This is a question and answer page where Codependency therapist/Spiritual teacher/author of Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls, shares his experience, strength, and hope by posting (anonymously) the questions he receives by e-mail and the responses which he sends back.   This page includes questions from Vermont, England, Alaska, & Oregon about being "Confused & lost", "where to start?", responses about  inner dialogue to combat shame, setting boundaries with the inner child, learning to cry, next book, etc.

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The Web Site of Robert Burney and Joy to You & Me Enterprises.

Robert Burney is a codependence therapist, Spiritual teacher, and the author of the Joyously inspirational book

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls.

This is a question and answer page where Robert shares his experience, strength, and hope by posting (anonymously) the questions he receives by e-mail and the responses which he sends back.   If you have reached this page without coming through the web site, you might want to first explore the web sit by going to the Joy to You & Me Home Page so that you can understand the context within which these questions are asked and answered.


"Confused and lost" in Vermont wrote:

I have begun reading the information you are providing on-line. As preface, I am "the lost child". That leaves me confused about how I feel any way as I have spent 45 years in limbo. I am blanking out on boundaries. The first one with the critical parent is fairly easy - just cut it off and refocus. After that I am lost.

 It is natural and normal to be confused and scared and feel lost (I talk about that on my Self-Nurturing page) - what is important is to try to not let the critical parent voice beat us up for being confused and scared.   One of the really insideous things about Codependence is that once we start getting awareness we start beating ourselves up for what we are learning.

You say to set a boundary between being and behavior. At this point I have no awareness of my being and do not know how to lay the defining boundary.  My favorite expression of my disease is isolation (the second is teaching, third is care taking. After that I know no other ways of being/behaving). Does that make sense to you??

It makes perfect sense.  You weren't allowed to have a being, a self, as a child - you had to adapt to survive. Here is an excerpt from my book about "being verses behavior:" 

"This healing is a long gradual process the goal is progress, not perfection.  What we are learning about is unconditional Love.  Unconditional Love means no judgment, no shame.

[When I use the term “judge,” I am talking about making judgments about our own or other people’s beings based on behavior.  In other words, I did something bad therefore I am a bad person; I made a mistake therefore I am a mistake.  That is what toxic shame is all about:  feeling that something is wrong with our being, that we are somehow defective because we have human drives, human weaknesses, human imperfections.

There may be behavior in which we have engaged that we feel ashamed of but that does not make us shameful beings.   We may need to make judgments about whether our behavior is healthy and appropriate but that does not mean that we have to judge our essential self, our being, because of the behavior.  Our behavior has been dictated by our disease, by our childhood wounds; it does not mean that we are bad or defective as beings.  It means that we are human, it means that we are wounded.

It is important to start setting a boundary between being and behavior.  All humans have equal Divine value as beings no matter what our behavior.  Our behavior is learned (and/or reactive to physical or physiological conditions).  Behavior, and the attitudes that dictate behavior, are adopted defenses designed to allow us to survive in the Spiritually hostile, emotionally repressive, dysfunctional environments into which we were born.]"

So what I am talking about is fighting off the Toxic Shame that says that there is something wrong with me because of the way I have behaved.  For instance - the disease/critical parent voice will tell you that there is something wrong with you for being confused and lost.  It will tell you there is something wrong with you that have had no awareness of your being.  It will tell you that there is something wrong with you because you know of no other way of behaving beyond isolating, etc.  - That is all bull.  All of these things are about being wounded, about being human. 

One of the ways to start setting a boundary between being and behavior is to start doing some positive affirmations. 

"I am a Spiritual Being full of Light and Love." is one of my favorites. When my disease is wanting to beat up on me it is better not to argue details with it. Just state the Truth. 

