The theme of the week this week with my clients seems to be how to stay with ourselves even when in the face of challenging dynamics. Leaving ourselves, or disconnecting from our experience, can happen in obscure and subtle ways. Often it happens when we are overly concerned with another person or people. Overly concerned with their reaction, with pleasing them, with meeting their needs and being tuned into their feelings or meeting what we perceive to be their expectations. I don't like to use labels very often, because a message can get lost in a label- we can get stuck there if we're not carefully. But there is a word for leaving yourself over and over and to your own detriment - it's codependence.
Codependency can be seen in love addictions, attachment-related dysfunction, other types of addiction, relating to narcissists or abusers, and helping professions. When we leave ourselves to care for another, it can be harmful. A healthy way of being concerned with other people's reactions and experiences is to stay with ourselves as we offer care and compassion and relatedness. In a healthy dynamic, we don't leave ourselves to accommodate them. We stay with ourselves, caring for ourselves, being attuned to our own feelings and needs, while also tuning into theirs. Only offering care and support if coming from a place of connection to ourselves.
There are many ways many of us are trained to care for others that involve leaving ourselves. Usually it happens when we're taught that our caregivers needs were more important than our own. We can learn very early on that we need to stamp out whatever is arising and tune into the adults around us in order to stay safe, be cared for, and connected. There can also be expectations we put on ourselves, or that others put on us to perform in certain ways that require us to leave ourselves. Done over and over again, this can start to become habitual and subconscious. It takes bringing conscious awareness to our interactions and our behaviors with others, to identify when and where we might fall into this pattern. And then to practice how to extend love and compassion and care, while also caring for ourselves in the process. Sometimes learning this might involve saying "no" for a while. It often involves being honest with yourself about your needs and feelings and learning how to speak up about them. This can be a process, and I truly believe in always leading with self-compassion.