I hate to admit it. I wish it weren’t true. But I know what it’s like to be a “closet codependent.” I know what it’s like to compromise my conscience in order to comply, to be a ‘peace-at-any-price” person to appease, to put up with chaos in order to avoid conflict. Although I myself had not heard of ‘codependency,” I found myself in an exhilarating, yet fearful relationship of highs an lows-in a roller-coaster relationship with continual ups and downs. In truth, even though i knew something in the relationship was wrong and something needed to change, I was desperately “needy” of connection an deathly fearful of rejection. When my “friend” would threaten to leave, I would beg, plead, and promise whatever was necessary in a desperate attempt to stay connected. My immense fear of being abandoned led me into a long season of insecurity. At the time, I viewed my loyalty as noble. Today, I see my loyalty as excessive. Sadly, I didn’t know that these high/low swings were not “normal.” After all, that destructive dynamic was part of my normal-the normal, volatile relationship I witnessed between my parents. Loyalty to my mother became the highest priority in my life. I had a never-spoken commitment, to take care of my mother. Ultimately, I felt responsible for her welfare. In truth, we had a role reversal. Later, when i became an adult, I found myself having excessive loyalty ‘excessive” because my highest loyalty was to a person. I was controlled more by fear in a friendship than by my faith.
What is dependency?
A dependency is a reliance on something or someone else for support or existence.
“I have to have this to live.”
A dependency can be an addiction to any object, behavior, or person that represents an underlying attempt to get emotional needs met.
“I must do this to meet my needs to make me happy.”
We should have a healthy “interdependence” on others in the sense that we should value each other and enjoy each other, love and learn from each other, but we should not be totally dependent on each other. Essentially, this kind of relationship involves a health, mutual give-and-take, where neither person looks to the other to meet each and every need. However, I had a misplaced dependency on others.
In a codependent relationship, one person is seen as weak and the other as strong. The weak one appears totally dependent on the strong one. But the one who appears strong is actually weak because of the excessive need to be needed by the weak one. In fact, the strong one needs for the weak one to stay weak, which in turn keeps the strong one feeling strong.
Codependent people may appear capable and self-sufficient, yet in reality they are insecure, self-doubting, and in need of approval. This need for approval results in an excessive sense of responsibility and a dependence on people-pleasing performance.
Here a few things I discovered that opened my eyes to being a codependent person:
- I felt responsible for the feelings, needs, and actions of the other person.
- I tried to fix the problems of this person, even to the detriment of my own well being.
- I knew the feelings and needs of the other person but did not know my own.
- I did things for others that they were capable of doing for themselves.
- I judged myself more harshly than I judged others.
- I denied my own feelings and needs.
- I felt guilty when I stood up for myself.
- I felt good about giving but had difficulty receiving.
- I tried to be perfect in order to void anger or criticism.
The classic codependent relationship is typically characterized by an emotionally weak person who feels the need to be connected to an emotionally strong person. The so-called strong one is actually weak because of the need to be needed. Both are insecure and become entangled in a web of emotional bondage. The two combine to produce a destructive cycle of manipulation and control, draining joy and happiness out of life. Because this destructive dynamic is often subconscious, both parties can feel innocent of any wrongdoing.
The Codependent Relationship Profile;
- Both feel a loss of personal identity.
- Both violate their consciences.
- Both have difficulty establishing healthy intimate relationships.
- Both struggle with low self-worth.
- Both have difficulty setting boundaries.
- Both become jealous and possessive.
- Both fear abandonment.
- Both experience extreme ups and downs.
- Both have a false sense of security.
- Both usually have one other addiction besides the relationship.
What draws people into destructive codependent relationships? The answer is most often found in their childhood pain-a past pain that impacts their adult choices. In reality, codependent people are grown-ups who have never grown up. All children progress through five developmental stages on their way to maturity and adulthood. If as children we fail to progress successfully from one certain stage to another, our development will be stunted at that stage, and we will grow up to be emotionally immature adults. We will develop adult bodies, but like children, we will be underdeveloped emotionally. As a result, we will be inclined to be drawn into codependent, needy relationships. Children who grow up being emotionally needy and who are not allowed to learn the skills necessary for forming healthy adult relationships never learn healthy independence. They have difficulty speaking the truth, asking for what they want, and setting boundaries. They become codependent adults who are addicted to unhealthy relationships because they never learned anything different. Ultimately, they are desperately trying to finish what they started in infancy-to grow up!
No one sets out to be emotionally addicted to another person, to constantly crave love from another person. These cravings were created in childhood because there was “no water in the well’- their “love buckets” were and still are empty. They are truly love-starved. Rejected children live for any moment of acceptance. Any hint of love becomes an emotional high that temporarily relieves their pain. These children may become adult love addicts because they..
- did not receive enough positive affirmation as children.
- grew up feeling unloved, insignificant, and insecure.
- experienced a traumatic separation or a lack of bonding.
- felt and continue to feel intense sadness and a profound loss at being abandoned.
- felt and continue to feel extreme fear, helplessness, and emptiness.
Children with empty “love buckets” create a fantasy about some ‘savior” who will remove their fear and finally make them feel whole. but no matter how much love they receive, it’s not enough because they themselves are not whole. As adults, they are still emotionally needy “children” who….
- Believe that being loved by someone-anyone-is the solution to their emptiness.
- enter relationships believing they cannot take care of themselves.
- Assign to much value and power to the other person in a relationship.
- have tremendously unrealistic expectations of the other person.
- live in fear that those who truly love them will ultimately leave them.
Everyone is created with three inner needs-the need for love, for significance, and for security. If we expect or demand that another person meet all of our needs or if we become dependent on another person to do so, we have a misplaced dependency. Codependency does not flow from an unchangeable personality flaw or some genetic fluke. A codependent relationship is rooted in immaturity, a fact that should give great hope to those caught in its addictive cycle. Any of us can move from codependency to a healthy, mutual give-and-take in our relationships. The key to change is motivation. What kind of motivation? When your pain in the relationship is greater than your fear of abandonment, the motivation for change is powerful. Moving away from the pain of codependency then becomes a matter of choice and commitment.
Confront the fact that you are codependent.
- Admit the truth to yourself.
- Admit the truth to someone else.
- accept responsibility for how your past experiences and reactions have hurt your adult relationships.
Confront your codependent focus.
- Stop focusing on what the other person is doing and start focusing on what you need to do in order to become emotionally healthy.
- stop focusing on the other person’s problems and start focusing on solving your own problems ( those resulting from your neglect of people and projects in your life).
Confront what you need to leave in order to receive.
- Leave your childhood and your dependent thinking ( I can’t live without you). Then enter into healthy adulthood. ( I want you in my life, but if something were to happen, I could still live without you). That is reality.
- leave your immature need to be dependent on someone else and embrace your mature need to be dependent on The Lord.
- leave your fantasy relationships (thinking, You are my all-in-all) and instead nurture several balanced relationships of healthy give-and-take.
In conclusion, when you are behaving in a codependent way, you are trying to get your needs met through a drive to “do it all” or to be another persons ” all-in-all”. However, you can “travel the road to recovery” by releasing your desire to control or to change the person you love.