When it beats you up for being confused and lost - say: 

"It is human to feel confused and lost.  It means I am going through a transition.  I am a Spiritual Being full of Light and Love.  It is not my fault that I am a "Lost Child."  It is not my fault that I was wounded and learned how to protect myself by isolating and care-taking - those were the best choices available to me at the time.  I am Unconditionally Loved in this very moment - I always have been and always will be.  I am perfect in my Spiritual Essence.  I am perfectly where I am supposed to be on my Spiritual Path.  And from a human perspective I will never be able to do human perfect.  I am learning new ways to do life and my Spirit is going to guide me through this."

Sometimes when the disease is really yammering away at me the best I can do is just to keep repeating an affirmation (or 3 or 4 of them) over and over again like a mantra. 

I am a Spiritual Being full of Light and Love. 

I am a Spiritual Being full of Light and Love. 

I am a Spiritual Being full of Light and Love. 

I am a Spiritual Being full of Light and Love.

There are a lot of books available with affirmations in them - One of  my favorite authors in this area is Shakti Gawain  (Creative Visualization is one of her books that helped me a lot.  Now available in the Joy to You & Me Bookstore

Also what actual boundaries would I set for inner children? Perhaps I am the worst case scenario, but possibly not so I thought, for the sake of those who have even less to go on than I do, perhaps you could be really concrete and explicit.

There are several facets to setting boundaries with our innerchildren.  One is that we need to gently explain to the magical thinking child within that Fairy Tales do not come true - that is we are not going to get to happily ever-after in this lifetime on this plane.  We may meet our prince or princess - but they are going to be wounded souls who need to work on their issues also. 

I just took a break from writing this to go to the post office to mail a book and tape set to England - and as I was walking to the post office a perfect example of what I am talking about occurred within me. (This is the kind of miracles that I get on a daily basis - "the ask and yee shall recieve" kind - I am thinking of the best way to answer and by paying attention I was given an example.) 

As I was writing this response to your questions, I got a hit/idea/inspiration that I should post a web page with the questions that I get by e-mail and answers I send back.  As you mention, it can really help sometimes to be concrete and explicit. So, as I am walking to the post office I am thinking about doing such a web page and the following interaction takes place within me (in my inner reality these are fleeting thoughts rather than a formal conversation.) 

ego/critical parent:  "Your giving away all of this information for free and meanwhile you can't even pay your rent.  That is pretty stupid" 

Romantic (believes in fairy tales) inner child:  "Oh, but we're going to be rewarded.  All kinds of good things are going to happen - including getting a lot of money." 

Adult on Spiritual Path: "Now, settle down you two.  In the first place, it is very important and wonderful to give away what I have been given - that is how to keep the energy flowing - and that is what works, it is what I need to do for me/us.  And I am going to do it because it feels good, it feels right - like the next thing in front of me to do.  We'll worry about the rent when it is time to pay the rent - for today, for this moment, we will do what feels right for today.  And I need to tell  you that our reward may just be to feel good about what we're doing - and if that is all there is, that is still a wonderful gift.  On top of that we are getting positive feedback from all over - and that is a great bonus.  There may never be a lot of money but that is not important.  There is enough money for today.  And we are very blessed to have something to do today that is fulfiling and makes us happy." 

So I set a boundary with the critical parent by not buying into the criticism, I set a boundary with my inner child by not building up expectations of some kind of reward, and I remind myself to focus on the half of the glass that is full (my needs that have been met) and be grateful for the gifts I have been given - not the half that is empty (my wants that have not been met.) 

(Expectations are a real key to getting honest with ourselves. My column about expectations can be found on the Empowerment & Victimization page.  My  column about gratitude, focusing, and the difference between wants and needs, can be found on the Web page Happy Holidays, Sad Holidays)

I have peace and serenity when I can accept reality as it is and focus on what action I can take to change what needs to be changed.  That means I need to accept that I can be happy and fulfilled even if I never have any money, never get any more of my books published, never have another romantic relationship, etc.  I need to let go of my picture of how I want things to be and focus on what action I can take today that: 

1. feels good/right, 

2. that feels like a kind thing to do for myself (could be doing the dishes or cleaning house - inner children rarely want to do house work - of course if house work is one of your coping mechanisms then for you doing somethng frivilous and silly might be in order), 

and/or 3. that is about planting some seeds (going to the library to get a book, posting a new web page, checking for local 12 step meetings, etc.) that maybe will help to meet my wants. 

