Co-dependency was a refuge for me when I was married to an alcoholic and drug addict.
I was set up to become a co-dependent person from the toxic and abusive behaviors my mother exhibited, and since she had worn down and torn away every shred of self-worth I may have had, I found my worth in becoming co-dependent during my husband’s addictions.
I desperately needed to feel valued and needed, instead of feeling like I was worthless and disposable, so I wholeheartedly embraced my role.
A codependent person usually means well. They might take care of someone who’s having problems or just generally enjoy supporting a loved one, but the caretaking becomes “compulsive and defeating,” according to Mental Health America. They may develop a sense of satisfaction and reward from being needed and may display martyr-like behaviors.Mental Health America
When I joined a fundamentalist church, my co-dependency was applauded as Christian selflessness, and the more selfless a person became, the more a woman emptied herself of her own opinions and beliefs, the better a Christian she was deemed.
I was desperate to be seen as a good Christian, so I embraced the whole notion of pouring myself out for the benefit and service of others.
I embraced my new role with vigor, having been taught that I was going to be approved of by God himself for my selflessness.
Heady thoughts for a broken person!
The only fly in the ointment of this way of living, I discovered, is that the line in the sand keeps moving. We could never be selfless enough, we could never be giving enough! The approval I craved never came because I didn’t fit the outward appearance of a good Christian.
I was a poor single mom, and both I and my daughter had severe health issues. Unfortunately, we were seen as not pleasing God, for the proof of pleasing God was a good job, a nice house, a solid bank account, and good health.
I had none of these, so it appeared that God wasn’t pleased with me because he wasn’t blessing me.
This created the perfect storm for me to dig deeper into becoming the very best co-dependent I could become!
I worked hard at perfecting my co-dependency! I took pride in it, for that was where I was seeking to pull my identity and my feelings of worth from.
“Codependency comes out of a healthy and natural human need to connect with others,” says Judith Zackson, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and founder and clinical director of Zackson Psychology Group. “But when we connect with others, we’re also hardwired to still be who we are as individuals and want to reach our fullest potential, which we call self-actualization.”
But self-actualization and being your own person are at the opposite ends of the spectrum for a codependent person, she says. That’s what makes the behaviors so unhealthy.Judith Zackson, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and founder and clinical director of Zackson Psychology Group
Imagine my horror when I found out that the very behaviors I was seeking to excel in were, *gasp* unhealthy, and contributing to my addict’s continuing addiction and my increasing anger, depression, and unhappiness.
What IS Co-dependency?
Codependency is a behavior pattern and not a clinical diagnosis. The term “codependency” originated in the 1940s and was used to describe the behaviors of spouses and family members of people being treated for substance abuse. Originally, it referred to a loved one enabling someone’s alcohol use.
Experts now realize that codependency can appear in many different situations, and a 2018 study suggested that the behavior usually features several themes: self-sacrifice, focusing on others, a need for control, and trouble recognizing and expressing emotions.
Healthy relationships are reciprocal, where everyone involved gives and takes, Zackson says. Codependent relationships tend to focus on the feelings and needs of the “taker.” The codependent person may exhibit low self-esteem, have a strong need to please others, feel responsible for other people’s problems, and struggle to set boundaries.
“The consequence is when you have codependency, your entire identity is very blurred, and you don’t know who you are, so you just stay in that negative cycle,” Zackson says.15 Telltale Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship by Erica Sweeney
I fit the description to a “T”. It was a huge shock to my mental health and the entire belief system I had bought into, to think that all my well-intentioned behaviors were not only counter-productive to my addict, but they were hurting me too.
If I wasn’t going to be the very best Martyr, the very best selfless Christian woman, then who was I?
My whole understanding of what was good behavior and what did not go completely topsy-turvy. I felt the ground was removed from under me, that I was suddenly required to radically change and I had no idea how to do it.
It was a deep shock to my system.
Not only was I not good enough as a wonderfully selfless Christian woman to earn any praise, but now I was told I was a hindrance to my addict’s recovery! I felt nothing I did would ever gain any acceptance or approval. It felt very depressing and I went under for a while.
Thank goodness the universe sent me some marvelous people who helped me navigate my way out of that emotional quicksand. There are some awesome people in Alanon and in support groups. They held my hand as I cried, and let me know they too had wrestled with the very same thoughts and were struggling to heal.
