Codependency: What Is It?
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
I have to be honest. This topic doesn't feel 100% comfortable for me to discuss on an intimate level for multiple reasons, but I am deep into this work with myself thanks to the word unexpectedly becoming a part of my own healing process. Feeling quite vulnerable, but I really want to talk about what it is because of how meaningful it has become for me in my own personal development and maintaining healthy relationships. I'm hoping talking about it will help someone else. I have personally linked it to anxiety as well, and I think it's an important part of conversations happening in the space of mental health.
Before I dive in, if this topic resonates with you, I HIGHLY recommend Melody Beattie's books on codependency. Her two main books are Codependency No More and The New Codependency.
Melody defines a codependent person as one who has "let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior". The dictionary defines it as a person who has "excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction".
Melody's definition really hit home for me. For the past, I'd say, seven years now, I've been relearning healthier habits in my interpersonal relationships from career to friends and romantic partners due to childhood traumas and learned behaviors that are toxic and repeating patterns I know aren't sustainable for my own long-term personal happiness and development. A lot of this primarily stems from my parent's unhealthy dynamic and separation, and my relationship with my father growing up. I didn't have an example of what an loving, trusting, respectful partnership looked like. The environment screamed of manipulation, control, painful words, and regular yelling matches. I never really felt at ease in my house because I didn't know what my father could be capable of each day. He was unpredictable and an incredibly negative force and you didn't want to poke that bear.
I was also bullied in 4th/5th grade by girls that, what felt like overnight, were once my friends. I still have the image of the "L" for loser sign being held up on the bus window as I turned and walked up to my house. (This image has blurred over time thanks to awesome people in my corner and my own introspection.) I felt betrayed, alone, and I didn't have the confidence or courage to stand-up for myself. A part of me believed them for so long.
My point in sharing parts of my personal journey DOES relate to codependency! I felt out of control of all of my surroundings and happiness. I loved school, but loathed lunch and recess. I would have been happier eating in a bathroom stall every day or with one of my cool teachers. I let those girls steal my joy regularly, and then when I went home my environment was also turbulent. I was happy playing school in my room with all of my dolls and stuffed animals, or designing a new color scheme/layout for my room. In my room I was safe and no one could hurt me in anyway. My dolls couldn't speak. I could create the reality that made me feel good. It was mine and I had control.
Later on in life, primarily throughout college, but even recently, this transgressed into unhealthy relationships with men. I didn't value my self-worth, and I ended up dating different versions of my parents marriage and ultimately not getting what I really needed/wanted/desired. I wasn't willing to speak up and be direct about my needs. Subconsciously, I was recreating the environment I knew best. But when I realized this pattern, I also realized I was trying to control the other's person behavior in hopes of making them who I wanted them to be...without any communication of my needs. 1) I can't expect others to just KNOW what I want and need, and, 2) I can't control anyone else's behavior. I think the other reason I was doing so, was again, because I was used to feeling so out of control of my circumstances in my younger years, this was my way of feeling like I was protecting myself from that pain. I didn't want to lose someone I wanted and loved by asking for what I wanted. By doing so though, I was just prioritizing their needs above my own. I'm sure, you're starting to see my point and why I've loved reading about codependency.
My self-worth is immense, greater than it's ever been due to my self-reflection and asking myself "why?" often. Finding our whys in our unhealthy patterns and behaviors is where much beauty can come from past pain. Melody Beattie's books and examining what codependency means has been an incredible addition to that. Everyone's journey looks different. Everyone's whys are different.
Relinquish control and let go of what is not yours to control. Be okay with letting go of the wheel. There's so much power in those words. It's an incredibly steady and joyful place to be. Codependence can look very different on each working through their own journey with it. This is just a small part of mine that I'm hoping may help with yours.
What are your why's? Where could some of your relationships improve and grow healthier? How could you show up differently to contribute to that growth? Is there toxicity that needs to be examined and removed?