The Truth of the reward thing is that I have no way of knowing if I am creating "good" (feels like reward when it comes back) Karma  or settling old "bad" (feels like punishment) Karma - so I cannot know what is coming, I just know that I believe it is all going to be all right in the end and I will get to go home when I am through with this often very painful boarding school. 

There is always going to be more work, more healing to do - but the magical thinking child wants to believe in magical fairy tales (we're going to win the lottery) - this does not in any way preclude believing in magical miracles.  We need to know that there are miracles and magic so we can be open to them (we could win the lottery.) but not just sit around expecting (planning on eating on your lottery winnings tomorrow is not a good strategy)them to rescue us and takes us to happily ever after - we need to take some action/do our part (buy a ticket - just one - and though this can be applied literallly to the lottery I am really using it here figuratively speaking) - we are co-creators here. And even if we win the lottery it is just going to present us with some more lessons - not bring us happily ever after. 

So, got off on one of my tangents there.  Another aspect of the inner child we need to set boundaries for is the child within us that wants instant gratification.  A little child doesn't have any perspective - doesn't know what an hour is, or a a day or a month.  They are in the moment. And in the moment they feel things REAL BIG!  "I have to have that toy right now!"  It feels like life or death to them - but 20 minutes later they have forgotten and gone on to something else.  We have a child in us that I have heard called the King Baby - "I Want What I Want and I Want it NOW!" 

This child we need to set boundaries for  - because this young child (3 or 4 or 5 ish) does not understant that eating 15 candy bars will make him sick. 

So, we need to be a loving parent who protects our inner child from always giving into instant gratification. 

I hope that I have helped you some.  There are so many levels and facets to this stuff that any question leads into 20 more.  It can be very hard to keep things simple sometimes. 


"Confused and lost" in Vermont replied:

Your response was a very pleasant surprise! 
Your explanation defining being/behavior was very good. My being is so buried that I need to do a lot of work to expose it so I can begin to know it. Your suggestions on "inner child" boundary setting seemed to be the way to allow my being to emerge safely. I need to create the "safe zone" myself and no longer wait on a Knight in Shinning Armor to provide the security (a fairy tale not even those closest to me would suspect I harbor!).

I am so glad that my explanation helped. You are right about the "safe zone" - we weren't protected in childhood and we need to learn to be our own protector.

Also, I could see for the first time how much my life/career judgments are driven by {inner} children. As I recognize a judgment has been made by "them" rather than by the being living this human experience for 45 years I can, LOL, rethink it. As I am making mini-decisions all day (and into the night) for/about people in my care, your consideration in responding to me will radiate to many others
who are not in a good position to take charge themselves.

One of the things you will find happening is that the more you get aware of your inner child reactions the more you will start to recognize them in others - this is very helpful in allowing us to see that the reactions of others are not personal, not really about us (everyone is dancing their own dance with their own wounds) which is so helpful in taking the power away from our emotional reactions to them - and also in having compassion, first for ourselves and then for them also. 

On this side I struggled with the dilemma of communicating with you "for free"; much as you describe in responding. In the end I decided (justified?) that 1. It may be useful as feed back for you and 2. I will buy your book*.

When I was describing the discussion my critical parent came up with about giving away my work for free - it wasn't about the e-mail advice, it was about how I keep adding more and more pages to the web site. I am quite comfortable with responding to the e-mail questions I get - in fact deciding to do a web page for Q & A was part of taking care of myself throught maximizing the benifit of any time that I spend doing that.  And one thing that I know real clearly is that giving and recieving are just two sides of the same coin - in giving I recieve and in recieving I give.  (Being a good codependent I have had to work a lot harder on learning to be open to recieve.) 
Thanks a lot for your feedback on my feedback - and for the inspiration and insight that your query led me to. 
It would be great if you get my book - hopefully you will enjoy it - you can tell the book store that they can order it from New Leaf. 

