It’s funny, I knew that my family was codependent before I knew I was. I even told my therapist how I thought my parent’s have a very codependent relationship, not being able to really see myself. I knew my parents were codependent because I was Codependent also. In fact, I intuitively knew I was Codependent because I was already following the Twelve Step Program to Recovery for Codependents before I spoke with a therapist at all. Once Codependency was suggested to me by my therapist, I realized that, that was exactly what I was suffering from. It was so life affirming to know that I was on the right path. That I’m doing alright. I’m exactly where I need to be, and I’m going to be fucking okay! It was the biggest thing that happened to me so far this year. I’ve slowly but surely lost my confidence over the course of my twenties. I lost the ability to trust myself and to properly take care of myself as a whole. If I’m going to be real, I’ve never had so little in my entire life. So little money, so little security, so little motivation, so little energy, so little of basically everything. I’ve made myself very small. Like I tried to explain in my last post called Forgiveness which I hope you read, because forgiveness is what really got me to finally move towards a healthier, happier version of myself. Forgiveness was and is the only thing that has allowed me to forgive myself, and to finally give myself the love and compassion I deserve. I’ve been punishing myself for far too long. It is the shame, guilt, lack of self-worth, pain, anger, grief, lack of trust in everything and everyone, that has kept me in a dark place thinking that all of this obviously happened to me because I deserved it. At my very core I believed I was a bad person, who had to fight extra hard to receive love and keep it. In fact, I felt like I had to fight for everything I had in life, and I had to fight to defend it all too. Why? Well because I thought everything that was important to me would be taken away from me at any point, and I had many, many reasons as to why that would be. All of this stemmed from my childhood.
Some of you might be wondering what Codependency is and what it means to be Codependent? Well, I think Melody Beattie does the best job describing what Codependency is and how to overcome it. I bought both of her books; Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself , and The New Codependency, the second my therapist recommended Codependent No More, and they have been the most influential books for my healing. Through reading these books, I learned a lot about myself, my family, and how to finally take care of myself in the way that I need. Like I said before, I was already doing a lot of the things that Melody recommends for recovery, but she really helped to give me a deeper understanding. Plus she really does a good job of teaching you how you can apply her teachings to your life with activities and examples from her life and the lives of other Codependents she has come into contact with. So, what is Codependency? “The behaviours associated with Codependency- from controlling to caretaking are behaviours that saved our lives when we didn’t know what else to do. In most situations, whether alcoholism was involved or not, codependent behaviours are what anyone might do if he or she walked for five or ten years in our shoes… Codependency is normal behaviour, plus. There are times we do too much, feel too little, or overly engage. We forget where the other person’s responsibilities begin and our responsibilities stop. Or we get busy and have so much to do that we neglect ourselves.” (Melody Beattie) You don’t necessarily need to have addiction in your family in order for you to become Codependent. In fact, Codependency is quite common, and it starts in your childhood. That is where we learn these survival mechanisms by experiencing trauma. Trauma is anything that happened to you that you were not able to understand, and so you respond emotionally. It could be as simple as someone consistently calling you names, and making fun of you. You don’t know why this is happening to you, but it keeps happening and it hurts.
A lot of the things that hurt us as children we did not completely understand, especially if our parents or guardians never took the time to explain our pain or emotions to us. Children absorb a lot of their environment without fully understanding it, we try our best to rationalize our pain to ourselves by telling ourselves stories about why those bad things happened to us or the people we love. Usually, the explanation that we land on is that we are responsible for what happened to us, and it is because we are bad, dumb, ugly, stupid, insert any reason. These are very naive, childlike beliefs about ourselves that many of us carry on into adulthood. The only way to let go of these limiting beliefs is to finally face the root cause of these beliefs. The root cause is the trauma that we experienced as children, all the “bad things” that happened to us. That means we need to go back to our childhood trauma, understand the pain and emotions associated with that trauma, accept what happened, and move on. We need to find the lessons in those experiences so that we can learn and grow, until you do that, you will forever repeat the same pain over and over again. You will become small, like a child.
