Are you endlessly giving and doing for all the people all the time?
Do people come to you when they need something because they know you’ll get it done, no matter what?
If you are nodding your head, you might just be a high-functioning codependent, and this episode is for you.
I am covering what high-functioning codependency is, the considerable cost of being a high-functioning codependent (on you, your relationships, and others), and sharing my own experiences with this, both personally and professionally.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
What Is High-Functioning Codependency?
High-functioning codependency is being overly invested in the feeling states, the outcomes, the relationships, and the circumstances of the people in your life to the detriment of your internal peace and well-being. It’s overstepping boundaries while trying to be helpful. It’s auto-advice giving and doing more than you need to for folks who can and should do those things for themselves.
If might be giving money you cannot afford to give, to the detriment of your financial well-being. If you over-function, over-give, overdo, or are over-focused on the people in your life, it could be to the detriment of your spiritual or physical well-being.
You might be thinking, “What is wrong with being invested in the happiness of the people in my life?” because if you are reading this, you are probably a kind, caring, empathic person.
But when we are codependent, we are overly invested in others, to an unhealthy degree. Many of my high-functioning codependent clients and students often feel like they missed out on their own lives because they were busy living other people’s lives for them.
At its core, codependency is about disordered boundaries and is an overt or covert bid to control the outcomes of other people. (Even though it may not feel like that at all, at least it didn’t for me!)
Where Does “High-Functioning” Come Into Play?
As a psychotherapist, the bulk of my clientele were highly capable women. If I said, “What you are describing in this relationship is codependent behavior,” they replied, “Oh no, can’t be. I do all the things. I am not dependent on anyone. I make all the money. Everyone is dependent on me.”
My clients could not see themselves as codependent because they had an old-school idea of what it meant. They were looking at it through the lens of Melody Beattie’s seminal text, Codependent No More, which had a greater focus on being an enabler to an addict which did not fit my clients.
Since my clients did not identify as codependent, they did not view their behavior as a problem, which prevented us from working on it.
After seeing this dynamic play out numerous times, I added the ‘high-functioning’ to codependency to accurately reflect the experiences of my clients. I wanted them to see themselves in this disordered collection of behaviors: over-giving, over-functioning, over-doing, and becoming exhausted in the process.
Essentially, ‘high-functioning’ means you make it look easy. When you are a high-functioning codependent, no one thinks you are codependent. People do not think to ask if you are okay- they just assume you are because you always have things covered.
This was also my experience. Part of me is proud I am always okay and I can figure things out for myself.
But it comes at a cost.
The Cost of Being a High-Functioning Codependent On You
What does it cost us to always try to control the outcomes for other people? To be an auto-advice giver? An auto-accommodator? Someone who says ‘yes’ when they want to say ‘no’? Someone who over-works, over-gives, over-does, and even over-thinks about other people?
We often miss quality time with others.
If we are too busy with auto-advice giving, we are not asking expansive questions. We are too busy thinking we know what the other person should do rather than asking what they think they should do.
We also miss out on our own vulnerability.
When I was a high-functioning codependent in my twenties, I was not interested in being vulnerable. I felt safer when I had control over decisions, so I stayed busy fixing and helping other people.
I also did not emotionally trust many people to have my back in the way I had theirs. Or, more accurately: I was too afraid to find out if they would have my back.
You also lose out on spontaneity when you need to plan everything within an inch of your life.
It can be hard to rest when you are a high-functioning codependent.
Before I learned how to meditate from Deepak Chopra and davidji, I was afraid to spend quiet time alone.
All of my doing and saving and obsessing about other people spared me from feeling things I did not want to feel about my own life or myself.
You also may have a loss of identity because as a high-functioning codependent, you are more outwardly focused than inwardly focused.
You can also run into burnout because there is only so much we can over-function, over-give, over-do, and over-feel.
Last, but not least, trying to control the outcomes of other people is futile and often leads to frustration. For example, I would get mad if the people I tried to help did not take my advice.
Their distress caused me distress, and I could not understand why they wouldn’t follow my advice to fix their problem and alleviate their stress. (And consequently, mine.)
Resentment and emotional exhaustion take a heavy toll on our relationships.
(For a quick checklist of these traits, download the guide to get a sense of whether you are a high-functioning codependent.)
The Cost of High-Functioning Codependency On Others
When you are an over-functioner, you can take a perfectly functioning person and turn them into an under-functioner.
I am not blaming you, nor am I talking about strategic incompetence (where someone pretends to be incompetent to get you to do everything for them).
The truth is, if you need everything done a certain way, or if you are quick to do things, other people stop offering to help.
They do not want to do it wrong, and they do not want to be rejected.
Rejection can look like saying, “I’m good, I got it covered.” Hearing this after every offer of help can become frustrating for people.
When you are a high-functioning codependent, you do not have heart-centered relationships. You are managing people and your relationships, and being managed does not feel good. It is unnecessary and demeaning and also robs people of their sovereignty and autonomy.
Why Does This Matter?
You might be wondering why you should care about over-giving in this way, especially if you were praised for it throughout your life.
One reason is your relationships are probably not as good as they could be.
You may feel endlessly exhausted and less than appreciated, too. Even when people are appreciative, it is like they can’t be appreciative enough because the giving comes from a disordered place.
If we give to maintain control, or to stay in someone’s good graces, we are not giving from a place of love.
I am not pointing the finger at anyone- because I have been here. A lot of this is unconscious behavior, but becoming aware of it is how we change it and begin to recover. (Which is why I am writing a whole book on this!)
Recovering from High-Functioning Codependency
The degree to which my life changed for the better once I recovered from high-functioning codependency blew my mind.
I would not have been able to be in a relationship with someone like my husband had I not recovered. And we are going on 25 years, happily married.
Vic did not need me to manage him because he was incredibly high-functioning on his own. This was a rude awakening for me, but it was also a huge relief to finally be with someone as capable (or more) than me.
Previously, I felt like I was alone in the Sahara Desert, chugging along, working like a beast, creating amazing careers…but I was also bone tired and wanted someone capable of caring for me. I wanted a relationship with mutuality and interdependence, but I did not trust anyone enough to create those things until I met Vic.
The relief I experienced when I realized it was safe to be vulnerable and to let someone do something for me was enormous.
In the beginning, Vic wanted to “scoop me up” in NYC and drive me back to New Jersey, which made no sense. It was quicker for me to walk to Penn Station and grab a train.
When I told my mother, she said, “Why are you denying him the pleasure? He wants to come scoop you up. Let him.”
I remember thinking, Oh yeah, maybe I could NOT manage the efficiency of him scooping me up. Maybe I could just effing enjoy what it feels like to have someone want to go out of their way for me.
I’m getting choked up recalling this because recovering from high-functioning codependency was truly life-changing. It enabled me to receive Vic’s love in a way I couldn’t have before.
If this episode resonated with you, I have good news: this is a preview of my upcoming book coming out later this year, and I have a follow-up episode coming next week on how you can liberate yourself from these disordered behaviors. 👀
Remember to download the guide for a checklist of high-functioning codependent behaviors to see where you’re at with this.
Let me know your thoughts on high-functioning codependency over on Instagram (@terricole) or in the comments. I love hearing from you!
I hope you have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.