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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Codependency and Letting it Go

As I have gotten older and have had time to process things in my own life and the world around me, I can come to understand things aren't always what they seem or at least there is a reason or backstory to it.   When discussing origins of codependency, if we are honest, I think we have to acknowledge our formative years are a big part of it.  In that vein, in discussing what I've learned in my own life, I have to revisit my formative years with my parents.   I always have hated when people go on a talk show and bash their parents as if their parents were big ogres who didn't care about them and ruined their lives.  Yes, I believe there are parents out there who are totally beyond the pale selfish and who never should have raised children.  However, I think in most cases parents, no matter how imperfect they are, at least try to be decent parents.  Unfortunately, many parents are a product of their own dysfunctional background.  In other words, they are at least somewhat broken.   If an artist with talent is given a fine brush, he or she is more likely to be able to produce a work of art than if he or she is given a coarse brush.  Similarly, I believe when critiquing a person's child-rearing actions, results and success, it it important to understand what tools he or she had to work with.  In this vein, I don't mean to be critical of my own parents in that regard.  They were a product of their own environment, but I have to acknowledge them to acknowledge origins of my own codependency.  Anyway, that's my disclaimer.

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As a child of an an alcoholic father with anger problems, I was trained early on to find ways ways to keep the peace or at least to avoid 'problems' for myself.  It didn't help that my mom was codependent either. An alcoholic father and codependent mother was a combination that didn't always work well. In any case, doing my part to keep the peace meant things like:

  • Staying out of my parent's conflicts.
  • Avoiding Dad when he was in a bad mood.  Often that meant staying out of the way until he would go to work.
  • When confronted and challenged by Dad when he was angry
    •  Don't say too much.  The risk of saying the 'wrong thing' was not worth the grief that it could/would bring.  I had to determine if the confrontation was venting or an actual answer was expected.
    •  When I was pressed to answer, I sometimes felt the need to acknowledge he was correct.   The question, "Is that asking too much?", often would be met with a "No" just to avoid further trouble.
    • Other times, when pressed, I would carefully defend myself.  I would have to do things like
      • Explain that I misunderstood and it wasn't that I meant to not to listen to him.
      • Explain carefully how I did what was asked without coming across as challenging him as not getting it.
If it isn't obvious in each case, I was compelled to read the situation and respond in a way that wouldn't escalate the anger (at least that I thought wouldn't).  The irony about is I realized eventually that responding in a codependent way to a person with anger issue can be triggering for them, in which case, it's a no-win situation. However, I digress.

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I have come to realize a few things about codependency and what it is and what it isn't.

What it is
  • Trying too hard to change another's opinion of you, instead of just being yourself.
  • Trying to control what other's think of you and/or how they behave to or around you.
  • Tailoring your words and actions in a way to get a hoped for response rather than it being the proper thing to do or say.
    • Hoped for praise (worship) or other similar positive feedback.
    • Hoped for freedom from criticism.
  • Shutting down your voice to avoid offending or upsetting another.
  • Conceding too much to avoid a fight, where it is appropriate to advocate for yourself.

What it isn't
  • Being considerate or taking the feelings of others into account.
  • Recognizing the right of others to have an opinion of you, even if you don't like it and/or believe it is wrong.
  • Showing that you'll advocate for or defending yourself.
  • Recognizing that some battles aren't worth fighting and opting out of them.  Sometimes, you recognize limitations in dealing with certain people in your sphere and it is fruitless to engage or 'fight' them.
  • Tailoring your behavior towards doing or saying the appropriate things because it is appropriate to do so.


In my opinion, getting rid of codependency means recognizing that while you can influence for or advocate for yourself, you cannot control what others think or feel about you.  It means living your life and engaging others in a way that is right and appropriate rather than manipulative, beneficial or just to avoid problems.



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