Codependent: Someone whose thinking and behavior is organized around another person…placing a lower priority on their own needs while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.
It feels a little bit like you’re standing on ice in the middle of a lake. You have a wheelbarrow in your possession, and every relationship in your life is another brick being thrown into it. Someone with no family nearby, living by themselves is going to mean a pile of bricks. Someone with emotional unbalance might mean two piles. Whatever the case, it’s your job to push things along and keep them moving. If you stop, the ice will crack under your feet. The weight of family members is even closer to home – they might be equated to bricks in a backpack that you’re also wearing. Whoever it is that made you a codependent is the one standing offshore yelling for you to hurry because you’re making them cold and uncomfortable while they wait for you.
Growing up, I had made up my mind that going it alone was most definitely the easier route. People were hard; They were needy and helpless and I was so tired of catering to all of it. I was also extremely independent and never learned to rely on anyone for anything. That was for weak people. But as I got older, I began longing for something that was missing, deep in my heart. I had gone from having no real relationships in high school or college, to being the people pleaser of the century in my twenties. At that time, I had decided that I wanted to have friends, but had no clue how to make it happen. So I got really good at small talking and worked the room at events.
…..a flattering mouth works ruin. -Proverbs 26:28
I made up for lost time and planned every birthday party, bridal shower and event one could dream up. I was in weddings. I gave the best presents, showed the most love and always had the right words. I bent over backwards for anyone who needed it and invited strangers to our family gatherings. I believed with all my heart that this was what Christians are called to do. I would give, give, give and sacrifice at my own family’s expense; I delayed childbearing partly because I felt responsible for my younger siblings and frankly, because I was already exhausted. Everyone’s life and everyone else’s problems were my problems and while the weight was heavy, it didn’t hold a candle to the load I’d grown up carrying. So I juggled. I white lied. And I suffered through things I didn’t feel like doing all in the name of having friends.
You could say I had a knack for finding neediness and filling in the gaps in others’ lives. The friends I attracted always had big problems and negative outlooks but this was what felt most familiar to me. If someone couldn’t figure out how to get insurance, I would call for them. If they needed someone to move them from one place to another, I was their girl. If they had conflict with someone else, I was there to smooth it over. If they were lonely or sad or angry, it was my role to fix it and I wore the emotions as though they were my own. But because of the one-sidedness to all of these relationships, even my most codependent tendencies didn’t have enough power to keep them going.
A relationship would begin and the cycle was like clockwork. I would throw the weight of this person into my already heavy wheelbarrow, and continue on, knowing that there would be new expectations for me to meet. Some put on me, and some created by yours truly – both felt synonymous. It was only a matter of time before I’d do that last thing for someone- have that last one-sided, long conversation that I didn’t actually have time for, begrudgingly pick that person up in the middle of the night from a party or I’d still show up to the thing even though I was double booked for the evening. And then it would happen. My anger would get the best of me and I would blow the lid off the other person to their utter surprise and astonishment. The level of hostility that would pour out of me is embarrassing to admit…it was months and years in the making, completely unbeknownst to the other person. I knew that that level of a blowout would mean a burned bridge and the feeling had become so familiar that I was expert level at deleting people out of my life. Sometimes, the loss of toxic relationships from my life was healthy, but the good ones were inevitably caught in the crossfire.
I was sitting in my counselor, Kate’s, office when I first heard the word, “codependency.” In my mind, that word held a connotation involving the spouse of an alcoholic. I am not married to an alcoholic, nor was I raised by one so at first I didn’t understand. It was only after having read up on the subject that I see now why Kate gave me this label. “Codependent” is a term used to describe someone whose feelings are dependent upon other people. We all have times in our lives that we refer to in a “before” or “after” that happened sort of sense. That day as I sat on the cushy brown couch in Kate’s office was the first day of the rest of my life.
To know that my worth wasn’t measured by others or dependent upon my performance was almost too good to be true. Were there people out there who didn’t need me for anything but still wanted to be my friend? I realized for the first time that I am worthy to be loved because of whose I am, and that if I didn’t do another thing for another person for the rest of my life that wouldn’t change! The love of God creates the desire in us to love on others, of course. But it’s not a needy, hurried, obligatory sort of love. It’s love that is freeing; love that accepts and love that operates independent of anything we could possibly do to earn it.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. -2 Corinthians 3:17
Life After CD
I guess you could say I’m a recovered codependent; but to be honest, I still battle CD thoughts from time to time. Most often, it’s when I can’t read someone, or when they don’t respond. I’m programmed to believe that these are signals that I’ve done something terribly wrong that requires fixing. I’m programmed to think the worst. I have to be careful; if I’m not, and I let thoughts like these run rampant in my brain, I can easily talk myself out of wanting a relationship. It’s much quieter in my mind when I’m alone and the ease with which I can cut someone out of my life is astonishing. I don’t know how to rely on people because some of the people I was supposed to rely on most have not been helpful. As a result, my defense mechanism is to not let people in in the first place. I don’t initiate things because the duty of just responding to demands put on me has historically been heavy enough. It’s also difficult for me to share my life with others because I have a hard time believing that anyone wants to know who I am, without needing something from me. Many people think they know me, but they don’t.
