Wednesday, August 11, 2021

On Authenticity and Breaking Free from Codependency: An Interview with Mary Joye

Mary Joye
Two phrases of self-help that we hear tossed around on a regular basis and often indiscriminately are the adages of being yourself and keeping it real. They are not mutually exclusive, and one might even say they are indeed one and the same. To be yourself, you would have to be authentic to who you are. Being authentic comes with complete honesty and transparency and the unflinching look at who you are as opposed to who you think you are, should be, would like to be or even who you used to be.

Put differently, it is an impromptu snapshot without any poses, fake smiles, filters, artificial lighting and without any alterations and modifications. In fact, this natural snapshot will most likely not be the photo of yourself that you would use on a job-searching site or even post on social media since in both spheres and domains, and for good reason, very few of us would always present and represent ourselves as who we truly are, warts and bad hair day and all.

This raw and unfiltered view and sense and experience of self is also devoid of any roles that you play during a day of your life. It is the essential you in all its shining glory, irrespective of the many changing, evolving, and revolving hats you tend to sport and wear during the day as you are interacting with different people and relationships in various contexts and diverse situations. It is not just the son/daughter, parent, sibling, co-worker, boss, friend, lover, and spouse, but rather it is the distilled essence and the very core of you, at the same time and equally devoid and filled with each and every role that you play and do not play in your daily life.

How does all this tie in with codependency? First off, what exactly is codependency? For a satisfying and insightful answer, let us turn to Mary Joye, psychologist, trauma specialist, and author of Codependent Discovery and Recovery 2.0: A Holistic Approach to Healing and Freeing Yourself. The short one-sentence answer is: you lose yourself while caring for others. You may even consider yourself to be too nice and be driven by excessive kindness and compassion, but your main relationships with others as well as with yourself would be unbalanced and one-sided.

When it comes to codependency as well as narcissism - and we will see how the two are linked and can go hand in hand - there is a spectrum. Yet one of the warning signs is when you are giving to others up to a point of resentment or when you constantly feel like others are taking advantage of you, of your kindness and your generosity.

To find out whether your friendships and relationships are codependent or not, to put them to the test, so to speak, ask yourself initially the simple and basic question: do my friends and relationships give me satisfaction and happiness? If the relationship is not based and calibrated on equal give and take – to quote the Beatles and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make - but it is, on the contrary, one-sided in which you receive little or nothing in return, you might want to re-evaluate and reconsider the whole dynamics and the situation.

Chances are that you may be dealing with a narcissist – they are more common and prevalent than you may think – and they are not only notorious for taking advantage of others and of taking without giving anything in return, but they will also belittle and gaslight you and make you feel guilty for not giving them your all and your very best. In fact, in the twisted and distorted mind of a narcissist, whatever you do or whatever sacrifices you make for them is never going to be enough, and they will criticize you and get angry with you and even hold against you that you are not going beyond the humanly possible.

When you fail to please others - and keep in mind that narcissists are never pleased and never satisfied, which is their nature and way of being - then you would feel guilty. But you should not. Just like you would and should not supply your friends and loved ones with drugs and alcohol, you should refrain from giving narcissists their sought-after narcissistic supply.

As Mary astutely explains in our interview, codependency is a form of narcissism in reverse; instead of being hyper-focused on yourself as the narcissist is, the codependent would be hyper-focused on everyone else but themselves. This would be a twisted sense of selfishness, in which one derives vicarious pleasure from meeting the needs of others and never or rarely one’s own. Of course, one may also be driven by a savior syndrome where you have the false and mistaken notion that you can help and change someone even though they are resisting and sabotaging all your efforts.

This brings us to the root and cause of codependency. Why do many people fall for it? The answer, as is often the case, is much more intricate and complex than you may think. On a personal and individual level, codependency stems from an insecure attachment combined with the emotional need and desire of being liked and accepted by others.

There is a subconscious fear of abandonment at play, and we may feel compelled to re-enact trauma as Freud observed with his repetition compulsion. Subconsciously, we may be attracted to people who would be cruel and abusive to us. Again, this is not a conscious choice or action, but we may feel compelled to repeat childhood trauma and harmful patterns of interacting and reacting to others.

On a social level, we may also be confused about the norms and teachings that our parents and society provide to us, which creates a kind of cognitive dissonance within our belief systems. For instance, as Mary points out, as children, we are told not to take candy from a stranger but are encouraged to do trick or treating during Halloween.

At the same time, we are told to be ourselves and yet also told to be nice to everyone, to give to others, and not to judge other people. This ingrained idea and habit of always helping others can be cruelly abused by psychopaths and serial killers like Ted Bundy. When he showed up in an arm sling and asked for help or requested a ride, many young unsuspecting women would fall into the trap, both against reason and their better judgment. Although it is important to help others, one should be aware of healthy and safe boundaries even among people we trust and love.

Many families, I would say most of them, are dysfunctional in nature but one should never have any family secrets. Families are not Las Vegas, and what happens there does not and should not stay there. As a result, when you perceive or are a victim of family abuse and transgressions, you would need to share this with a trusted individual. Child abuse often occurs within the family network, and one should have and develop a clear understanding and conception of healthy and safe boundaries, that is, of what is allowed and permitted, and what is not. At the same time, you should always feel free to talk about any concerns or confusion to someone that has gained your love and trust.

