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 the questions he receives by e-mail and the responses which he sends back.  This page includes questions about About Romantic Relationships & Process Work - the devastation of emotional abuse, blaming, sorting out the inner messages, being powerless over the future, Unconditional Love does not mean being a doormat

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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.

“Only emotionally abused” in Jersey wrote:

Thanks once again for responding.  After much thought , I realize that i really can not blame my father for all my problems.  i recently found out that my father was an abused child [his mother]  and he was just repeating history , so to speak.

Yes, it is true that our parents were doing the best they knew how with the tools they had and the circumstances they came from - they were just dancing with their wounds.  And what they did to us was not personal - it didn’t have anything to do with who we really are because they could not see us (and for most of us probably never will be able to see us) because they could not see themselves.

It is very important to realize that we need to stop blaming but it is also vital to own our anger at the people that hurt us.  Some people on a Spiritual Path will use the Truth that our parents were doing the best they knew how as an excuse to avoid owning the anger - that is out of balance. We need to own our anger and our right to be angry at our parents even though they were powerless over their disease - just as we have been in our adult lives.

Codependence is about swinging between extremes - black and white perspective - either blaming others or blaming ourselves - we need to take the blame out of the process but hold ourselves and everyone else accountable for the behavior - even though we and they were powerless.  We need to take responsibility without blaming.

Here is an excerpt from my book about blaming and owning the feelings.

As little kids we were victims and we need to heal those wounds.  But as adults we are volunteers - victims only of our disease.  The people in our lives are actors and actresses whom we cast in the roles that would recreate the childhood dynamics of abuse and abandonment, betrayal and deprivation.

We are/have been just as much perpetrators in our adult relationships as victims.  Every victim is a perpetrator because when we are buying into being the victim, when we are giving power to our disease, we are perpetrating on the people around us and on ourselves.

We need to heal the wounds without blaming others.  And we need to own the responsibility without blaming ourselves.  As was stated earlier - there is no blame here, there are no bad guys.  The only villain here is the disease and it is within us.

I want to make it clear that when I say “without blaming others,” I do not mean to deny our anger.  We need to own and release the anger and rage at our parents, our teachers or ministers or other authority figures, including the concept of God that was forced on us while we were growing up.  We do not necessarily need to vent that anger directly to them but we need to release the energy.  We need to let that child inside of us scream, “I hate you, I hate you,” while we beat on pillows or some such thing, because that is how a child expresses anger. 

That does not mean that we have to buy into the attitude that they are to blame for everything.  We are talking about balance between the emotional and mental here again.  Blame has to do with attitudes, with buying into the false beliefs - it does not really have anything to do with the process of releasing the emotional energy.

We also need to own and release the anger against those whom we feel victimized us as adults - and we need to take responsibility for our side of the street, own our part in whatever dysfunctional dance we did with them.

We need to own, honor, and release the feelings, and take responsibility for them - without blaming ourselves.

On the level of our perspective of the process it is very important to stop buying into the false beliefs that as adults we are victims and someone else is to blame - or that we are to blame because there is something wrong with us.

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney
It is just so important to own the feelings and our right to the feelings - at the same time that we are seeing life in a larger context and realizing that what other people are doing (or have done, including our parents) was not, and is not, personal - it doesn’t have anything to do with our True Self.  The more we can detach and see things in a larger perspective the more we can take the emotional charge out of all the power we have given to others for as long as we have lived life reacting to our childhood wounds.  I talk about the importance of learning to detach from our internal process on the page entitled Learning to Love our self.

although i was only emotionally abused, my father was phsically abused.

There is not such thing as only being emotionally abused - I have heard many horrifying stories of physical abuse and the most damaging aspect of the physical abuse is the emotional abuse it causes - when we say "I was only emotionally abused" it is the disease minimizing the trauma we experienced.  Emotional abuse is underneath all other types of abuse - the most damaging aspect of physical, sexual, mental, etc. abuse is the trauma to our hearts and souls from being betrayed by the people that we love and trust.  The other types of abuse can add more levels to the healing necessary but the bottom line is the emotional abuse and it’s effect on our ability to Love and trust ourselves.  In fact, being only emotionally abused can sometimes make it much harder to get in touch with our issues because it isn’t always blatant and obvious. Some of it was very subtle - some of us were abused and shamed by the way they looked at us or said our name or did not see or hear us - on a daily basis. 

