Some people are natural nurturers and supporters of others. Traditionally women in our society have been raised to be the caregivers and the connectors in families and communities. These are beautiful and necessary qualities and as long as long as the caring for others is not compulsive and does not come at the expense of self-care, it is a win-win situation.
However, excessive care and compassion can be a sign of codependency. By nature codependents are loving and caring people. They want to protect and help those they love and they usually have an innate sensitivity to the pain of others. Most codependent behaviors originate in dysfunctional family systems. In order to survive the chaos as children they had to be aware of what was going on around them at all times. This was not only exhausting but leads to a reactionary nature. If mom was happy, they could relax. But, if dad came home upset (assuming one or both parents were dysfunctional) then that child would quickly adjust themselves to the situation. What was adaptive behavior to stay safe as a child becomes maladaptive. Organizing around an incapacitated parent teaches a child that focussing on the needs of another is the only ‘safe’ way to be in a relationship and avoid abandonment.
An adult who grew up in that kind of environment would habitually find themselves adjusting to fit the mood of their spouse, children or even their boss.
Codependent behavior can quickly cross the line from caring to controlling. It can include becoming opinionated and even obsessed with the behavior of others. Codependents often take on the emotions and the burdens of those around them. If their partner is having a bad day, they feel upset and responsible, even if it has nothing to do with them. If their child isn’t happy, neither are they. If their sibling is having a problem, they take on that problem as if it were their own.
The term “codependent” has been overused and misused in the media so the actual meaning can be confusing to many people. Author, Melody Beattie, summed it up simply in her modern classic that has helped millions over the past thirty years, Codependent No More-How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, when she wrote, “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
You may or may not recognize codependent relationships in your life. Codependent tendencies can show up in sneaky small ways that still may have the power to cause anxiety, unease and unhappiness.
If you feel overly responsible for the people around you, and grew up in an addictive or abusive family, you are not alone. Many people, especially women, feel the need to put others before themselves (even when they “know” doing so isn’t good for anyone). Codependents tend to react rather than respond to situations. Their childhood experiences can create a heightened sensitivity to stress, pain and problems. There can be a tendency to over react to issues in their own life and in the lives of people they care about, inviting an unnecessary double dose of drama and upset.
As a codependent it is very difficult to find happiness and a sense of self. If you are constantly doing things to make other people happy, you end up neglecting yourself.
Recovering from codependency is not only possible—it can be liberating and even fun. Recovery allows you to focus on yourself and your own needs. You are encouraged to be a little selfish and to take time doing what makes you happy. Any behavior that prevents you from finding peace and happiness is a behavior that deserves your attention and commitment to change. There are many ways to begin a path away from codependency.
If you recognize yourself in this post, I encourage you to go to Melody Beattie’s website, look around and get your own copy of, Codependent No More. Learn how to break the cycle of wanting to control other people’s behavior and how to care for yourself.
The support of a group of people who understand what you are going through can also be a key component of recovery.
Codependents Anonymous (aka CoDA) is a twelve-step group specifically for those who struggle with codependent relationships. CoDA describes itself as “a fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healthy relationships. The only requirement for membership is a desire for healthy and loving relationships.” To find a meeting near you go to coda.org.
Even if you decide to join a support group, you may need some hand holding and expert guidance to get you through.
If you suffer from codependent relationships, therapy with a trained professional can be an extremely helpful way for you to break through habitual patterns and heal. Finding a therapist that is right for you may take some time so be patient and know that the right healer is out there. To find a therapist in your area you can visit https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/
Whether you have some codependent tendencies or are deeply suffering from codependency, I encourage you to begin using the tips and tools above today. You can heal your relationship with yourself and create healthy relationships with others. By creating independent relationships you can begin to take control of your own life and find happiness.
Have you healed from codependent relationships? If so, what tools did you use that worked best? I would love to hear from you and I know other readers would too. Please take a moment to comment below. It’s important to share your experience because you never know who may need to hear what you have to say.
The key to healing is through self-love, support and, as always, taking care of you.
Love Love Love
*image courtesy of Mitya Ku