In this episode, I interview one of the most active writers, coaches, video creators, and thought leaders right now on codependency – Lisa Romano.
If you’ve ever searched for anything related to “codependency” on YouTube, you’ve seen at least one of her videos pop up.
I contacted Lisa because I wanted to provide some more practical, hands on tips, right from someone who works with codependents every day.
Lisa shares her 1-2-3 process. This is something you can start practicing immediately, and you can use it in those moments when you feel hurt or let down by someone elee. We test it this process on me about half way into the episode.
Interview with Lisa Romano
Here’s the interview transcript:
Question: How do you specifically describe codependency?
In my opinion, codependency is akin to love addiction where people lose a sense of boundaries. They enmesh with the other person, generally they seek the other person’s validation, and they have a very difficult time thinking on behalf of themselves and what’s right for them. Everything gets filtered through this illusionary veil, that has the codependent person thinking that he or she needs the other person to agree, but generally in my opinion it’s an addiction to a relationship that struggles with boundaries.
Question: Do you think this is something people are born with, or does it happen to people over time?
I think that some people can be born with a very deep sense of empathy for other, and can naturally pick up what other people feel, which can be difficult in a relationship because if you’re always wondering and feeling what the other person’s feeling, then you’re really not coming at the relationship from a position of power because you don’t know what you feel. So I do think some people are born very sensitive to other peoples’ needs and feelings, but in my opinion codependency is a learned behavior. So, if your parents were codependent where they enabled one another, if there were no boundaries in the family, if there was an addiction present, then codependency can be learned through observation.
Question: I’d like to go back in time a little bit and understand how you got where you are. I know you’re a coach and have written several books. Can you talk about where you are right now and how you got there?
I was raised by two Adult Children of Alcoholics. Although my parents didn’t drink, they behaved and thought very much like alcoholics. They were very detached from their emotions. We weren’t allowed, nor were we encouraged to talk about what we felt. We were seen but not heard. If we dared to cry, we were made fun of, criticized, mocked or ignored. So, I was raised with a sense that what I thought and felt was unimportant. I married somebody who treated me very similarly to the way my mother did. I very much needed my mother’s validation and never got it, and I married someone who mimicked and mirrored her vibration. After three children and being married for about twelve years, I discovered that I was clinically depressed and had severe panic disorder. I also suffered from migraines and asthma that was crippling. The doctors kept telling me there was nothing wrong with me; it was all due to my emotions. One day an allergist said to me, “Don’t go to sleep because you might not wake up – your asthma is so bad.” And his next statement really blew open a window in my mind. He said, “You better listen to your body, because your body is listening to you.” That was the first time in my life that anyone outside of me was asking me to listen and tap into what was happening inside of me. It was such a foreign concept. It was my job to worry about everyone else; it was never my job to worry about what I felt, or what I was thinking. I was obsessed with what my husband thought, or what his mother thought, or what my mother thought.
I ended up seeking the advice of therapists, and after four or five therapists I finally found one who said to me, “You’re not crazy, but you’re severely codependent.” That started me on my journey towards self-discovery, and fifteen years later I’ve written five books and I coach codependents and children of narcissists full-time.
Question: You mentioned that codependency is largely learned, and is rooted in childhood programming. How is that achieved?
We’re all downloaded with information. You’re a product of your childhood home. You learned how to behave by what you observed in your home. So all of us are downloaded with our parents’ norms and ideas, the way they related to one another and interact with the world. When it comes to codependency, it gets very complicated because codependents generally don’t have a very good sense of self. If you came from a home where dad was domineering and mom was docile and didn’t have a very good sense of self, often catering to dad, then the message to the little girl in that home is, “Women’s feelings don’t matter. I need to be afraid of men’s’ anger. I can’t make a man angry. I have to enable and cater to the man. I exist to make sure that his needs are met.” That’s a simple snapshot of what I mean about how a child can be programmed to be a codependent. That was part of my programming. I watched my mom cater to my dad, and she never talked about how she felt. Everything was about keeping my dad happy. So the message to me was, “Grow up, get married, and keep the man of the home happy. Don’t tell him what you think or feel – you don’t matter.” That’s what I did. I didn’t even know I was doing it.
Question: I wonder about nature vs. nurture. Take a group of siblings that grew up under the same care-givers. Do they typically adopt the same boundaries?
I think there are a lot of variables. The consensus is that the same-sex parent is the most influential parent when it comes to the child. So in the case of a little boy, obviously the dad would have the most influence over his psychology. In other words, “What is a man?” “How does a man treat a woman?” “How does a man show up in life?” And a female will generally take after her mom. Mom is the role model for the female.