And as an adult, [ i am in my late thirties ], i have found the man that is most like my father.  That man told me not long ago that he does and says things just to  push my buttons. i tried real hard to think before i reacted,  but those buttons just went nuts.  he seems to know exactly the right time to start pushing those buttons.. you know kick them when they are down.  so, as a lesson learned, i now make sure i  think, and analyze, alittle before responding. although, once in a while , it seems to make him try even harder to goad me into battle.  so i  think i've made a baby step toward understanding me.

 Congratulations that’s great!  You are starting to practice some detachment. Taking baby steps is how we do things - and we have to get the awareness before we can work on changing the behavior.  I am not sure what your male significant other’s background is but he is reacting out of his childhood wounds also.  Sometimes, when a person comes from a home that was very emotionally volatile they think that you don’t love them unless you will engage with them - that is respond to their goading - or sometimes when a person doesn’t have permission to own their own anger they will pick someone who expresses anger as a way of getting a release, through the other persons raging - or he may be reacting out of his self-hatred, the wounded little boy in him that does not feel lovable, and may need to sabotage things when there is no turmoil or he feels you are giving him love he doesn’t deserve - or it could be his excuse to keep practicing an addiction, to drink or smoke dope or whatever.  Whatever is causing him to act that way it is not personal - it is not about who you really are, because you are just starting on the journey to finding our your True Self and your codependent defense system has been a mask you have been wearing to defend yourself, and he was attracted, in part at least, to the mask.  You two have come together because your perfectly push each other’s buttons - it provides an opportunity to get in touch with and start healing your childhood wounds. 

Again congratulations on being in recovery and starting the healing process by becoming more aware of your patterns.

Scared of relationship in England wrote:

This is one thing that has had me a bit dumbfounded for a long time.The script handed down almost guarantees that relationships will not work because of our codependency, this has left me isolated for 7 yrs not trusting my gut feeling about people, and giving everyone a wide berth, the opposite of trusting all and not using discernment at all.

That is the black and white perspective of the disease - swinging between extremes instead of finding some middle ground, some balance.

This leaves you in a no win situation for the belief is that you are not healthy therefore not able to make an reliable decision.  You know what I mean.

I certainly do know what you mean.  I personally am terrified of an intimate romantic relationship because I have made such seemingly bad choices in the past - I know that they were opportunities for growth and not mistakes on an intellectual level but on an emotional level I am terrified of trusting myself.  I even found myself putting on a bunch of weight to protect myself from being available for a relationship.

 My mothers experience has taught her that it's a waste of time, mine has taught me, it's ok to love and to want to be loved in return as long as there is no abuse of the other person involved and that motives are sincere and concern is genuine. That is where I am at this point in time, I have met a wonderful wounded soul who knows where he is and where I am, and visa versa, we are friends in the purest sense of the word, we can't believe we have met each other we thought we were the only ones alone in the world. We want only the best for each other, no strings, one day at a time. It still feels wrong in some way,that I don't deserve it, and can't trust that, good things can happen, isn't that sad. It's the disease talking to me I know, oh boy does it like to sabotage all my hard work.

Yes it is very, very sad that it is so hard to connect with another person in a love relationship.  And one of the difficult things about it is that the only way to really learn how to do a relationship is in one.  We can have all the wonderful knowledge, counseling/therapy, healing work, etc. but until we really try it out in a relationship we don’t get in touch with the gut level wounds/buttons that are so painful.  It takes a lot of courage to take the risk of embarking on a relationship - to say nothing of the time and energy it takes to get started getting to know someone.  Probably the hardest and most important part of it is being able to communicate.  There are so many blocks to communication such as 1. words having different meanings, 2. certain words being emotional triggers - to say nothing of gestures, tone of voice, body language, etc., 3. hearing things through our emotional filter instead of hearing what the person is actually saying, 4. all of the people involved (both peoples parents - alive or dead - every other person they have ever been in relationship with, fantasy mates, etc.) and others. 

Some of the things that I keep telling others (because I teach best what I need most to learn) is that  1. we need to know and tell ourselves that it is truly better to love and lose than never love at all. 2. That there are no mistakes only lessons. 3. That everything is unfolding perfectly and there is a Loving Higher Power who is guiding the process.  4. That the right people come into my life at the right time (this does not necessarily mean a wonderful relationship - sometimes it means the right person to teach us how to set boundaries or defend ourselves or know when to walk away.)  5. That it is important to change our definition of a successful relationship - a successful relationship is not necessarily one that lasts for the rest of our lives, it is one that we learn and grow from. 

