This post today is about what I am personally recovering and healing from. I didn’t abuse drugs, sex, or alcohol. I didn’t have a gambling problem. It was a much less obvious problem that affects so many of us, and I want to bring light into the darkness on this topic…
I listen to song lyrics nowadays, and I can’t help but notice how incredibly unhealthy some of these “love songs” are. Let’s take Bryan Adam’s song, “Everything I Do (I Do It For You).” Now, I love me some Bryan Adams. He is great to sing along to. I am going to use his song though as an example of dysfunction. The title alone is red flag city into an unhealthy and unbalanced relationship. It isn’t romantic to be doing “everything” for someone; in fact, it is flat out toxic.
Have y’all heard of codependency? If not, it is ok because in the realm of conditions, it has only been coined recently within the last 30 years or so as psychologists were studying interpersonal relationship patterns in families with alcoholism. However, the condition has probably been around since the evolution of human relationships, and families with alcoholism are only ONE group affected by this relationship pattern. This affects millions of people… young and old, rich and poor, and everyone in between.
Codependency is difficult to describe, and there are many many definitions. I am going to use the one by Mental Health America that I happen to fancy. It resonates with me. Simply put, codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. In another definition, Darlene Lancer states, “Codependency is characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs.” In codependency, one partner is giving the one who is “less sufficient” and needy all of their energy and resources (and this does not have to do with taking care of babies or children who actually need adult care, this is about relationships with adults who are capable of caring for their issues and selves). Codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.
One of the biggest behavioral patterns in codependency is “rescuing.” This could be rescuing the person from the consequences of their poor behavior (like the wife of a husband with alcoholism taking the money they need to pay the bills and bailing him out of jail after a DUI), or emotional rescue (this was my speciality!). An example of emotional rescue is when I would have a valid emotion, like anger, and my anger would be a “problem” for the other in the relationship..because my anger was a mirror to their shortcomings in the relationship. So, they made it out that my anger was the problem, I believed it, and because I subconsciously saw my anger as the problem and was the “fixer,” I stuffed my anger down, “rescuing” that person from having to deal with their issue and the unpleasant feelings they would have to experience on their end. The person who is in the codependent pattern typically starts to feel drained and bitter after time goes by. The person in codependency starts to wonder, “Why is this so hard? Why am I so tired and pissed?” Those were the questions I was starting to ask myself as my marriage was starting to fall apart. I was tired, I was starting to feel this underlying bitterness and resentment.
If there is a word that can sum up codependency, I would say it is, “One-sided.”
Some of you may be reading this and think, “OMG this sounds like me! I am constantly giving to my partner but I feel like I do not get the same in return.” I will put it simply like this… If you are constantly giving and the other is constantly eating the fruits of your giving, but you’re not getting fruits in your basket back (FOR WHATEVER REASON, IT DOES NOT MATTER WHY BECAUSE YOUR BASKET IS EMPTY), you are more than likely dealing with codependent tendencies.