I was the oldest child in my family, and in my opinion, my parents got better as they went along. With me, they were the strictest, tightest, and most controlling. And by the time the had my sister (the third child), they had already been through two. So my sister’s experience with them was far different than my experience with them. I think there are way too many variables to be able to answer that questions in a way that is tight and neat.
My sister and I grew up very close in age and raised by the same parents, and ultimately we adopted similar thoughts about boundaries. But sometimes you see siblings that are so vastly different from each other, that it makes me wonder what impacts that. It does make sense that we don’t have boundaries when we’re born, they’re completely taught to us and learned by observation.
The other thing is that when you come from a dysfunctional home, very often there’s triangulation where there are parents that actually enjoy creating an alliance with one sibling against another. In that situation, you’ll have a sibling that’s been outted by a parent and another sibling, and the sibling that is in alignment with the parent doesn’t know that there’s anything wrong with that because, “Mommy’s the boss, she’s the almighty, so she must know what she’s doing. Therefore, my sibling must deserve this.” In this situation, the child that’s been outted may very angry since he or she been scapegoated and treated unfairly. And the golden child in this situation will be resented by the other members of the family. There are so many reasons why children from one home will have different viewpoints from the same set of parents. There are so many variables.
Question: Let’s talk about some ways that codependents can get help with the suffering that they have. Is there one central idea that you can bring that would help somebody turn their suffering with codependency around?
There’s so much information about what codependency is, but we need to know what to do about it when we discover that we are in fact codependent. That’s what I do in my career; I coach clients. I teach them tools they can use in a practical, everyday sense to help them heal.
Codependency, in my opinion, has everything to do with limiting, false beliefs; they’re illusions. And one of the greatest illusions I’ve discovered that people have is that they need validation from someone outside of themselves. For example, I used to walk around unaware and unconscious that I was constantly seeking validation outside of myself. I did things for people thinking that I would finally feel like I’m enough. If I make twenty four cupcakes for my child’s kindergarten class instead of twelve, then the teacher will like me. If I take my mother-in-law to her third doctor’s appointment this week, then she will like me, etc. I was constantly seeking validation. For me, it was a big turning point when I realized I didn’t have to seek validation from anyone. I was enough. I was always enough. It truly freed me when I let go of this illusion that I needed validation, which had been programmed into my subconscious mind so long ago.
Question: How did you come to the conclusion that you didn’t need validation from others?
When I sat in that therapy session with my cognitive behavioral therapist, and he said to me, “You’re not crazy, you’re codependent,” I ran with that. He said, “I want you to read Codependent No More by Melody Beattie,” and I ran to the bookstore. I digested everything I could about codependency. I read books by John Bradshaw (Healing the Shame that Binds You). I also threw myself into child psychology; Ericson Stages of Emotional Development. I rewound the tape and figured out what I never got that all children need; that precious sense of validation from mother and father. It’s innate. In order for a child to grow up and feel confident and have a true, healthy sense of self, by the time their three years old, they should have a sense that they’re good and they’re good enough just because they are. I never achieved that in my childhood. I realized that because I never hit that milestone, I kept trying to get fixed; that sense of validation or belonging. It always escaped me.
When I doing all my researched, I realized that I needed to go back to square one. I needed to start parenting myself, and giving myself everything I didn’t receive, and that sense of validation was one of those things.
Question: How did you go about doing this for yourself?
Well, I was clinically depressed, and the doctors tried putting me on medication. I tried it for a day or two and felt drunk and knew this wouldn’t help me. I had three little kids to take care of, and needed to work this out. I decided that I would give myself at least an hour per day to do emotional recovery work. I committed myself to rewinding the tape and brining myself through all the different stages of emotional development. I figured out what I was supposed to receive in those stages of emotional development, and I wrote a journal about why I didn’t get those things.
Why didn’t I feel seen?
Because we were never validated.
Why did I feel unworthy?
Because I was told I was bad.
Why was I afraid to tell my truth?
Because I was mocked when I did.
Why was it so difficult for me to feel like I could connect to people?
Because I was called names. My mother would chastise and criticize me, telling me I would never have any friends.
I was being downloaded with all this information that I was unworthy. Through the emotional recovery work and figuring out why I was the way I was, helped me see and connect the dots. To validate myself, I would remember specific times when I felt wounded. Then I created this sacred space where I allowed my higher self to recognize what my child self experienced. I remember being about seven years old sitting on my father’s lap. My heart was pounding and I said to him, “Daddy, I don’t think mommy loves me.” I was terrified to tell my truth.
