Codependence and the Concept of Empowerment

As long as we look outside of Self - with a capital S - to find out who we are, to define ourselves and give us self-worth, we are setting ourselves up to be victims.

We were taught to look outside of ourselves - to people, places, and things; to money, property, and prestige - for fulfillment and happiness. It does not work, it is dysfunctional. We cannot fill the hole within with anything outside of Self.

You can get all the money, property, and prestige in the world, have everyone in the world adore you, but if you are not at peace within, if you don't Love and accept yourself, none of it will work to make you Truly happy.

When we look outside for self-definition and self-worth, we are giving power away and setting ourselves up to be victims. We are trained to be victims. We are taught to give our power away.

As just one small example of how pervasively we are trained to be victims, consider how often you have said, or heard someone say, "I have to go to work tomorrow." When we say "I have to" we are making a victim statement. To say, "I have to get up, and I have to go to work," is a lie. No one forces an adult to get up and go to work. The Truth is "I choose to get up and I choose to go to work today, because I choose to not have the consequences of not working." To say, "I choose," is not only the Truth, it is empowering and acknowledges an act of self-Love. When we "have to" do something we feel like a victim. And because we feel victimized, we will then be angry, and want to punish, whomever we see as forcing us to do something we do not want to do such as our family, or our boss, or society."

Codependence and recovery are both multi-leveled, multi-dimensional phenomena. It is very easy for me to write hundreds of pages about any single aspect of codependence and recovery what is very difficult and painful is to write a short column. No facet of this topic is linear and one-dimensional, so there is no simple answer to any one question - rather there are a multitude of answers to the same question, all of which are True on some level.

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So in order to facilitate writing a short column on this month's topic, I am going to make a brief point about two dimensions of this phenomena in relationship to empowerment. These two dimensions are the horizontal and the vertical. In this context the horizontal is about being human and relating to other humans and our environment. The vertical is Spiritual about our relationship to the God-Force. Codependence is at it's core a Spiritual disease and the only way out of it is through a Spiritual cure - so any recovery, any empowerment, depends upon Spiritual awakening.

Now that said, I will write this column about the other dimension.

On a horizontal level empowerment is about choices. Being victimized is about not having choices - about feeling trapped. In order to start becoming empowered in life it is absolutely vital to start owning our choices.

As children, we were taught that it is shamefully bad to make mistakes - that we caused our parents great emotional pain if we were not perfect. So as adults most of us went to one extreme or the other - that is we tried to do it perfect according to the rules we were taught (get married, have a family and career, work hard and you will be rewarded, etc.) or we rebelled and broke the rules (and usually became conformists to the anti-establishment rules). Some of us tried going one way and then, when that didn't work, turned around and went the other.

By going to either extreme we were giving power away. We were not choosing our own path we were reacting to their path.

Integrating the Spiritual Truth (the vertical) of an unconditionally Loving God-Force into our process is vital in order to take the crippling toxic shame about being imperfect humans out of the equation. That toxic shame is what makes it so hard for us to own our right to make choices instead of just reacting to someone else set of rules.

Recovery from codependence is about balance and integration. Finding the balance of taking responsibility for our part in things while also holding others responsible for their part. The black and white perspective is never the truth. The truth in human interactions (the horizontal) is always somewhere in the gray area.

And we always have a choice. If someone sticks a gun in my face and says, "Your money or your life!" I have a choice. I may not like my choice but I have one. In life we often don't like our choices because we don't know what the outcome is going to be and we are terrified of doing it 'wrong.'

Even with life events that occur in a way that we seemingly don't have a choice over (being laid off work, the car breaking down, a flood, etc.) we still have a choice over how we respond to those events. We can choose to see things that feel like, and seem to be, tragic as opportunities for growth. We can choose to focus on the half of the glass that is full and be grateful for it or to focus on the half that is empty and be the victim of it. We have a choice about where we focus our minds.

