In my work, a major focus of this real kind of healing is untangling our sense of worth and safety from the actions and reactions of others.
This shows up as practicing being observers of what others do in response to what we do, and inquire about what they’re attempting to achieve through those behaviors.
Notice how we’re not taking into ourselves a sense of their behaviors being a reflection of our worth or person. Instead, we’re seeing, accurately, their behaviors as expressions of their own psychology and history.
This same approach is applied to our own behaviors, reactions, and responses. When we’re able to observe how we show up, how our bodies respond or react, and what feelings arise with curiosity and warmth, we end cycles of fixing, suppressing, and shaming ourselves.
This is what I call, “Being the Warm Witness” for ourselves and others.
This fosters a sense of individuation, both from others and their reactions, and from our emotions and reactions.
The context: Person A is upset with me about not following through on a commitment. They’re visibly irritated and my actions caused some problems for them.
Codependent Reaction: I would feel shame, guilt, and berate myself as stupid, dumb, and I would apologize profusely and double-down on trying to fix myself and be perfect. I would ruminate on this for months, feeling a sense of distrust in myself and low worth.
Warm Witness Response: I feel a sense of remorse for the impact I’ve created and own it. “I’m so sorry for this impact and how I created complications here. What can I do to rectify it?”
Inwardly, I would listen to how I feel about my mistake. I notice there’s a sense of disappointment in my choice, remorse for it, and also clarity about what to do better next time. I see this mistake as a skills-based issue and not an example of a personal flaw.
I also notice some impulses to feel shame and guilt, and I receive those with care. “I see you. I am grateful you’re here. Thank you for letting me see you and know you. I’m here for you and listening.”
You see, it isn’t actually necessary to internalize mistakes, upsets, disappointments, rejections, or even approvals as something personal about who we are. We can thrive by connecting with ourselves and others where they’re at and nurture that connection.
This can be achieved through practicing being warm, curious and caring towards ourselves and others while nurturing our capacity, nervous system health, and our worth.
May this add to your healing and well-being.