Everybody on this earth wants to be seen, heard, and recognized. That’s all we want. We want to be understood and loved. Sometimes the trauma that we experience as children was simply not being seen or heard; feeling ignored, or abandoned in some way. This may not have even happened to us on purpose. I mean, how could our parents be the parents we needed them to be at all times? They’re human, and therefore, they have, and will continue to make mistakes. As children, we don’t understand this. As children we think our parents know everything. We only learn that our parents don’t know everything, and aren’t perfect once we begin to learn and have new experiences outside of the home. However, our brains and our bodies remember everything that has ever happened to us, whether it was a positive experience or negative experience. Especially as a child, if you cannot understand what is happening to you or around you, you will forever carry the pain and the emotions associated with that pain in your subconscious and in your body. Just because you don’t think about it all the time, doesn’t mean that it’s not there. The pain is there, and you will start to create patterns in your life that mimic the same trauma that cause you that pain in the first place. “Bad things” or the same “bad things” will keep happening until you recognize the pattern. It takes a long time, and a certain level of awareness or consciousness for you to finally accept your family’s shortcomings, and that doesn’t usually happen until adulthood. That doesn’t happen until you finally take responsibility for your own life. You see, it is not just your parents that have a major influence on your life and your beliefs. It is also your grandparents, and your siblings. It can sometimes be your cousins as well, especially if you had a very close almost sibling like relationship with your cousins. I know I did growing up. You basically need to recognize the humanity in everyone, including yourself. No one is simply bad or good, we are human. We all experience pain, and if we don’t ever find a way to overcome our pain, we will only continue to live out that pain, replay our childhood, and then pass that on to the next generation. The easy thing to do is blame someone else for our pain. They did this to me, and so therefore I’m like this. Blaming, anger, hate, denial, repression, don’t stop the pain, and they don’t end the cycle. In fact, those things keep the pain alive. It starts to become comforting because it’s all you really know. The more you do this, the more frequently you’ll repeat the pattern of trauma, and the worse the consequences.
In a nutshell, that’s basically what happened to me. I spent the majority of my life repressing my emotions and the pain associated with those emotions until I could no longer deny my own unhappiness. I became Codependent because I have been repeating my childhood pain over and over again by using the same Codependent childhood survival mechanisms. I’ve repeated the same toxic boyfriend relationship, and the same toxic best friend relationship until now. All of the pieces that I’ve written so far this year is not me trying to relish in the past, no. In fact, that’s me trying to make sense of the past, forgive my past and move on. Honestly, all I’ve ever wanted was someone to tell me that it’s going to be okay and that I’m not crazy. I finally got that when I spoke to my therapist on a phone session. She told me that my reactions to what happened to me with my family were completely normal, and that I’m going to be okay. (If you’re wondering what I used for therapy, it’s an online therapy called Better Help) I felt for the longest time that I was fucked up, that something was wrong with me, and that’s why I could never find love or happiness. Part of me knew this wasn’t true, but after repeating the same trauma over and over again it’s really hard to believe that. The more you repeat the same pain that you don’t fully understand, the more powerful your reaction to that pain is. The more emotional you become, the more bitter you become, the more naive and irrational you become. You become small, and childlike. You see this all the time. When adults have temper tantrums in the supermarket over a couple of cents on their grocery bill! They’re not upset with the cashier or the store, that’s stupid! We all know that’s stupid. They’re just projecting their own pain onto someone else because they don’t know what else to do with it. They don’t fully understand it, and they don’t want to feel this way anymore, so they do their best to get rid of it in any way they know how. I’m here to tell you that the only way to become healthy and happy again is to go through your pain. Face your pain, feel your pain and the emotions that come with it. Once you’ve weathered the storm, you can come out the other side with a deeper understanding of yourself, and the people in your life. That is when you can finally accept the things that happened to you, and move on.