In order to become empowered, to become the co-creator in our lives, and to stop giving power to the belief that we are the victim, it is absolutely necessary to own that we have choices. As in the quotation above: if we believe that we "have" to do something then we are buying into the belief that we are the victim and don't have the power to make choices. To say "I have to go to work" is a lie. "I have to go to work if I want to eat" may be the truth but then you are making a choice to eat. The more conscious we get about our choices, the more empowered we become.

We need to take the "have to's" out of our vocabulary. As long as we reacting to life unconsciously we do not have choices. In consciousness we always have a choice. We do not "have to" do anything.

Until we own that we have a choice, we haven't made one. In other words, if you do not believe that you have a choice to leave your job, or relationship, then you have not made a choice to stay in it. You can only Truly commit yourself to something if you are consciously choosing to do it. This includes the area that is probably the single hardest job in our society today, the area that it is almost impossible not to feel trapped in some of the time - being a single parent. A single parent has the choice of giving their children up for adoption, or abandoning them. That is a choice! If a single parent believes that he/she has no choice, then they will feel trapped and resentful and will end up taking it out on their children!

Empowerment is seeing reality as it really is, owning the choices you have, and making the best of it with the support of a Loving God-Force. There is incredible power in the simple words "I choose."

Column "Empowerment" By Robert Burney

It is vital to stop giving power to the belief in victimization in order to see reality clearly.

Empowerment comes from seeing life as it is and making the best of it. Acceptance is the key.

"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.

One of the things which makes it difficult to discuss this phenomena of Codependence is that there are multiple levels multiple perspectives - which are involved in this life experience. Viewing life from a perspective, on the level, of individuals who have experienced racial, cultural, religious, or sexual discrimination or abuse, there are many instances in which there has been Truth in the belief of victimization. On the level of the historical human experience, all human beings have been victims of the conditions which caused Codependence. Almost any statement can be shown to be false on some levels and True on other levels, so it is important to realize that the use of discernment is vital to start perceiving the boundaries between different levels.

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In the next section, Part Five, when I discuss the Cosmic Perspective and the Cosmic Perfection of this life experience, I will be discussing the paradox, and confusion to human beings, that has been the result of these multiple levels of reality - but I have devoted Part Two and Part Four to discussing the Spiritual growth process and our perspective on that process because the Cosmic Perfection does not mean crap unless we can start integrating it into our day to day life experience.

In order to start changing life into an easier, more enjoyable experience by attaining some integration and balance in our relationships it is necessary to focus on, and clear up, our relationship with this Spiritual Evolutionary process that we are involved in. On the level of that Spiritual growth process it is vital to let go of the belief in victimization and blaming.]

As I said, the goal of healing is not to become perfect, it is not to "get healed." Healing is a process, not a destination - we are not going to arrive at a place in this lifetime where we are completely healed.

The goal here is to make life an easier and more enjoyable experience while we are healing. The goal is to LIVE. To be able to feel happy, Joyous, and free in the moment, the majority of the time.

To get to a place where we are free to be happy in the moment most of the time, we need to change our perspectives enough to start recognizing Truth when we see or hear it. And the Truth is that we are Spiritual Beings having a human experience that is unfolding perfectly and always has been, there are no accidents, coincidences, or mistakes - so there is no blame to be assessed.

The goal here is to be and enjoy! We can't do that if we are judging and shaming ourselves. We can't do that if we are blaming ourselves or others."

(All quotes are quotes from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney)


"I spent most of my life doing the Serenity prayer backwards, that is, trying to change the external things over which I had no control - other people and life events mostly - and taking no responsibility (except shaming and blaming myself) for my own internal process - over which I can have some degree of control. Having some control is not a bad thing; trying to control something or somebody over which I have no control is what is dysfunctional."

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney

Self-honesty is the foundation of the Twelve Step Recovery program - the principle underling the first step. There are many different levels of honesty, including "cash register" honesty, emotional honesty, being honest in interactions with others, etc. All levels of honesty are important in various ways but early in my recovery process I learned a great deal about being honest with myself from Dr. Paul's chapter in the Big Book - "Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict." That level of honesty had to do with being honest with myself about my expectations.