“Struggling to heal?” I questioned. I didn’t think I was sick! I didn’t think there was too much wrong with me, or rather, I dreaded finding that I had failed yet again in others’ eyes.
I had to accept myself and my reality very slowly, for my negative self-talk was primed to absolutely skewer myself.
I slowly learned what the signs were:
Signs of Codependent Behavior
People can exhibit codependency in different ways and at varying levels. Here are some signs of codependent behavior:
- Lacking boundaries between yourself and others
- Blurring lines in relationships—you struggle to see where you end and the other person begins
- Feeling low self-esteem
- Fearing rejection and abandonment
- Apologizing or accepting blame to avoid conflict
- Being who someone else wants you to be
- Ignoring your own needs
- Putting other people’s needs before your own
- Anticipating and reacting to someone else’s needs, which may be perceived accurately or not
- Feeling like you’ve lost your sense of self
- Needing to control—including making decisions for others or managing them
- Doing things for people that make you feel uncomfortable, just to make them happy
- Taking on too much
- Basing your mood on how someone else feels, not your own emotions
- Resenting not receiving appreciation for your actions
“They can be people who really don’t know how they personally feel, but they know how everybody else around them feels,” Dragonette says. “Our feelings, as the codependent person, have been stuffed and stuffed because we don’t want to upset anyone. Then, we can’t really hold it anymore, and we feel a ramp-up of resentment.”
Codependent people might feel chronic anger related to the situation, as well as guilt and anxiety when they take time for themselves.15 Telltale Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship by Erica Sweeney
Let’s read that last line again: Codependent people might feel chronic anger related to the situation, as well as guilt and anxiety when they take time for themselves.
It was my underlying anger and resentments that helped me to see that I had unspoken expectations for how I wanted my “selfless” actions to be reciprocated, and when they weren’t, my anger and resentment sizzled on the back burner. It was a constant slow-burn, that of course, I tried to stuff down because it was “unChristian” to have those feelings.
All those repressed negative emotions burned inside of me deeply, so much so that the stress my body felt resulted in getting my first round of Shingles.
Of course, I had no idea how to deal with my emotions or the stress I was going through, so I used exercise, or rather, extreme exercise, as my method for trying to reduce my stress.
Guess what happened with my Shingles?
I didn’t recover properly but kept getting relapse after relapse until it reached a point that my Shingles had become a chronic condition.
It was only when my health was broken that I was finally able to look inwards and admit to myself that I was a broken person. Broken from the abuse I had gone through as well as the fundamentalist ideas I had tried to live by.
It was only then could I start to look inwards and see I needed to heal from my past and to learn better tools to be able to live life without breaking or breaking down.
Recovery, both mentally and physically was long and difficult. I had to build myself up from the foundation on upwards, and decide what that was going to look like.
I have written many posts regarding what that healing and recovery looked like.
If you are identifying as a co-dependent now that you have read this post, Know that you aren’t alone, and you did this as a survival mechanism!
Is it time to stop just surviving, and start to learn how to live in a healthier way?
I hope you’ll say yes. If you’re not ready, that’s okay. Sometimes we need time to process new thoughts before we can emotionally commit to learning new ways.
I support you, no matter where you are on this journey!
I hope you’ll poke around my Archived Posts to find a wonderful trove of supportive and encouraging posts! Don’t forget to Like, Comment, and Follow my blog! If you want to become a Guest writer, please contact me and we’ll work out the details!
I’m sharing more posts that may be helpful for you:
- 10 Steps to Owning Our Happiness
- Setting “Boundaries with consequences”
- Making a change… “How do I take that first step?”
- Affirmation: Today is a new day! I can do this!
- As we practice being gentle and kind with ourselves, we actually help to speed the process of helping our lives become more positive!
- Always believe that wonderful things can happen!
- A healthy outside starts from the inside!
- Brain Rewiring
More good stuff:
- Teaching ourselves to like, even to love ourselves
- By changing our inner dialogue, we change EVERYTHING!
- Challenge: When a negative thought enters your mind, think three positive ones. Train yourself to flip the script!
- Red Ocean or Blue Ocean? How do you think?
- An answer to dealing with the Inner Critic!
- My top 10 most viewed posts, plus a few bonuses!
- A helpful trick to be able to overcome negatively Comparing Ourselves to others…
- Do you only accept yourself if you look a certain way?
- A new you! Is this possible?
- Start today, start tomorrow, just start!
- There is no enlightenment outside of daily life – Thich Nhat Hanh
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