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Monday, July 4, 2016

How codependence dies: what it looks like, how to lose it.

Sometimes it feels like we go through life sleepwalking.  The years go by quickly and we wonder what happened to the years?   It seems like it is just a blur or illusion.   I believe some of that is just the normal, "life is just but a blink of the eye" that the bible speaks of, but I also believe that much of it comes from the sense that you haven't really lived for yourself.  By live for yourself, I don't mean selfishly, but rather taking care of yourself and consider what you need for yourself rather than what you need to be for others.


My own life has been one of self-discovery which really didn't kick in until my forties.  I have had a number of friends who feel the same way.   We have been so busy often doing what we think we needed to do to nurture and/or save our relationships, at the expense of our own sanity.  Sadly, we often mistake trying to 'please' or 'keep another happy' or 'keep them from being upset with us' for nurturing/saving our relationships.  This sort of behavior may allow a relationship to survive a long time, but not necessarily be healthy.  The irony is that often times the more work you do to avoid confrontation, the less chance the relationship will survive.  I think for most people, if they aren't allowed to be who they need to be or they try to be something they aren't, they will eventually reach a crisis point in their life.

For myself, learning, understanding and remembering a few things has helped me pull away from the codependent construct:
  • If a person seems to be consistently giving you (usually) unwanted advice, finding fault, making you feel like you have to justify your actions/choices, chances are they need you more than you need them.  Chances are they are operating out of fear.  Chances are the relationship is based on a bad personal connection.  But, why do we stay in a bad relationship or at the very least subjugate our own self and needs and never 'require' or 'demand' that our own needs be considered.  I suspect there are a combination of reasons, some of which I will indicate below.  
    • Loyalty - Family loyalty, loyalty to one who has helped you-and makes sure to remind you of it, etc.
    • Fear of being alone - What's the difference if you are with someone and feel disconnected most of the time?  What's the difference if you don't feel you can connect with the family member or friend?
    • Fear of the unknown - Sometimes, the devil you know seems to be more comfortable than the devil you don't know.  Like an old comfortable shoe as a friend said 
    • Fear of rejection - If a person struggles to 'find acceptance', when they do appear to find it, it's hard to let go or risk having to let go of someone who 'accepts' (or appears to).  The irony of this is if you have to be someone you are not to 'keep' a relationship, then you are really not accepted after all.
    • Shame or not deserving better - I believe this goes along with all the other reasons.  If we feel like on some level that we are undeserving of better we will not tend to push for it. However, at the same time, I believe there can be a tension in which we want better in our lives. We want better, but don't feel like we deserve better, but that doesn't change that we want better, etc.
  • The other party in a codependent relationship often controls out of fear.  It is a feeling that if they don't have a firm grip on all aspects of aspects of the relationship, things won't get done, they won't get done well or the work that has done will be wasted.   Some examples of a controlling person:
    • Someone who demands things be done in a strict order or on a strict timeline.   Disruption could cause things not to get done or things to get done inefficiently, etc.  I'm not talking about dealing with an organized person or an efficient person, but a person who is so wed to schedule or routine that they crush anything or anyone that gets in the way of that schedule or routines.
    • Someone who demands things be done a certain way.  They have always done things a certain way, they are used to doing things a certain way and they don't trust the outcome of doing things a certain way.  In a way, a controlling person has their comfort zone and is unwilling to go outside of it.  When the other party attempts to introduce a different way, they find it a threat.  Perceived threats are not suffered well.  It isn't that there aren't other ways to achieve a goal--taking a different route to a destination for example.  It seems that  the controlling person for whatever reason is not able get past their block, whether is based out of fear, avoiding discomfort or something else.
  • Codependence is often a symptom of a relationship with a bad connection
    • When the connection is bad, instead of trusting that the other party will accept you for whom you are, I believe a codependent person will "do whatever it takes" to avoid losing the relationship.  In other words, an unhealthy status quo seems safer than risking a change.  What is really happening in this case is an avoidance of change and a possible 'day of reckoning'.  The irony is that the 'day of reckoning' doesn't necessarily have to be the end of a relationship, but instead the beginning of a healthier, more honest relationship.  In other words, a relationship with a good or better connection.
    • Like a phone that struggles to get or keep a charge, a relationship with a bad connection seems to work sometimes, but doesn't necessarily work for too long.  Eventually, the phone with a bad connection will fail to work unless the connection is repaired.  Similarly, a codependent relationship with a bad connection is likely to work less and less well until at some point, it effectively 'stops working'.
I would make the disclaimer before I continue that there is and should be a degree of depending on each other in a relationship, but it should be out love and cooperation, not out of fear and the need to control.  Some fighting, disagreement, give and take or normal, but really it is the mindset behind how the relationship is operating that determines if it is healthy or codependent. 


I guess ultimately, after seeing problems in my own life and the lives of those around, I've come to realize a few things related to squeezing codependence out of relationships.
  • The other party in a relationship has got to know that you are not a threat to them.  They have to understand it and they have to accept it.  They have to understand that while it is not all about them, that you have their best interests in mind.
  • The other party has to know that you will not always say or do precisely the right thing for every given circumstance in the relationship, but that your intentions are good towards them.  In other words, you get frustrated, you get angry, you get upset, you may say something a bit out of line or you just might not say the comforting thing that they need to hear.  However, your intentions for the other party are good and they need to realize that.  They CANNOT expect perfection and if they do, they are putting you in an impossible position.   Let them know that you aren't perfect, but you are trying.  Sometimes, just hearing that helps tremendously.
  • It isn't your job to 'fix' the other party, nor is it the other party's job to try to 'fix' you.   That however, does not exclude being supportive.   For example, if I am not happy, my spouse can listen to me, but she is not responsible for my happiness.  That doesn't mean she shouldn't do anything, but her role is to not to ensure that I am happy, but rather provide a healthy, supportive environment in which I can find what it is for me to achieve contentment.
  • Not letting shame or failure unrelated to the relationship have an impact on the relationship.  If I struggle at work or have family of origin problems or just have made mistakes, I cannot let the shame of those situations compromise me in terms of the relationship.   I cannot let a failure at work for example spill over and cause me to feel like a failure in the relationship.
  • Not letting mistakes within the relationship rule the future of the relationship.   We make mistakes, we say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and sometimes do very destructive things for our relationship.  However, we have to separate our mistakes and failures from a willingness to be 'ruled' in our relationship.  For example, we can damage our relationship by focusing on drinking, gambling or others.
    • We can atone for mistakes but we can't throw away ourselves in the process.
    • If our spouse doesn't accept us for mistakes or failings, no amount of groveling or trying to atone will fix our relationship.  If anything, it will increase resentment and lower for you.
    • Change has to be for us, first and foremost, not as a codependent need to 'change' for him or her.
Most of all, you cannot be ruled by fear.  You can be sensitive and thoughtful and what not, but you have to be yourself.  If you are used to being a people pleaser or having to be the peacemaker, or having to be the one to adjust, it can be VERY daunting standing up for your own needs.  Ultimately, if you let a fear of relationship failure rule you, chances are you will be helping to set up such failure.  If being yourself leads to rejection, then most of the time, the relationship wasn't right for you anyway and no amount of trying to be someone else would have saved it anyway.  But, if you allow yourself to be yourself in a relationship, you are being honest to yourself and your partner.  It may be a difficult adjustment in the relationship going from being a codependent people pleasure, but eventually you will find out if you are meant to stay in the relationship and/or you will find that your significant other will adjust your personal growth and actually respect you for it.