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Codependency can often mask itself as altruism. Charity. A selfless spirit.
I say that, not to minimize acts of kindness or generosity, but rather to illuminate how codependency can, indeed, start from a place of good intention and then quickly escalate out of control into harmful, abusive, and toxic habits and behaviors.
For most of my early life, I operated from the following mantra: “See a need. Meet a need.”
It sounds like I’m a good person, huh? It sounds like I’m kind, loving, helpful—all of the things a good codependent, perhaps, longs to be.
And that’s part of the problem.
We long to be this actual person, not just be thought of as this actual person. Yet, in our codependent heart of hearts, many of us truly want to meet those seen or perceived needs, even when we really shouldn’t go about tending to them.
Even when it’s detrimental to our lives, to our health, and to our mental well-being.
So why do we find ourselves here, risking precious things in our lives, all because we feel compelled to meet a need? Why must we meet that need? What is driving that?
“I want to fix.”
Endorphins are a tricky thing. They are not just for drug addiction or a “runner’s high.” Endorphins can be released from anything pleasurable. And sometimes, that includes the high we can get from indulging in our “want to” concerning a problem or circumstance we see.
We can get pleasure by seeing ourselves as the heroic fixer to something (or someone). Our wants, therefore, are being met. We see there is a problem. We see we are the solution. Simple as that, right?
Eh, not quite.
The darker side of this is that we often prize having a problem to fix over having a healthy, calm situation, or a relationship with a person in the first place.
Most of us have heard the phrase, “addicted to the drama.” And, before we sneer and scoff at those words, it probably would do some good for you and me to really examine if we are, indeed, addicted to the drama.
And what is the current drama set before us? Who does that involve?
And why do we want it so badly to be our responsibility?
Do we want to fix? Or do we want the endorphins? Do we just want to get high?
“I need to fix.”
Not too far removed from the endorphins or junkie mindset is that of the need, the actual dependency our codependent selves often possess concerning this “see a need, meet a need” mentality. When our want, our desire to fix crosses over into a “need to fix” territory, then what are we dealing with?
Here is often where shame and guilt factor in. And those suckers are usually deeply entrenched. They often go all the way back to childhood trauma, to a time and a place in which, perhaps, we were parentified youths just trying to take care of a way too adult situation for our young years to handle. We should not have been placed in that situation.
Maybe we took care of an addicted parent, making sure mom or dad was put to bed safely after being in an intoxicated stupor.
Maybe we assumed responsibility for raising our younger siblings, for being a second mother or father to them.
Maybe we were the overachiever, getting straight As, awards, and never, ever, ever getting into trouble because, after all, we were supposed to be “the good kid.”
Whatever our backstories may be, there does seem to be a driving need to fix, to make things (or people) okay, to rescue, to solve a situation. Most of the time, we had absolutely nothing to do with creating the situation, yet we assumed full responsibility for healing it.
We, perhaps, are addicted to our own unique definition of that need. We need that need.
We need to be needed.
For, if we are not, an uncomfortable, downright painful question arises: “If I don’t fix, who am I?”
And usually none of us want to answer that.
We don’t want to answer the question, which feels like interrogation, because it cuts to the heart of our identity crisis. If we weren’t always saving the day, putting out fires, bailing people out of trouble, who would we be? Really, who would we be?
Do you know? Without abuse, trauma, drama, dysfunction, and crisis—who are you?
It seems like the truth of the matter is that we, as codependents, do not really want to think in “me, myself, and I” terms. We are much more at ease hitching ourselves to a “we,” no matter how harmful, painful, or chaotic that “we” may be.
“See a need. Meet a need.” As long as it is anyone else and not ourselves.
The challenge for us: see our need.
The word, “self” can be the biggest, most profane cuss word in our vocabulary. Therefore, we often do anything we can to avoid connecting with it. We view “self” and “selfish” to be the exact same thing. But they are not.
In fact, a dirty little secret about our codependency, may, in fact, be that it is more selfish to avoid ourselves in constant subservience to someone else’s needs. I know. That kind of concept can make our minds go tilt.
We’re instructed to love others, to be a good person, to be of service. Some of us struggle with faith arguments that encourage us to martyrdom “for the greater good.”
But what if the greater good was that you and I were healthy and safe first so that we could be even more impactful, not just to other people’s lives, but to our own?
Scripture is famous for furthering the challenge:
“…love your neighbor as you love yourself” ~ Mark 12:31
We codependents need to remember that tiny, little word: “as.” Love your neighbor “as.” Not “instead of.” Not “because they are more important than we are as human beings.”
Both are important. Our needs are just as important as anyone else’s.
You and I, indeed, have every right—and every responsibility—to, when we see our needs, meet them. There is true love, true merit, and true holiness found when we choose to do that.
So, let’s see, meet, and love ourselves. No explanations, no apologies, no fear, no shame.
“See a need. Meet a need.”
Let’s give ourselves permission to do just that.