Below is a list of behaviors of Codependency as relayed by Mental Health America. I added some personal notes to this list and is no way exhaustive.
• An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others.
• A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue.
• A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time.
• A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts.
• An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship to avoid the feeling of abandonment.
• An extreme need for approval and recognition.
• A sense of guilt when asserting themselves. A feeling that your needs and feelings don’t matter or are less significant.
• A compelling need to control others-as a way to avoid abandonment.
• Lack of trust in self and/or others.
• Fear of being abandoned or alone.
• Difficulty identifying feelings.
• Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change.
• Problems with intimacy/boundaries.
• Chronic anger.
• Poor communication.
• Difficulty making decisions.
I am a Codependent in recovery. I have engaged in all of the above behaviors, and some not listed. I have been in recovery for a little over a year, and continuously see areas of growth for myself. However, I have achieved a level of confidence and self esteem that has escaped me much of my life. I hope to help anyone struggling with these issues and encourage others to seek the help they need.
Below is my personal struggle with Codependency and how I got to where I am today. It wasn’t easy and still requires a desire to learn, learn more, honesty, self awareness, and continually practice compassion with self-compassion. Daily, I am presented with choices- a choice reflective of my growth or reflective of what is no longer serving me.
Before I Discovered I was Codependent
Until the end of 2017, I struggled with finding peace and contentment in my life. I kept searching for the next relationship, friendship, project, habit, job, life path or belief system to give me what seemed to continuously allude me-self love. On the outset, I really did not know that self love was what I was searching for or missing. Yet in the process realized self love and self acceptance was really the solution to my struggles and deep healing.
Like many Codependents, I was raised in an environment lacking the nurturing and love that I needed. I was the product of many generations of emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse. It is easy to make my parents the villains, but they did the best they could with the skill sets they have. However, I am not saying understanding this, excuses abuse and mistreatment, but understanding that it was mostly unintentional, helped me have compassion and therefore self compassion. It helped me embrace the yin/yang or light/darkness that makes us all. Part of my healing was forgiving my parents and mourning the childhood I deserved and was deprived of.
From a young age, either directly or indirectly, the message communicated to me was that my needs, feelings, and wants were insignificant. In order to survive, I had to shrink down and put everyone else ahead of me. I did not have the freedom to be a care free child. If I loved myself, than I mattered-so I never learned how to love myself.
Along with an inner belief that what I need, want, and feel is not important, as a coping mechanism to deal with trauma, I learned at a young age to disassociate and ignore myself. I have an ability to “check out” and detach from chaos ensuing around me. I have an ability to push through it and hold it together even if inside I am falling apart.
I am the person who functions best under pressure and can still function when many crumble in the face of a crisis.
I often find myself very detached from my feelings due to these skill sets. Situations arise and I will feel strong emotion that I cannot quite label. I may have conflict, an uncomfortable situation that really hurts me, yet, I am not be able to identify what really hurt me or even recognize that I am feeling emotion about it at all. I’ll even blame something totally unrelated for my feelings.
This lack of self-awareness or ignoring self, as I call it, created major problems for me. Ignoring self did not mean my needs, wants and feelings just went away. I acted in ways to assert myself in often very manipulative and passive aggressive ways-mostly in a very unconscious unaware way I was doing this.
- I would start an argument over something petty or not really an issue to be able to have a fight to resolve my feelings and emotions inside a relationship/friendship about something else.
- I would manipulate a situation to create a fight or push the person to do what I wanted/needed without having to assert myself.
- I would lie about how I really felt, what I wanted, and needed.
- I felt guilty for having wants, needs and feelings, so rarely asserted myself or make excuses as to why I couldn’t assert myself.
- I would lash out in anger out of resentment for feeling unheard or acknowledged.
I also held an inner belief that I was not lovable and not worthy of love. At the core I hated myself. Unconsciously, I felt I had to prove my value and worthiness of love -since I didn’t see my own value. I would morph myself into or do what other people seemed to want or seemed to approve of or accept. I lived and died by others’ opinion or approval of me.
- I would lie about liking a band, movie, book, TV show, having an experience or some other thing to create a false sense of connection with others to gain acceptance and love. **This was one of the most uncomfortable things to admit and acknowledge but huge for my growth.
- I would over-give and over extend myself. I had to prove my usefulness to others for them to love me. Being me wasn’t enough. **I still struggle with this and have to check in with myself a lot to not slip into this.
- I had poor boundaries and did not respect other people’s boundaries. If someone said no, I’d keep asking or push them to give into what I wanted. I had a really hard time saying no or explaining my reasoning for saying no as well or that I didn’t have to explain myself at all.
- I could not just listen to friends vent or allow them to speak about their troubles. I had to give the best advice and “fix” their problem. I often would get very invested and attached to solving other people’s problems. I would even get upset if they did not take my advice or let me fix the problem for them.
- I would resist making decisions or taking control of my life out of fear of being rejected or not accepted by others for my choices.
- I apologized constantly-almost for my very existence. I put myself down and dismissed myself a lot. Self-effacing humor was my go to in cultivating friendships.
- I engaged in things in an addictive way- whether it be substances, working out, shopping, actual work, new habits, relationships, and lifestyles to detach from my feelings of being unlovable and/or prove how lovable I was. Nobody could possibly want to be around sober me or find me “enough.”
I held a very deep fear of abandonment and constantly sought out love in literally everything, but within myself. I would do anything to prevent abandonment-even self sabotaging good relationships/friendships.
- I tolerated poor treatment and being taken advantage of. I stayed in relationships and friendships that were abusive and depleting. I was a total doormat.
