Dr. Larry Cohen (856) 352-5428

To live a full and happy life, one must establish lasting, positive feelings of self-worth and personal value. There are those individuals who maintain steady, positive feelings of self-worth, while others experience fluctuating feelings of self-worth, and struggle controlling life's highs and lows. Fluctuating, unstable self-worth is experienced by people who allow their sense of self-worth to be dependent on outside influences, such as one's job, financial position, or lifestyle. When we do this, we are being co-dependent. We are relying on things that we cannot control to provide feelings of worth and success. Uncontrollable outside influences can eventually take over one's life, determining one's level of self-worth. Good things translate into positive esteem, while negative things strip away our sense of worth. 

What is Co-Dependence?

When I think of co-dependence, I immediately think about addiction and how addiction impacts the family. For example, addiction theory focuses on the co-dependence often experienced by the addict's spouse. This type of co-dependence manifests when the addict’s spouse allows their emotions and daily life to revolve around that of the addict. If the addict is doing well, they are doing well. If the addict is doing poorly, they too suffer.

Co-Dependence Broadly Defined:

My definition and conceptualization of co-dependence is much broader. It includes the dependence people have on things outside of themselves that negatively impact their sense of self-worth, and often defines it. We can be co-dependent on our job, on our wealth, or on the type of people we surround ourselves with. We are co-dependent when we allow things outside of the self, things that we have no control over, impact our sense of self-worth. To have a sense of self-worth that is positive and constant, co-dependence on things outside of the self must be addressed, challenged, and conquered.

Co-Dependence, Self-Defeating Behavior, and
Conquering Negative Core Beliefs:

When we allow things such as our job, how much money we have, or who are friends are, define who we are, we are destined to experience a fluctuating sense of self-worth. Remember: we have no control over externals such as these. So, when life isn’t turning out the way we expect it to, our sense of worth and value can suffer. For example, you go out on a date with someone you believe is perfect for you - you dream of a wonderful life together - but you soon discover that this person isn’t interested in a relationship with you. Or, you are expecting a promotion at work, and your boss passes you over and gives the job to someone else. These are painful experiences, and a co-dependent – one who defines who they are and how valuable they are as a person – their level of self-worth – by uncontrollable life circumstances such as these - will experience a dip in their sense of self-worth, and negative feelings about themselves. Inner core beliefs such as ‘I am a failure’, or ‘I am worthless. My life will never change’ may arise and re-enforce low feelings of self-worth. In these examples, co-dependence on one's relationships and one's job becomes self-defining, and one's feelings of positive self-worth diminish greatly.


Co-Dependence as Teeter-Tauter (watch your fingers!):

Co-dependence on positive things outside of the self also effects a persons sense of self-worth. For example, you do indeed receive the promotion you've coveting after, and in turn, you receive a substantial pay raise, a company car and an expense account. You are flying high, as you should be, and feeling great about yourself and your future. Your sense of self-worth feels rock solid. Life is turning up roses. Your feelings of self-esteem and self-worth increase as a result. Yet, only yesterday you were considering a job change because you really aren’t enjoying your work. As time passes, you enjoy the promotion and its benefits, but discover that you still dislike your job. Even though your life improved in certain ways as a result of your promotion, you notice that your sense of self-worth begins to decrease. Things worsen as some of your core negative beliefs arise. You say to yourself ‘why am I still stuck in this job? There must be something better out there.’ Next you begin a job search. 6 months later you are still dissatisfied and have been unable to find a better job. Feelings of failure begin to set in, and your sense of self-worth drops further. What initially bolstered positive feelings of self-worth - your promotion - no longer provides positive validation. Your sense of self-worth, which you believed to be high, suddenly plummets as you realize that the raise and other benefits you received on the front end, don't hold up. Reliance on your profession to bolster your self-worth has failed. By continually relying on things outside of yourself, the things you cannot control, your chances of being let down are a certainty. Co-dependence on positive experiences may lead to low self-worth because of one's disappointment with the outcome. Co-dependence on things outside of yourself, be they positive or negative, often causes people to feel that their life is out of their control. Your inner world and your sense of self-worth fluctuates at will as the result of the powerful influence of co-dependence.

An Inside Job. Cognitive and Behavioral Change Strategies:

I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it too. ‘It’s an inside job’ - and lifelong feelings of positive self-worth must spring from within. Co-dependence on positive things outside of yourself (that you have relied on to feel good about yourself) must go. You cannot define yourself by how much money you have, how powerful a job you have, or who your friends are. You have control over you and you alone. The road to increasing and stabilizing your sense of self-worth begins by digging deep and identifying negative core beliefs about yourself and challenging these beliefs. If at your core you believe that you are 'worthless', take steps to explore that belief fully. Is that belief something you were born with? Unlikely. Or, were you taught by another to believe this about yourself? Who or what made you believe this? Take time to identify and challenge all negative core beliefs you hold and explore the origins of those beliefs. We are not born with negative core beliefs about ourselves. These beliefs are often taught, forced upon us, or formed because of negative life experiences. Be kind to yourself and work hard to identify and change your negative core belief systems.

The Pick Axe. Uncovering & Quantifying your Value as a Person:

Loving people celebrate and affirm people. Hateful people, however, are often hurt people, and often deflect their own self-hatred onto others. Be careful not to believe negative things others taught you or would have you believe about yourself before examining all the facts. You will find that the hate and judgment others have laid at your feet to be without merit or untrue. Fight off and correct your negative inner core beliefs by affirming yourself: ‘I am valuable’, ‘I am enough just as I am’, ‘I am a good, loving person.’ None of us is worthless, and I believe that each person has intrinsic value. You are valuable just for being born. Don't forget: mean, emotionally abusive people weren’t born that way. They became that way.

Self-Worth Defined. Internalizing Your Value as a Person:

The past is gone, the present is a gift, and the future is limitless. Take control of your life by letting go of co-dependence. Discover and re-integrate the inherent worth and value you were born with. embrace your value as a person, and do the work necessary to re-discover, re-build and maintain a positive sense of self-worth. Feeling valuable and worthwhile is our birthright. Once achieved, guard your newly discovered sense of self-worth diligently, and don't let anyone or anything take away from you what is intrinsically yours.

Larry Cohen