Codependency is a term many of us have heard, and even joke about, especially with how much time we’ve been spending with our partners during this interminable pandemic.
“Ugh, I’ve become totally codependent on my wife to bring me coffee every morning.”
Look, we even joke at home about how our dog and my husband have a codependent relationship. She literally cannot stand to be separated from him.
Here’s why I’m talking about it, though. Codependency is much more damaging than our joking or mainstream use of the word reflects. It can be debilitating, demeaning, and has deep roots in pain and trauma.
To start, a definition:
Codependency is when we are excessively emotionally or psychologically dependent on another person.
This is more than going the extra mile for a friend because it feels good to be nice. It’s more than people pleasing, which is when we go out of our way to make other people happy at the cost of our own happiness.
Because, in codependency, we are not just denying our needs and feelings; we don’t have any needs or feelings without the other person.
Like a flame needs oxygen to exist, a codependent person needs another to keep going, to have a purpose, to feel.
Here is some more information about this dynamic and how it entraps us.
First, there are always two people involved: the caregiver and the receiver of that care. I’ve been focused on the caregiver here, because the receiver of that care? That’s someone we absolutely cannot impact (though, that’s part of the issue at hand; if we are codependent, we feel an excessive need to work as hard as possible at that very thing).
Second, codependency is driven by the agreement that the care giver will work harder on the receiver’s problem and life than they will.
Read that one again. And again if you have to. It’s big.
Third, because of these two puzzle pieces – needing to be needed and working harder at a problem than the person with the problem does – the care giver/codependent lives with a completely external focus.
Here are some ways this can show up:
- Rarely spending time apart.
- Never wanting to share preferences or opinions until hearing what your partner thinks or wants.
- Your partner’s mood affects your mood.
- Making excuses for your partner and their behavior.
- Feeling powerless.
- Feeling reactive all the time.
- You have so much love to give, but your partner rejects it.
This external focus takes all of the individual’s sense of Self away. There is no room for a unique inner world of dreams and talents and desires; everything is centered on the recipient of the attention and ensuring their satisfaction.
Incidentally, the individual on the receiving end of this care is usually a bottomless pit of need and attention. So, despite a codependent’s best efforts, this person is rarely content or approving of the efforts made for them. Additionally, the care receiver is extremely comfortable being the center of focus and attention; often there is no awareness that the dynamic in place is at all damaging to their partner.
This can lead to terribly painful feelings, like despair, shame, hopelessness, fear, depression, and loneliness.
An important note here – codependency is a coping skill learned for survival. It usually is modeled for us as children, or we were treated with judgement and offered only conditional love. In these conditions, a child learns to do and meet others’ needs for validation. In this way, they learn their worth as dependent on the outside responses to their actions.
I will dig deeper into that as a concept in a later post; for our purposes here, it’s important to remember that because it’s a learned skill, it can be unlearned.
Finally some good news, right?!
Please, remember not to add judgement or shame to your story if you start to realize that this may be present in your life. This post is simply a call to those who feel invisible outside of what they do for others, who are so very tired and lonely, and who feel confusion about how to feel better.
You are seen. You are valuable just as you are. You don’t have to do anything to earn your worth.
You can change. It will take work and help, but you can. Freedom and self-love are on the other side, and they are worth fighting for.