Codependency. This subject, in particular, invokes painful memories from not only my childhood but even well into my recovery. Long before I ever picked up a drink or a drug, codependency was a significant part of my story. In fact, codependent, toxic relationships were my solution – until they weren’t anymore. There are many similarities between codependency and chemical dependency or addiction. Codependents develop unhealthy methods of dealing with emotional pain by way of engaging in relationships where each party is unable to act independently from one another.
For a very long time, I struggled to decipher between codependency and love. I truly believed that in order to love someone, I have to put their needs before my own and make their happiness my business. I couldn’t have been further off. Love is indeed unselfish. As a mother, I do put my children’s needs before my own. However, there is also a balance of taking care of myself as well – in order to be the best mother that I can be. This is true in our adult relationships as well. Putting the needs of others, at the expense of our own health or well-being, cultivates an unhealthy and potentially toxic relationship.
The Root of Codependency
Codependency is often a learned behavior. Whether you grew up with emotionally unavailable parents or a parent that was unable to establish boundaries – chances are, you are codependent. As children, we watch the behaviors and actions of our parents. More often than not, we carry our victories and mishaps into our intimate relationships. We may find ourselves in relationships with emotionally unavailable partners, yet we stay in hopes of changing the other person. Perhaps we even sacrifice our own values, wants, and needs in hopes that one-day things will be good.
I can relate heavily to these types of relationships. My low-self esteem and desperate desire to be wanted loved and accepted created the perfect storm for my codependency. I found myself in relationship after relationship with men who were emotionally and even physically unavailable. I would walk on eggshells and alter my wants and needs to suit theirs, in hopes of one day winning them over. This insanity plagued my intimate relationships for many years – even into my sobriety. In fact, I eventually found myself in the middle of an abusive relationship lying to everyone I loved to protect my partner ultimately. This insanity led me to a crossroads: dive back into A.A. or drink again.
How to Tell If You Are Codependent
Individuals who struggle with codependency often look for things outside of themselves to feel better. We will form unhealthy relationships, looking to “fix” the other person. Often, one or both of the partners develop some other compulsive behavior to avoid the feeling of emptiness within the relationship. The first step to independence is to stop looking at the other end and take a look at yourself.
Here are a few signs that you may be codependent:
- You feel responsible for the actions of others.
- You feel responsible for the happiness of others.
- You are reluctant to trust others.
- Your moods are typically controlled by the thoughts and feelings of other people around you.
- You tend to seek out people that you feel you pity or need to rescue.
- You do more than your share within the relationship to “keep the peace.”
- You are terrified of being abandoned or alone.
- You seek approval from others to gain your own self-worth.
- You have difficulty making decisions without the approval or validation from others.
- You have trouble adjusting to change.
- You often doubt yourself without seeking some outside validation from others.
I wish I would’ve had a chance to look at this checklist over a long time ago. I realize, as I type this, that I could mark off every single bullet point. I spent many years struggling with fear of abandonment, shame, low self-esteem, and tried to cope by taking care of someone else excessively. As you can imagine, this left me empty-handed and searching for another “fix.” Ultimately, my codependent behaviors birthed the perfect foundation for my addiction. Fortunately, through enough pain, I have begun looking within myself and shifting many of my old behaviors – including my codependency.
Breaking the Chains of Codependency
The good news is that codependency is a learned behavior, which means it can be unlearned. Through a ton of painful lessons and the support of my recovery community, I continue to learn how to establish and maintain healthy, independent relationships. Self-love has to come first, and if you are in recovery, I would suggest tapping into the love and relationships around you and within your sober support.
Here are a few tips on how to break the chains of codependent behaviors:
- Practice Self-care first – When you are engaging in a codependent relationship, the first thing you lose sight of is yourself. You probably spend the majority of your time and energy trying to fix the other person. To move forward, first, you must take care of yourself. Explore your likes, dislikes, needs, desires, feelings, and independent thoughts. Taking the time to practice and implement self-care will ultimately build a foundation to break away from codependency.
- Don’t take things so personally – Oh man, this was a hard one for me. I spent most of my life making everything about numero uno – ME. I was driven by ego in reverse. In other words, everything was “poor, pitiful, and woe is me.” The truth is, the world doesn’t revolve around me, you, or anyone else for that matter. Stop taking things personally and open yourself up to the idea that everything isn’t about you.
- Establish healthy boundaries – Codependency often means that there are very few (if any) boundaries set in place. If you are anything like me, I spent the majority of my time worrying about other people, meanwhile absolving myself of the responsibility of setting healthy boundaries. A primary goal for me this year has been to say no when I mean “no.” Gracefully bowing out of situations or commitments that I do not want to be a part of is not selfish or disrespectful — it is a healthy way of putting myself first and ultimately avoiding future resentments.
- Deal with your past – Dealing with the trauma and experiences of my past has been the most significant component of me dealing with my codependency issues. As it turns out, 99% of my problems with codependency came down to my paralyzing fear of rejection and abandonment. It wasn’t until I put myself into trauma therapy and began talking with a professional therapist about these things that I was able to truly get honest with myself and start making changes. It has not been the most pleasant experience. In fact, therapy has been painful and uncomfortable more often than not. However, growth is painful, but so worth it.