Codependency is a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one’s relationships and quality of life. It also often involves putting one’s needs at a lower priority than others while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including in families, at work, in friendships, and also in romantic, peers or community relationships. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, and/or control patterns.
This is the gist of Wikipedia’s definition of Codependency. I bring it up to you this month because of the many times it is referred to in my office and the dynamic I have found in working with thousands of people in regard to codependency. What I see more often than not is a lack of awareness of the codependency in general and a sincere desire to blame someone other than ourselves. We therefore lack the knowledge that change must happen in ourselves in order to illicit change in the other. I have also discovered a continuum of codependency in all of us, ranging anywhere from mild, to moderate, to severe.
When we are in a relationship with others we often begin the relationship in codependent ways. Doing things we normally wouldn’t do, saying things we may not mean, agreeing to things that are not in our best interest, overlooking behaviors that aren’t acceptable, etc. All to ‘make’ the other person love us; activating our general need to be loved, accepted and approved of and our general belief that we are not lovable or attractive and acceptable just as we are. When we start a relationship in this way, it can be hard and often full of disappointment and resentments. This eventually causes problems, usually presenting first as resentment and eventually deterioration of the relationship.
We often times make unconscious or unspoken agreements with one another about these behaviors. An example is: If you don’t point out and complain about my daily consumption of alcohol, I won’t point out and complain about your excessive spending and running up the credit card bill. Or even milder forms like: If you don’t keep your agreement with me about doing some of the household chores, I don’t have to keep my agreement with you about improving my health.
Healing codependency can happen through simply asking the right questions, being honest in answering and making necessary changes in thought and behavior to adjust to a healthier way of relating and being. Here are just a few questions to ask yourself to help you understand your role as a codependent person.
- Who do I feel resentment toward? What were the circumstances when you first noticed it?
- Who do I help by being codependent and having undesirable behaviors such as addictions, poor health, poor skills, lack of responsibility, etc.?
- What unconscious or unspoken agreements do I have with others that do not help either of us become the best we can be?
- What feelings, pains, or fears am I avoiding?
- What negative thoughts do I consistently have about a loved one?
- What expectations do I have about another’s behavior? Do they know I have these expectations, or do I just punish them when they do not fulfill them?
I invite you to take some time this week to answer some of these questions in depth. Allow these to lead to other inquiring questions. Put your fear aside for a short time. Be gentle with yourself knowing that more often than not you do function from a place of needing validation that you are good enough and loveable; and an underlying belief and fear that maybe you’re not. It’s all good, and it is all especially good if you use it to heal yourself, and in doing so, you will heal others.
In joy, Tracy
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