It is a great risk to open up to and care about another person - and we will feel hurt at times because hurt is part of life - but it is a risk that is worth taking because if we never take the risk we can never be Truly alive. 

My page about Romantic Relationships and Toxic Love contain some good info about relationships, and the page on Codependence vs Interdependence does also.

The chance of a relationship not only being an opportunity for growth but also supportive and nurturing increases greatly if the person we choose to get involved with is also on a Spiritual/healing path - because it makes it so much easier to communicate.  Doing the inner child healing work and learning how to have internal boundaries increases the potential of the relationship by a extraordinary percentage because the terrified part of us is our inner children who were so wounded by the ones they loved in early childhood - and the same is true of the other person.  If both people are working on their issues then there will be a much richer and more rewarding experience - but it will take a lot of work.  There is not going to be some fairy tale ending and that is sad and angering - but at least we have tools and knowledge now that can help us have a better shot at a Loving relationship. 

Another thing that helps not only in relationships but with anything in life is to not take it too seriously - as I point out in the response below.


"Where to start" in Alaska wrote again:

I search for what my higher power is constantly.  I am scared.  I am scared that there isn't one.  I am scared there is!  I can go throught the motions and sometimes I have peace, and wonder if it is real, When I don't have peace, I wonder if there is such a thing.

But I do give thanx, sometimes I don't even know what to.  Becuase I feel I have grown.  That I can ask these questions tells me I have cleared a lot of pain out of the way.  I hold onto sometimes, just the fact that I can see where I was and that means I am going somewhere. 

It is real helpful to keep things in perspective - our disease always wants us to judge ourselves for how far we have to go - it is real important to say "No, look how far I have come - I am doing great." 

 I am searching. Very hard. And it is dificult.  Very difficult.  I have tried dating recently.  And I have found my codependence as active as ever, seeking to make this woman my source of pleasure.  Must I stay completely out of relationship to find my path?  Part of me says yes, part says no.

Everything in our life - the events, the people, the circumstances - are part of our lesson plan.  Finding our path is about paying attention to the messages that are coming to us from our lessons.  Relationships are a part of our lesson plan - they are wonderful opportunities for growth - exciting, frustrating, painful, terrifying risks that come into our lives to help us learn the lessons of our path.  There is no right or wrong  - only lessons.  We are Spiritual Beings having a human experience - relationships of all kinds, including romantic, are part of that experience.

The thought that just came to mind says that I can play with relationship, but two things, make it play, not serious, and two, the other person must know that I am in recovery and what I am doing... to be up front and honest with them about my struggles.

 That was your Higher Power sending you a message right there!  Is very important to try not to take anything too seriously - We are unconditionally Loved and we are going to get to go home - so we might as well lighten up and enjoy life.  One of the assignments I give to people is to try to skip at least once a day - and sing Zip-idy-do-dah or some such song - it is real hard for me to be in tragedy or trauma drama when I am skipping or singing.  In my inner child healing groups the way we close the group is to do the Hokey Pokey - as a reminder that we need to own the sadness and anger and all, but then we also need to lighten up and be silly and play. 

 I have met a woman who has a real goal in life.  Knows what she wantsand works for it.  This is my most recent struggle.  It has brought to my attention that I don't know.  I don't know my passion... well I think I do, but I don't work for it.  At least not as hard as I think I should... there is a codependent statement - I think.  I have a son and I hold on to the idea that he is my most present goal... raising him... and here is some recover I think.... to raise him well, I must heal! 

So, is my present goal, recovery?  Just that?

In Truth the Spiritual Path is why we are here in these bodies at this time.  By focusing on our Spiritual Path everything else gets clearer.  Out of your recovery will come learning who you are and what your passion is - often people who are so focused on a goal are doing it because of their wounds, they are trying to prove their worth by achieving.  Our Worth comes from being Spiritual Beings -  So the goal is recovery and everything else will follow. 

3 questions from Ontario, Canada:

Your reply was so encouraging.  I appreciate you advising me that psychologists have to label people, & for me it is the Delayed Trauma which you say is codependence.  Iam glad there's a name & you identified that I am @ "Feeling the Feelings" in the process work.

I am reading all I can on the sites you have & the questions & answers is a splendid idea & what a wonderful way to share information & aid people in their understanding, thus they become hopeful, encouraged & enpowered.
I have 3 questions & I will wait patiently for yr. reply.