Some of you may be wondering, well how do I do that? Well, in my post called Stronger Than Me I quoted the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh where he talked about your pain and anxiety as your baby, and you must embrace that baby, take care of it, in order to get a relief. As an adult, you must go back to that inner child and explain their pain to them in order to get a relief. That does not mean that you make up a new story as to why you’re suffering, No. It means you need to detach yourself from the events that caused you pain and suffering in order to create awareness and consciousness. You need to understand that these things didn’t just happen to you, in fact they can happen to anyone, and they happen all the time. They didn’t happen to you because you “deserved it” they just happened. You need to take yourself out of the situation in order for you to be able to see clearly. It is from a state of consciousness that you will finally be able to understand the events that happened to you, find the lesson in those events, be grateful for that lesson, and move on. You can find the good in everything, you just need to be conscious in order to see it. Buddhist principles can be found in various recovery programs. Detachment and awareness are fundamental to recovery, and Buddhist traditions. Prayer, meditation, yoga, and the quest for knowledge and wisdom, are some of the things that I used to raise my level of consciousness so that I can heal myself, and move on. I was stuck for a while, not realizing how stuck I was, until I could see others moving past me. That was a painful realization for me. I was holding myself back, and I didn’t know why. Now I know why. I’m aware of my pain and what caused it. I’ve been actively letting go and becoming the person I want to be. I’m evolving and it feels so good. I’m letting go of my survival mechanisms because I no longer feel the need to survive, I want to thrive. I want to be happy, I want to grow. Now, I’m going to list some of the care-taking, hero complex, characteristics in this post so that you can have a better understanding of me, and who knows, maybe yourself? I don’t know. I’ve spent a lot of my life-giving and taking care of others because that’s all I knew. That was how I got the recognition I needed as a kid. Like I said before, all people want is to be seen, heard, and recognized. For me, I was always coming to the rescue, putting myself in the line of fire. Sacrificing myself for the good of the family. My family was my life, as a child, they were what I needed to survive, so I did everything to protect my life and my family. These behaviours became more and more self-deprecating as I grew older. The more I tried to care for others, put their needs in front of my own, save them from themselves or their situations, the more my needs got ignored. As an adult, the only person you need to take care of is yourself. When you’re a child, you don’t understand that because someone always took care of you. As a child, when we see your parents in pain or your siblings in pain, we do what we know, we react, we don’t think. So, we do what our parents did for us when we were in pain. For me, I nurtured and took care of those in pain. My first reaction was always to come to their rescue. Now that I am wiser, I understand that it is not up to me to come to anyone’s rescue. In fact, I can’t save anyone from themselves. It is exhausting to even try, and believe me, I’ve tried. Over and over again until I myself was exhausted of all my energy, and resources. I guess that’s what I needed to do to finally wake up and recognize that I have no control over anyone else, and I can’t help anyone else the way I want to if I don’t learn how to help myself first.
You see, Codependents mean well. In fact, they can be some of the most loving, generous, and caring people on earth. The problem is, many Codependents give from a deep need to be loved and accepted. They give in order to get, and they begin to feel resentful when their efforts are not appreciated in the way that they hoped. They are so busy taking care of and worrying about everyone else, that they fail to take care of themselves. In fact, many of us believe deep down that we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. We take care of others so that they in turn take care of us. We become very needy and dependent people pretending that it is the people we take care of that need us when really we need them just as much. We act as though we are the strong, and responsible ones, when really we feel very lost, but we do what we know in order to get the things we think we want. I’m very grateful that God has given me the chance to be able to see both sides of the Codependency coin. I know what it’s like to be very Codependent, but I also know what it’s like to be very independent. When I went away to school at Wilfrid Laurier University, I had the opportunity to be my own person, and it was some of the best years of my life. I paid my own rent, bought my own groceries, paid for my own reading week vacations, I worked hard, and I got to see the fruits of my own labour. It gave me a sense of confidence and a sense of self. I can’t say that I was completely independent but I got a taste of what it was like to do something completely for myself and how good that feels. Even when I did bodybuilding, that sport was completely for myself and I worked hard to move from bikini to figure in just 11 months to win second place. I’m proud of that. God has given me glimpses of what is possible for myself if I show myself the love that I deserve, if I gave myself all of my energy. I know that I can take care of myself, and in fact, I really don’t have a choice. My depression showed me that I can no longer live this way as a Codependent. I have run myself dry, I have nothing left to give to the outside world, it is now up to me to fill my own cups. I had to ask some of the people I loved the most for space so that I can do just that. That was not easy for me. For a while I didn’t know my own worth outside of my relationships with others, so I would pour my heart and soul into those relationships not realizing that they loved me for me, not for what I did for them. I didn’t realize that I was enough. That me, being myself, was enough for someone to love me and want me in their life. I know that now because even after asking for space, not only did they understand that need, they respected and loved me for it. I’m so grateful. I know that I am worthy of all the things I want in my life because I see it in others. God shows you the things that you could have through other people. God is showing you what is possible if you believe that you are worthy. How do you become worthy? Through healing, and self-care which is the highest form of self-love. You must show yourself the same love you would a wounded child for you to be able to move on and grow from any blockages in your life.
