I realized I was codependent when the narcissist discarded me. I spend months helping him, being there for him, and when it was over, I was left wondering; what now? I’ve been so busy being the perfect person to this guy, making sure he was ok, that I forgot about my own needs. I realized that I did this with my mom for many years as well. I was in desperate need to find out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I will share with you how I became independent and how you can too!
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What is codependency?
Codependency is a well-intentioned response to long-term problem behavior. The codependent adjusts his behavior, thoughts, and feelings to the other, assuming that he helps the other person. The codependent thereby deprive the other person of his responsibilities, whereby he makes the other person dependent on himself. The codependent gets appreciation and a positive self-image by helping the other person. Ultimately, it forms part of his identity, which in a sense makes him addicted to the problem of his partner. He has also become an interested party and can, therefore, act unconsciously in such a way that the situation is maintained. The ‘helping’ reaction of the codependent unintentionally gives the other opportunity to continue the problem behavior. The codependent eventually loses himself and no longer knows what he thinks, feels and needs. By consistently putting his own needs aside the codependent often gets physically and mentally ill.
codependency example from my life
My mother was an alcoholic with severe agoraphobia. Whenever she needed more alcohol, she would send me to get it for her. Obviously, I didn’t want my mom to drink, but she told me she would die if I didn’t do what she wanted, so I went out there and got alcohol for her. I could have walked away, let her fetch for herself, and if I were given the opportunity with the knowledge I have now, I would have done it differently, but back then I figured an alcoholic mom was better then a dead mom. I became her little puppet, and her problem became my problem, I needed to keep her alive and happy so that I could be happy. With me as her codependent, she didn’t need to face her agoraphobia or any of her problems. Hence she wasn’t getting better.
How does codependency develop?
Codependency can develop when a child grows up in an unhealthy, unsafe or otherwise destructive family situation. Usually one or both parents suffer from a personality disorder or addiction. The child has to take over responsibilities that do not fit his age, like take care of other children, take care of the parent and other parental responsibilities. In most situations, the family wants to keep their problem hidden and won’t accept any help from the outside. Therefore the child won’t get any help. There is no time for the child to figure out what he likes because of the many responsibilities resulting in autonomy problems later on.
Codependency can develop in adulthood in people who are in relationships with narcissists, substance abusers and other unhealthy relationships where the partner won’t accept any help from a therapist.
- Do you experience intense and unstable interpersonal relationships?
- Are you often feeling bored and empty?
- Do you hate being alone or do you feel anxious when alone?
- Do you fail to set boundaries or let people cross your boundaries?
- Do you let others be your moral compass?
- Do you experience a desire for acceptance and affection from others?
- Are you trying to control everything?
- Do you experience low self-esteem?
- Do you feel that someone else’s happiness will make you happy?
- Do you feel guilty if you don’t help the other person?
- Do you feel responsible for others?
- Are you afraid to speak up to the other person?
- Are you neglecting your own needs?
If you answer most of the above questions with ‘Yes’ you might experience codependency. Keep in mind that this is not meant to diagnose, and a lot of these symptoms match other mental illness. If you think you might experience codependency, it might be wise to talk about it with a therapist.
Codependency can also be subtle, and it might be harder to recognize, for example, when you have a problem saying no to people. It might not seem like a big problem, but you should ask yourself; why can I not say no? do I want people to like me? Do I feel that I’m worth less than them? Am I afraid that they will be angry? Try to find the answer, so you can work on saying no. It’s ok to be nice and do things for others, but relationships are about balance.
What to do if you are codependent?
First, you need to realize that you are trying to help someone, but in reality, you are doing the opposite, instead, try to set clear boundaries and ask the person to search for professional help. If the person doesn’t want to do this, you need to be very clear and communicate some rules. You will no longer enable any ‘bad’ behavior.
Then, you need to seek help for yourself. A therapist can help you figure out if you became co-dependent in your childhood or adult life, this can be a long process. It might hit you that you don’t even know who you are or what you like.
My friend told me to read this book, and I advise you to do the same, it’s a real eye-opener.
The 10 steps I took after I realized I was codependent
- I asked myself what my relationship with the narcissist was based on. I realized that I enjoyed helping him, it made me feel like a good person. This is very typical for a codependent person.
- I made a list of things I could do for myself that gave me the feeling that I was a good person.
- I made a list of all the things I hated in my past relationships and asked myself why I didn’t leave. The answer was; I was afraid to be alone, and I didn’t want to abandon the other.
- I made a list of reasons why it’s good to be alone.
- I started working on my self-esteem by writing five things every day that I liked about myself or made me proud of who I am.
- I made a list of skills I have, and what skills I want to learn to feel independent.
- I asked a friend about my weaknesses and strengths. With her advice, I made a list of things I wanted to work on.
- With the help of a therapist, I started untangling where the other person identity stopped, and mine began.
- I tried out some hobbies, studies and other things to figure out what I liked and what I want to do in life.
- I started to do things on my own, enjoying time alone and feeling empowered by doing things I never thought I could do.
Being codependent is no shame, it happens unconsciously, but it’s important to realize that you have to stop this behavior for yourself and the other person. The other person needs help to control his problem, and you need to focus on your own life. Take some time for yourself and figure out what you like and who you want to be as a person. Be brutally honest with yourself cause only then you can overcome codependency.