1)   I will see the clinical psychologist mid-Sept. & I already havemixed feelings (some resistance w/in me & I don't want to pay $120. an hr. for it is going to cause conflict w/my spouse & I feel unworthy) Process would say stop that critical parent voice & let go and be open? I don't know?

The Process would say “Trust your gut” - do what feels right for you.  We get the guidance we need to follow our path from our gut/heart/intuition - not from figuring it out in our head.  We do need to use our mind to gather information and sort it through so that we can get clearer on what our intuition is telling us - that is what emotional and intellectual balance is all about.   What is important is asking the “right” (make the situation clearer) questions.  Most of the people in the world make decisions based on the “wrong” (ie dysfunctional) criteria.  The question is not “what is right or wrong” but rather what will work for me - for my healing and Highest good. 

We have confusion and conflict internally because we have different parts of us reacting out of different wounds.  The question that I have found is most helpful in helping me find clarity is “Where are the messages coming from?”

If the message/voice is shaming and judgmental - it is coming from the disease - tell it to buzz off.

The message that you are not worthy is coming from an inner child wounded place - it is not telling you the Truth. You do deserve anything you need to help you on your path - so throw out the voice that is saying you are unworthy - that is an old shame-based tape.

The message that you shouldn’t do it because it will cause conflict with your spouse is probably not for your Highest good.  If taking care of your self causes conflict with your spouse then you may need to take another look at the relationship - either by  yourself or hopefully with him to see if the conflict can be mediated (setting boundaries in a relationship is about 95% negotiation - boundaries for the most part aren’t rigid - some are, like it is not ok to hit me or call me certain names or cheat on me, etc. - but most boundaries are a matter of negotiation, which of course involves communication.)  As I have mentioned communication is really difficult.  Because we all have a little child inside of us who learned that it is shameful to be wrong or make a mistake - too often in relationships the attempts at communication end up as a power struggle between who is right and who is wrong.  One person takes the others feedback as an attack and then attacks back.  Again the wrong question is being asked - a relationship is a partnership, an alliance, not some game with winners and losers.  When the interaction in a relationship becomes a power struggle about who is right and who is wrong then there are no winners

So again, the functional question is what will work for you - if the situation with your spouse is such that you can not communicate clearly and you are not in a position to have a lot of choices then it could be most functional for the moment to not cause the conflict - in the long run this will end up being dysfunctional because if you have to put your needs on the back burner to avoid conflict then you are not being True to yourself or taking care of yourself - but in certain situations the more workable/functional choice can be to avoid confrontation (this can be true also with bosses, family members, etc.). 

Once you get past the unworthiness and the conflict with spouse then the question is: Did seeing this psychologist feel helpful to you? - Is this a person you believe you can trust? - Is what you feel you can get from this person worth $120? - Do you need to see a psychologist for insurance purposes or something like that?  Is this the best way to use your financial resources for your recovery? 
This is where you can probably trust your gut more than any of the other areas - Does this person feel like the right person for you at this time? - That is the only question that really matters right now - does this feel like what you need. 

2)  I am a teacher who has chosen to take a leave of absence w/out pay to do this much needed emotional work.  I went to  school I have taught @ for 8yrs. & new principal said, "you may be moved out of this school".  I am overwhelmed w/darkness, in shock & when I called the union they said, "Can't help" you  chose to be off"  I attend a prayer group once a wk. & I have be telling myself, God, R.Burney-process work would say leave it alone, you are powerless, I have nothing in writing, authority is preoccupied w/ trying to start school & gov't problems---the feeling is one like I had when our dad came home late drunk & dragged us out of bed & demanded we get fire wood & put it in the stove  & warm the house.  Now I have a choice & am learning a strategy to cope better & that is let it go until you can discuss the issue & see solution.  Is that healthy thinking & an ok way to slove problems?

We are powerless over outcomes in the future. The future is not really our business - it is our Higher Powers.  We worry about the future because of our innate human fear of the unknown - it is natural and normal for humans to fear the unknown - but ultimately the future is not something we can control. 

Now that does not mean that we are not co-creators of our lives - that doesn’t mean that we just sit around doing nothing.  There is an old story about a guy who wanted a garden and went out on his land and spent every day praying to God for a garden.  This went on for days and then weeks and then months - finally one day the man got fed up and yelled at God “Where is my garden?”  A gentle voice came down from heaven saying, “My son, you must plant the seeds.” 

