Dear EFT Community,
Certified EFT practitioner, Zoe Zimmermann, discusses a case that offers insight into codependency for people who grew up feeling responsible for taking care of everyone in their family, often to the detriment of themselves.
By Zoe Zimmermann, Certified EFT Practitioner
When I started working with "Joanne," she was increasingly feeling burdened by being the sole "go-to" person in her family. Her mother and adult sister brought her into all their crises, expecting her to fix their problems.
She was also having problems with her boyfriend because, as it happens with many people whose identity focuses on helping everyone else, she was unable to express her own feelings and needs.
Joanne was the oldest of two children in her family. Her parents divorced when she was in her early teens and she was assigned the role of care-taking her younger sister. She always thought that this was her choice, and only as we started working together did it become clear that she was, unconsciously, moved into the role by her mother.
Her mother never really took on the caretaker role for her children. She was emotionally reactive, and easily went into rages.
Her father was passive, quiet, and distant, and moved out of town when he separated from his wife.
Often, this is the kind of setting where a child is pulled into becoming the "parent" for the whole family. After her parents had been divorced for a few years, her sister gradually became increasingly sickly and then increasingly abusing drugs and alcohol.
Over time, her sister became an alcoholic, unable to succeed in school or to keep a job.
In the meantime, Joanne gradually became the go-to person in her family, and it was expected, by them and by her, that she was the only one who could solve any problems that arose. This created in her a sense of confidence, but she also felt increasingly burdened by responsibility.
Here are some excerpts from EFT sessions:
One of many events was when her mother was angry about an argument she had with her husband, and was raging about him to Joanne.
Even though I felt it was my responsibility to fix things between my mother and father, and I felt helpless and overwhelmed, I deeply and completely love and accept the child in me who tried so hard.
Even though this responsibility was given to me by my mother, and shouldn't have been my role, and it was a burden that was too much for me, I love myself as a teenager and I love myself now. I forgive my mother and father for giving me this role, and consider the possibility that they were doing the very best they could.
Even though my mother often yelled and seemed angry, I realize that she was really sad about her life, and that this had nothing to do with me.
Even though it's always been my role to take care of my parents and sister, and I have no idea who I would be if I weren't taking care of them, I deeply and completely accept myself and I'm open to the possibility that they have their life paths and I have mine.
Even though I consider the possibility that I can trust them to live their lives and I can live mine, I deepl and completely accept myself.
Even though I consider the possibility that my mother can grow up and we can both be adults, I deeply and completely accept myself.
At the end of this session, Joanne had the image of herself and her mother and sister standing in a line, all facing ahead and living their own lives in parallel—versus her having to take care of them.
One of the things that happen to people in the caretaker role is that they know how to take care of everyone except themselves. They spend so much time being called upon by others and making sure that everyone else is okay that they are sometimes not even aware that they are completely drained and don't have a clue about what they themselves need.
We worked on an accident Joanne was involved in that demonstrated this, when she was hit by another car.
Even though I feel so guilty and responsible, I deeply and completely accept myself.
We tapped on the freezing response and panic, using simple "even though" phrases and then simply tapping on each symptom separately. The symptoms moved from a SUD Level of intensity of 8 on a scale of 0 to 10 to a 0.
Even though there is fear and it's held in my neck and throat, I let my neck and throat know that they can loosen up and let the tension dissolve because I deeply and completely accept myself.
(During the accident, her neck was hurt as it swung back and forth, and the fear was in her throat. When we work on accidents or other traumas, often similar physical and emotional symptoms arise that appeared during the original event. We can move through them quickly with EFT.)
Even though I felt vulnerable and exposed, and still do when I think about the accident, and feel the tightness in my neck and throat, I deeply and completely accept myself.
After thaat, the neck and throat tightness moved from a SUD Level 10 out of 10 to a 0.
Even though I am often tangled in with others, I choose to become a solid and separate person distinct in myself because I deeply and completely acept myself.
She realized that her shoulders were moving forward. I had her consciously let them move forward farther and to notice what this was. She said that it seemed like protecting and comforting herself. (This was the beginning of the solution, which was to let go of constantly helping others and to begin nurturing and protecting herself.)
Even though a part of me feels vulnerable and exposed, I love this part of me and I choose also to welcome and recognize the other part of me that comforts and protects me, as I deeply and completely accept myself.
I asked her to remember and recognize ways in which she comforts and protects herself, or could comfort and protect herself. She came up with several ways, which we anchored by tapping on them. She also realized that there are ways that her mother protects and comforts her.
She realized that she's had a hard time telling the difference between protection and comfort from her mother, versus being smothered. We tapped on making the distinction.
At the end of the session, she felt nourished and calm and solid.
The result of these sessions was that, rather than being constantly on-call for her mother and sister and being with them almost every day, she now limits her mother's visits to one time per week and sees her brother two times a week—one time for him and one time for an exercise class that she is also getting something out of.
She is more and more able to stay out of solving their problems and has learned to suggest other people that they can go to for help.
She is beginning to express her needs and her feelings to her boyfriend, and is starting to show when she's angry (the emotion that used to be impossible to even feel, much less show).