Here are some of the characteristics of Codependency. Like anything, there is a spectrum of Codependency, not all of these things will resonate with you, but, if a majority of these things resonate with you, it may be worth your time and energy to explore this further. Recovery from Codependency is not as painful as you might think. In fact, it’s really fun and exhilarating when you start to give yourself all of the things you’ve spent so much time giving to others. It feels really fucking good. Good luck guys! And if you want to connect to discuss this further? I am very open to that! I wanted to share some of the things that have been the most influential to my own personal healing because I think it’s worth sharing, you never know who might be able to relate.
Excerpted from Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself
Characteristics of Codependent People
by Melody Beattie
- Care-taking: Codependents may:
- think and feel responsible for other people for other people’s feelings, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny.
- feel anxiety, pity, and guilt when other people have a problem.
- feel compelled almost forced to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings.
- feel angry when their help isn’t effective.
- anticipate other people’s needs.
- wonder why others don’t do the same for them.
- find themselves saying yes when they mean no, doing things they don’t really want to be doing, doing more than their fair share of the work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves.
- not know what they want and need or, if they do, tell themselves what they want and need is not important.
- try to please others instead of themselves.
- find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others, rather than injustices done to themselves.
- feel safest when giving.
- feel insecure and guilty when somebody gives to them.
- feel sad because the spend their whole lives giving to other people and nobody gives to them.
- find themselves attracted to needy people.
- find needy people attracted to them.
- feel bored, empty, and worthless if they don’t have a crisis in their lives, a problem to solve, or someone to help.
- abandon their routine to respond to or do something for somebody else.
- over-commit themselves.
- feel harried and pressured.
- believe deep inside other people are somehow responsible for them.
- blame others for the spot the codependents are in.
- say other people make the codependents feel the way they do.
- believe other people are making them crazy.
- feel angry, victimized, unappreciated, and used.
- find other people become impatient or angry with them for all the preceding characteristics.
- Low Self-Worth: Codependents tend to:
- come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families.
- deny their family was troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional.
- blame themselves for everything.
- pick on themselves for everything, including the way they think, feel , look, act, and behave.
- get angry, defensive, self-righteous, and indignant when others blame and criticize the codependents something codependents regularly do to themselves.
- reject compliments or praise.
- get depressed from a lack of compliments and praise (stroke deprivation).
- feel different from the rest of the world.
- think they’re not quite good enough.
- feel guilty about spending money on themselves or doing unnecessary or fun things for themselves.
- feel rejection.
- take things personally.
- have been victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, or alcoholism.
- feel like victims.
- tell themselves they can’t do anything right.
- be afraid of making mistakes.
- wonder why they have a tough time making decisions.
- expect themselves to do everything perfectly.
- wonder why they can’t get anything done to their satisfaction.
- have a lot of “shoulds.”
- feel a lot of guilt.