As I’ve realized the extent to which my compass was off over the years, I’ve had to unlearn and relearn a lot. I’ve gotten good at having boundaries with other people as well. I’ve had to observe and mimic and practice and watch for things others learned along the way that I didn’t. I’ve had many falling outs. The damages have been extensive and the repair didn’t happen overnight.
But for the first time in my life, I have margin (some might not believe this with the busy calendar I follow but when you’re accustomed to carrying other people’s burdens around, something just feels lighter – ha!). My marriage these days, as well as the friendships I do have are so very intentional, careful, and appreciated in ways I’m not sure I would’ve experienced otherwise. As I reflect back on everything, I also realize that there were so many desperate moments that drove me right into the arms of Jesus. So many times I didn’t think I was going to make it out alive, and praised him in the storm. If I was given the choice on whether to do it all again or not, I would because I believe it’s the reason I’m so close to Jesus. If that was what it took for me to rely on Him with all my heart and enjoy the closeness that I have with him, then it was all worth it. I’m not perfect and I can’t please everyone. But I CAN turn around now and reach out my hand to the ones who are still stuck. I want to tell them that it’s okay to break free; that they will live (even thrive, maybe!) with relationships ended, and boundaries in place. I want them to know that there are GOOD people out there who will love them for who they are and not what they have to offer. That it’s okay to trust. And that it’s okay to feel. The world won’t crumble if we feel, and even if it does, it’s not our job to save it.
How to Recognize a Codependent in Your Life:
CDs are chameleons. They change their tune, color, beliefs, behaviors and opinions to match whoever they are with.
Because of their intense need for affirmation, you will always find a CD complimenting or doing favors (whether requested or not) for others.
A codependent is quick to get angry with any sort of criticism – even constructive criticism, because in their minds, they’ve already been beating themselves up to a pulp all day.
A codependent is not easily recognizable because they appear confident from the outside, and may even believe that they are confident. But at the true heart of a CD is insecurity in its truest form. The belief that in order to be loved, we must do. So we do, do, do and why doesn’t anyone seem to appreciate the effort we put in?? Codependents have two main frames of mind that they live in at any given time– giving generously, or being extremely angry.
CD’s are dead set on the fact that they believe someone can “save” them from their suffering. If only their spouse, or their mother or their friend or the person at work would say “sorry,” thank them properly or recognize all of the hard work they’ve put in, then they’d be happy. In my case, if only my husband would get better at communication, plan surprise dates, and bring home more flowers….then I’d be happy. But no amount of what anyone else can do will ever make a CD happy. Why? Because when you draw your worth from the world around you, it will always leave you depleted. No human was made to satisfy the God shaped gap that we have in our hearts. And in the case of a CD, one that we’ve artificially learned to stuff with human affirmation over the years.
Codependents often have substance abuse issues because they are attempting to numb the pain and pressure that they feel 100% of the time.
Codependents are created when someone close to them has taught them that the CD can and should manage the well-being of that other person. A CD’s worth in the world becomes defined by how happy they can make and keep the people around them, to a point where they are neglecting themselves in the process.
Codependents do not feel free to do what they want with their time and energy.
How to Kick Codependency:
In order to kick CD, you first have to recognize it. This was maybe the most freeing part of the process for me because I realized that my problem was an actual thing and while I may not have caused it, it was something I could work on.
See a professional counselor about trauma from your past that has caused CD and ideas for coping going forward. Read books such as “Codependent, No More.”
Talk to Jesus. Read the Bible. Get into a small group and attend a church where you will find authentic friendships and accountability.
Minimize all of the one-sided, manipulative, dramatic, negative relationships in your life. Pay attention to how you feel after you’ve hung out with someone- are you refreshed? Or drained?
Seek out healthy people and relationships. Be lonely for a while if that’s what it takes to make room for these people. Be okay with people who aren’t dealing with any “big” issues and don’t necessarily need you for anything.
Know with all of your heart, that you’re a child of God. You are worthy of affection, not because of what you do or who affirms it, but because of who and whose you are.