codependency Archives - Dr. Mary Pritchard

Making Friends with Your Shadow

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This month in the sacred circle we have been working on cultivating self-trust. As part of our full moon meditation journey this past weekend, we took a dive into the shadow self – the parts of ourselves that we try to high hide, deny, or repress; the parts of ourselves that we're not proud of. Yet, we have much to learn from these parts of ourselves.

How do we meet this part of ourselves if we’ve repressed it? Here’s the thing about the shadow: you cannot fully repress it. It tends to show up in your emotions. When you feel hurt, angry, frustrated, afraid, ask yourself, “What are you afraid of? Why are you hurting? Angry? Frustrated?” You might find some nuggets of wisdom in the answer to that question.

Then dive a little deeper. Where is this coming from? Sometimes it’s coming from what it appears to be coming from: something happened that made you upset. But sometimes when we dive deeper, we find clues: old patterns, thoughts, or ways of be-ing that have been with us for a long time but no longer serve.

It works like this: somewhere in your past, an incident occurred (or maybe several similar instances) that changed your way of be-ing. While you may no longer remember these instances, the pattern of be-ing they created is still there. So, as an adult, you are still operating under these same sets of rules/patterns that you developed in an earlier time in your life, often without giving thought to why you are doing what you’re doing. Sometimes that’s fine; if it’s a good habit you’ve created, there may be no need to delve into the where, why, and how it emerged. However, if you keep finding yourself getting hurt/upset/angry/frustrated over the same types of things, then it might be time to figure out if there is a pattern and where it came from.

Case in point: I’m a recovering fixer. I see something that I perceive needs to be fixed and I dive right in to help – regardless of whether my help is asked for, needed, or wanted. There have been many times in my life when I ‘helped’ someone and my help was not desired or appreciated. I would then feel hurt, not seeing that I had created my own problem. On the surface, in any one of those occasions, I could have asked myself, “Why are you upset?” and responded, “Because I feel unappreciated.” But, if I dove deeper I would find that I had created this situation myself by giving help when it wasn’t asked for. That feeling of needing to fix everyone’s problems and then feeling unappreciated was my shadow side coming forward.

What caused that to happen? Through a series of occurrences early in my life, I ended up becoming the family mediator, the voice of reason. I saw it as my job to calm tempers, make people come to the table and talk things out, and generally “fix” what needed to be fixed on both an emotional and practical level. (No wonder I got my PhD in Psychology, huh?!) As childhood turned into adulthood, and I moved away from my family home, that pattern of behavior had become so deeply rooted that I didn’t know how to not be a fixer. That’s when the problem started. I took an old habit/pattern and started applying it to new situations where it was ineffective. Because my identity was firmly entrenched in being a “fixer,” I found myself trying to fix problems that really didn’t exist. So I kept looking for problems I could fix. Occasionally, I actually found a problem and fixed it, and that felt good, familiar. As word got around at work, I became the go-to-girl for other people’s problems, and I ended up taking on their emotions and problems as my own, just so I could fix them. The issue was: 1) they weren’t my problems to fix, 2) I would end up feeling hurt when my “fixing” wasn’t wanted or appreciated, and 3) I was becoming emotionally drained from trying to fix everyone else’s problem.

As I began to dive into my behavior pattern and learned more about where it came from, I realized how this pattern that had once been so crucial to my identity (and highly effective in my family of origin) didn’t serve me anymore. I needed to stop being a fixer. So I dove in and asked myself, “Where is need to fix things coming from?” As I worked more and more with my shadow side, I understood that at the core of my need to fix things was a little girl who just wanted to be loved and appreciated for who she was. She didn’t really want to fix other people’s problems; it was just the way she felt loved and valued. “If you fix it, they will love you.” But when I give her the unconditional love and appreciation she needs, she no longer feels the need to search for and fix other people’s problems.

The shadow aspect of ourselves is usually, at its core, something very similar to this: it stems from a childhood need that wasn’t met. As a child, you likely learned how to get your need met (in my case, I felt loved and appreciated when I “fixed” things). But, there are likely other healthier ways to get this same need met. I now know that I don’t have to fix people’s problems for them to love me. I am deserving of unconditional love and affection just because – no strings attached. Once you begin to get your needs met (in my case, give myself the love and affection I need), then the shadow tendency should begin to dissolve on its own. Once you know where it came from, when it rears its head again, then you know exactly why it happened (when I don’t give myself the love and affection I need, I find myself trying to “fix” other people’s problems again) and how to address it (allow myself to get my needs met).






5 Steps to Healing

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Healing is a process, a journey, and wherever you are on that journey, it’s likely you have encountered, or will encounter, a few hiccups along the way. These little glitches sometimes take us off track and make us forget about all the progress we’ve already made thus far. Sometimes these perceived setbacks are tests from the Universe to see if you’re serious; sometimes they are your own self-doubt intruding; and sometimes life just happens for you. Regardless of what caused the hiccup, know that it’s there for a reason. It’s your job to figure out what it is, why it’s there, and what you need to do about it.

But know this: you are not alone. I’ve been getting several questions lately from frustrated podcast listeners, YouTube channel subscribers, and clients around topics related to healing. Whether you’re healing from a divorce, an eating disorder, body dissatisfaction, codependency, or anything else, there seem to be two central questions that give all of us pause during our healing process: 1) Why does it takes so long to heal? (For my answer, listen in to this podcast episode). 2) Why, once you feel like you’ve made significant progress on your healing journey, do you always seem to fall back in the trap of whatever it is you are trying to escape?

To answer that last question, I think it’s important to recognize that healing is a process. In my experience, it’s one that seems to boil down to these 5 steps. I’m going to walk you through these steps using my divorce several years ago as an example.