- feel ashamed of who they are.
- think their lives aren’t worth living.
- try to help other people live their lives instead.
- artificial feelings of self-worth from helping others.
- get strong feelings of low self-worth embarrassment, failure, etc. from other people’s failures and problems.
- wish good things would happen to them.
- believe good things never will happen.
- wish other people would like and love them.
- believe other people couldn’t possibly like and love them.
- try to prove they’re good enough for other people.
- settle for being needed.
- Repression: Many codependents:
- push their thoughts and feelings out of their awareness because of fear and guilt.
- become afraid to let themselves be who they are.
- appear rigid and controlled.
- Obsession: Codependents tend to:
- feel terribly anxious about problems and people.
- worry about the silliest things.
- think and talk a lot about other people.
- lose sleep over problems or other people’s behaviour.
- never find answers.
- check on people.
- try to catch people in acts of misbehaviour.
- feel unable to quit talking, thinking, and worrying about other people or problems.
- abandon their routine because they are so upset about somebody or something.
- focus all their energy on other people and problems.
- wonder why they never have any energy.
- wonder why they can’t get things done.
- Controlling: Many codependents:
- have lived through events and with people who were out of control, causing the codependents sorrow and disappointment.
- become afraid to let other people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally.
- don’t see or deal with their fear of loss of control.
- think they know best how things should turn out and how people should behave.
- try to control events and people through helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving, manipulation, or domination.
- eventually fail in their efforts or provoke people’s anger.
- get frustrated and angry.
- feel controlled by events and people.
- Denial: Codependents tend to:
- ignore problems or pretend they aren’t happening.
- pretend circumstances aren’t as bad as they are.
- tell themselves things will be better tomorrow.
- stay busy so they don’t have to think about things.
- get confused.
- get depressed or sick.
- go to doctors and get tranquilizers.
- became workaholics.
- spend money compulsively.
- pretend those things aren’t happening, either.
- watch problems get worse.
- believe lies.
- lie to themselves.
- wonder why they feel like they’re going crazy.
- Dependency: Many codependents:
- don’t feel happy, content, or peaceful with themselves.
- look for happiness outside themselves.
- latch onto whoever or whatever they think can provide happiness.
- feel terribly threatened by the loss of any thing or person they think provides their happiness.
- didn’t feel love and approval from their parents.
- don’t love themselves.
- believe other people can’t or don’t love them.
- desperately seek love and approval.
- often seek love from people incapable of loving.
- believe other people are never there for them.
- equate love with pain.
- feel they need people more than they want them.
- try to prove they’re good enough to be loved.
- don’t take time to see if other people are good for them.
- worry whether other people love or like them.
- don’t take time to figure out if they love or like other people.
- center their lives around other people.
- look to relationships to provide all their good feelings.
- lose interest in their own lives when they love.
- worry other people will leave them.
- don’t believe they can take care of themselves.
- stay in relationships that don’t work.
- tolerate abuse to keep people loving them.
- feel trapped in relationships.
- leave bad relationships and form new ones that don’t work either.
- wonder if they will ever find love.
- Poor Communication: Codependents frequently:
- don’t say what they mean.
- don’t mean what they say.
- don’t know what they mean.
- don’t take themselves seriously.
- think other people don’t take the codependents seriously.
- take themselves too seriously.
- ask for what they want and need indirectly–sighing, for example
- find it difficult to get to the point.
- aren’t sure what the point is.
- gauge their words carefully to achieve a desired effect.
- try to say what they think will please people.
- try to say what they think will provoke people.
- try to say what they hope will make people do what they want them to do.
- eliminate the word “no” from their vocabulary
- talk too much.
- talk about other people.
- avoid talking about themselves, their problems, feelings, and thoughts.
- say everything is their fault.
- say nothing is their fault.
- believe their opinions don’t matter.
- wait to express their opinions until they know other people’s opinions.
- lie to protect and cover up for people they love.
- lie to protect themselves.
- have a difficult time asserting their rights.