I just read the book “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie. It has many good points and insights about codependency. Here are some characteristics she mentions that people in codependency tend to have:
Care taking (tend to feel responsible for other people, feel anxiety pity and guilt when others have a problem, anticipate other’s needs but then wonder why it isn’t done back, feel insecure and guilty when others give to them, etc)
Low self- worth- this can be conscious or subconscious, mine was subconscious (come from repressed families, can deny the family was troubled, think they aren’t good enough, fear rejection, take things personally, afraid of making mistakes, can have a tough time making decisions, have a lot of “should’s,” get artificial feeling of self-worth from helping others, etc)
Repression (push their thoughts and feelings out of their awareness because of fear and guilt, afraid to be who they are, can appear rigid)
Obsession (feel a lot of anxiety about problems and people, think a lot about other people, worry, check on people, focus all of their energy on others then wonder why they don’t have any)
Controlling (have lived with events and people that were out of control, afraid to let events and life happen naturally, think they know best and then wonder why others are angry at them, feel controlled by events and people)
Denial (ignore or minimize problems, stay busy so they don’t have to think about things, get confused, depressed or sick, then pretend those things aren’t happening or aren’t “that bad”)
Dependency (look for happiness outside of themselves, latch onto whoever or whatever they think can provide happiness, feel terribly threatened by the loss of that “happiness,” desperately seek love and approval, try to prove they’re good enough to be loved, center their lives around other people, stay in relationships that aren’t mutual and don’t work)
Poor Communication (blaming, begging, advise, don’t say what they mean, don’t mean what they say, don’t take themselves seriously or take themselves too seriously, people please, will talk about other people’s problems but not their own, will apologize for “bothering” others)
Poor Boundaries (say they won’t tolerate certain behaviors from others but gradually increase their tolerance and then do things they said they never would, let others hurt them, have trouble drawing the line in the sand and owning their “no”)
Lack of trust (don’t trust their feelings, decisions, emotions, or others)
Anger (many feel scared hurt and angry, and are afraid of their own anger, and other’s anger)
Sex Problems (are caretakers in the bedroom, have sex when they don’t want to or when they would rather be held/nurtured/loved, sometimes try to have sex when rather they’re angry or hurt, reduce sex to a technical act, have strong sexual fantasies about others, wonder why they may be losing interest in sex, some will have extramarital affairs)
Overly-Responsible/Irresponsible (can be martyrs, find it difficult to be close to people, find it difficult to be fun and spontaneous, combine passive and aggressive responses, laugh when they feel like crying, stay loyal to their compulsions and “people” even when it hurts)
Progressive (unless stopped, codependency gets worse and progresses like any other continuously practiced habit)
Codependency is a spectrum. Some have it more severe than others, and some are more “textbook” and obvious than others. As someone who has worked in the mental health field and someone who is recovering from this, I truly believe codependency affects more people than we realize. The mental health field initially thought this only had to do with families that had a member with issues involving alcohol, drugs, or mental health; this however has changed. It has been shown it can be developed in any dysfunctional family.
Well shit, that sounds like an epidemic to me! What American family nowadays doesn’t have members who are riddled with fear and not dealing with their emotions? Now remember, NORMAL DOES NOT MEAN HEALTHY. I do think codependency has become more the norm than interdependent (healthy interpersonal relationship dynamic), but I truly believe we can find our way back to health and interdependence through awareness and healing.
So how does one heal from codependency? Well well well, there are many a book on this. I will share how I have recovered from codependency, and what has worked for me and my clients.
Awareness is always the first step. You have to be able to name codependency and own it. And for the record, THIS IS YOUR PROBLEM. Whoever is on the other side of this has their problems, and that is THEIRS to own. It does not condone anything they’ve done or continue to do…But this one is YOURS to own. Once you can stare it down and look it in the eye for what it is, you can do something about it. You also need to get to learn the story of how this happened. How did you learn these habits? For me, it started at a very very young age. My one shaman said I started care taking of my family members around 1.5 years old (SAY WHAT??!?!?!). I believe it because that was shortly after my one grandpa died, and there was a lot of chaos and uncertainty going on within my little world. Here is a picture of me at 1.5 years old already “momming” and caring for my dolls. I already look pissed and bitter… Damn you dolls, taking up all my time and resources like that!!! No, but seriously, do NOT become a victim to codependency. You have the power to overcome it, and not have it continue to overcome you. STOP GIVING YOUR POWER TO OTHER PEOPLE. YOU’RE THE ONE WHO IS GIVING IT AWAY. NO ONE CAN TAKE IT FROM YOU UNLESS YOU ALLOW IT. Hard truth, but truth nonetheless.
Start putting yourself first. This process is a recovery, so it’s no overnight oats! You need to start putting yourself first, one decision at a time. Start recognizing your emotions and realize they’re valid. Deal with your emotions… there is no around, only through. You have to be able to start recognizing your needs. What do you need in the relationship? These are also valid. Start owning what you want and what brings you joy. You are your own autonomous being in the universe, here to be who you were meant to be. You have to be able to start detaching from people and “should’s” and allowing the chips to fall where they may in this process. You may lose relationships. If you do, allow it. THE RELATIONSHIPS THAT ARE WORTH SAVING WILL ENDURE…THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN SLACKING WILL START SHOWING UP AND PICK UP THEIR SLACK, OWN THEIR ISSUES, AND HEAL THEM. The others who aren’t ready for that won’t, and you have to find your path for letting go of them. It is not always easy, especially when you care about these people; but this is where you start to show up and love yourself. When you show up and love yourself, there is little room for bullshit. And remember, when you put your heart first, there is space for everyone. You have to start allowing yourself to trust that.
