“Codependency is one of the biggest topics in abortion healing,” said Lisa Rowe, CEO of Support After Abortion and licensed mental health therapist, as she opened the webinar on Codependency. She explained that questions and comments from abortion healing providers during recent months indicated a desire to explore more about codependency for themselves and their clients.
Support After Abortion is responding to those requests by offering a three-tiered look at codependency: a toe-dip into the topic today, followed by a 90-minute waist-deep look next week, and continuing with multiple opportunities for a deep dive by joining a group working through an 8-10 week course on codependency.
What is CODEPENDENCY?
Lisa explained, as someone who has been in codependency recovery for over a decade, that the description of codependency that makes the most sense to her is that “in order for dysfunctional relationships to exist – we need someone who makes a mess and somebody who cleans it up.”
She explained that as a child she “quickly learned that love meant helping or fixing other people” because that’s what was modeled to her and that’s where she found value and affirmation. Lisa shared that she realized much later in life that by carrying this way of finding love and acceptance into adolescence and adulthood, she found partners who made messes and needed her help.
Lisa noted that helping people is a good thing, but it may be a red flag depending on our motives.
Lisa read a paragraph from her book Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors that discusses how trees planted too close together can become intertwined and limit their growth potential, drawing a parallel to codependency in relationships.
What does codependency look like?
Lisa unpacked the image at the top of this flyer and encouraged attendees to look for the following while reflecting on the image :
- Notice the body language
- Notice what you think they’re thinking about themselves
- Notice the way the strings are attached
- Notice if the strings are really attached, or if it is a perception
- Think of someone you connect with this image – maybe yourself or a client
- Think about how this shows up in unexpected pregnancies, and in our offices
Lisa described how in her own life she “at times lacked self-esteem and purpose.” She “tried to wrangle people who turned away from me to try to wrangle them back in. Trying to control everything, including men I was in relationships with, coworkers, my kids.” She explained codependency as an unhealthy attachment to being needed in order to be in control.
Codependency and Unexpected Pregnancy
Lisa pointed out that both women and men can be codependent. So while the image illustrates a woman who is codependent, the ideas being communicated could easily be related to a man.
“Envision the woman in the blue shirt being unexpectedly pregnant and how the dependent connection to her partner influences her abortion decision,” Lisa said. “Or vice versa, imagine a man in the blue shirt with an unspoken tether to the woman and how that impacts his abortion thinking.”
10 Signs of Codependency
Lisa then went through each of the ten signs of codependency on the flyer including:
fear of rocking the boat or upsetting others, having a hard time thinking about your needs in a relationship, worrying about others excessively, obsessing about pleasing others, easily losing yourself in others’ drama/problems, being more comfortable taking care of others than yourself, tending to overshare or overgive, struggling to set boundaries, suffering from self-doubt, and having been raised by a caregiver who was narcissistic, non-nurturing, or had an addiction.
How Many of the Signs Mean You’re Codependent?
“If you have one that hits you,” Lisa said, “I’d want you to do a deep dive to better understand why that one area exists in your life. We don’t have to call it codependency, but let’s just say this is a risk factor for unhealthy behavior in relationships. It could be an indicator of low self-esteem. It could be an indicator of looking to somebody else to value you because you don’t value yourself.”
Lisa said the goal is to understand yourself in a different way, and she offered some questions for self-reflection:
- How do I feel about myself?
- Can I be alone?
- If I can’t be alone, what’s the reason for that?
- When I am in relationships, do I feel like an equal partner, or do I feel like I’m pulling the weight a lot?
- Can I make decisions by myself, or do I struggle with that?
- What was my paradigm growing up?
- What did I see in relationships that were modeled to me?
- How did I see conflict resolved?
- What is my motive?
“There are so many things in there that really require us to do deep dives within ourselves and see what our motive is,” Lisa said.” That’s the number one indicator. What is our motive? Do we know who we are, and can we really determine who we are without somebody else? These can be really hard things to ask ourselves.”
How can we identify if a relationship can become healthy or not?
“All relationships can be renewed or rectified,” Lisa said, “as long as you have renewed… yourself.” She continued, “If we trust ourselves, have an alignment in ourselves so that we know what we want and what we don’t want. We know what our needs are and what we don’t need. We know what we’re secure with and what we’re not. From there, you can enter into any situation and decide how you want to handle it.”
