About 11 months ago, I realized I was a codependent. If you’re like me, you aren’t sure what that even means! What the heck is codependency? The short story is…I made the thoughts, feelings, actions, and opinions of my then-husband more important than my own. I thought it was my responsibility to make him happy. I did everything I could to make his life as pleasant as possible, and didn’t even realize that I was compromising myself in the process. In the end, neither of us respected me. And then he left me.
The woman he left me for called us “classic codependent.” At the time, I was enraged that she thought she knew anything about me. Fast forward 2 years and I pick up “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie. I cannot tell you how happy I was to have a diagnosis! This book explained everything that was “wrong” with me. I sat there with my sad book about having been an insecure wife and I was grinning from ear to ear. Now that I knew I wasn’t alone, and that there was an explanation for my stupid behavior, I saw myself becoming unstoppable. Now that I knew the problem, I was ready for the solution.
That was the beginning of my transformation. The most important day of my 180. The second most important day was when I found Codependency For Dummies, another brilliant book, this one by Darlene Lancer.
So what made me think I was codependent? Here’s the list I wrote shortly after discovering the books. (FYI, I’m writing in past tense because I personally don’t believe one has to remain a codependent for life).
- I looked to others for approval
- I thought my actions determine others’ emotions
- I wanted to control things and people
- I was angry when I can’t control things
- I’m great at knowing how other people feel / I’m super empathetic (one might say this is a benefit of being codependent)
- I didn’t really know who I was, or what I liked
- I loved to give, but never dared to ask for what I wanted or needed – I didn’t want to put anyone out…
- …and yet I would get upset when people didn’t treat me as well as I treated them
- I fed off praise and compliments (okay – I still do 😉 but I don’t starve without them anymore)
- I settled for being needed and didn’t see any guy wanting me just for me
- All I wanted after my divorce was a replacement of my husband. I thought, perhaps subconsciously, that I would be incomplete until I found a new man.
- I prioritized being a “cool” wife over being respected. I’d rather emotionally die than tell my husband he couldn’t do something.
- I worried about others’ abilities to get things done. I put no trust in anyone else, not in my personal life and certainly not at work. (“The Codependent at Work” is not yet written. I may have to write it myself…)
- I spent a lot of time worrying about other people and how to control or manipulate them.
- I would get upset when I felt pressured, because I wanted to say no, but felt guilty for standing up for what I want. I wouldn’t even dare call it a need because who was I to be so greedy as to need?
- I felt crazy because I didn’t know right from wrong. Saying that now sounds ridiculous! But these books confirmed that I wasn’t the only one with this worry.
If you have read about codependency, you’ll know that the definition started as a way to define spouses of alcoholics, and their attempts to control or manage their partner. Co-dependent roughly means they became dependent on the alcoholic to be alcoholic – they in turn got to be the caretaker. And if the alcoholic wasn’t alcoholic…there would be no need for care. Kind of a messed up perspective, huh?
I don’t know that I needed my husband to be depressed. But I certainly felt like my very purpose in life was to help him not be.
And guess what? The caretaker might feel all high and mighty, vitally important to their partner…and yet they’re not doing a damn thing to help. Me? I not only facilitated his bad behavior by “not calling him out on his bullshit” (something, by the way, he loved about his new woman!), but I also internally could not handle the truth of our relationship and I acted out by having an affair with his friend. I’m not proud of this. I’ve never discussed this publicly. I hurt and subsequently lost my friends. I did something I never imagined myself doing. All because it seemed easier than acknowledging the truth that I was unhappy in my relationship. I hurt him…because I didn’t want to hurt him.
Nowadays, I’m all about truth. Even if it’s painful and takes time to trudge through, I know that being honest with others and especially myself is absolutely essential to my entire existence.
Looking back at my symptoms of codependency list, here’s where I am now:
- I look to myself for approval, instead of needing it from others. My opinion is more important than any other opinion. And ironically, I find that when I like the things I do or say, others usually do too! Not that it matters, though… 😉
- I don’t bother trying to control, manipulate, or save others. I know now that people are going to do what they’re going to do – AND I should respect them enough to let them! ONLY if they come to me for help or advice will I dole it out to them. People are adults (most of them :D) and they should be treated as such. This is the best thing you can do for another human being (well, besides giving CPR or donating blood or something). I am me, and you are you. I am responsible for me and my feelings, and you are responsible for yours. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s so freeing, for both of us!
- I’m learning to give up control. My self-esteem does not hinge on control anymore. I’m learning the “hakuna matata” mindset and it’s lovely.
- I am less likely to get angry these days. More often than not, I simply notice the things that used to make me angry and just kind of watch them play out instead of reacting to them. (However, I am not in a relationship, so I can’t say I’m not getting angry at a partner’s misbehavior – when I do find another man, I intend to be very clear with my boundaries and expectations, and not accept anything but).
- I also firmly believe that feelings are okay. Problems only get worse when you try to suppress feelings. Feelings are natural and normal and when you can say to yourself “it’s okay that you feel this way,” you will more quickly be out from under the spell of them.
I could go on and on about this stuff! But at this point, I’ll just say let me know if you want to know more. All there is to say now is that after reading these books…and going to a therapist weekly for a couple of months…and continuing to apply what I’ve learned, I have a truly healthy self-esteem and I am in control of me. I’m so excited for my continued codependent-free life!