codependent agreements & being paid for transformation: a deeper look.


lisa fabrega

codependent agreements & being paid for transformation a deeper look.

My dearest one… I never meant to share this… A few days ago I wrote a private letter for myself as a reminder that boundaries are okay to hold to. Yet, after a few people (a client and a colleague) heard about it from me and urged me to share it, I chose to publish it.

Pull up a chair, get your favorite cup of tea, and put your phone on “do not disturb” for this one. You’re going to want to really let this one sink in.


As long as I can remember, I have wanted to dedicate my life to helping people.

At 6, I locked myself in my mother’s bathroom and wrote a song about a woman who needed help, but no one came to help her. That might sound morbid to you for a six year old, but I was growing up in a third world country with crippling poverty all around me, and I was stunned by how people in the elite classes completely ignored the poor, barefoot children begging for food and money at the traffic lights.

As I grew up, I was always the family member and the friend who would bend over backward for those I loved. I was the person who stayed late at work to make sure things were easier for others the next day when they came in. I was the friend who called up a friend who was having a hard time and said, hey, I’m here. Vent for an hour and I’ll listen.

I did it because I cared. I wanted to help.

Unfortunately, I did it to my detriment. After a harrowing possible autoimmune diagnosis that eventually ended up okay, I realized I had to stop “bending over backward” at my own personal expense.

It was a lesson I had to learn over and over again and that I continue to learn even today.

Years later, I started my business. I had never pictured myself as a business owner. It was partially a whim to get out of my day job that led me to start my business.

But a year into coaching others and impacting others with the words on my blog… I was hooked.

The letters I got from readers on certain posts that led them to make brave choices in their lives touched me. The ways I saw my clients lives changed so powerfully with just the right amount of support and redirection to their soul truths made me realize… I had been inadvertently led by the Universe right back to where I had started at 6. And my soul had really wanted me to start this business because the work I was doing at a financial corporation wasn’t actually contributing to anything that I believed in.

Now, with my own business, I was helping people.

I guess this thing is really going to become a thing now, I thought to myself, amazed, at the end of the first year of my business. I had managed to pull in $68,000 in revenue and had helped a ton of women in the process. It felt good. To hear a woman experience a breakthrough during a call, it was a feeling I couldn’t even describe. To be able to be compensated for this, and therefore, be able to dedicate my time and energy to helping others, was an amazing dream come true.

Seeing the power of the work I was doing and its impact, I immediately began to daydream about how many more people I could help by growing the business revenue even more. I started to plan for the not-for-profit organization I would eventually start with the proceeds of my business. The books I could write that would help those who couldn’t always afford my services.

I have been running a successful, for-profit business for almost 8 years now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always a picnic. We have had our ups & downs, and nothing has caused me more stress and more joy than this business.

Yet, while I believe the reason the business has been successful is that we always have had helping others as our core mission, I also started to notice something very interesting about charging money for transformation after year two of my business. Especially, if we are good-hearted and service-oriented individuals.

You see, I’ve done the bending-over-backwards thing in my business too. A few years into my business, I burned myself out so badly from doing this “because people were paying me money and I am supposed to help” that I almost had to quit for good.

That’s when I really had to question the way I was doing this whole “people pay me money to help them” thing.

If the point was to help more and more people, I couldn’t keep burning myself out like this. Because, burned out, I was of no use to anyone, and that kind of defeated the whole “helping as many people as possible” mission of my business.

As I dug deeper into this pattern for myself, I began to discover that a lot of it centered around the fact that in my job, I accepted money for helping people.

I also noticed that so many of my clients also ended up pushing themselves to a point that was not healthy for them because “someone gave them money for their services.” They overgave or padded their programs with gazillions of bonuses in order to “prove” their worth.

I have had more than a few super successful, brilliant, pioneering, women clients who were afraid to raise prices because raising prices somehow meant that their client would expect them to work even harder, and they were already working as hard as they could, so how could they ever double their prices when they couldn’t double the amount they were already working?