He tapped me on my arm and said, “Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, don’t ever say that again.” And I remember trying to open my eyes wide so that my tears wouldn’t touch the paper. I was so afraid he would know that I was crying, because in that moment he taught me not to feel and not to express. “Don’t ever say that again, you’re not allowed to feel that.” That taught me to suppress my emotions.
And when I was journaling about that, I opened that wound up, and I just sat there and felt empathy for that child. I loved that child, and from my higher self, I offered that child compassion and empathy for about five or ten minutes. Then, it was amazing; the pain was gone. Just in validating the child’s experience, I began to heal.
Question: I know you focus on tools to help people heal. How important do you think journaling is in the process?
I think it’s incredibly important. I believe journaling and meditating are important, and putting into play the tools that I teach. When I talk about journaling, I’m talking about open-ended questions:
“I feel disconnected because…”
“When I was little, I felt wounded when…”
“I am most angry about…”
“I wish my mother had…”
It’s about open-ended questions that you ask the self, and then you wait for the answers. It’s like self-excavating, or emotional excavation. We need to know where the wounds are so that we can shine empathy, love, and light on those wounds, and help the inner child finally give them space to actually experience those experiences. I think it was Virginia Wolf who said, “It’s not the trauma that hurts the child. It’s the inability express the trauma that hurts the child.” So, telling a child that she doesn’t have a right to cry hurts the child. The child is no longer concerned with the fact that her friend called her fat. Now she’s concerned with the fact that she can’t feel the experience of being wounded by her best friend; now that has become the issue.
Question: In addition to journaling, what are some other tools that you use to help people heal?
Well, talking about it with someone like myself who has been trained to hear what’s being said as well as what’s not being said is very beneficial.
One practical tool that I can help your audience with today is something that I call the 1-2-3 process. Codependents have a very difficult time feeling what they feel, and just like you and I discussed, this is often times because their feelings have been glossed over. They’ve been taught to worry about the person in the room that has the biggest mouth, or the person in the room that we can’t get validation from. So we take ourselves out of the equation emotionally; we just tap out. If we know that’s what’s wrong, then we need to correct it. We correct it by learning to feel what we feel. And that’s very new for codependents – they don’t know what they feel, or they feel sad or angry, but there’s a whole bunch of emotions that are not being experienced.
When you feel like you’re being minimized, or the conversation isn’t going your way, I want you to stop and ask yourself how you feel, and then accept how you feel. Whether it’s anger, disappointment or frustration, just accept it. Then, feel it. Connect to it in your body. Where are you feeling this aggravation? Is it in your throat chakra, does your chest get tight, do you get brain fog or feel confused? Know how anxiety or anger shows up in your body. Then the third step (the “money step”), is to decide what you want to do about how you feel. Now, before you make that decision, you have to process it through three filters. The first filter is, “What can’t I control about this situation?” The second filter is, “What can I control?” And the third filter is, “What is the vibrational outcome I wish to achieve?”
Part of what I teach is that I bring all this home and I incorporate the Law of Attraction. I am a firm believer that our emotional or vibrational set points are our attraction points. So, if I’m walking around feeling like I’m not good enough, I’m going to attract people who think I’m not good enough. The goal is to raise our vibrational frequencies. Therefore, for the third step, whatever decision you make would have to support your desire to increase your vibration.
Let’s say you’re having a fight with your sister. She said she was going to come by at 5:00pm, but she doesn’t get there until 7:30pm, doesn’t say she’s sorry, and acts like it’s no big deal. How would you feel about something like that?
Brian: “It would put me into a downer. I would feel hurt.”
Lisa: “How do you know when your body feels hurt? What signals do you get from your body?”
Brian: “I would feel a sinking feeling in my stomach, just like the energy is taken out of me.”
Lisa: “So, you’re feeling an energy deficit when you’re disrespected.”
Lisa: “It’s true. So now your sister’s sitting on your couch and acting like nothing’s happened. What can’t you control about that situation?”
Brian: “I can’t control what somebody else says to me.”
Lisa: “Right. You can’t control what she says or doesn’t say. You can’t control whether or not she says she’s sorry. You can’t control that it already happened. You can’t control that she’s haphazard about it, and nonchalant and sitting on your couch eating popcorn. What can you control.”
Brian: “I can control the way I react to the situation.”
