“When a codependent dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes.”
I know, it’s funny and not funny at the same time. When I first heard that ‘joke’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Before I describe codependency, I want to point out that we are all unique individuals, created by God. We are way more than labels. What I’m describing in this post is a set of behaviors, feelings and personality traits that can cause us a lot of problems when left untreated.
Codependency is often described as an addiction. The reason is a little more difficult to explain. In a nutshell, codependency is the denial of one’s true self, the self-God created us to be. While there are some codependents who enable alcoholics and addicts in their lives, that definition is only a fraction of the definition of codependency.
Codependency is a denial or repression of our own needs and feelings.
It usually begins very early in childhood. If our emotional needs were not met in a loving or unconditional way, we created what is called a false self or false identity. The false self we create learns to respond to the emotional or behavioral cues of others (or their caregiver) to earn approval and acceptance. Our real needs are suppressed. A belief is formed that our own needs are bad or shameful.
Because this false self was involuntarily created at such an early age, we are often unaware of it as we get older. Generally, codependents struggle with very low self-esteem and a strong external locus of control. This is the belief that most things happen outside of our control. We often feel hopeless and powerless. We don’t believe that anything we do really matters or makes a difference. Since our self-worth is determined by other people and outside influences, we come to rely on them for our identity. When this ‘external’ approval is waning we can suffer anxiety, confusion, dread, depression, and other issues.
Hence the co-dependent is an addict-addicted to others and external things to feel ok inside.
Part of the reason codependents find themselves in dysfunctional, one sided, or abusive relationships is because of this poor internal locus of control. We deny our own feelings and instincts out of fear or shame and only react to the needs or cues of others. Since the codependent doesn’t really know who they are, their identity is defined by things outside of themselves.
For the codependent, self-worth is often determined by comparing ourselves to others. We can experience strong feeling of hopelessness, helplessness, and depression when we feel like we don’t measure up. I like Psychologist Darlene Lancer’s definition of co-dependency: “A person who can’t function from his or her innate self and instead organizes thinking and behavior around a substance, process, or other person(s)” (Lancer, 2019).
This is why all codependents are addicts and most addicts are codependent.
Here are some ways to begin to heal from codependency:
- Create better boundaries with ourselves and others. This can start by realizing we are not responsible for other people’s happiness or emotions. However, we are responsible for our own.
- Getting to know ourselves and our unique needs and desires.
- Practicing self-care.
- Reminding ourselves that we are not a victim. We are powerful and we do have choices. It can help to try not to weigh important life decisions solely on the possible reaction of another person. In other words, do you refrain from doing or saying certain things simply because you fear another’s reaction?
- Take time to discuss your emotions with another healthy individual or counselor. The more you understand yourself and how you feel, the easier it will be to begin healing and making better choices for yourself.
- Work on autonomy. This means that you act in accordance with your values and beliefs, and not the values and beliefs of others.
- Constantly check for power imbalances in relationships and ask yourself if you are giving away too much of your own power in the relationship or dynamic. Are you doing this in order to appease someone else’s feelings or needs while sacrificing your own?
- Accept yourself for who you are. Don’t beat yourself up and commit to small changes. The Serenity prayer can help with this. If you want to know more about the Serenity prayer and hear the full version, check out my YouTube channel and podcast called “The Serenity Prayer – What does it Mean and how will it Help You Stay Sober?”
Finally, pray and ask God to help you see who He created you to be. John Calvon said, “without knowledge of self-there is no knowledge of God.” Furthermore, without knowledge of God, there can be no knowledge of self. As we being to explore who God created us to be we will begin to heal.
O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand! (Psalm 139:1-6).
Lancer, D. (2019). What is Codependency Really? Medium. https://medium.com/relationships-101/what-is-codependency-really-1b06343d81e