Accepting money for our transformative services brings up all sorts of weird, complicated and uncomfortable emotions. And the act of giving people our money in exchange for their services can bring some interesting things up for us too.

All sorts of weird “beliefs” pop up in this area. They are not empowering beliefs. They are beliefs that create weird, unspoken, “expectations,” and that can ultimately be damaging to both people in the money exchange.

Add to that being a person that genuinely wants to help people and has a big heart, and you’ll find that both parties in the money exchange often get unconsciously wrapped up in weird, codependent patterns.

I’m going to use examples from my own business to help shine a light on these patterns, so that, if you are a big-hearted individual who runs a business, you can extricate yourself from them for good.

Let’s face it — no matter how much money someone gives us for a service, if we allow it to come with strings and co-dependent behaviors, we are not ultimately serving anyone in the end.

Allowing these unspoken dynamics to continue only perpetuates messed up power dynamics in the world. I have had to learn the hard way, several times, during this 8 year journey, so it’s my hope that these stories help and empower you.

It was 8pm and I was sitting down to have dinner with my sister, who I had not seen for a long time. I was so happy to catch up with her after working really hard that week, seeing 15 clients for one on one sessions.

Ping! Ping! Ping!

My phone was going off like crazy. The persistence of the messages led me to believe there was a real emergency happening, so I grabbed my phone to look. It was a client.

She had sent me a text 2 hours ago, at 6pm, after I had logged off of work for the day to spend time with my family. Naturally, I had not responded — I wasn’t near my phone. And now she was furious.

The tone of the texts went something like… How dare I not respond to her? Wasn’t she paying me all that money for me to give her the support she needs when she needs it? What kind of a coach was I if I’m not even available for help when she needs it?

I sat there with my mouth gaping open as the messages continued to come in, each one more angry and borderline verbally abusive.

I’m really disappointed. I didn’t get the exact times I wanted in your schedule this month and had to pick two less than ideal dates for our sessions. I can’t believe that you didn’t bend over backwards to accommodate my schedule. I paid a lot of money to work with you and you should be more accommodating.

This was back in 2014, and yes these were the words I was listening to, incredulously, from a client. She continued to say things that implied I was not as good as her last coach because we were not scrambling to give her the exact times she wanted (even though we simply did not have those times available and my assistant had done everything she could to accommodate her).

Nevermind that her contract explicitly stated that she gets two hours of coaching a month and that those hours may be arranged in a variety of configurations depending on my and the client’s schedule. Nevermind that she is not my only client, and I had 11 other clients to serve.

Nevermind that some of the hours she expected me to “accommodate her with” were mealtimes, late at night, and weekends.

Nevermind that I have an entire business to run, and when not coaching clients, I am required to meet with my team, write blog posts and social media posts for weekly content, market, have conversations with potential clients, spend time with my family, and somehow in all of that get some time for myself.

Nevermind that the reason she didn’t get the sessions she wanted was because her travel schedule limited the times she could meet.

The fact that I wasn’t “bending over backwards” was a negative for her and something that was silently expected with the money exchange for my services. Even though the agreement to “bend over backwards” was nowhere in my contract with her.

I texted you on Sunday and you didn’t write back to me until Tuesday. You just aren’t there for me. I’m not getting the support I need.

Nevermind that our program agreement, which she signed, stated that I don’t reply to texts on weekends and that I am not obligated to reply under any particular time frame. Nevermind that she had missed her last three sessions with me and not bothered to show up for any of the group coaching calls to get the support she needed from the multiple levels of support her program was offering her.

These are just some of the things I have experienced in my business in the last 8 years. I have dozens more stories just like them.

Though I have been incredibly fortunate to work with mostly amazing, incredible women who I adore (and who I often still keep in touch with years later), after working with thousands of women, you do end up collecting a small menagerie of experiences like this. Even from good, well-meaning clients I adore, I experience this from time to time.

It’s not uncommon, because we all are learning how to set up better boundaries, and don’t even realize how we are taught to participate in unhealthy, silent expectations, and codependent behaviors. Practically every Hollywood movie or TV show shows codependent relationships. We’re bombarded by it, constantly.