Lisa: “Yes. You can also control whether or not you make plans with your sister in this way in the future. You can control whether or not you text your sister ahead of time in the future, or maybe not invite her over the next time you have this group of friends over. That you have control over. Would you agree?”
Brian: “Absolutely. I have control over the parameter that I set around what I’m willing to accept and not accept from her.”
Lisa: “Yes. So essentially today is done, but we have a little bit more control over the future.”
Lisa: “What vibrational frequency do you want to exist in right now even though you’re hurt?”
Brian: “I don’t want to have the sinking feeling. I want to have a full energy level and be able to brush aside whatever disappointment may have come my way. I want to hold my head high and still be positive.
Lisa: “Based on the information we just collected through these three filters, you can’t control that it already happened, you can’t control whether or not she says she’s sorry, and you can’t control that she’s sitting on the couch being nonchalant about it. But you can control whether or not you invite your sister to this type of gathering in the future, you can control whether or not you react in an abrasive way right now, and you can control whether or not you address it at all. And we know that you want to stay high flying and stay in a high-energy band as opposed to a negative one. Based on that information, what are you going to decide to do about the way you feel?
Brian: “I can own the way I feel. Even though I couldn’t control my initial negative gut reaction, I can will myself out of that into the energy that I want to have.
Lisa: “It might sound something like this in the landscap of your own mind: My sister showed up very late and I felt disrespected. She’s acting like nothing’s wrong, and that really pisses me off. But, it is what it is, and I’m going to choose not to make a big deal out of this right now; maybe I’ll talk to her about it later. In the future, though, I will not invite her to this type of gathering, and that makes me feel better. So, I recognize that I’m hurt, and I have a right to be hurt, and that is actually my guidance. My boundary has been violated and my sister has not given me the respect that I deserve. Because there’s nothing I can do about what has happened right now, but I do know that I have some creative control over the future, I’m going to choose to let this go right now.”
Can you see how the thinking is like climbing a ladder? We accept the initial feeling of being hurt, which is simply an indicator. There’s nothing wrong with being hurt. Hurt means, “my boundary has been violated”. That’s a beautiful innate instinct, and we have to learn to connect to that.
It’s interesting that you used the working “sinking”. That’s because energy was taken away from you when your boundary was crossed. People need to pay attention to way they feel, act on their own behalf, use their feelings of being hurt as guidance, and then set up a boundary. You and I set up a boundary in this scenario that we just created, a boundary for the future. And because you know that in the future this isn’t going to happen again, you successfully mended that boundary that was broken. Now you’re no longer leaking energy, you’re actually empowered because we helped create a boundary for the future.
Now, what happens in most situations for codependents is they ignore how they feel. They ignore that sinking feeling. They don’t know how to think their way through the emotion and how to use it as guidance, and how to honor it so they can create a boundary that serves them and prevents them from getting abused in the future. Most codependents ignore how they feel, they don’t set boundaries, and guess what – it never ends. So it’s your sister who continues to be late and never shows up, or it’s the boyfriend that doesn’t text you back or call you, or says he’s going to do something then doesn’t do it. It happens over and over again because that sinking feeling is not being honored.
Question: I assume this process is something you would guide your clients through. Would you like to tell the audience about the services you provide?
I coach one on one. I coach group classes twice per month for those who just can’t on my calendar. I do tele-classes, teleseminars and live events. I write, and I tweet very often, and I’m very active on YouTube with close to 200 videos that are all dedicated to this type of conversation that you and I are having right now.
What is your biggest piece of advice for a codependent person?
My biggest piece of advice for a codependent person is to do whatever you can to find value in being the human being that you are. You have to believe that you are worthy; that no one else is more important than you but you’re no more important than anyone else. We’re all connected and part of this human family. The idea that we’re separate from one another or that there are some people that are better than others is a false premise. So my best piece of advice for anyone struggling with codependency is to bring it back home and know that you are enough and that you were always enough, and it’s only an illusion that you think you’re not enough or that you need to be subordinate to another person.
Resources Mentioned in This Podcast:
- Lisa’s Website
- Lisa A. Romano Breakthrough Life Coach (Lisa’s YouTube Channel)
- Follow Lisa on Twitter
- Lisa’s Blog Talk Radio Show
- Lisa’s LinkedIn Profile
- Lisa’s Books on Amazon
- Lisa’s Google Plus Profile
- Lisa’s Facebook Page
What about YOU? Will you try the 1-2-3 Process next time you feel hurt or let down? Comment below.