Is Brutal Honesty Required to End Codependency?

Brutal Honesty in Codependency

Many people who are breaking free from codependency stay firmly out of denial and committed to their new way of living by being brutally honest with themselves.

Their level of self-awareness is often astonishing. They are challenging old beliefs and questioning automatic ways of behaving in a way that is foreign to most people. This allows them to spot old codependent patterns from arising and to spot those previously unseen.

These special skills also enable them to also see through other people’s delusions and lies. Nevertheless, now strengthening the newly found boundaries of respecting others, uninvited advice giving is a thing of the past.

We don’t share what we have not been asked to share. Strong boundaries, respectful behaviour, goodbye codependency.

This newly developed level of respect, however, often only extends to others. The honesty with which many people assess and address themselves lacks respect, kindness and compassion.

Brutal Honesty to Defend Against Denial

The most common defence against the above statement is that brutal honesty is the only way to stay out of denial and to prevent repeating codependent patterns. It is easy to believe that we need this level of black-and-white evaluation of the self to stop any shades of codependency creeping back in. We do it to protect ourselves … from ourselves.

Yes, we need to stay self-aware. Honesty is absolutely something highly valuable that I do not advocate against under any circumstances. But honesty does not require a lack of respect or a lack of self-compassion.

“There’s nothing that harshness does that loving firmness doesn’t do better.” Terry Real

Recreating Old Patterns of Harshness

When we were little, we did not receive compassion. Our feelings and needs were shamed. We were taught that we had no right to anything. After all, whatever it was we were experiencing was wrong. They were right. We were wrong. And we were bad.

That was our conclusion. A conclusion that gave rise to everything dysfunctional that followed. We didn’t mean to choose this. We didn’t mean to draw those conclusions. But those were the conclusions our young brains reached.

From that place, we developed patterns of relating to ourselves based on how others related to us. We learn to disregard and disrespect ourselves. We shamed and denied our own needs. We attacked ourselves for our own internal experience the same way we were punished by those who raised us.  

Realising later on in life that our ways of relating, connecting and being are dysfunction will only provide more ammunition for a self-flagellating mind.

Honesty Requires Compassion

Honesty is important. It is the cornerstone of all relationships. There is no emotional safety without honesty. And there is no emotional safety without compassion. Harshness lacks compassion.

If you are harsh with yourself, if you are brutally honest without any consideration for the emotional impact this has on you, you are not emotionally safe in your relationship with yourself. I may suggest that you are still repeating old patterns of unloving relating from childhood. You don’t need anyone to abuse you anymore. You can now do it all by yourself by continuing your internal dialogue just as you were taught.

Honesty will keep you away from falling back into old codependent ways of being. But honesty requires compassion. It’s the sugar that allows us to swallow the bitter medicine. There is no need to swallow the bitter medicine. There is no need to impose anything unkind on ourselves.

Harshness is totally unnecessary. We can face the truth with or without harshness but why subject yourself to the worst version of something? How it this kind? How is this healthy or even helpful? Does this not look like more of the same to you?

Stop Fearing Yourself

When you tell yourself that you need brutal honesty to stay out of trouble, you still perceive yourself as a threat. You do not believe yourself to be safe for yourself – and by extension for others.

And that is true when you do not show yourself any compassion. You are not safe for yourself.

But not because you once lived life codependently. No. That is something you did because you knew no other way. It was your normal. It was what was taught to you. It was not something you consciously chose. Definitely not as a child. As a child, you did everything you could to stay safe and connected in whatever environment you grew up in. You kept yourself safe in the only way you knew how to.

Everything bad that happened, everything bad that followed stemmed from that confusion. You didn’t know. It wasn’t your fault. You never meant to cause yourself so much harm and suffering. You never meant to create unliving and disrespectful relationships with others.

You did not mean to do any of it. You didn’t know.

And of course, brutal honesty would say, “Yes, well it doesn’t matter because look at the terrible impact this has had on my life and that of others. I am to blame. I caused all of this. I am bad.”

And there you see it. You still believe the story. You even create evidence for it!

It is time to stop. We can all be harsh. No one will take it away from you if you don’t want to let go of it.

But not letting go of it is the reason why you continue to fear yourself. It is the reason you still fight against yourself. The reason why you still hold yourself in contempt.

So how much codependency have you really eliminated in your life is you are still a source of contempt for yourself?

Self-Compassion ≠ Codependency

Developing and accepting compassion and extending it towards ourselves  is an advanced and crucially essential step in our move away from codependency. Instead, it is a move towards health and towards love.

There is no shame in not having known. Yes, our minds like to tell us that we should have known but that is not the reality of our lives. We are done with choosing fantasy over reality. We did not know – that was the reality.

It is time to stop punishing ourselves for everything we did not know. Time to lay down the hammer of blame and self-loathing. Shame, blame, guilt, fantasy, harshness … none of these pave the way out of codependency. They are the building blocks of codependency.

Instead of focusing your energy more into dealing with the emotional impact of treating yourself in harsh and unkind ways, develop a voice of self-compassion.

Become safe for yourself. Be honest and truthful but do it with consideration, kindness and compassion.

How do you wish someone had spoken to you when you were little? In the cruel and demeaning ways you were spoken to? The ways in which you still address yourself? Or would you have liked someone understanding and empathetic to respond to you. Someone to still value and respect you even when you made a mistake? Someone who normalised your experience and let you know that as humans we all make mistakes?

Well, whatever it is you needed to hear, you still need to hear it.

You still need that voice. The voice of understanding. The voice of love and compassion. Become that voice.

It will create emotional safety and allow you to finally develop a healthy and loving relationship with yourself. And in that, you will be more honest with yourself than you ever thought possible. Minus the harshness.

That is the end of codependency.

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Marlena Tillhon

Marlena is a progressive psychotherapist and relationship coach and passionate about helping people connect with their innate wellbeing.

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