Before I jump in, I want to be VERY clear, when I use the term ‘codependent’ there's no shame, judgment, or blame behind it. The term is often misused and thrown out as shade. As I hope you know by now, I don't do judgment, blaming, and shaming.
OKAY, SO REALLY, WHAT IS CODEPENDENCY?
The simplest way to describe codependency is when a person (Partner A) manipulates the actions or environment of a loved one (Partner B) in order to increase the likelihood Partner B will be pleasant to be around. This is an indirect way for Partner A to ensure calmness for herself...because her feelings basically revolve around her partner’s. If her partner is happy, she can be more relaxed (or so she thinks). If her partner is upset, then so is she.
Signs of codependency include….
Martyrdom “Yes, I just worked a full day, and I have to help our kid with homework, fold the laundry, and get dinner on the table. But sure I can take the dog for a walk. You should just sit down and relax. I’m sure you’ve had a rough day watching TV.”
Having a lot of things to feel angry about, but NEVER showing it (and probably denying it).
People-pleasing and focusing all your time and energy on other people. Then feeling resentful for having to give so much and no one being aware of your needs.
Having all your emotional energy and brain space taken up... with your partner, your past interactions, and trying to figure out how to make sure everything will go smoothly in your future.
Other examples of codependent behaviors are...
Keeping the house tidy and quiet at all costs.
Trying to limit Partner B’s internet or media usage.
Always agreeing to what Partner B wants and never expressing an opinion.
Taking on the burden of interacting with Partner B’s family or other stressful people because you know they’ll just make Partner B upset.
All of these actions purposefully try to make the mood in the home lighter or prevent a blowout or binge.
There are also times when a person with codependent tendencies might actually try to upset their partner because they know bad shit is coming and at least this is a way they can have some control over it.
In the thick of it, you could also call codependency ‘survival.’ And thus, this whole phenomenon should REALLY not be shamed or judged because survival is a good thing.
What’s tricky is when codependent traits are still part of your way of interacting, even AFTER you’re out of the toxic relationship. That’s when it becomes less about survival and more about unconsciously perpetuating patterns that don’t serve you or your relationships. You deserve freedom.
Here’s the good news. Just because one relationship required a lot of you putting your needs to the side, doesn’t mean this is your fixed way of relating with a partner moving forward. If you recognize any of the above in yourself, healthy relationships can still be in the cards for you. Learning healthier, more balanced relationship patterns (where you don’t have to work so hard and can actually share what you want and need) takes time and practice.
Group work can be incredibly useful in managing codependent tendencies and learning from others. This includes groups such as Al-Anon or the Moving On Group. One thing that I LOVE about Al-Anon is their sayings.
There are 3 in particular that are incredibly useful for feeling more empowered in relationships…
Stay in your own lane. If it doesn’t involve you or a dependent child, steer clear.
Don’t go to the hardware store for milk. AKA, if you’re looking for nurturing or someone to provide comfort to you, go to someone who actually will provide this for you. Not the person in your life who’s so wrapped up in themselves and their problems that they can’t see you.
If it’s hysterical, it’s historical. Okay, so I don’t LOVE the word hysterical given the misogynistic history of the word, but I do love this concept… If you’re SUPER upset by something, yes, you might be upset by the current thing going on. But chances are, you’re freaking out because something from your past is bubbling up and needs attention and understanding. When you delve into your past and understand your ‘why’ a bit better, you have more clarity and calm for the current situation.
As you use these phrases and they sink in, you'll be able to see yourself and your needs in a new way...worthy of expression, love, and attention. What's better than that?