- I pushed people away and sabotaged positive change.
- I would be passive aggressive instead of saying “no,” or hint at things I wanted or needing-expecting people to read between the lines.
- I didn’t trust people and always suspected a false or ulterior motive.
- I would choose relationships and friendships that were “projects,” where I was going to fix this person and make them “better.” If I was in some way superior, they would never abandon me.
- Any change would set off my fear of abandonment and I would try to control others/situations to not allow the change or convince someone change was not needed even if it was.
At the end of 2017, I hit my rock bottom. I was severely depressed and suicidal. I was divorced and had one failed relationship after the other. I depended on alcohol or other substances to socialize or relax. I could barely function or care for my child. My work was slipping. I was teetering on financial ruin. My anxiety was so bad I could not eat. I could not sleep. I threw up almost every day. I was loosing weight rapidly. I did not know where I ended and other people began.
I remember one instance where I made a mistake at my job. I worked myself into a panic attack one night over the possibility of getting fired (not even a real chance of that happening) and it took me days to stop shaking and calm down. Overall, my world seemed to be crumbling around me. I knew something had to change.
The First Step Forward
I started therapy. This was not my first trip to see a therapist. As a young adult I sought therapy for anxiety/depression multiple times. I usually would go long enough to start to see positive change in my life and then would stop treatment.
At first I was going to therapy every week and was referred to a psychiatrist that I was seeing once a month. I was able to get medication that helped ease my symptoms and my doctor exposed me to holistic methods that helped me as well. Eventually, in addition to this, my therapist referred me to a therapy group for children of narcissistic families I attended for a year.
The therapy group was a huge part of my growth. I saw a mirror image of myself reflected back at me every week. I heard the same narrative I knew so well repeated back to me over and over again. The self doubt. The self limiting beliefs. The self hatred. The fear of abandonment. The role I played in the whole dynamic. I understood on a very deep level what I was missing in my life. The actions that were needed seemed so clear viewing “myself” outside of “myself” in that way. I needed to learn to love and embrace myself-all and all.
“All You Need Is Love”
At the beginning of 2018, I read Codependent No More. How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself by Melody Beattie. It brought about earth shattering realization, major change and shifts in my life. Finishing the book was my ultimate “Ah-ha” moment. It was a pivotal point in my awakening. I realized what was “wrong” and why things had gone the way they have in my life. I realized I had the power to make change.
I began devouring other self help books. I remember reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and A New Earth and feeling that I had unlocked a significant clue to my anxiety/depression issues. I constantly lived in my head. The idea of not thinking, being mindful, and being in the present was a totally foreign concept for me. I remember often in social situations, I couldn’t make eye contact or even speak, paralyzed by the idea I would say something “wrong.”
I cared way too much about everything, everyone, and what others thought of me. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson helped me see that the less I cared-the happier and less burdened I felt. Constantly comparing myself to others was leading to my own dissatisfaction. Also when you truly love yourself and have confidence the level of fucks you give dwindles significantly.
I also started listening to Alan Watts lectures. I read his books along with Deepak Chopra. Rick Hanson’s The Enlightened Brain-The Neuroscience of Awakening was an extremely helpful audiobook filled with guided meditations on healing past trauma.
I went through a period of isolation and only spent time around people I could be totally vulnerable with. I had a lot of friends I partied with then, but few genuine close friendships. I took a break from substances that could alter my state of being, which included alcohol and even caffeine- my friendships shifted significantly. I went through a period of loneliness as I shifted and made new connections. I would be lying if I said it was easy. Idle time was always torture for me.
I spent a lot of time sitting in uncomfortable emotions instead of trying to escape them. At first it was really hard, but I had to learn to sit in my emotions and acknowledge them. I had never done this before. I had always reached for something or someone to take the pain away. It was a lot easier to distract myself than sitting in discomfort.
I started to meditate every day and also started going to a group meditation once a week. I worked out more and started taking better care of myself. I was more mindful of what I put into my body-whether that be food or surroundings.
I stopped saying “yes” when I meant “no.” I quit taking on too much work. I started to realize I had no control over anyone but myself. If I felt mistreated or felt victimized, I started to realize the power I had in the situation. I was choosing to be a victim. The idea I was powerless was a lie. I had no obligation to engage with someone or something that was hurtful- including toxic family.
Over time, my perspective shifted. I learned to appreciate myself. I learned to love myself. I learned to pay attention to what I wanted and needed regardless of anyone else. I realized it was okay if people did not accept me or love me. I cut off toxic relationships and toxic people in my life. I set boundaries. The love I had for myself was the only love that really mattered and when you truly love yourself-people love and respect you too.
Instead of looking at myself with harsh judgment and criticism- I learned my story gave me a sense of compassion and understanding of others. To accept what is and not clinging to how I want things to be-acknowledging my feelings around it and how expectation and failure to accept what is created disappointment. Learning the power of non-attachment. Learning that every moment I have another opportunity to do better.
I am far from perfect. I catch myself slipping on my self care and engaging in some of the example behaviors typical of Codependency. Dating is a tricky balance of respecting my needs/wants and someone else’s. Finding the courage to say no sometimes is a littler harder than I want to admit. Being brutally honest and self aware is where I find the power to keep improving and letting go of what isn’t good for me. Healing is not linear. Also, not judging myself too harshly when I don’t make a choice towards my growth and what that has taught me in the process.
I am no mental health professional, just someone who has done a lot of healing and growth. What has helped me, may not be helpful for others. What resonates for me, may not hold any merit for someone else. Self improvement is not a one size fits all process. Just a continuous commitment to betterment.