Those of us who are big hearted and want to help, risk getting wrapped up in these stories to our own detriment.

Add to that, the totally untrue and effed up belief that spiritual people “shouldn’t charge money to help people” and should be “neglecting their own needs to help others” (ummm… how are we supposed to eat, feed our families, pay our rent, and keep showing up with energy to serve the world more and more if we aren’t compensated for that hard work)…

and we have a perfect storm.

We end up overworking ourselves to feel “less guilty” about charging money for helping people, and feeling bad about setting boundaries, with clients who paid us, so that we can have a quality of life, too.

Why does money exchanging hands suddenly mean we are not allowed to have boundaries and self care?

As I mentioned before, it took me getting really sick and almost having to quit my business, to realize that I have no desire to play a part in these dynamics anymore.

I wrote a secret manifesto a few weeks ago, after I had to reset some boundaries in my business. I noticed that for a week after setting them, I had an inner child that felt afraid the people I had to reset boundaries with would be “upset with me,” “disappointed in me because I didn’t do exactly what they wanted,” or “think I was bitchy,” because I had set boundaries that are crucial for me to preserve my joy and quality of life so that I CAN show up 100% in my work.

After working through some of these feelings and loving up my inner child just like I teach my clients to do, I heard my soul speaking to me. She was dictating a “boundaries letter” for my business, which I wrote down.

Even though it was a private letter I wrote to myself as a reminder that it’s okay to hold to my boundaries, I want to share it with you today.

Because, if you are caught in a pattern of feeling like you “owe” something more than what was originally agreed upon with someone just because they gave you money…

Or you feel at the mercy of a client because you silently and unconsciously agreed to do whatever they want, because you’re afraid they will stop paying you and you won’t have any money…

I want you to read this out loud to yourself to extricate yourself from that unhealthy pattern once and for all.

This kind of pattern is known as a co-dependent pattern. Co-dependent patterns don’t actually help your clients. It makes them dependent on you being a certain way in order for them to feel safe, instead of empowered to find the solutions within themselves.

This will hold you back in your leadership, it will hold you back from growing, and it will keep you hostage to every person’s unspoken expectations until you burn out.

Dear beloved client who I am so excited to support with the best I have in me:

Your coaching agreement and payments include:

  • X amount of calls per month.
  • Text support with me between 11am and 5pm Pacific, Monday through Friday.
  • A retreat/retreats in x with accommodations and food included.
  • Lots of unconditional love.
  • My commitment to show up for you 100% when we are on our calls.
  • My profound belief in you and the amazing person I see you to be.
  • Fierce cheerleading on the energetic and physical planes whenever we speak.
  • Powerful space holding and witnessing of your true power so that you can see it reflected back to you.
  • Accountability to your soul goals.
  • A coach who cares enough about your progress to call you out with lots of love when she sees you self-sabotaging, and who is willing to share the truth, even when your ego is mad at her for doing so.

Your coaching agreement and payments do NOT include me:

  • being at your beck and call, whenever you want me.
  • being the person your ego wants me to be vs. the person you hired to really see you and hold you accountable.
  • putting up with verbal abuse or mean words when you’re “triggered.”
  • doing only exactly what you tell me to do (you did not hire a puppet, you hired a master coach).
  • being your secretary because you paid money for my services (that’s not what you hired me for).
  • chasing you to take responsibility for yourself, schedule your sessions, or do the homework we come up with at the end of every session.
  • babying your ego instead of challenging you to break the patterns you hired me to help you break.
  • “bending over backwards” for you when it’s detrimental to my quality of life.
  • being your “projection punching bag” when you’re having a bad day (instead just ask for my help! That’s what I’m here for.).
  • never having any tech glitches, ever (that’s impossible, even for Bill Gates).
  • never making a mistake.
  • solving all of your problems in one session and being responsible for your entire life’s happiness (only you can ultimately be responsible for that).
  • being your replacement mother, father, boyfriend, girlfriend, or friend.
  • being “punished” with claims of not caring about you or not supporting you enough because I didn’t get to hang out with you in person when I happened to be in your town.
  • withstanding passive-aggressive or direct attacks on myself or my team just because you didn’t get the exact times you wanted for our sessions every month.
  • playing along with the ways in which you pretend to be small and never hold you accountable to your greatness.
  • being in a codependent relationship with you.