We need to go any footwork necessary, gather any information that is helpful, make any connections that can help us, etc. and then let go of the outcome.  Some days are seed planting days and some days aren’t - if we put all of our energy into trying to create the future we want then we miss out on today - but if we just think of today and never think of the future then we are not being co-creators of our life.
We need to have a balance between being a responsible adult and being free to be spontaneous in the moment.  By having internal boundaries and starting to change our patterns so we are not always reacting to the past - we can start having the choice of being present in the now.  It is very important to be available for life today.  I heard someone in a Twelves Step meeting not long ago say “What if today is the happiest day of my life and I miss it because I am busy getting better?”  Balance is what we are seeking - balance between being in the now and taking care of business so we can eat tomorrow. 

In regard to your situation - you don’t have any idea today who you are going to be a year from now much less what you want in your life then.  In recovery, as we heal we enter different dimensions of consciousness so that things that used to be important aren’t any more, things that used to be scary aren’t any more, things that we used to worry about don’t bother us anymore, etc.  You can’t know what it is going to be like because you have never been to the places you are going. 

If your Higher Power wants you to teach at the same school that is what will happen - If it is not part of the Divine plan nothing you can do will change that. 

So do whatever you can to plant the seeds of what you think you really want (ie can you get it in writing?  Is there more you can do with the union?  that sort of thing) and then let it go and trust that there is a Loving plan unfolding.  It is going to be scary - you are taking a journey into the unknown - but a part of you knows that this is what you need to do and that it will somehow be all right.  You are now boldly going where you have never been before and there is no way you can know what it is going to be like when you get there.  So try as much as possible to enjoy the ride - it is a great adventure - a thrilling, terrifying, fascinating, painful, frustrating, exhilarating, impossible, unbelievable, terrifying(not an accident I listed this one twice,) exciting, very painful, magnificent journey into your Self.  I will tell you what I was told when I first got into recovery - a saying that has proved very true for me - “Hold on to your ass, you are in for the ride of your life.” 

3) In the Feeling the Feelings stage wht. can I do to work thro' this stage?

Keep asking your Higher Power for the courage and willingness to do whatever you need to do.  Keep asking for guidance and signs that you are on the right path.  Keep reminding yourself that you are Unconditionally Loved - that you are a Spiritual Being having a human experience and telling yourself that it is ok to feel the feelings.  You will be guided - everything that will happen in your life will be part of the lesson plan.  Things will happen that will help you get in touch with the feelings. Keep asking questions and reading and seeking.

And most important, remember to lighten up and enjoy life when you can - take time to smell the roses and hear the birds and watch the sunset - we need to own the anger and the pain and the fear but they are not what defines us - who we really are is Light and Love and Joy and Beauty - and that is the Truth.  We are the music of The Great Spirit - we’ve just been way out of tune.



. . . She has once more dragged me into another saga with her withdrawals.  Her father has also (always) been a giverto her for her needs and wishes.  She has said in the past that I resembledher father.  My question here is basically "Is this a sign of (co-dependency), and how should I handle this scenario?
. . . I know that I (can't) expect you to be a doctor or psychologist online here, but as a human with your own experiences, do you think you can help me out on how to keep this woman in my life?  I LOVE HER UNCONDITIONALLY.

Unconditional Love does not mean being a doormat - Uncoditional Love starts with Loving yourself enough to protect yourself from people you love if that is necessary.  The relationship you describe is codependent - what that means is that you are both reacting to the emotional wounds and intellectual programming that you experienced in childhood.  You were attracted to each other because your wounds fit together - you felt familiar to each other on an emotionally energetic level.  The very feelings that brought you together are the same ones that keep separating you.  The problem isn’t in what is happening now - the way the relationship has gone is a symptom of what happened to you both in childhood.  This relationship is a sign to you that you have some emotional wounds from childhood that need to be healed - they are a sign to her also but you can’t make her want to do the work - you can only do the work for yourself.    I would recommend that you start learning all that you can about codependence and recovery - it would be great if she would be willing to learn also but that is her choice.  You can learn a lot from my web site and others that you can find.  Twelve Step meetings are a great help and you will probably need to see a counselor or therapist at some point to help you understand the disease. 

I have posted a series of question and answer pages that are not accessable from my web site - they are available to people on my mailing list.  You can find them by going to the Q & A Index Page   These might be a help. 

P.S.  Would it be wise to give her your web site address for her own review?

It wouldn’t hurt to let her know about the web site but whether or not she is willing to check it out is something that you can’t control.  Hopefully, she will and both of you can learn together.

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Except where quotes are cited this material is copyright by Robert Burney 1998.  Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney is Copyright 1995.