- have a difficult time expressing their emotions honestly, openly, and appropriately.
- think most of what they have to say is unimportant.
- begin to talk in cynical, self-degrading, or hostile ways.
- apologize for bothering people.
- Weak Boundaries: Codependents frequently:
- say they won’t tolerate certain behaviours from other people.
- gradually increase their tolerance until they can tolerate and do things they said they never would.
- let others hurt them.
- keep letting people hurt them.
- wonder why they hurt so badly.
- complain, blame, and try to control while they continue to stand there.
- finally get angry.
- become totally intolerant.
- Lack Of Trust: Codependents:
- don’t trust themselves.
- don’t trust their feelings.
- don’t trust their decisions.
- don’t trust other people.
- try to trust untrustworthy people.
- think God has abandoned them.
- lose faith and trust in God.
- Anger: Many codependents:
- feel very scared, hurt, and angry.
- live with people who are very scared, hurt, and angry.
- are afraid of their own anger.
- are frightened of other people’s anger.
- think people will go away if anger enters the picture.
- think other people make them feel angry.
- are afraid to make other people feel anger.
- feel controlled by other people’s anger.
- repress their angry feelings.
- cry a lot, get depressed, overeat, get sick, do mean and nasty things to get even, act hostile, or have violent temper outbursts.
- punish other people for making the codependents angry.
- have been shamed for feeling angry.
- place guilt and shame on themselves for feeling angry.
- feel increasing amounts of anger, resentment, and bitterness.
- feel safer with their anger than with hurt feelings.
- wonder if they’ll ever not be angry.
- Sex Problems: Some codependents:
- are caretakers in the bedroom.
- have sex when they don’t want to.
- have sex when they’d rather be held, nurtured, and loved.
- try to have sex when they’re angry or hurt.
- refuse to enjoy sex because they’re so angry at their partner.
- are afraid of losing control.
- have a difficult time asking for what they need in bed.
- withdraw emotionally from their partner.
- feel sexual revulsion toward their partner.
- don’t talk about it.
- force themselves to have sex, anyway.
- reduce sex to a technical act.
- wonder why they don’t enjoy sex.
- lose interest in sex.
- make up reasons to abstain.
- wish their sex partner would die, go away, or sense the codependent’s feelings.
- have strong sexual fantasies about other people.
- consider or have an extramarital affair.
- Miscellaneous: Codependents tend to:
- be extremely responsible.
- be extremely irresponsible.
- become martyrs, sacrificing their happiness and that of others for causes that don’t require sacrifice.
- find it difficult to feel close to people.
- find it difficult to have fun and be spontaneous.
- have an overall passive response to codependency–crying, hurt, helplessness.
- have and overall aggressive response to codependency–violence, anger, dominance.
- combine passive and aggressive responses.
- vacillate in decisions and emotions.
- laugh when they feel like crying.
- stay loyal to their compulsions and people even when it hurts.
- be ashamed about family, personal, or relationship problems.
- be confused about the nature of the problem.
- cover up, lie, and protect the problem.
- not seek help because they tell themselves the problem isn’t bad enough, or they aren’t important enough.
- wonder why the problem doesn’t go away.
- Progressive: In the later stages of codependency, codependents may:
- feel lethargic.
- feel depressed.
- become withdrawn and isolated.
- experience a complete loss of daily routine and structure.
- abuse or neglect their children and other responsibilities.
- feel hopeless.
- begin to plan their escape from a relationship they feel trapped in.
- think about suicide.
- become violent.
- become seriously emotionally, mentally, or physically ill.
- experience an eating disorder (over or undereating).
- become addicted to alcohol and other drugs.
The preceding checklist is long but not all-inclusive. Like other people, codependents do, feel, and think many things. There are not a certain number of traits that guarantees whether a person is or isn’t codependent. Each person is different; each person has his or her way of doing things. I’m just trying to paint a picture. The interpretation, or decision, is up to you. What’s most important is that you first identify behaviours or areas that cause you problems, and then decide what you want to do.