I was introduced to this word in my first session of counseling. I remember tearing up as I expressed my emotions, thoughts, and concerns about my family life to my therapist, unsure of why I was experiencing so much emotional turmoil. With a warm and gentle smile, she told me I was struggling with codependency.
My initial thought was… “Ok. Hold up. That can't be right.” I always took pride in being “Miss Independent.” I was the girl who grew up quickly, always ready to care for others, relying solely on God to see me through. Yet, when she explained to me what codependency was and the characteristics I was displaying, it all started to make sense. I knew there was a problem for so long but could not identify what it was. Sitting down with a therapist was the first step in my healing process.
With this awakening I took it upon myself, with the help of God, to restore my relationships, to establish boundaries, and to protect my well being.
Maybe you’re wondering what codependency even is --it doesn’t sound that bad. It can be defined as, “the excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.” This excessive reliance can occur between mother and child, romantic lovers, and even platonic relationships.
Codependency can display itself in many ways, but I would say the overall characteristic of codependency is thinking and feeling responsible for other people---for other people's feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny. Whoof! That was a mouthful. But as you can see, there is a difference between caring and being concerned for someone close to you and being codependent.
People who struggle with this often feel anxiety and guilt when other people have a problem. They feel that it is their job to help that person solve the problem, in any way possible. They often tend to please others instead of themselves and anticipate other people's needs --always ready to assist.
After counseling, the first thing I had to learn was that boundaries are not a negative thing. Setting boundaries would only help my relationships grow to their full capacity. One boundary I decided to put into place was keeping “me time” sacred. Whether I’d be out with friends or out by myself, I decided I would not take phone calls from those who I had codependency with.
Then I decided I would be more assertive in the way I communicated. I informed my family and friends that I no longer would be the mediator, that I will only help if I’m absolutely needed because for as long as I can remember, I identified myself as the problem solver in the family; the one who could make everything better. It was my goal, my mission, to make sure everyone was happy and taken cared of --to the point of feeling responsible for other people's sorrows and letting it affect me in turn. I had an “if she’s sad, then I'm sad; if she's happy then I'm happy” mentality.
While to anyone on the outside looking in, this may sound bizarre, but the problem is that codependency often masks itself as compassion. I always thought I was doing what any good Christian, daughter, sister or friend would do. I was looking out for those I loved the most, what was so wrong with that?
There were many things wrong with my behavior. I was enabling those around me, I was making myself responsible for how they were feeling, I wasn't allowing them to deal with and find solutions to their personal problems. I was becoming a people pleaser. I had poor boundaries: always said yes when I wanted to say no. I reacted to everyone's thoughts and feelings and became a controlling caretaker.
I learned how to say “no”. No longer do I feel unnecessarily responsible for other people. I no longer help if I am not absolutely needed. I learned that everyone will have to go through life in their own way and sometimes their life will be hard, and that's ok, I cannot put it upon myself to prevent them from dealing with the hard stuff.
My therapist recommended a book called Codependent no more by Melody Beattie where she says “The Formula is simple: In any given situation, detach and ask, “what do I need to do to take care of myself?” which helped clarify things. It gave me the tools I needed to restore my relationships and live a healthy lifestyle. It helped me realize that it is OK to put myself first.
With all of that said, detaching from a codependent relationship is not easy. This is especially because it usually comes from years worth of unhealthy habits and behaviors that are difficult to change overnight. It is painful and it takes a lot of commitment, time and courage. But you have to do the hard work now --out of love for yourself and for that person.
I experienced a lot of feelings of guilt and shed a lot of tears during that time. A particular tool that I have found to be helpful is verbally reminding myself that my detachment and new behaviors are healthy and good. But with the help of prayer and more counseling --and lots of journaling, which I found to be therapeutic where I was able to express my feelings concretely --I worked through it and I feel so much lighter! Through prayer specifically, I have learned to rely on God more deeply during this time of restoration. I’ve learned to leave the lives of those I care about in his hands because ultimately all is in His hands!
Links to read more about Codependency:
Sophia Vega is an extrovert, an aunt to 8 nieces and nephews, and is happily married to her air force hunny (where she currently resides in Germany). She is pursuing a B.S in Psychology, and plans to work in the field of Social Work. In her free time, you can catch her going out to watch live music, reading a good book or finding a yummy new recipe on Pinterest.