The "C" Word: Healing From Codependency
A small wave of anxiety washes over me as I sit down to type this post. The “C” word.
Years ago, my therapist at the time used to refer to it as “the c word” around me because I was so uncomfortable by identifying with it in any shape or form. Codependency has a pretty bad rap. I think many of us have a certain picture in mind when we think of a person suffering from codependent behavior.
We may think of someone who is super needy, incapable of being independent, or even desperate. Or at least this was my perception.
But codependency can surface in a lot of different ways. Not just the classic, old-school textbook version that many of us have learned.
Here are a few not so commonly known traits of codependency:
- You’re unable to distinguish your own thoughts and feelings from those of others (you think and feel responsible for other people and their problems).
- You seek the approval and attention of others in order to feel good.
- You feel anxious and guilty when others have a problem.
- You do things to please others even when you don’t want to.
- You don’t know what you want or need (indecisiveness).
- You collapse when things don’t work out the way you expect them to.
- You believe that everyone else is trustworthy.
- Needing alcohol, food, work, sex or some other outside stimulation to distract you from your feelings.
- You feel unappreciated and unseen by others.
- You idealize others and are disappointed when they don’t live up to your expectations.
- You don’t make demands on others.
- You’re afraid to express your true feelings for fear that people will reject you.
- You don’t trust yourself and your own decisions.
- You blame yourself when things go wrong.
- You act as though you don’t need anything from anyone.
- You experience people and life as either all good or all bad.
- You feel anxious most of the time and don’t know why.
- You find it difficult to have fun and be spontaneous.
- You’re afraid of your own anger.
- You try to prove to others that you are good enough to be loved.
I remember first noticing some of these codependent traits during my first romantic relationship in high school. My therapist at that time was actually the one to first point out some of these behaviors.
I remember feeling “ill” when she made this observation. Like something was inherently wrong with me. Like I was the only one who struggled with this.
After that relationship ended, I didn’t think much of codependency for a long time. Since I was out of that relationship, I assumed I just wasn’t codependent anymore. Like a common cold. It healed and was gone.
Never mind that the several serious romantic relationships I had after this time were majorly codependent!
Fast forward to seven years later and I found myself in my first CoDA (Codependents Anonymous) meeting. I had finally come to terms with the fact that maybe (just maybe) this was something I struggled with and was still impacting me in some significant ways.
It took me a long time to surrender to this and understand that engaging in codependent behavior didn’t make me a bad person. It didn’t make me weak or wrong. This was just learned behavior. Behavior I had watched growing up and behavior I mirrored because I thought that was how you were supposed to think/feel/act when in a relationship with another person.
We develop these tendencies and behaviors because we witnessed them either between our parents/primary caregivers and/or we ourselves engaged in that behavior with a caregiver as a way to cope.
Here’s the thing about co-dependency.
Most of us engage in some of these behaviors. We live in a culture that breeds and rewards codependent behaviors (i.e., the famous example of love songs we hear on the radio or romantic movies we see). Some of us, engage in these behaviors a bit too frequently and it causes anxiety, depression, intimacy issues and toxic and/or abusive relationships.
Codependency can be pervasive. It doesn’t just plague romantic relationships. If you find that you identify with some of the above codependency tendencies, it’s probably effecting a lot of different types of relationships in your life.
It impacts our relationship to family, friends, co-workers, peers, students, our jobs, etc. We can feel these codependent tugs at work, school, or with clients.
So how have I recovered from my own codependency issues?
That’s a tricky answer. Since this is such a strongly rooted core wound of mine, I still have moments where I fall back into old habits, just like anything. And I’m okay with admitting that and am willing to be vulnerable enough to be honest about that.
What I have found to work is a strong mindfulness practice and building emotional awareness. And this has been cultivated through my own personal work in yoga, self-study, and therapy. Learning what is mine and what is someone else’s. Adopting the belief that I am NOT responsible for others happiness or unhappiness. Meditation has helped with this, in that it’s helped me slow down before reacting or acting on something.
Developing a stronger sense of self-worth and self-love practice has also been essential. Believing I’m worthy of healthy relationships, where the other person is capable of taking care of and being responsible for themselves.
And to my surprise, being in a relationship with a healthy conscious person has helped me heal some of my codependent behaviors. Relationships can be vessels for our healing and growth (with a conscious enough individual). I’ve been able to practice healthier boundaries and behaviors within the context of my relationship, with someone who supports my individuality.
These are all things I help clients develop and build upon to get out of their own codependency patterns and programming. It truly takes dedicated work and time to break free of these habits but with the right tools and guidance, it is possible.
I hope that this post serves as a space to bring awareness around what codependency really is and that healing is possible for anyone who feels they’re suffering with it.
When we can break free of codependent behaviors or tendencies, we can live a much more fulfilling and rich life with ourselves and others.
 (from Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap by Barry K. Weinhold, PhD and Janae B. Weinhold, PhD)