“Often codependent people are like castles,” Lisa said. “Picture them as a Rapunzel-like castle protected by a moat and controlling the drawbridge that lets people in or keeps them out. She explained that we have control, but many have let the bridge down and open – or shut tight – for too long “making all or nothing decisions in relationships.”
Lisa talked about the importance of connecting with ourselves first. Then we can decide what relationships, situations, or places aren’t healthy for us.
What’s the best practice language for codependency?
Lisa described two schools of thought regarding terms that describe codependency in people.
Person-first language means we would say “a man with codependency” or “a woman who struggles with codependency” rather than saying “a codependent woman.” This is similar to the recommendation to say “person with substance abuse disorder” instead of “addict” or “person who struggles with alcohol” not “alcoholic.”
Alcoholics Anonymous follows a different protocol. Their 12-Step “belief system is that we are powerless over that thing,” Lisa said. “And in order to start a healing journey, we need to admit that that thing has power over us. So oftentimes you hear people say I’m an alcoholic rather than saying I struggle with alcohol.”
She cautioned though that many people don’t want to be identified by their issues. For example, we often talk about this with abortion. “Rather than saying post-abortive woman, we encourage this language: woman who has experienced abortion.”
What can we do to learn more? Next Steps
Today was a toe-dip into codependency. “If you’re contemplating what else this could mean for you, your clients, your relationships,” Lisa said, “We have several options for you.” She encouraged providers to remember, you can’t sit with somebody else’s junk until you’ve sat with your own. We’re really helping you develop that space for yourself to get the healing you need and better understanding.”
Waist-Deep Dive into Codependency
90 minute webinar with Lisa
11:30a-1:00p ET OCT 25
Topics will include attachment, early childhood trauma, lived experience, and intersections with codependency. The webinar will include time for dialogue and Q&A, so come with questions!
Deep Dive into Codependency
Three options for groups that will last 6-10 weeks.
HEIDI – SUPPORT AFTER ABORTION
This group is for women and will take a religious approach to looking at Codependency using the book You’re Not Crazy, You’re Codependent. The group will meet on Wednesdays at 12p-1p ET beginning NOV 8. MAX 10 people
To register, email: email@example.com
SUE KETCHUM – HEARTS RESTORED
This group is for women and will take a religious approach to looking at Codependency using the book Conquering Codependency. The group will meet on Tuesdays at 1p-3p ET beginning JAN 23, 2024. To register, email: HeartsRestored@claritycares.org
KARIN BARBITO / GREG MAYO – SUPPORT AFTER ABORTION
This group is for men and women and will take a secular approach to looking at Codependency. The group will begin in January. TBD: dates, time, and book.
For more info, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What would you do first today if you identified symptoms of codependency in yourself?
“I wouldn’t go changing the world today,” Lisa said. She encouraged attendees to sit with their feelings, pause in that space. She suggested expressing what you’ve learned with a healthy friend, reading Unraveled Roots, journalling, and taking a deeper leap with the 90-minute webinar and/or the weeks-long groups. “Don’t walk away from today thinking something really stuck with me, but it scares me; I’m going to ignore it,” Lisa advised. “Remember it’s a journey. You didn’t get here overnight,” she continued. “Some people want to go change every relationship. I want you to take a pause in that space, create a network of support, and walk slowly into this.”
Conversations with Attendees
Deborah shared, “How I would have loved to have heard this early on.” She said it’s interesting to look back on her journey in light of the 10 Signs You May be Codependent and realize what she was doing back then. She said she and her husband didn’t discuss their abortion for 23 years, leading to “a lot of life patterns and self destructive things.” She said, “How codependency affects our lives and our choices is very real.”
Georgia said, “I had the privilege of doing an Unraveled Roots virtual group. It was eye-opening. I didn’t realize I had a codependency problem. But it explained a lot through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Some of the choices I made, most of which were self-destructive, stemmed from certain aspects of codependency, and I wasn’t aware of it. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. It helped me get to the point where I’m able to identify when my borders are coming down, especially when I’m working with a client. Then I stop and ask myself, Is this an actual need or my needing to help. It allows me to step back if this isn’t going to benefit my client. It’s not something we may be readily aware of, but it’s there, and it interferes with effectively serving our clients.”
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