CHAPTER 1: THE “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING”
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventurers we can have, if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Iawarharla Nehru
Before presenting the instructions of my Observe Don’t Absorb Technique, I am morally obligated to give you my “Surgeon General’s Warning.” Just like the warning on a pack of cigarettes, if you decide to move forward with codependency treatment, you will similarly experience harmful side effects. There is no way around this cold, hard fact. However, my warning is different from the real one. First and foremost, I am neither a surgeon nor a general! Second, you won’t die from a progressively painful physical ailment. You will suffer, though, but only for a short period of time. Third, and best of all, mine has a positive warning built into it. If you can muster up the energy, perseverance and courage to actively pursue treatment, you may very well experience, perhaps for the first time in your life, freedom from the negative consequences and losses that are inherent to codependency, which has you forever placed on the giving and sacrificing end of most of your relationships.
Considering the high rate of codependency relapse[i], be advised that you will have to prepare for the fight of your life. It won’t be easy. You will get knocked down a few times. You will sustain some bumps and bruises. But…you can always get up. You and your therapist will jointly manage your anxiety, fear, guilt and ambivalence towards pursuing one of the more difficult decisions that you will ever have to make. Although my warning is frightening and may discourage you, I encourage you to stay focused on the rewards waiting for you at the end of this uphill journey towards personal and relational sanity.
An honest depiction of the treatment/recovery process, “the good, the bad and ugly,” is not only a warning about what lies ahead for you, but it’s also an opportunity to prepare yourself for the necessary sacrifices that are part of breaking free from the malignant condition of codependency. You must financially, psychologically, personally and relationally prepare for the daunting challenges that lie ahead for you. Such preparations will embolden you, while mitigating the potential consequences you may endure by standing up to and setting boundaries with your narcissistic partner who, by now, has caused a great deal of pain and suffering for you as well as, perhaps, your family. Let my warning inspire you to put your nose to the grindstone and tough it out, as the results may very well bring you personal and relational joy and freedom for the first time in your life! Believe it, because I have successfully walked that path successfully with many clients.
The Warning includes a discussion of how to prepare for the blowback from your narcissist, who will likely try to talk to you about your treatment, while attempting to sabotage any progress you make. Expect intimidation, manipulation, abuse, isolation, hurting those you love (triangulation), custody and financial threats, and even abrupt termination of the relationship.
Most importantly, prepare for what I call “codependency withdrawals.” Since chapter ____ discusses “codependency addiction,” it will suffice to say that, like chemical/drug addictions, as a “sober” or abstinent codependent, you will more than likely experience excruciatingly painful emotional reactions following the termination of relationships with your narcissistic loved ones. Such includes, but is not limited to, feelings of hopelessness, extreme frustration, anger, shame, guilt and loneliness. Loneliness, as discussed in chapter ____, will be the most challenging of all your withdrawal symptoms. Its insidious pathological power will make you second guess any gains that you have made and hypnotically compel you to return to your former codependent ways. If you have ever kicked an addiction, you will understand exactly what I mean.
My full Warning includes a general discussion about other professional services, recovery strategies, tools and support systems/groups you may want to take advantage of, such as 12-Step and therapy groups. You will be taught my “Four Stages of Codependency Treatment Model,” which will be discussed in detail in chapter ____. The Four Stages model provides concrete illustrations and descriptions of the linear and sequential paths of the treatment experience from beginning to the end. By understanding the discussion of this model, you will understand the ins and the outs of each step, the challenges and the payoffs.
The Four Stages provide you with a bird’s eye view of what’s in store for you. It will also anchor you to the treatment/recovery process. Ask as many questions as possible; as they say, knowledge is power! A discussion of the Stages with your therapist will serve to help you develop a cost-benefit analysis between the two starkly different outcomes: remaining unappreciated, neglected, deprived and/or harmed by the narcissists in your life, or discovering healthy love of others and self. As described in Step Four, if you stick with it, you will eventually experience, perhaps for the first time, safe, supportive, affirming and respecting treatment from others. I promise.
As difficult as the uphill battle may be, it is not going to be all doom and gloom. Like any mountain climber will tell you, reaching the top of the mountain is harrowing and extremely demanding. But being on top of the mountain is like nothing else! After savoring that moment, you will happily proceed downhill, which you will find to be so much easier than climbing it, but the experience is infused with the exhilaration of triumph of what you have achieved. Not only is getting down the mountain much easier that the climb up it, but you get to appreciate that moment of personal victory for the rest of your life!
My full Warning will provide you with concrete examples of what you will likely achieve from the treatment/recovery process. First and foremost, you will get to the point where you will easily be able to extract yourself from any relationship in which you are abused, neglected and/or deprived. You will develop feelings of personal efficacy and increased self-esteem, and will have more unwavering motivation to pursue previously believed insurmountable challenges than you can ever have imagined. You are going to form relationships with healthy partners who will want to unconditionally love, respect, trust and support you, while also being dependable, responsible, sharing and fair to you. The discussion will be galvanized through the disclosure of one or more stories from real clients who have successfully completed treatment, are active in their recovery and are reaping the fruits of their labor. And there will be many such stories to share with you!
Write this down, commit it to memory and post it where you can see it every day. It is the key to the whole recovery process: The antidote to codependency is self-love. Yes, this is what the rest of the book is about. But, as I said, it will be a difficult path.
Setting boundaries and detaching from your narcissistic foe will indeed result in an ass-kicking from here to Timbuktu! And, if you survive – and you will – you will have broken free from your suffocating and soul-scorching dysfunctional relationship dance with your pathological narcissistic partner. Your cellmate will be replaced by your future soul mate![i] Relapse is defined by returning to a relationship with a harmful narcissist or submitting to harmful treatment by the narcissists in your life.