Shifting Away from the External Focus of Codependency

External Focus in Codependency


Having an external focus is one of the main characteristics of codependency. It means that we focus our attention away from ourselves and onto other people and activities. We do this to avoid ourselves. Focusing on others is a distraction from our uncomfortable feelings and internal struggles.

We naturally want to end our own suffering when we struggle to deal with our own experience. As children we learnt that focusing outwards provides some relief and so we continue to use this strategy.

Sadly, what helped to keep us safe and sane as children, negatively impacts us as adults.

The Cost of an External Focus

Many people complain about feeling anxious, angry, stressed, irritable and depressed.

When our attention is focused away from us, we neglect to take care of ourselves. We don’t notice what’s going on for us as we are so well practiced in ignoring ourselves, which means that we don’t take appropriate action.

In healthy relationships we attune, respond and engage with ourselves and others. Having an external focus and focusing our attention away from ourselves makes this impossible.

We are not attuned to ourselves and so cannot respond to ourselves appropriately. We will fail to notice the important signals that drive the healthy choice we all must make for ourselves.

This often leads to situations like spending all our time doing what we don’t want to do but failing to say no or setting healthy boundaries. We may feel that people are taking advantage of us. We will feel drained and depleted but helpless to change anything.

In trying to avoid our suffering by avoiding to focus on ourselves we actually increases our suffering. We now have even more reason to escape and avoid!

Somewhere the logic behind it all is flawed …

A Way Out of Codependency

Moving away from codependent patterns of behaving requires us to shift our focus from others to ourselves. This may be difficult at first but it is absolutely essential if we want to rid ourselves of our habitual codependent patterns.

We cannot really care for others when we don’t know how to care for ourselves. The relationship we have with ourselves is always reflected in the relationship we have with others. If it is an unhealthy and unloving one, we will express this to others and receive back more of the same.

We need to take the time to get to know ourselves in intimate ways. It is not possible to have deeply intimate relationships with other people when we do not know how to focus on ourselves. First, we need to get to know ourselves in a deep and intimate way.

What do I want? What feels good to me? What do I care about? How do I thrive in life? How do I best soothe myself? How can I respond to myself in attuned and loving ways?

These are some of the many questions we need to explore while creating a healthier relationship with ourselves. It is never too late to become the person we needed when we were younger.

There are many different ways in which we can make the experience of meeting ourselves and getting to know ourselves a pleasant one. It is not something we have to face with fear and discomfort. We can learn to make room for the feelings that arise.

Once we have engaged in focusing on ourselves, we will understand why we have suffered so much in the past.

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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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