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January 26, 2017

The Lost Self: A Deeper Look at Codependency.

There is a moment—that moment when another long-term relationship ends.

When we lose all hope for the future we had imagined together and we’re bawling our eyes out trying to understand what happened.

Sometimes we feel so wounded and jaded that we think that love may not be for us. We feel as though we’ve been dating a long line of people who’ve never appreciated our delicate hearts—hearts that we often protect with strong words and tough stances.

Every relationship seems like we just give, give, give and in the end we are left with nothing.

We begin to believe we’ve done something wrong or that something is wrong with us. We chalk it up to karma or punish ourselves for our mistakes.

We tell ourselves that it’s tough being the victim.

It’s tough living our life, always sacrificing our needs for the ones we love, want to support or protect because we don’t have the courage to live the life we really want. It’s even more challenging when we are raised by a parent who struggles with this too. We empathize deeply with their pain, wishing desperately we could fix it for them, only to find ourselves repeating their patterns in our own relationships.

But perhaps we are not victims at all. Perhaps we are beginning to realize we are codependent.

Perhaps we have actually been given a golden opportunity to take back our personal power and finally wake up.

If we could learn to see our patterns from another perspective and be accountable for that pattern—where those we loved could not—we might find the love we desire and so deeply deserve.

I was raised by codependent parents. Although, I feel co-dependent relationships were more social-generational norms than choice. I’ve often teased and called it the “Wait till your father gets home” generation. The roles of the man and woman were clear—he hunted and she took care of the hearth.

Women were just stepping into the workforce demanding power and equality when my baby-boomer parents were getting ready to have kids in the ‘burbs. In 1969 my own mother sacrificed her youthful explorations and desires to have a baby before she was ready to. She always wanted childrenbut started sooner because of the draft to the Vietnam war.

She continued to make compromises like this her entire marriage—sacrificing her needs for her husband’s and her family’s a little too much. She gave up school, jobs, creative pursuits, friends and oftentimes her personal happiness for the sake of her relationship with my father, my brother and me.

When the family dynamics changed and we moved on with our lives she still had a hard time letting go of her role as the victim, helper and saver despite her new-found personal and financial freedoms. And I can I understand why—it’s painful to do.

I had to move through such a role in my love life too, despite the familiarity and comfort of being the caretaker, helper, confidant and fixer. I had to move through the intense grief and powerlessness of that role. I cried many times over for myself and my mother. As I did my personal transformation work, I reviewed my choices, behaviors and energetic dating patterns in a move to reclaim, let go of and redefine who I was and what I wanted for my love life.

I can see why the term codependent has expanded over the years, even though it originally came from the world of Alcoholics Anonymous and related to those who enabled the addict to the substance they were addicted to. As society started to encourage getting help and therapy as normal and positive, we all began to discover our dysfunctional upbringings and the relationships we delved into because of them, and the meaning of codependency really resonated there too.

Codependency is not always a bad thing though. The desire to make another happy is great unless it goes haywire. When we lose any sense of autonomy and our happiness is primarily dependent on someone else it becomes a problem. That’s why being codependent is often known as “the lost self.”

Characteristics of a codependent person:

>> Often plays the roles of: rescuer, enabler, confidant, fixer and supporter

>> Intimacy problems: intense, unstable and reactive

>> Manipulative

>> Dependent on another’s approval

>> Controlling (including care-taking)

>> Fear of being alone

>> Struggles to set boundaries

>> Denial

>> Trust issues

>> Dysfunctional communication

>> Dependency

When a codependent person gives to a partner (romantic or otherwise) beyond their capacity, it makes them feel needed, gives purpose and meaning to their lives while defining what they lack most—their sense of self-worth.

This scenario is a set-up for a match made in hell.

All too often as Codependents we find ourselves dating those who suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. While low self esteem is our common core issue, the narcissist can never have enough attention and admiration, and as the co-dependents, we can’t stop ourselves from giving it—even if it’s to our own detriment, emotionally and physically.

We are the sum total of our behaviors and actions, the ones we were raised with and the ones we learned along the way…until we are not. The beautiful thing about intense suffering is that it gives us awareness. Awareness gives us the capacity to make changes. Changes will rebuild the cause of the problem—lack of self worth and self esteem—which will shift our perspective and choices in the tumultuous world of love.

If we want to move beyond our unhealthy codependent relationships, we need to:

  1. Focus: What is our ideal relationship?
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  2. Generate awareness: Meditate, use self-help books and/or hire a coach or therapist to help recognize those behaviors of ours that are getting in the way, so we change them from the inside out.
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  3. Be accountable: Owning the double-edged sword of codependency is beneficial. We must dig into our reasons why. Write them down so they can be seen. Is it comfort we seek? Or are we motivated by fear? The beast we know is better than the beast we don’t.
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  4. Be disciplined: Change one behavior at a time. Write it down and acknowledge when we’ve had successes or reward ourselves.
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  5. Build a support group: Create a support system of friends, therapists, coaches and healers who are on your team, and will tell you the truth you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.
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  6. Self soothe: Take steps to feed ourselves the love and care we give to others. Do things that benefit us only.
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  7. Set boundaries: Learn to set healthy limits. Giving our empathy to others doesn’t require losing who we are in the process.
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  8. Be Assertive: No is a full sentence that doesn’t need explaining. Learn how to use it wisely without becoming an obstructionist. Learn how to state our needs clearly so they are met too.

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All relationships, romantic and otherwise, are interdependent. Even the most independent person in the world, no matter their net worth or autonomy relies on someone else.

The steps to slowly rebuilding our self worth and self esteem will take us out of the world of codependency and into the balanced world of autonomy and giving—interdependence.

As the Buddha said, we just need to learn how to walk the Middle Way.

 

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Author: Heather Dawn

Image: Macbeth (2015)

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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