Take care, 

"With thanks" wrote from Dorset England:

your article on emotional incest, your inner children, i am familiar with my inner child terminology as i trained as a pastoral counsellor many moons ago, ....but it never quite felt right as it conjured up a child always at the same age which did not fit, your way of looking at it makes so much sense.

 Yes, it never made any sense to me that there could be only one inner child - and some people said that child should grow up - as if our wounds would go away!  What is important is to realize that we do have a capable, competant, intelligent adult present inside us already (not the critical parent) - we just need to start realizing it is there and then knowing we can call it up any time any place we want to. 

I have a wonderful woman that I am working with here now.  She is 77 years young and getting younger every day since she started doing her grieving.  She just went to the library the other day and checked out some books - it was a big break through for her.  She had been an executive assistant to Generals and executives and as such had organized and led and researched for them, been to the library countless times for someone else - but could not go to the library herself for herself because of a humiliating incident that happened when she was a teenager over 60 years ago.  Now she is recognizing that what the adult in her that could do for others, it can also do for her - can take her inner child to the library and show her that there is nothing to be afraid of now. 

it was tough to realize i have been depressed all of my life, in one way or another, but great to finally see who i am under all the crud that got dumped on me

 Yes, it was a shock to me to realize that I had been depressed all my life until I went to treatment 10 years ago and started getting all the rage our and owning the pain and the grief. 

One of the wonderfull and magical things about the recovery process to me is that the more we remove the "crud" the more we realize that we are that person that we always wanted to be! 

i am like a sponge at the moment soaking up all the positive stuff i can get my hands on as eventually i want to get back into the therapy field but as a new and much wiser person with more to offer.hence the request for your book

 The only way that one can truly be an effective and compassionate therapist in dealing with this stuff is to have gone to the bottom of the barrel with their own issues - to have done their own grieving and owned their pain.  Too many therapists out there haven't done the emotional healing and they end up shaming people for being "too" emotional.  It is by going into the black hole of our feelings and making it back out that we can know and have compassion for other people and also let them know that there is a way out. 

 i have worked on the grief of my relationship with my father thinking to resolve that would be the way forward, yes it was but only partly, i realize now that MOM has not been dealt with

 For most of my life my father was the identified villain and my mother was the "poor" martyr - when I got into the grief I found that I had a lot more rage stored up at her because she never protected me or herself from him - because of her powerlessness over her childhood wounds, of course. 

i didn't mean to go on so long. i think you got it cause i know you'd understand my madness

It is not madness - The civilized world is crazy, insane - we are the ones trying to get sane.  Trying to get sane in and insane world is crazy making. 


"To Robert" from Oregon:

As I was reading through your site I must say that I was amazed.  I've seen three different councelers to try to deal with all of my stuffed up emotions.  I just lost my mother ten months ago and I haven't yet delt with it.  My dad died when I was two and I still haven't delt with that.  I was always taught that we don't cry.  We don't have sad emotions.  Now when I want to cry I stuff it all back in.  Especially in front of other people.  Latley I've been feeling stressed out and I've been having a lot of phyiscal pain.  Stomach and back problems.  I think that it's because I stuff all this in.  Every time I get sad and try to hide it I get lower abdomen pain.  Doctors have ran tests and nothing is physically wrong.  I beleive it is all emotional.  I'm 19 and I have a 3 year old baby girl.  I really don't want to teach her these bad habits.  I really need to learn to let myself cry.  Can you help me?

Yes, it is important to start working on letting yourself cry.  It is a gradual process of reprogramming our belief system - so that when we start to feel the feelings coming up and the programming/critical parent voice says "stuff it" we can start saying "No, it is ok for me to cry.  It is not bad or shameful if I can't cry right now, but it is important to allow myself to cry."  Some of my newest web pages are about this process - if you will start with "Learning to Love your self" and read through that one and the ones that follow it may help you - don't try to do it all at once though, take it a little at a time - only as fast as your inner child can take it. 

