Compassion and Codependency When to give; when to set a boundary BY: Troy Murphy
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Both compassion and co-dependency involve sharing an emotional state with others. Nature gifted us with this ability. Through mirror neurons, firing in concert to others, we share emotions. We can be sad because our heart resonates with the sadness of a lover. We experience grief with a friend, even though the loss is not our own. This incredible capacity creates attachment in intimacy. Biologically programmed to share emotion we have the hardware to connect. But there are a few bugs in the system.
Our response to shared emotions may connect but also may overwhelm. Children are exposed to a wide range of parental emotions. Some exposures are gentle introductions to aliveness while others crush the developing sensitivities, confusing the child, bewildering the juvenile soul with adult chaos. Love mixed with tensions, kindness blended with requirements, and hate covered with smiles. The hardware to recognize emotion washed with confusion of utility. These children squander in relationships; emotionally undeveloped, they blindly react to others’ emotions, hoping for connection, but awkwardly untrained in the complexities of connection.
To effective support others, we first must effectively support ourselves. We must comfortably work through our emotions, soothing, accepting, and benefiting from the feeling experience of living. When personal emotions overwhelm, transmitted emotions also bewilder the unprepared heart. We can’t offer connectedness if all we know is detachment.
In compassion, we respond with empathy. We comfort those that hurt. We wrap our arms around them, sharing the experience. We feel their sadness, provide support during grief. But when lacking emotional maturity, the shared emotion intrudes on our well-being. We provide superficial support, becoming frustrated when a few words of concern fail to magically erase the injury. We poke the wound with impatience. “You choose to be sad,” we quickly condemn. Not to help but because we are uncomfortable with the emotion. We need escape.
In co-dependency, we take responsibility for the emotion. We feel driven to resolve it. We feel guilty for their experience. We place our liveliness on hold. We fear boundaries of separation, constantly seeking happiness by forcing others to be happy. We prefer to dance in everybody’s drama, smiling, solving, and rescuing.
"In compassion, we respond with empathy. We comfort those that hurt. We wrap our arms around them, sharing the experience. We feel their sadness, provide support during grief."
The line between compassionate empathy and demanding codependency is complex. Both involve connections and boundaries between the self and others. Relationships require mindful investigation of these boundaries, slowly moving them back and forth to find a comfortable and healthy line.
The narcissist moves the line entirely to the other side—counterdependency. He (or she) is completely indifferent to others feelings, as long as they serve the narcissists self-interest. The sadness of a partner becomes an exploitable opportunity. The narcissist provokes guilt, anger and self-hatred when it serves his needs.
The labyrinth of connection will always stymie those unfamiliar with emotional connection. We can learn with help, surrounding our lives with others more emotionally intelligent than ourselves. Perhaps not overnight, but in time, we become more effective in connection, learning to process our emotions and the emotions of others with kindness. With our growth, we turn then to our children, giving them a gift we were deprived of in our youth.