There is an old joke about the difference between a neurotic and a psychotic. The psychotic truly believes that 2 + 2 = 5. The neurotic knows that it is 4 but can't stand it. That was the way I lived most of my life I could see how life was but I couldn't stand it. I was always feeling like a victim because people and life were not acting in the way I believed they "should" act.

I expected life to be different than it is. I thought if I was good and did it "right" then I would reach 'happily ever after.' I believed that if I was nice to people they would be nice to me. Because I grew up in a society where people were taught that other people could control their feelings, and vise versa, I had spent most of my life trying to control the feelings of others and blaming them for my feelings.

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By having expectations I was giving power away. In order to become empowered I had to own that I had choices about how I viewed life, about my expectations. I realized that no one can make me feel hurt or angry - that it is my expectations that cause me to generate feelings of hurt of anger. In other words, the reason I feel hurt or anger is because other people, life, or God are not doing what I want them, expect them, to do.

I had to learn to be honest with myself about my expectations - so I could let go of the ones that were insane (like, everyone is going to drive the way I want them to), and own my choices - so I could take responsibility for how I was setting myself up to be a victim in order to change my patterns. Accept the things I cannot change - change the things I can.

When I first started realizing how much my expectations were dictating my emotional reactions to life, I tried not to have any expectations. I soon came to realize that it was impossible to live in society and not have expectations. If I have electricity in my home I am going to expect the lights to come on - and if they don't, I am going to have feelings about it. If I own that having electricity is a choice I make, then I realize that I am not being the victim of the electric company I am just experiencing a life event. And life events occur for me to learn from - not to punish me.

The more I owned that I was making choices that caused me to give away some power over my feelings and that those feelings were ultimately my responsibility - the less I reacted out of a victim place - the more serenity I had about events that occurred. To believe that unpleasant stuff should never happen to me was a truly insane, dysfunctional notion. The reality of life is that 'stuff' happens.

Of course, getting to the place where I could accept life on life's terms was only possible because I was working on letting go of the belief that it was happening to me because I was unworthy and bad - which I learned growing up in a shame-based society. It was essential for me to stop blaming myself and feeling ashamed of being human so that I could stop blaming others and always feeling like a victim. In other words, it was necessary to start seeing life as a Spiritual growth process that I couldn't control in order to get out of the blame them or blame me cycle.

I found that there were layers of expectations I had to look at. I wanted to feel that I could be a righteous victim if someone told me they were going to do something and didn't. But then I had to own that I was the one who chose to believe them. I had to also realize that falling in love was a choice and not a trap that I accidentally stepped into. Loving is a choice that I make and the consequences of that choice are my responsibility not the other persons. As long as I kept buying into the belief that I was being victimized by the person I loved there was no chance of having a healthy relationship.

The most insidious level of expectations for me had to do with my expectations of myself. The "critical parent" voice in my head has always berated me for not being perfect, for being human. My expectations, the "should's," my disease piled on me were a way in which I victimized myself. I was always judging, shaming and beating myself up because as a little child I got the message that something was wrong with me.

There is nothing wrong with me - or you. It is our relationship with ourselves and life that is dysfunctional. We are Spiritual beings who came into body in an emotionally dishonest, Spiritually hostile environment where everyone was trying to do human according to false belief systems. We were taught to expect life to be something that it isn't. It isn't our fault that things are so screwed up - it is however our responsibility to change the things we can within our self.

Column "Expectations" By Robert Burney

God/Goddess/Great Spirit, help me to access:
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change
(life, other people),
The courage and willingness to change the things I can
(me, my own attitudes and behaviors),
And the wisdom and clarity to know the difference.

(adapted version of Serenity Prayer)

Serenity is not Freedom from the Storm - it is Peace Amidst the Storm.


next: Codependence and Thanksgiving

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, January 9). Codependence and the Concept of Empowerment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Last Updated: August 6, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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