One of the reasons that we learn to stuff tears is because it was not safe for us to cry in our family - which certainly sounds like it was the case for you.  So it is important to find someplace that it is safe for you to cry.  A counselor who knows how to facilitate grief and anger work - who will be comfortable with you crying and help you get there is real important if you can find one. 

Have you ever gone to any Twelve Step meetings - Co-Dependents Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics (you don't have to be from an alcoholic family - it is for anyone from a dysfunctional family), Ala-Teen, or Al-Anon?  I would highly recomend that you find some Twelve Step meetings, they can be very helpful and supportive. 

You didn't mention whether you were living in the City or country, small town or what - so I don't know what resources are available where you live.  There will be some, wherever you are.  Seek out some of these - maybe a womens group, or an adult ed class or such things. 

Another thing that is real important is a Spiritual belief system - which does not necessarily mean religious, in fact some religions in my opinion are not Spiritual at all.  But some kind of Spiritual support system that lets you know that The Force is with you. 

If you can make some 12 step meetings they will help with the concept of a Higher Power who Loves you.  You do have a Higher Self, a Spirit that will guide you and help you.  What some people call the "small quiet voice inside" - not the loud mean voices, that is the disease talking.  Try to listen to the Loving voice inside and follow it's guidance. 

Do you have help with your little girl?  Do you have some supportive friends or family that can be supportive? 

I will be looking forward to hearing from you again, 


"To Robert" from Oregon replied:
I am living in a small town in Oregon.  There aren't very many people here.  I have a lot of friends who would love to see me open up and I know that they would help me in any way.  I'm just not sure how to let myself do it. The other night I wanted so bad to cry but it's almost automatic for me not to.  I know that this is physically tearing me up and it's not a good thing to teach my daughter.  Anyway, I will read some of your info. and see if it'll help.

Yes, it is automatic to suppress our feelings - that is the way we were programmed.  It is wired into our hard drive as it were.  So we need to work on changing the programming by talking to ourselves.  You can say over and over to yourself during the day:

"It is Ok for me to cry.  It is natural and healthy for me to cry. I now have permission from myself to cry whenever it is safe for me to be vulnerable."

And when you feel like crying, try to remember to remind yourself to breathe - we automatically close our throats and stop breathing when the feelings start to come up.  I talk about the mechanics of that on my Grief Process Techniques page. 

What might help is after you have put your little girl to bed at night - on a night when you are feeling sad - take a teddy bear or doll and hold it - relate to it as your inner child, and talk to her about how sorry you are that she was not able to own her feelings, that her Daddy died, that her mommy was so stressed out and couldn't meet her needs, etc.  What is important is to start letting the little child inside know that you care about her feelings and that you are listening to her.  Tell her that you are sorry that you have been so shut down to her and that you are doing the best you can to learn how to relate to her in a healthier way. 

Work on having compassion for yourself and the little girl that you were - remind yourself to be patient with, and loving to, your self. 

Doing positive affirmations would also help.  We all learned to negatively affirm ourself all day long - so the more we can do some positive affirmations, the better. It is very helpful to do the positive affirmations of both our True Spiritual nature and our right to own our feelings, have boundaries, and have a self.

The most important thing to remember - in my opinion - is that you are a Spiritual Being having a human experience.  You are on a Path that will lead you home to Love and everything is unfolding perfectly according to the Divine Plan of a Loving Universal Force.  A lot of the time it does not look or feel perfect from our human perspective (especially when we are reacting our of our wounded inner children) and it is very important to own our feelings about that - the anger as well as the sadness - but it is also very important to remember that there is a Spiritual part of us - a Higher Self - who is going to guide us and help us along the way. 

The Force is with you and Loves you very, very much!


