My unofficial definition of the term codependent is an individual who is affected by the actions of others. How do I know if I’m participating in codependent behavior? I start by examining my discomfort. Where does it come from? Is my discomfort caused by the action of another? When I can put my finger on the source of my discomfort, I possess a valuable tool. Once I am aware of the source, I have an opportunity to make an internal change. This life changing awareness is not available to non-codependent individuals. After all, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Therefore, I can say, I am thankfully codependent.

As I take advantage of this opportunity to learn, grow and change, I am careful not to make judgments. My experience is neither: right or wrong, good or bad. Life as not an ‘either or’ situation, it is both. I see life as a continual opportunity for growth. I’m comforted with the fact that when I look back at my life, I discover many experiences I labeled as ‘bad’ at the time. In truth, they have become some of my grandest life lessons.

By seeing my past as learning opportunities, I can change my perception. Rather than seeing an action as uncomfortable or unpleasant, I can look for the lessons already learned or the new opportunity for adventure hidden within.

I didn’t always view life as a learning opportunity. It wasn’t until my husband’s sobriety that I discovered my own need for inner healing and recovery. When I did not experience the expected peace following his recovery, I started on my own journey. I share my experience in the book I wrote, Learning to Be You; It’s an Inside Job: Recovery and Healing for the Loved Ones of the Substance-addicted. Below I will share some of my discoveries and the steps I followed to heal and change from within.

Through understanding manipulation and control, I was able to detach and discontinue enabling.

I see codependent behavior as very proactive behavior. Many (non-codependent) individuals see it as passive behavior. They might view a codependent, as someone who allows others to “walk all over him or her,” when in fact the opposite is many times true. A codependent can be a very powerful individual by using manipulation in a covert way. As a corporate employee, I might be viewed as someone not forceful or tough enough to be a supervisor. When in fact, I use my ‘niceness,’ as a form of manipulation. I can get others to buy in, when my request is done so in an ‘easy to take’ way. This tactic works much better than the tough forceful approach others view as a leadership quality. As the saying goes, “one can get more bees with honey.” A codependent individual may use manipulation to gain control over situations and individuals.

Everyone is trying to gain control to various degrees. Many times individuals who practice control without conflict are being led to believe they are in control by the individual they think they are controlling. (That was a mouthful.) Trying to control something outside of me, whether it is an individual or a circumstance, puts me in a position of responsibility. I have an example of an experience I had with having to be in control of a circumstance. When the department at my workplace decided to go to lunch as a group, I always insisted on picking the restaurant. One day another individual wanted to pick. I struggled with giving up this control, but I eventually gave over. Surprisingly, with my decision to let go of the control, I experienced overwhelming release. I hadn’t realized that with my need to select the restaurant, I also took responsibility for whether the dinners liked their lunch. By giving up trying to control my external circumstance, I experience freedom from consequences that are truly not my responsibility. The only control I should want is control over my internal thought process. With control over my internal thought process, I change the way I see the experience. In other words, I can change my perception. I choose internally to accept and see the value in the external circumstance. In my example, I started to look forward to the experience of new restaurants picked by someone else.

Taking the responsibility for whether my co-workers liked their lunch is minimal compared to taking the responsibility of another individual. When I take the responsibility from another individual I create a paradox, through my attempt to control I put myself in a position of being controlled, by the actions of others. This is attachment (I will talk more about it later). How do I let go of my desire to control my love ones? First, I realize how really out-of-control I am when I attempt to control a freethinking individual. Second, I try to understand that in the same way my life experiences are neither: good or bad or right or wrong, my loved ones are also living the same reality. My loved ones are being offered the opportunity to learn and grow through life experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant. I need to get out of their way and delight in the whole individual they are becoming.

I practiced control with the illusion that I was protecting my loved ones, especially my children. But rather, I was taking away their learning opportunities. It is literally impossible to take the unpleasant consequences away from my loved ones. When I change my perception and see discomfort as an opportunity to grow, why would I ever want to take these precious life lessons away from my loved ones? When I practice trying to control others, I take their responsibility and become attached.

If I can let go of control by seeing value in all life experience, I start to detach. I didn’t want to call the authorities in 1990, when my substance-addict husband shot the back of my car with a shotgun, while in a drunken blackout. The reason being, I was so financially attached to him, I knew I would suffer more financially than he would. Thankfully I did call the authorities (it took some convincing) and thankfully the State of Washington charged him rather than leaving the decision whether to press charges up to me. He needed to experience the consequences of his actions, jail time and substance abuse treatment, in order to begin his path to recovery. As in my situation, an attached victim is reluctant to charge the perpetuator, for the simple reason, they will suffer too. Many times more so, depending on the degree of attachment. In addition, my control and attachment of my loved ones enabled them to continue to practice dysfunction.

As I mentioned, with my control and attachment I became the owner of my loved ones’ responsibilities. I got between my loved ones and the consequences of their actions. I, rather than them, experienced the unpleasant consequences. By doing this, I enabled them to continue their dysfunctional behavior. Since I was the one experiencing the discomfort, they had no need or desire to make a positive change in their life. My mother’s reaction to my pregnancy in 1972 (before marriage) was not one I expected. I was surprised that she received the news with little reaction. The bottom line, the problem was not hers, it was my problem, whether she realized this at the time or not. I soon discovered what her reaction meant. I was on my own to accept consequences and discover responsibility. Both my parents supported me, but they were careful not to let me think they were going to take on my responsibility of a newborn. As with all my life experiences, this was a life-changing learning opportunity.

It took an internal change in perception to surrender control, release attachment and with it enabling and start to see my life brimming with opportunities for growth and change. Now I can sit back and discover the peace, joy and happiness, which accompany the release. Freedom is mine to think about me, thankfully non-codependent!

Author's Bio: 

For information on Brenda's paperback and audiocassette tape, Learning to Be You; It's
an Inside Job, see or if you prefer the e-book format, check out

After twenty-four years in the corporate environment, Brenda Ehrler was offered the
opportunity to leave and follow her heart's desire. She wrote her non-fiction book to aid
in the healing and recovery of the friends and family members of the substance-addicted.
It was Brenda’s own healing and recovery from living with a substance-addicted
individual that led her reach out to others like her with books, tapes and motivational

Check out the on-line book review by Cindy Penn of, Learning to be you; It's an Inside