Sometimes I will answer a text after 6pm.
Sometimes I will be THRILLED to meet up with you in person if my schedule permits (because I love all of the people I work with and I always want to give them big hugs).
Sometimes I will be happy to hop on the phone with you for an extra 10 minutes beyond what your contract states, or stay on a little longer until we get the issue you needed help with, resolved.
Sometimes I will text you back right away if the time is open for me when you text me.

But I do all of these things because I choose to, as extra kindnesses, from a place of delight, when the time and energy permits. They are not “obligations,” but rather extra special things I like to do from time to time because I am that kind of coach, who will go that extra mile for you — but not to the detriment of my peace of mind and joy.

Paying me money does not mean that you get to control my sovereignty or my personal life in order to fit your schedule. It does not mean you get to lambast my team, and call me names because I couldn’t accommodate your last minute request.

I don’t believe in being obligated to “bend over backwards” for anyone.

Because if you really think about that phrase and what it implies, you’ll see that it’s actually unhealthy to “expect” anyone to “bend over backwards for you,” just because money exchanged hands for their services.

First of all, to keep this metaphor up, it can really hurt a person’s back to do that. And why would you desire people to always hurt their backs for your convenience?

Usually if someone “bends over backwards” for you, it’s because they want to and choose to — not because they are “obligated to.” (Unless the contract you signed says you are paying for them bending over backwards for you).

Imagine how you would feel if someone always expected you to bend over backwards and hurt yourself for them.

That wouldn’t feel very good would it?

You’d get resentful and then you wouldn’t want to do those special favors for them out of the goodness in your heart. They would lose their specialness because now it would be “expected” all the time. And your back wouldn’t be able to handle it after a while, and you’d get really hurt in the long run.

These days I only bend over backwards for situations like the one I had this December when my sister’s baby almost died, and I took the redeye from California to Maryland and went straight to the hospital without a wink of sleep, just in time to put my hands on her back as she finally let herself cry. I had the energy to be there for my sister and my niece because I don’t constantly “bend over backwards” for every little thing.

By the way, dear client, none of these things mean I don’t care about you or don’t care about your success. On the contrary, it’s because I care so much that these boundaries are in place. When they are in place, I can show up and give you my best — which is what you paid for, right?

I would be failing you as a coach if I didn’t set these boundaries. Because my greatest responsibility is to model for you what it looks like to be in healthy, interdependent, and joyful relationship with the world around you, whether that be your relationship with your business, clients, friends, lovers, body, or your self.

Thank you for honoring the agreements we spoke out loud and for not creating extra unspoken agreements I never agreed to, and then getting mad at me or lashing out because I didn’t meet those unspoken expectations. I am a human being, with feelings and I really don’t like being treated that way or spoken to in that manner.

Thank you for honoring yourself by surrendering to the container I set up for you, which your soul picked out by choosing me as your coach, so that you can thrive at your highest. After all, you hired me because I’m the best of the best, I know what I’m doing, and the boundaries I have in place are there because they help you get the best results out of your program with me.

It’s an honor to serve you and I know we are going to do great things together. Now let’s get ready to kick some ass and get you want you want.

If you find yourself in any of the stories above and you’re a client to a coach, I know this might be hard for you to hear. But if you let it in, you’ll notice a huge breakthrough happens as you begin to take deeper responsibility for your life and your actions.

If you find yourself in the stories above and you’re offering transformational services to clients in exchange for money:

Insert your own terms above in the “what’s included” section.
Write your own letter.
Read it out loud to yourself as a reminder.
Read out loud as needed.
Reclaim your power.

It is okay for you to build a business and a life that feels good to you, and you do not have to explain yourself or apologize for that, just because money exchanged hands. Ever.


With love,