Although codependency is about relationships we have with others, we should also not forget nor overlook another vital relationship, which is, in fact, the most essential, significant, and lifelong relationship you will ever have with anyone: the relationship with yourself. From the moment we are born to the moment when we die, it is this personal and intimate relationship that will carry us through (and past) life. If this sense of self is based on and rooted and embedded in knowledge, understanding, compassion, empathy, and most importantly love and kindness, then the relationships you create and foster around you will tend to be made of the same ilk and fabric.

On the contrary, if you are angry and unhappy with yourself, the bonds, lassos, and relationships you create and have with others will be tinged and influenced by those elements and factors. It is important to keep in mind that codependency is not a disorder per se, and yet, it significantly affects one’s perception and experience of life quality.

Codependency is driven by the need to please others to the extent that this eschews healthy borders and boundaries. Its main driving force is an insecure attachment that has its roots in childhood experience and trauma, and codependents find it hard and are afraid to say “no” to others as they fear losing the connection, bond, and attachment in their relationship with the other person.

Often, to prevent and compensate for this fear of abandonment, codependent people always say “yes” to everyone and everything, and as a result, they overburden themselves and keep giving until they are burned out. They often find themselves in cruel and abusive relationships - whether it is their own parents, their friends, and partners - that take advantage of the overly generous and giving personality of these anxious and insecure people. And yet, the lack of boundaries is what leads to living in an invisible prison and where one is completely out of touch with oneself and one’s own needs and happiness.

Codependent relationships are not dissimilar to the circumstances and challenges of addiction. The need to please others and to fill an emotional and psychological void within oneself becomes a habit that is not easy to shake off and which cannot be done without significant effort, help, faith, and persistence. This is also why many people who have endured abuse or have grown up or lived in toxic and abusive environments cannot heal themselves overnight. They are often not giving just out of the pureness of their heart but are driven by a need, an obligation or fear, or guilt.

The very first step is awareness and recognition of the problem. It is the realization that there is a problem that one is willing to address and solve. One would need to recognize the trigger and pay attention to one’s tension before being able to effectively deal with the issue. Without this initial step, no healing can take place. People who constantly blame others or victimize themselves are blocking themselves from the opportunity of overcoming these problems and of healing themselves.

It is important to start at the beginning and to heal the inner child within oneself. Then, one would detoxify oneself from one’s trauma and negativity that take hold of us and burden our body, mind, and spirit. Mary’s holistic approach looks at all the different facets of one’s self and one’s overall well-being and does not utilize or promote a single approach that is fit for all and applicable to all situations. There is variation in the complex interactions of yourself and others, including your past and present as well as decisions and actions projected and taken into the future.

In fact, as Mary explains, one must own one’s problems and take concrete action. These actions can be compared to the twelve steps of recovering alcoholics. At the top and root of it all is the brilliantly expressed and conceived Serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, in which you recognize your inner and outer boundaries and know the difference between what you can and what you cannot change.

You cannot and should not change others nor are you responsible for them. Although codependency is not a disorder, codependents tend to be involved or they would take care of others who do have a disorder, and who often do not accept that they have a problem. And if they are narcissistic, you will always be the one having problems, and not them.

This desire to help and change others is a trap and fallacy that many codependents fall into, especially when they are driven by a savior syndrome. Anyone who does not want to be healed and saved cannot be healed or saved, no matter how much effort and energy you put into the whole endeavor. And it will not have any health benefits neither for you nor for others. In fact, the opposite will be true; you will deplete yourself of energy, joy, happiness, and time, and you will do serious damage to your own health and well-being in the process.

Apart from a holistic approach, Mary also bases her healing transformation on neuroscience. An important part of this is cognitive dissonance. This is where you fail or purposely choose not to look at information that is incongruent with reality. For instance, we would like to avoid certain situations, distort reality, or ignore vital aspects so as not to feel discomfort and pain. But it is a case of deceiving oneself and others and of failing to be authentic. It is indeed important to try to recognize certain thoughts and feelings that you may not like as a latent desire and potential means for change that could put you on a more honest and healthier path in your life.

All of this is rooted in personal experience. Unlike many health practitioners who have only a theoretical and academic framework and understanding, Mary has not only experienced this type of trauma, but she has also liberated and healed herself from it. And she is the perfect example and advocate of authenticity as she walks the walk and speaks and writes not only with inner confidence and conviction but also with warmth and compassion.

In her personal life, she had to deal with narcissists both in her family as well as in her marital relationships. In her professional life, Mary had her own career of singing until at one point, she realized that it took too much of a toll and a strain on her health, both mental and physical. The idea that “the show must go on” was inbred and ingrained into the fabric of her existence, so she would push herself and even force herself to the extent that it was hurting her. At the same time, her experience with toxic people and dynamics around her, both with her family and with her abusive husband led her to the realization that it was indeed time not only to move away and to move on but to forge a new path towards healing and self-fulfillment. 

Then, these healthy and safe boundaries, of feeling free to say “no” when one feels like it without feeling guilty and of saying “yes” with inner conviction and passion to her own life and to life, in general, has not only healed her, but it has made her whole. And it is in that process that she has also managed to reconnect with herself, the wonderful, true, and authentic being that she is. And yes, so can the rest of us.

You can access the full-length interview on YouTube as well as on my podcast. It has additional information that is not included in this article and you got to meet Mary Joye as well!

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