"Where to start" in Alaska wrote:
I have been reading your online stuff for about a month and am about half way through your book.  Could use a little help in getting started on this 12 step program.  Have finished, well still working on 10, 11 and 12 from AA.  How do I start this without a group? or sponsor?

Well, it is always helpful to have meetings - Co-Dependents Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics (you don't have to be from an alcoholic family - it is for anyone from a dysfunctional family), or Al-Anon - if there are no meetings in your area, you might try some online meetings.  I haven't been to any online meetings myself - just because I don't have much time - but you could check them out and see if they are any help. 

The only official sponsor I ever had in working on my Codependency was my Higher Self - the Spirit has guided me (and quided me to the right teachers at the right time.) .  In my early years of recovery in AA I had some sponsors who were good for me at that time - when I got into my codependence issues one of the things that I realized is that my AA sponsors had all been a little like my father - emotionally unavailable and verbally abusive - (in that way that men in this society are taught to be affectionate with each other by calling each other names "hey ---hole")  - in fact I fired my last sponsor almost 11 years ago the same week I fired a therapist who I had gone to see about emotional enmeshment issues (before I knew about emotional incest).  On my third visit the therapist wanted to line me up with a blind date with someone that worked for her husband - a little enmeshing there.  So it was like I got to fire my mother and my father in the same week - great - I did it very appopriately and directly with the therapist and inappropriately and inderctly with my sponsor (we can't do it perfect when we are learning - in fact we very seldom do it perfect ever - has to do with being human.) 

Oops, off on a tangent again. 

The point is that we can do the work without a sponsor or meetings or a therapist for that matter.  Any of those things can help but if we don't have them right now that means that we don't need them right now.  What we need to do is be willing to do whatever it takes and to follow the messages that we are given.  You found my web site because it was time - you will get the help you need when it is time - as you said: 

Thanks for coming into my life at this time.  It is really time for me to make a change.  I am willing.   I know that the answers will come at the right time.

The starting point in terms of the work I do, is to start observing ourselve - detaching from ourselves.  The new page about Learning to Love our self is a good place to start and then just follow it through.  As your going through it the Universe will give you perfect opportunities to get a deeper understanding. 

 When does your first "how to" book coming out?

The book "Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light" will be coming out about 6 months after I get the money to publish it - when that is going to happen my Higher Power has not seen fit to let me in on yet.  I thought I had the money coming back in May and the investor fell through - so it turned into a wonderful opportunity to feel some really deep pain and rage and do some more healing of my abandonment/betrayal issues.  (As I say in my book - there are some days when I choose to call my Higher Power "F--king A--hole" - which my HP finds real amusing.  It was real important for me to own my right to be angry at the God-Force  - because though it is all unfolding perfectly from a Cosmic Perspective - it feels like crap down here some of the time.) 

I already have about 60,000 words of "Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light" written and most of it (absent really only examples/case study type of info) is on the web site - it will of course be organized differently - but the information for that book is mostly available here, and of course as I write responses to the questions people ask me I am creating more material for the book.

In fact later today (hopefully) I will be posting a web page with e-mail questions and answers.  They will all be anonymous - This is a way that I can share the responses I am sending to people's e-mail questions with other people who might benifit from them - and also maximaze the investment of any time that I spend doing this.  It is also a way to refine the material for the book - so when the material is refined enough the money will be available and it will all be timed perfectly.  The Truth that has sustained me through many a dark moment is More Will Be Revealed.

Any seminars in Juneau area or Seattle area soon?

No, sorry about that.  The only workshops I have scheduled right now are in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo California next month.  A friend is trying to set one up in Nova Scotia.  Until the Universe sees fit to provide the funds My work will be available to most of the world only online or through "The Dance of Wounded Souls" - hopefully that will change sometime soon. 

Anyway, will continue on my path. I know the answers will come.  Thank you  for the book , online stuff and inspiration.

  Thank you for your feedback, validation and inspiration.

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This material is copyright by Robert Burney 1998.  Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney is Copyright 1995. 
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