Codependency is an addiction. While some people turn to food, sex, drugs, gambling, or alcohol for comfort, some of us learned to throw ourselves into a caretaking role to avoid uncomfortable emotions when we don’t know a healthier way to cope.
It feels good at first to be consumed with other people’s business because it distracts from our own pain.
Over time, however, this type of unbalanced “giving” leads – not to happiness – but to deep feelings of frustration, anger, rage, resentment, anxiety, and depression if not addressed.
This is because codependent behaviors, while appearing to be selfless on the surface, are actually a perversion of true love and self-sacrifice. They are a pattern of reactionary behaviors motivated by fear and self-protection. They are an attempt to meet our own needs for love and acceptance rather than genuinely putting another person’s interests first.
Most of us grew up seeing this behavior modeled by the generations that came before us – our parents and grandparents. If we felt unsafe or insecure, we learned how to unintentionally manipulate others. We hoped that by controlling their behavior we could alleviate our feelings of unrelenting anxiety, a deep-seated lack of self-worth, or chronic low self-esteem.
We learned to tell ourselves that if only we could make others around us behave in a certain way or respond to us in the way that we wanted – then we would feel safe and loved.
We heard messages (either directly or indirectly) like:
- “If only your father would stop drinking, then we would be happy.”
- “I need for you to get married and settle down so I can feel like I was a good parent.”
- “It’s your fault that I’m sad. If you showed me more affection, I wouldn’t feel this way.”
The real problem with codependency
Codependent behavior is often glorified in today’s culture. We are praised for “doing it all” and “giving everything to everyone else,” which can be a trap. It is easy to become addicted to external validation from others instead of doing the hard work of taking responsibility for our own internal state. This is especially dangerous if we are living with chronic illness.
If we are neglecting to care for our own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and instead are trying to fix others in order to be liked or accepted, then we are headed down a slippery slope.
If we are depleting our limited resources like time, money, and energy and giving to others in order to feel like a good person, then we are perpetuating a cycle of debt.
If we continue to find that our efforts to improve our self-care habits are thwarted because we are overly concerned about the affairs of others, then these reminders are for us.
The power to change our behavior
If codependent behaviors are learned coping mechanisms for survival that served a purpose at one time, but now are no longer helpful, then it would make sense that we can also unlearn these behaviors and replace them with healthier ways of interacting.
Here are some principles that helped me:
1. Mind your own business and avoid comparisons.
You are responsible for your own health and happiness. You do not have the power to change another person and it is presumptuous to try. When you detach from needing validation from others, you can focus on living your own life to the best of your ability and without excessive feelings of guilt.
2. Be wise and modestly recognize your limitations.
You are human as much as the next person. There are limits to what you can accomplish in your own strength. Modesty involves recognizing when you are giving within your means and when you are presumptuously pushing past what is reasonable. It takes humility to acknowledge when you may have the desire to do something, but do not yet possess the ability or resources to do so.
3. Recognize that each day has its own anxieties.
You can live in the present. Instead of trying to force and control each moment of your life, you can allow it to unfold naturally, experiencing gratitude for the little joys. Knowing you’ve done the best you can at any given time allows you to let go of past regrets and future worries.
4. Allow each person to carry their own load.
You can stop worrying about people in an unhealthy way that hinders their growth. Instead, focus on motivating others to be the best version of themselves and give them the freedom to pick up their own slack. Allow them to be responsible for themselves without depending on you.
5. Avoid the trap of fear of man.
You can set boundaries without fearing abandonment or rejection. It is true that some people may leave when they can no longer take from you, but you will also find new people drawn to your improved ways of relating. Create friendships based on mutual appreciation and interdependence. Experience the real happiness that comes from healthy giving and receiving.
6. Become conscious of your spiritual need.
True love requires faith and trust in yourself, other people, the natural order of the world, and your Creator. Only when you stop trying to control everything can you see that someone greater than yourself has both the desire and the ability to solve this world’s problems and to show you that you are deeply cherished and valued for who you are.
Does this message resonate with you? Do you recognize some of these tendencies in your own behavior? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.
You can also click below to download your free copy of My Self-Caregiver Journal and take the Codependency Quiz today!