Codependent ... its not a very attractive word, is it? In truth, codependency isn’t very attractive and the label rarely sits well with a person who is diligently, desperately, and stoically, trying to maintain a relationship.
Codependency is the confusing tangled web of effort made, and pain felt, in trying to feel loved in a relationship.
We can all be difficult to love at times - but ‘difficult from time to time’ does not include abuse, addictions, lying, cheating, abject self centeredness, reoccurring thoughtlessness or insensitivity to the needs of others.
All those traits in a relationship create great pain and bizarrely often make the wounded party anxiously cling, minimizing or denying their pain, as they try even harder to make the relationship work.
Sounds crazy doesn’t it - and that’s exactly what it’s called - the codependent crazies!
The sad reality is, that when major breaches of trust and respect occur in a relationship, it often tells the codependent partner they are ‘not good enough’ or ‘too difficult’ to love, that ‘they must be bad, if they feel bad’ and need to ‘try harder’ to earn the love they so desperately want. See that word EARN?
Codependency has a lot do with the feeling of earning love and manipulating to get love.
This idea of needing to earn love is often learnt in childhood.
Alcoholic or drug addicted parents and narcissistic parents, can teach a child they are not important enough or worthy enough- the child comes second to the parent’s addiction and the resultant codependency of love is a bit like an addiction to someone else!
But we may also inadvertently raise our children to feel as if they need to earn love simply by focusing too heavily on wanting them to achieve and do well.
Love does not need to be earned - love is simply given as a gift from one to another.
When things go a bit wrong, most of us in a committed relationship, can find ourselves beginning to love codependently to make the relationship work - none of us like to let go. Few of us welcome the grief of giving up on a relationship. So we cling in ever more codependent ways, trying harder and hurting more.
But love is not pain.
Love is love and pain is pain.
How we get those two feelings confused, always amazes me!
The tangled, messy confusion we make of love and pain, looks a lot like codependency to me!
A person raised codependently often doesn't know what they feel, or subjugates this feeling and doesn't know how to assertively get their needs met. So they resort to manipulative ways and passive-aggressive ways to protect themselves and get their needs met.
Feeling very unloved and bad, with a growing desperateness to feel loved and valued, the codependent person begins to act in ‘unloving and 'bad' ways’. See the weaving of the tangled and confusing web between love and pain?
The first step towards healing codependency is awareness. The second step is acceptance.
When I work with people who are showing signs of loving codependently, I often suggest they also read some books on the subject - recognizing our codependency when it’s the only form of love we have known, is not so easy!
There are two authors I most commonly suggest ... one is Melody Beattie. She began writing on this subject over 20 years ago and she has personally conquered codependency. What I most appreciate and respect about her knowledge is that she writes with such empathy and compassion - the two main ingredients needed to heal from codependency.
The other author, Sheryl Lee, describes the harrowing, healing journey from codependent love, in Letters to Myself. The seeds of Sheryl’s novel began in her own therapeutic journey in my counselling room.
Still wondering if you might be codependent or in a codependent relationship?
Here’s a short list (far from conclusive!) of some of the feelings, thoughts and behaviors codependent people experience:
- Externally focused on others, yet unable to see themselves - people pleasers.
- Do not know their own feelings or needs.
- Feel and take responsibility for other people’s feelings and needs.
- Feel anxious and guilty when others hurt.
- Feel compelled to help other people, often anticipating their needs.
- Feel safest giving ... and insecure or guilty when given to.
- Feel neglected and hurt because their whole life is about giving to others!
- Please others before themselves and then resent them for it!
- Feel bored or empty if they don’t have a crisis to deal with - theirs or anyone else’s will do!
- Overcommit and feel harried and pressured.
- Feel angry, victimized and unappreciated.
- Blame and condemn themselves.
- Become hurt, defensive, self righteous or indignant when others blame or criticize them.
- Feel not good enough and fear rejection.
- Try to be perfect, desperately seeking love and approval.
- Obsess over what others may think or say about them.
- Centre their lives around others.
- Can’t say what they mean - blame, threaten, coerce or beg.
- Use body language or silence to express what they truly feel.
- Have either rigid, or non-existent, boundaries - or confusingly, both!
- Unable to trust themselves - Double guess their thoughts, opinions and decisions.
- Feel controlled.
- Feel as if they have lost themselves in their relationship.
No wonder a person in a codependent relationship feels so exhausted and overwhelmed, stuck in their web of pain with no means to escape it!
Most people will need a compassionate counsellor to guide them out of the tangled web of ‘hurting too much and trying too hard’ to be loved. My advice is, don’t wait another day to seek help if this all rings too true for you ... love doesn’t have to hurt!