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How do codependency and queerness relate?

How do experiences of marginalization for queer folk contribute to codependent behaviors?

How can codependency compound “coming out” to others?

In this podcast episode, Marissa speaks with Shawny Sena, LMFT, a therapist who works exclusively with the LGBTQIA Community, all about how codependency and queerness relate (and how they don’t relate). Shawny shares with us about codependency in families of origin versus families of choice (and spells out exactly what those two terms mean in the queer community). Marissa asks Shawny about how experiences of being marginalized or experiencing homo- or transphobia may influence codependent behaviors. You’ll also hear ways that Shawny encourages individualization with her clients.

Thanks for listening!

About this episode’s guest:

Shawny Sena, LMFT, is a therapist in Minneapolis, MN. She works exclusively with the LGBTQIA community and specializes in kids, teens, and adults: old souls of all ages who need to learn to play again.

Shawny’s information:

More deets on this episode:

Question one: How does Shawny define codependency? Three phrases: I’m okay, if we’re okay. We’re okay if you’re okay. And I’ll do anything to make sure you’re okay. Shawny tells us how she has a familiar relationship with codependency due to “life.”

Question two: Can Shawny share with us aspects of codependency in her own life? A few examples:

Shawny and her spouse were about to watch a movie. She sees one come up and says “Let’s watch that one” and then they got stuck in a “let’s watch what you want to watch.” Shawny reveals how it took her actual, deliberate force to select the movie she wanted.
Shawny discusses being sick at work and fearing being perceived as a “faker.” Then she would convince herself “maybe I am faking it…maybe their perception of me is the real one and my perception of me is false.”
Shawny shares how, in her pre-coming-out days, she felt guilty about pursuing those she was interested in romantically. She would assume how they would feel if she did try to date them.

Question three: What is cis-gender? Shawny educates us on how that is “anyone who isn’t trans.” Our perceived gender aligns with the gender that was assigned to use at birth.

Question four: How do codependency and queerness interrelate? “They interrelate a lot. Anytime you have an experience where you have a marginalized identity, the message is: you should adapt, shift, change something about yourself to fit into with us.” With sexuality and gender, Shawny describes how “there is a feeling that ‘you’re different and you need to turn down your difference to be loved.’”

Question five: What are families-of-origin versus chosen families?

Family-of-origin are the family that you grew up with–the people who told us how to be in the world and brought us up. Chosen families are the families that you “find usually in adulthood or on your way to adulthood who fit who you are and who feel good to you.”

Question six: How does codependency impact family-of-origin and chosen families? Within family-of-origin, there are implicit and explicit rules or expectations. For example, “We’re not going to tell grandma that your trans.” Shawny describes how the solution is: you hide so grandma doesn’t get upset or confused. TURNING OURSELVES DOWN. Implicit example: when a sibling brings a heterosexual and cisgender partner, they are treated like one of us versus my homosexual and transgender partner is treated “politely but different.”

Question seven: How do experiences with transphobia, homophobia, and marginalization influence codependency?

Shawny shares about a cultural message that states “your desire is dangerous.” Codependency makes us believe what others say about us in order to stay safe.

Question eight: How can codependency lead a queer individual to not come out due to fear of upsetting, distressing, or hurting their families, friends, etc.? Shawny describes how, since queer folk “turn themselves down so much,” they fear coming out and don’t do it because they want to keep things calm. Shawny describes the concept of “coming in” and how, even if a queer individual is not “out” to everyone, they can still be authentic to themselves.

Question nine: What are Shawny’s initial steps when she notices codependency in her queer clients? Shawny mostly works with children and she discusses how her aim, at times is, “codependency prevention like the dentist.” Shawny shares how she encourages them to “be the boss,” invites disagreement, and other techniques to model interdependent behavior. Shawny recalls times when her clients will worry about being “too much” for her in therapy and how she responds by notifying them that she’s responsible for herself and taking care of herself.

Question ten: How would she re-write her codependency summary from the beginning of the episode? “We’re okay if we’re okay–it’s both of us. I’m okay if I’m okay. I trust that we can figure out how to be okay together.”

Thanks for listening!