I’ll start with some backstory ya’ll. (I’m a Minnesotan but ya’ll is really catchy, dontcha think?)
I first became aware of codependency through my sister who was really involved with a 12 step program. She told me I might want to look into it. I did and was basically shocked that it was painfully descriptive of me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and how I can practically grow to become a healthier person.
I grew up with loving parents but there were major issues too. Generational alcoholism wreaked major havoc. There was periods of major dysfunction. Hurtful things were said and done. It was tough. Basically if you grow up in a family with chemical dependency issues, mental health problems, abuse, etc. you WILL have codependent traits to some extent.
In my case I see it rearing it’s head in many ways. It is sheer agony to say ‘no’. We’re talking wracked with guilt and self-doubt and then feeling like I am letting someone down. I get borderline panic attacks when I need to confront someone. Example: years ago my then little boy was playing at McDonalds. A far larger boy was acting like a bully, just wailing on kids for no reason. His mom sat nearby, completely ignoring the situation. I had to confront this kid. I was literally sweating and shaky when I told him to cut it out.
You see, if early on, normal confrontations were met with explosive anger it ‘conditions’ you to avoid confrontation because it feels terrifying and unsafe.
So it might affect someone with codependency in that you cannot/will not address a major issue in a relationship. You’ll either ignore it to the detriment of the relationship of just let that relationship go. Because confrontation could mean an angry outburst, rejection, retribution… and you want to avoid that at all costs because it is so painful.
Codependents are also pretty notorious for taking on someone else’s problems while neglecting their own. Case in point- spending hours on the phone with someone trying to help them with their drama. And then loosing sleep over it and feeling hurt when they don’t take your heartfelt advice (and then want to cry on your shoulder about their same ole drama next month and on and on…).
This situation gets even trickier when you are trying to make a relationship work with someone with their own issues. Someone who won’t accept your setting healthy boundaries. Someone that is quick to get hurtful and vindictive if you aren’t bending over backwards for them.
Talk about navigating murky waters! I personally had to all but cut a family member out of my life because that person would not respect or accept my setting up some boundaries. It was tough but ultimately I realized that my feelings and time were important too.
Sometimes you just don’t have any idea how problematic this behavior is until you see healthy behavior. My husband is just a very normal and stable person. Like: textbook normal. Like: 0% crazy. Yes, normal does exist and I am married to him. He cares about people but he doesn’t ‘own’ their drama. People come at him with drama and he’ll shrug and say, “they’ll get over it.” He doesn’t lose any sleep or act nutty. He can be assertive without being a jerk about it.
The ‘biggie’ here is learning boundaries. What they look like (some people honestly just don’t know) and how to enforce them. People with codependency issues are at a huge risk of ending up in abusive (mentally and/or physically) relationships. You can see how it can create major problems if you don’t value yourself enough to demand being treated right, or just don’t know how.
We need basic, healthy boundaries to navigate life. Sadly, there are people out there that will try to use and abuse and we need to be able to stand up for ourselves. From dealing with aggressive sales people to full-on abusive, manipulative relationships. We need to be strong to deal with people who would bully us and try to bulldoze through those boundaries.
If we go along with something out of a sense of guilt or obligation we are not being authentic to ourselves. Not only that, but resentment simmers and grows. When an simple and polite ‘no’ would have saved us from so much turmoil.
It used to be just thought of as a product of being in relationship with an alcoholic. Now it is recognized that a lot of these wounds originate in childhood trauma and then get played out in adulthood. People with issues attract other people with issues. If not dealt with, they raise kids with issues.
Childhood trauma actually physically changes your brain. Just like a broken arm- if it isn’t properly treated and healed it never heals right. The pain and dysfunction remain. People can be crippled in their emotions just as much (if not more!) than they can be in their physical body.
Change is so hard. Healing is painful. But what is the alternative? My motivation is my kids. I don’t want to keep perpetuating dysfunction. And man if you have issues, kids will bring them out! It is the ultimate stress test of mental and emotional health.
And to the final issue- really the major driver behind all codependent behavior- shame. Shame is feeling like there is something fundamentally wrong with you. That who you are isn’t acceptable, let alone loveable. It drives eating disorders, abuse (on both ends), substance abuse, suicide, and on and on. Self-rejection is the most painful and crippling and difficult to overcome. If you can’t love yourself your heart is too crippled to fully love anyone else or experience love.
This is the core issue. If the belief in your own lack of worth is planted somehow early on in life, it really takes a lifetime to overcome.
I really don’t believe there is enough love and acceptance in this world to heal a wounded soul. It takes divine love.
I’m still very much on my journey. I would still describe myself as someone who regularly struggles with depression, low self-esteem; all that fun stuff 😉 But I have hope. I know healing is a journey. I know when I get my own issues sorted out, I want, more than anything; to help other people. Isn’t that really the point of it all anyways?
Beth Moore said in one of her books, “I think most people would choose a meaningful life with pain over an easy one.”
I believe that with all my heart- that you can see meaning and beauty resulting from even the ugliest and most painful struggles.