Codependency: What about Feelings?

by Paul Chubbuck

A question from my client:

“I was excited about signing up for a class. But after the first session I’m anxious and doubtful that it’s really what I want. But if I drop it, I’m afraid I will feel even worse about myself.”

What would you answer? Reply with your thoughts. We can all learn from each other and I may publish your suggestions in a future newsletter.

Feelings (sensations, emotions, and intuition) are the human equivalent of an animal’s instinctive knowing what plant is safe to eat and what is poisonous. How do they do that? They don’t learn it in classes or from books!

We have that mysterious power also! Our feelings provide guidance to make decisions at all levels of importance in our lives, from what to eat for breakfast, to whether to take a class, to the choice of a mate and career. Our feelings are our most trustworthy guide.

However, feelings for humans can become “murky” and confused through a person’s experiences, particularly in childhood when we are especially vulnerable to confusing and traumatizing experiences.

  • Being told that we ARE feeling things we are NOT feeling, or that we are NOT feeling things that we ARE feeling,
  • Boundary violations of all kinds, including sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual,
  • Unresolved trauma, especially those so scary or painful to cause us to numb out our feelings.
  • Spending a lot of time around others who are either active addicts or have personality disorders such as borderline personality or narcissism. Such influences are “crazy-making”, i.e. they will make one doubt one’s own feelings and intuition, and perhaps even one’s sanity.

So those feelings may become conflicted and confusing and less reliable in guiding us. If your feelings have been so “contaminated”, then you may feel attraction to a person who isn’t good for you. The class you wanted to take may NOT be something which brings you joy. A risk you take may be really dangerous. A job you turn down might be just the ticket to success. You can’t tell anymore. You can’t trust yourself. This is a kind of hell!

Some people deal with this by trying to live from logic and intellect, like Dr. Spock on star trek. Others seek codependent relationships where others make decisions for them. Neither works well for the long-term. Feelings are where joy comes from as well as connection to others. A life lived without your inner compass is confusing, painful, and lonely.

And besides, feelings have a way of eventually demanding our attention, no matter how hard we may try to suppress them. If we don’t learn to listen to and rely on our feelings, resentment and anger build…more symptoms of codependency which I write more about here.

In today’s newsletter, I will offer you a powerful tool to begin to sort this out…something you can get results with this week. The longer-term solution I will write more about that next week.

  • Take a couple minutes to relax.  Listen to calming music or just sit quietly for a few minutes. Reducing your anxiety and quieting your mind gives greater clarity of feelings.
  • Pose the current issue you are dealing with in a clearly-stated question that can be answered with yes or no. For example, “Should I drop the class I just started?” It can also be helpful to write this question in a journal.
  • As you ask yourself this question, tune in to your body feelings and sensations, especially in your torso. A tense, constricted sensation is probably a “no”. A soft, warm, or exhilerated sensation is probably a “yes”.
  • Repeat twice or more daily for several days. When your feelings have been contaminated as described above, you’re unlikely to get a trustworthy answer in just one try. But if you do it repeatedly over time, you will notice some consistency, e.g. that you get a lot more “yes’s” than “no’s”.

That might be the clearest your unconscious wisdom can communicate with you right now and is probably pretty reliable guidance. Tune in next week for suggestions to get even more reliable answers and guidance from your feelings.

  • Do you have private questions about the body-mind connection or about recovering from trauma, loss, or abuse? Click here to leave me a private message.

    Paul Chubbuck is a practicing psychotherapist in Fort Collins, CO, using Somatic Experiencing® to help people release trauma, abuse, and loss. He may be reached at 970-493-2958 or through his website at

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