  1. Awareness – when I was married, I was not aware I was in a codependent relationship. In fact, I didn’t even know what a codependent relationship was. After all, my parents had a codependent relationship, so I just thought marriage was supposed to be that way. The therapist I was seeing as I went through my divorce diagnosed me with complex PTSD and told me to read Melodie Beattie’s Codependent No More. That’s when I finally discovered that my marriage wasn’t healthy, for either of us.
  2. Acknowledgement – this is truly the first stage of healing, where you admit you have a problem. You begin to see the issue, in my case codependency, for what it is. As you acknowledge the issue, you begin to go through the process of healing, letting go, and forgiveness of yourself and whoever else was involved (Note: to me, forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different than it was – after all, you can't change the past, so ruminating about the “should haves” or “if onlys” does no good).
  3. Testing a Different Way of Being – once you have acknowledged where you are/were – in my case in a codependent relationship – at some point you must decide that you no longer want to do that. However, that’s often easier said than done. I knew I didn’t want to be in a codependent relationship again, but I wasn’t quite sure what Plan B was because I’d never known anything other than Plan A (codependency). So I began to try new things, relate to people differently. Yet, because Plan A (codependency) is all I’d ever known, I kept falling back into that trap with every man I dated post-divorce. The good news was that now that I knew what I was looking for, it was very easy to spot when it happened. So, I had a choice – to go back to codependency or to explore a different way of being. I chose Plan B, not really even sure what that was going to look like. I’m not going to lie, it was a little scary. But I knew it had to be better than Plan A (codependency was miserable). So I experimented. I tried new things. I explored what happened when I did things a little differently. Sometimes I found myself stuck in self-doubt because I didn’t yet know where I was going. In those cases, I learned to breathe through that doubt, so I could move on to stage 4.
  4. Deciding What You Really Want – after enough experimentation and observation of how other people did Plan B (what you want – in my case, a healthy romantic relationship), I started to get a better idea of what I wanted as well as how to cultivate that. I started taking notes, writing it down so I would remember what I wanted. I then continually revisited this written reminder of how I wanted to be now and what I wanted in a romantic relationship. It was still a lot of trial and error at this point, but I could at least see the new way of being even if I didn’t choose it 100% of the time (after all, as miserable as Plan A was, it was familiar…). Yes, it was uncomfortable at first, but I kept going back to my list of what I wanted. I also found a few role models – in my case, women who had recovered from codependency and learned a new way of being. I read their stories; listened to their interviews on telesummits. I even called a few of them to talk it through. That was tremendously helpful as it gave me hope that I, too, could do this.
  5. Walking Down a New Sidewalk – you have enough practice under your belt that most of the time, you are living in this new way. It's still a practice, but with time it does get easier, and past becomes just a memory of how you used to be.

Did I heal my codependency? Yes. Am I in a healthy relationship now? Yes. Did it take time? Absolutely, and this time piece was invaluable. You can’t rush things – trying to hurry the healing process will likely only result in you falling back down the rabbit hole of whatever Plan A you are trying to escape. (I know because I speak from experience!) How long did it take? About 3 years, which is actually right on track with what we know about rewiring the brain (for more on that, listen to my podcast episode here).

Bottom line: If I can heal, you can do this too. But it will take time. How much time? That depends on what step you’re on and how much work you’re willing to do. But know this: you can do this. You are not alone. You have others out there, like me, who would love to support you (you can learn more about working with me here). Find them. Find your tribe. Get the help and support you need. You’ve got this.

The Layers of Healing 

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layers“Every time I think I’ve got this codependency thing resolved, it keeps coming back up again,” one of my clients bemoaned last week. “I feel like I’m not making any progress at all.”

I reassured her that, in fact, she had come a long way. Healing is a journey, and while it may sometimes feel like you’re taking two steps forward and three steps back, progress is being made. Layers are being uncovered and healed.

When I think of healing an issue, be it body dissatisfaction, codependency, depression, self-loathing, not enoughness, etc., I think of an onion. Most issues have multiple layers – they didn’t just appear overnight. Thus, to fully heal these issues, you must uncover and heal each layer. Like an onion, with each layer you peel, you get to a smaller, but more potent layer. Eventually you get to the center, or core, of the issue. Once you heal that core, then you are free. Each layer is important and each must be addressed, but until the core issue is revealed, the problem will keep coming up. That’s just the Universe’s way of reminding you that you’ve still got more healing to do!

So how do you heal an issue that has multiple layers? It takes time, but as you uncover each layer, I promise, it will get easier.

Let me give you an example. When I was going through my divorce a few years ago, a friend of mine encouraged me to paint my emotions. At that point in my life, it has been 20 years since I picked up a paint brush. Still, the idea intrigued me. So I started painting. At first everything I painted was dark – lots of blacks and deep reds as I processed the hurt and grief. But as the weeks turned into months, my paintings became more colorful. I began to see joy in my life as I healed those layers of grief.

Maybe painting isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s writing. Singing. Dancing. It doesn’t matter. We all have issues that need to be healed. None of us get through life unscathed. It just needs to be some form of expression that allows you to process and heal.

After a two-year hiatus, I recently started painting again. The first time I painted as an adult, it was to heal, an unbecoming of who I had been, if you will. This time it’s to find my center, myself, again. Layer after layer, I lay the paint – purple of course – as I reinvent myself.

Truth be told I'm not certain what will unfold. I have no plan here, no ending point in mind. Sometimes layers and stories are like that – you never know what you'll get – or when you’re done – until you get there. But the destination doesn't matter. Right now it's all about the layers; it's all about the paint; it's all about the story as I watch it unfold…