This life coach made shame her superpower

Catherine Andrews talks codependency and pushing past fear to create your dream life

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In the fourth episode of the Cruel Summer Book Club podcast I talk with life coach Catherine Andrews!

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Catherine specializes in coaching sensitive women to “stop overthinking, conquer fear and increase their confidence so they can unapologetically set and achieve goals in career, love and life.” Hell yeah! She also writes the incredible newsletter The Sunday Soother and hosts a podcast of the same name. (I was a guest on her pod back in the early days of CSBC in 2019.)

Catherine has taught me so many valuable lessons about self-compassion, including how to “lead with your shame.” Shame can hold us back in huge ways, but it also points us toward what could be our secret superpower: If we can work to overcome the things we feel shame about, they no longer hold power over us, and we can pursue the lives we truly desire.

Catherine knows all about this. She struggled with codependency for most of her life and went through a couple of devastating breakups, including a broken engagement in her early 30s. Through shadow work and connecting with her inner child, she learned to stand on her own and let go of the dating expectations she had for her younger self, the one who got engaged just because she was 30 and thought, “Well, it’s time to get married!” And a couple of years ago, she pushed past blinding fear to quit her full-time job and start her own business.

We also discuss our shared struggle with using alcohol as a “buffer” in our lives, or something we use to tolerate things and emotions we might not tolerate otherwise. We both have a hard time finding a real balance with alcohol—I describe it as an ever-looming “threat” in my life—and I suspect many of you may feel the same way. And whatever substance or negative behavior you struggle with just might be connected to your shame.

Below, I share an excerpt of our conversation about working through codependency. I hope you enjoy the episode!

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Jillian Anthony: You wrote an essay for Cruel Summer Book Club about codependency in your life, and how you work through that. So I know that's a big issue for you. I'd love to hear you talk a little more about that.

Catherine Andrews: So I think codependency can really serve, in a lot of ways, as a good coping mechanism and a strategy. There's a lot of lack of awareness around it from your 20s into your 30s and sometimes even your 40s and beyond. But usually when women are struggling with codependency and I'm working with them, I see them struggling with a sense of hollowness that seems to come up in their mid- to late 30s or early 40s. They're realizing they don't really know themselves. They are realizing they have no awareness of their emotional needs. They're struggling with boundaries and people-pleasing. They may have tried to carve out time for self-discovery and self-knowledge, but find it really hard to set those boundaries and stop managing the emotional needs of everybody around them. And it can really be an issue. I'm dedicated to talking about it a lot, because I think it affects a lot more people than realize it. A lot of people talk about codependency as almost an emotional addiction. And I think it's something that's at the core of a lot of people's struggles.

JA: Yeah, I definitely agree. And would you mind telling us a little bit about your relationships that kind of brought you to this realization? That might have been how I first found you, reading your story about a couple of really big breakups in your life that led you to the first steps of figuring out your own codependency.

CA: Yes, I am so happy to talk about these because, again, I think a lot of people carry romantic shame around breakups or singlehood. And it doesn't have to be that way.

I never thought about dating until I was fantastically dumped by my longterm boyfriend when I was about 27. And it was a really traumatic breakup. Dating and men hadn't really occupied a large percentage of my brain. And after that breakup, which I definitely think I had PTSD from, because it was sort of a longterm gaslighting experience, then dating took up a lot of brain space. And I was really interested in rediscovering safety, and rediscovering my worth, via romantic partners.

I totally remember getting dumped, being like 27, or 28, and I was like, okay, maybe I'll need six months to recover from this breakup. And then I'll need six months to find a new boyfriend. And then we need to date for two years, and I'll still be married by the time I'm 30. Because I was like, I gotta get married, gotta be married by 30. For the record, I'm 41 and in a romantic partnership, but not married. And so, it may not ever be on my path. But at that time, my codependency was deeply tied up in security and a stable partnership. And that led me to jump into a way-too-fast engagement when I was 30 or 31. Because I was like, it's time! I have not been dating this fellow for one year, but why not? And we rushed into it. We got engaged way too fast, and then spent the next two years in a really drawn-out, like, disengagement breakup process.

I just remember feeling so much shame when we finally decided to break up. I couldn't bear the thought of telling my parents, I couldn't bear the thought of telling my friends. I struggled so deeply with vulnerability around that issue. I was so convinced that everybody was going to judge me and talk behind my back about it. And I really just kept compassion and comfort at an arm's length because my identity was so wrapped up in my romantic status. And I couldn't imagine anybody thinking well of me for ending an engagement.

Of course, that was not the case at all. And the end of those two relationships helped me with becoming more vulnerable to my family and my friends who hadn't realized how much I'd been struggling at all. My codependency showed up like this—It was like, I always felt like I had to walk on eggshells around him. I always felt like I had to be a super Cool Girl to really make sure he would stick around, like, never too needy. Anytime his mood seemed a little off, I would rush in to attend and entertain him and plan activities for us. I thought about him all the time. I worried about him all the time. Like, was he gonna leave me, was this gonna work out? And it was just this kind of constant thrum of low-level anxiety under our relationship.

When you're codependent in romantic relationships, the metaphor I often like to use is: You're like a tree who stopped paying attention to its own roots, and has decided to gain its safety from the tree next to it in a really unhealthy and life-sucking way, wrapping your tree branches around this other tree. And that tree can't handle that pressure. That tree needs you to tend back to your roots and find your steadiness in your own ground. But your roots are so unattended at that point, you feel like the only place you can gain strength from is this other person.

For me, healing from codependency and romance was really about turning back to my to my roots, and doing a lot of self-care and self-discovery. Anytime I felt like I wanted to reach out to a boyfriend or a partner because I was worried if they were thinking about me, I would commit to doing an act of care for myself. And that was how I began healing this part of my life.

JA: Yeah, turning that external attention back internal, and giving yourself that care and reassurance, otherwise you're constantly seeking it from someone else. Right?

CA: Exactly. And that tree metaphor has helped me greatly, it's helped many of my clients greatly, because you can understand that that would be a very unhealthy tree that relied on another separate tree to do its emotional work for it. It may seem like a logical choice in the moment if your roots are unsteady, but the work is to tend to the roots, not to lean on the other tree. Sometimes that can feel very unnatural.

JA: I also just want to go back to you mentioning the Cool Girl. Because something I've been thinking a lot about over the last few years and what I tell people all the time is, there's literally no point in pretending to be the Cool Girl. You're not going to get what you want that way. There's no point in pretending, because if you're not honest about what you want, you’re for sure not gonna get it.

CA: And there also is no Cool Girl! We're all needy sacks of flesh. Just be that needy sack of flesh.


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