Spirit Matters by Shirley Barr – Codependency & Total Health – November 13, 2012

CFN– Sometimes in life there are intersections you come to that give pause and make it so that your direction changes. One such intersection concerns ones health. When I think about health I consider it to be all in one with no division as to whether it is emotional, spiritual, mental or physical. I think holistically and believe that to be well encompasses the whole being.


There comes a time when we should know ourselves well enough to realize that our health is a gift that needs to be treasured and safeguarded. One of the common denominators in causing one’s health to get worse is stress. Excessive stress can lead to so many problems. One of the causes of hidden stress is the expectations we place upon ourselves, and the expectations we place upon others. Managing those expectations in a healthy way is vital to our well being, and the well being of all concerned.

The reason I bring up the subject of managing expectations is that most of the time these are nameless and hidden. We have a whole set of expectations imposed on us from the moment we are born. Cultural biases are fed to us along with milk and cereal, we don’t even have a chance of escaping them, we can only hope to reach a point where we can bring them out in the open and name them. Take, for instance, being born into a family where both parents are university graduates. They tell you, from a very young age, that you are going to their university when you turn eighteen, they give you messages that you are capable of this achievement and you will be supported. Is this a good thing? Well, it depends on that is what you want. But, how are you going to know what you want if you are never given a chance to think for yourself? The reverse can also be true, if you are born into a family where there is no interest in academic success and the best you can hope for is a full-time job at the packing plant. In either scenario you could be happy or you could be miserable. That is why it is important in life to come to an intersection and take the time to think things through before just accepting what is imposed from those outside of ourselves.

We are going through an intense process of change now in our societies all around the globe. It must be becoming evident to most of us that for our collective future to be bright we have to be healthy. In order to do so we maybe ought to scale back on the stress in our lives and examine when we can do individually and collectively to address the problem. One of the major causes of my personal stress has been a heavy investment in codependent behaviour, to the point that I literally did not know who I was. That has changed, mercifully, and I am having a serious break-up with co-dependence.

Co-dependence is a form of caring that has selfish roots and is toxic, it is taught to us from generations back as a way to survive and comes from a mentality of anxious behaviour based in fear. I shall offer a common example: a wife who harasses her husband when he comes home drunk. Not only is he in no condition to hear her screaming at him, it causes the children in the family to get totally stressed out. The wife would tell you that she is only trying to help him to stay sober. We call all see that what she is doing is no help at all. When people are codependent they cannot see that for themselves and need assistance to understand how to get out of the trap.


Once co-dependent behaviour is taught it becomes the default position for all behaviour within that family and out they go into the world carrying its time bomb.

There are simple methods for evolving past being codependent. Instead of reacting to others, we can take time for reflection, asking ourselves what we are feeling and naming our needs. This can be a simple reflection – it can be written down, it can be said out loud, it is helpful to connect a feeling to a need. We can begin by  acknowledging that there is a problem and we don’t just want to try to ignore it anymore as it causes us to lose our health. We can also begin to establish some boundaries for ourselves in terms of what we will and will not accept.

Shirley lives and works in Cornwall, Ontario and is a member of the Baha’i International community, she can be reached at spiritmatters9@gmail.com


  1. Read this three times, and will read it again. Lots to digest. Makes one think.

  2. LOVE IT!!!

    This article hit the nail on the head.

    The point is, it is never too late to become self sufficient and to be confident enough to rely on our own instincts. What a liberating feeling!! It ususally takes a rude awakening before we do a self analysis……but that is what makes us grow.

    The trials and tribulations in life are there for a reason…..they help us grow. If one never takes the time for self analysis they will never learn. They will continue on with the same life traps and make the same mistakes over and over again and will never get over their codependency. It is important to know our own needs in order to be happy. Codependency = Insecurity.

    Never allow anyone to take away your power nor steal your true indentity.

  3. Codependence is about giving away power over our self-esteem. Taking our self-definition and self-worth from outside or external sources is dysfunctional because it causes us to give power over how we feel about ourselves to people and forces which we cannot control. Any time that we give power over our self-esteem to something outside of ourselves we are making that person or thing our higher power. We are worshiping false gods.
    The more we can start owning the Truth of who we really are and integrating it into our relationship with ourselves, the more we can enjoy this human experience that we are having. Then we can start learning how to be interdependent – how to give power away in conscious, healthy ways because our self-worth is no longer dependent on outside sources.
    The disease of Codependence causes us to keep repeating patterns that are familiar. So we pick untrustworthy people to trust, undependable people to depend on, and unavailable people to love. By healing our emotional wounds and changing our intellectual programming we can start to practice discernment in our choices so that we can change our patterns and learn to trust ourselves. We will have feelings – we will get hurt, we will be scared, we will get angry – because those feelings are an unavoidable part of life. Feelings are a part of the human experience that we came here to learn about – they cannot be avoided. And trying to avoid them only causes us to miss out on the Joy and Love and happiness that can also be a part of the human experience.

  4. Awesome column! Thank you Shirley, I really needed your wisdom today.

  5. Agreed . . . co-dependency is exploitative and can poison family relationships. There is an on-line story (type “Little Messages in Little Frames” into the google search bar) that can offer a more productive alternative to being co-dependant on another person.

  6. Very good column this week. Do what you love and love what you do, but do it yourself.

  7. Hi Shirley,

    I mentioned your name and your reference to co-dependency in comment # 10 in the article on bullying. In my view, there may be a link between co-dependency and bullying.


  8. Harry….thinking your view is correct. If one is co-dependent, they have given their power to another which results in co-dependency. The one who has taken control will run with it …..hence the bullying.

  9. Thanks Stella . . . . for mentioning that “the one who has taken control will run with it”. Some people are “control addicts” and enjoy having power over somebody else . . . . they feel secure when they can control some one else’s life and would therefore be co-dependant on a submissive and passive person over whom they could enact their control behaviour . . . the psychopath is an extreme form of control addiction.

    I’ve had the privilege of having heard first hand, confessions of a few psychopaths . . . who admitting to feeling some deep need to have power over another person . . . and they were willing to get that power by doing some pretty nasty things.

    In our neighbourhoods, busy bodies who want to know the tiniest details of other people’s personal lives, can engage in subtle emotional bullying . . . if you don’t tell them what they want to know, the either take offence, reject the person who has asserted their privacy or make a “poor-me” victim out of themselves (in my view, a very manipulative form of co-dependency)

  10. Dear readers, really thank you so much for your keen observations and insights. The word “discernment” is the power we can exercise in order to distinguish between truth and falsehood. I think we need to teach our children discernment right from the beginning. Let them spit out the peas if they don’t like the taste, don’t force them down their throat. Encourage that two year old to say “NO”, realize that this is a huge protection for them, they have to learn to be assertive from a young age in order to pratice discernment.

    One of the major characteristics of codependency is the addiction to flattery. Flattery is so insidious in our culture, so normal and so harmful. It is the basis for toxic enmeshment where we learn from a very early age to do things that we do not want to do, like kiss a relative that we do not know and don’t want to touch but are forced to because our parents make us do it. The power of discernment can give us the strength to resist flattery and protect children from all kinds of harm, bullying and sexual abuse are two examples.
    My break-up with co-dependence is picking up speed as I move along so will keep you posted!

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