I never considered myself co-dependent until I was away from my family at a retreat and didn’t know what to do with myself when I had free time.
I felt as if I was globbing onto whoever else had a plan and whatever was going on at the moment. It was a strange feeling and even though I couldn’t pin it down right then, I knew I didn’t like this feeling and it didn’t feel good. It was as if I didn’t have my own mind. How did others seem know just what they wanted to do and when?
Enter co-dependency. I heard about it before, and looked into it briefly and at the time thought it didn’t really seem to apply to me. Alcoholic partner? Nope.
SO WHAT IS CO-DEPENDENCY?
Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.
‘the tie that binds most of us together in this trap called codependency’
1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?
3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?
7. When significant others spend time with friends, do you feel rejected?
8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
10. Have you ever felt inadequate?
11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?
12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?
13. When your child or spouse makes a mistake, do you feel humiliation?
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
16. Is it difficult for you to talk to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
19. Is it difficult for you to ask for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?
If you always feel like “someone else’s problem is your problem” per Melodie Beattie’s book, “Co-Dependent No-More” (THE book on co-dependency), I’m sharing some lessons I learned about co-dependency that could help you on your path to untying the ties that bind.
1. Co-dependency is more common than I realized
As I started reading more about co-dependency, I found that even though someone may not have an alcoholic partner, they could still exhibit co-dependent traits from parents whose approval they are seeking. I thought back and saw patterns of co-dependency show up through relying on others more than necessary in my life. I thought about all the times I asked my husband for his opinion, knowing full well at the time that I should be able to make up my own mind about these things. I thought about the times I subjected my desires to those that had more authority or emotion at work or in my personal life just to keep the calm. As if I could control their emotions with my behavior. Ah – the fallacy of co-dependency!
The strange thing was that most people think of me as being very confident and assured of myself. Honestly, I even considered myself an independent thinker.
It wasn’t until I began to read Melodie Beattie’s “Co-Dependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Care for Yourself” that I started seeing that co-dependency existed in my life in sneaky ways. It was like a stranger living in my house, who I didn’t know all that well, but would eat with me and be there constantly. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like having random people I don’t know in my house. I had to become either become friends with this stranger or kick them out.
2. It is the arrow that hits you twice
What was the trigger? There’s always a trigger for co-dependency. A root cause. Mine was my temperamental father. But the real impact on our lives is not the root cause. It’s the ripple effect of a co-dependent mindset that continues on far past the time when the events occurred.
I was still living out this behavior even after my father had passed. My mother was the complete opposite and always encouraged me to have my own mind (“what do you think?”). For that I am truly grateful. Even with that positive influence, I had become co-dependent with anyone else that seemed to have authority in my life. Like many mindset issues, co-dependency is the arrow that hits you twice. The first time during the event and the second time as you keep on with the co-dependent behaviors.
When I think back about the many big decisions I have made in my life, I know that there were several major ones that majorly defied co-dependency. Yes! Like when I decided to work at a consumer products company instead of at an investment bank (what my dad would have wanted). But, there were many other instances of co-dependent behavior that were even more insidious because they were entrenched in the day to day, such as staying in jobs that were not working out for me longer than I should have or always taking on other people’s problems as my own.
3. It doesn’t look like an issue to other people
For many of those who exist with a co-dependent, co-dependency is not an issue! Co-dependent partners and team members can be a dream. As a co-dependent, you do whatever needs to get done and will often put others first. The flip side is that resentment builds up as a result and one day you blow up because you feel taken advantage of and abused. This happens at work or at home and the scary thing is that no one is going to come to your rescue but you.
4. No one else has the authority to give you permission but yourself
No one else is going to give you permission but yourself to live your life the way you want. I had to give myself permission. I had to be my own white horse in shining armor to say enough is enough. I had to put on my big girl pants one foot at a time and say, “Yes, I recognize that my father was the trigger, but my responsibility now is to stop these behaviors from affecting me negatively”. They weren’t serving me and I knew that just by admitting that I was co-dependent meant that I could do something about it.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
I stopped thinking that other people were more important than me. I saw myself choosing instead of “shoulding”. I made my day-to-day mantra, “how you react is not my problem”. If it weren’t for my working on my co-dependency through coaching, I wouldn’t have transitioned into a job I love.
As a parent, the main impact was that I stopped yelling at my kids. When I realized that their reaction was their problem, not mine, it totally changed even the way that I parent. Separately, it also made me conscious of how I could make sure I gave my kids space to develop their own inner compass and not seek my approval for all things.
As a coach, co-dependency is a common thread for many of my coaching clients and a major block inhibiting self-expression and living a life that truly serves them. It’s the inner voice, the self-critic that doesn’t stop. It makes it hard for them to see who they truly are when all the voices in their head die down.
No one is going to give you permission but yourself to live life on your terms. Permission is a wondrous thing, and it is a scary thing. You get to choose how you want to live your life. Today can be the day that you decide to start living your life the way YOU want to.
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