Being engaged in an active healing process. Everyone’s path is different, so I do not say one should do this or that. What is most important is that you are willing to consistently show up and heal yourself when you’re ready. Again, there is no around, only through. For some, this could mean therapy or a support group and 12-step program like Al-Anon (this is a support group for family members or friends of someone with an addiction issue, while AA and Narcotics anonymous is for the person with the addiction). For some, approaches like ThetaHealing (I work with many of my clients on healing their codependency using this), inner child work (I also utilize this frequently in helping clients), shamanism, and reiki are some other options. For me, it started with therapy, then progressed to shamanism, then ThetaHealing and inner child work. The most significant and lasting changes for me came with ThetaHealing and inner child work, and I have found this to be super effective with my clients as well. Listen to your gut on where your path needs to take you in healing yourself. If you are determined and allow yourself to do it, it will come.
Get involved in interdependent, mutual relationships. Relationships are healthy when you feel good, safe to be yourself, and connected. Where you also feel like you’re getting what you’re giving. Darlene Lancer wrote this about interdependent relationships, I and liked it quite a bit!
“What makes interconnections healthy is interdependency, not codependency. Paradoxically, interdependency requires two people capable of autonomy (the ability to function independently). When couples love each other, it’s normal to feel attached, to desire closeness, to be concerned for each another, and to depend upon each other. Their lives are intertwined, and they’re affected by and need each other. However, they share power equally and take responsibility for their own feelings, actions, and contributions to the relationship. Because they have self-esteem, they can manage their thoughts and feelings on their own and don’t have to control someone else to feel okay. They can allow for each other’s differences and honor each another’s separateness. Thus, they’re not afraid to be honest. They can listen to their partner’s feelings and needs without feeling guilty or becoming defensive. Since their self-esteem doesn’t depend upon their partner, they don’t fear intimacy, and independence doesn’t threaten the relationship. In fact, the relationship gives them each more freedom. There’s mutual respect and support for each other’s personal goals, but both are committed to the relationship.”
I have lost some people in this process. Other relationships have shifted into acquaintances where we used to be “close.” I am still getting use to mutuality, which is all I have ever wanted, but it is still foreign. Be aware if you are sabotaging closeness or intimacy because of a subconscious (or conscious) fear of it. I have to be very mindful to allow these wonderful things into my life.
I have a really good husband and wife friendship that is new to my life. During the hurricane, the guy texted me if i needed anything from the store. I was certain he meant to text his wife, so i texted him back, “i don’t think you meant to text me.” he was like, “yes i did! I am out to the store getting stuff for me and the family and was wondering if you needed anything.”
I started crying because I am so not used to having someone look out for me without me asking for it or prompting it. my friend just wanted to be thoughtful since he knows i am single and do a lot for myself on my own. i cried out of pure joy and because i was so touched… but i also cried out of sadness for how much that kind of thoughtful nurturance had been lacking in my life. i always had the power to welcome it, but didn’t before for so many reasons i was not aware of. now that i am healed and aware, i welcome it with open arms. In addition to this, i am now attracting people who bring that to the table. your vibe attracts your tribe. if you are putting the vibe out of “i will take care of you and ignore my needs” you will attract people more often than not who are looking for that.
You deserve mutual relationships and a life of feeling peace and joy. Codependency is a huge damper on experiencing fruitful and healthy relationships. Just remember, you are not your codependency, and you can heal from it like any compulsive habit that does not serve you. It can be scary to let go of this, especially if it is all you’ve ever known (it was all I had ever known, and I was very scared to heal from this, but I have!). Know you’re not alone. And remember, like always, you have a choice. I invite you to choose mutual, healthy, and loving vibes.
PS- If you struggle with being hard on yourself and putting a lot of responsibility on yourself, click here.
“Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie