Mental Health Matters: Codependence

I discovered the idea of codependence last year around August. I was displeased with my daughter’s choice of boyfriend, as I had been in the past, and was looking for reasons why she seemed to have fallen in love with the same personality – again. Google is one of my best friends, so I used it to search for specific traits that I’d noticed in both her current and former beau.

No matter what phrases I used, codependence popped up. So, I clicked on a link and read the characteristics:

Low self-esteem

People pleasing

Poor boundaries

Reactivity

Caretaking

Control

Dysfunctional communication

Obsessions

Dependency

Denial

Problems with intimacy

Painful emotions

codependencyJeez Louise! You know those movies that show people’s lives flashing before their eyes prior to their deaths? That’s how I felt reading this list of descriptions. It was as if someone had written an outline of my life. I stopped worrying about my daughter and the men she’d chosen and instead began reflecting on myself and the choices I’d made from childhood through adulthood. The proverbial light bulb went off and I realized (as my sister once said) I’d been codependent as f—k!

From the low self-worth of abandonment to the eventual numbing of painful emotions established in adolescence and further perpetuated as a grown woman, I exhibited each codependent trait. I was stunned, but suddenly, my life made sense.

While most wouldn’t describe me as a people-pleaser, there were specific people I rarely told, “no.” My grandmother was one. The example I repeatedly describe is when she’d told me that she wanted me (and the rest of our family) home for Christmas. We could do what we wanted for other holidays, but December 25th was different. So, even though Dwight and I moved our family a thousand miles away, we drove up and down the interstate every other year for seventeen years with our daughters in tow just because I thought I had to and also because I feared telling her no. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I said, “We’re not coming,” but I avoided the conversation and disappointing her for almost two decades, all while ignoring how the situation affected my family and me.

Another way codependency showed up in my life is through a lack of boundaries. I could write another twelve posts about this, but I’ll just share two specifics. Prior to 2014, I had no personal boundaries “based on awareness of my own unique needs.” It’s easy to do this when you’re unclear about who you are. How could I know what I needed if I didn’t know who I was as an individual or what I liked? As a result, whatever others liked, I liked. Whatever they wanted to do, I did. You’d never hear me say, “No. I’m not doing that!” It was more like, “Sure. I’m down with anything.”

Similarly, I had very few relationship boundaries. I’ve written before about the ease with which I can become friends with others. However, in the past, I’ve also befriended former students, even when they were still under my tutelage. Years ago, each one had access to me through my cellphone, where we’d chat for hours, discussing their personal business, and depending on what was happening in my life, mine too. I wanted to be a “caring teacher,” but blurred lines and unresolved issues, helped me to become a codependent one as well.

As a current teacher educator, of course, I advise against this; it’s unprofessional. However, reflecting on those ten years, it’s clear that poor boundaries permeated both my personal and professional life in another attempt to prove I mattered.

Another clear way codependency manifested is through control. For much of my life, I didn’t feel as if I was in control of myself. As an only child in a family of older relatives, times were far and few between when I knew what was best for me. Also, losing my mother at sixteen and being sent away at seventeen showed me that I was in control of nothing. Anything could happen at any moment. This led to two issues: I trusted everyone’s opinion, except my own, and I eventually tried very hard to control everything around me, including other’s actions, so as not to be caught off-guard by life, ever…again.

This revelation of codependency really changed my outlook as it gave me a new way to take responsibility for myself and my behavior.

From this point on, I’ll continue to share how I developed healthier coping mechanisms, in addition to conversations with those in the field who can support us in actualizing healthier lives.

Until then, tell me…are you familiar with this term? Have you ever been codependent?

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76 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Codependence

  1. I enjoyed reading your post! I literally just discovered this about myself a few months ago and am finally able to write about it. Can you believe I was ashamed to admit I was my own problem! Thanks for bringing light to this. So many of us don’t think to look at ourselves on the inside. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Denise and welcome to the club lol It is hard admitting YOU are the problem, but like I’ve learned, if you’re the common denominator in many of your relationship problems, then how could you not be…you know? Best of luck as you walk the path of healing yourself ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m reading Beattie’s book right now! I just got out of a very codependent relationship as well and have been trying to do the hard work on myself so I can prevent it for my next relationship

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes! I realized I was codependent after a toxic relationship. I can see things from my childhood that were a kind of trauma and led me to this point. Now I’m trying to turn it around!
    I think it’s sweet you’re reflecting on yourself for your daughter. I don’t always get that from family and I love that you embrace it.
    I hope the two of you break the pattern because you deserve the best!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Reese! I try very hard, especially because I have girls, to no pass on the things I picked up. Nothing’s worse than seeing the same errors played out in a different generation.

      Thanks also for your well wishes ❤

      Like

  4. Dr. G!

    The way you weave your personal experiences beginning with your AHA MOMENT with your daughter and your own timeline experiences is mesmerizing. Your willingness to lean in fully to both the topic and your audience is mesmerizing.

    And I can relate to it all.

    Big hearts need structure. Otherwise we would envelope the entire planet with our love. Which is why writing is such an incredible therapeutic practice. As it transforms and integrates our emotions with our thinking brain.

    The ultimate emotional intelligence forum.
    Your blog ^ 🧠🌸💗

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Big hearts need structure”!!! Yes Dr. D! You’re right about writing. It allows a space for processing so that the murkiness that is sometimes emotion doesn’t bog us down. For me, it’s important to differentiate between the heart and the brain and then to move forward. Thanks for these kind words about the blog and this post, in particular ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate the honesty of this post. I have definitely experienced some of these characteristics in myself and I have my own grandmother and Christmas story, which I won’t get into here. I have noticed that when I step more into my power, some people don’t like it and accuse me of false things or try to label me in some way. It definitely changes dynamics when we awaken and start to heal and grow. I look forward to future posts on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that phrase, “step more into my power.” People never like it because it means you’re not doing what THEY want you to do; however, part of my growth has been to care less about how others perceive the choices I make, especially if they’re not harming anyone 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ha! I laughed out loud from the first line to the last. I’m like Chile, yes!! In 1998 I literally moved out of Los Angeles where I lived in the apartment under my daughter’s to the Valley (Van Nuys), because I realized I had no business telling my daughter how wrong it was for her to keep seeing that man that I see climbing the stairs to her apartment every day. I would wait for her to step outside so I could talk some sense into her. I was losing my mind. And she was beginning to look at me as if I was losing my mind. .
    Control. For reasons that began when I was about 5 years old, my problem has been lack of control. And I have had to work hard on this issue ever since. Co-Dependency is a B—-. Managing and changing it for me is doable, but not necessarily fun. By the way, my daughter’s love life is just fine-different man, nice guy and she didn’t need me to help. Thank you so much for this post. We live and we learn, don’t we.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I think I might have the opposite problem. 😀 Really, I’m sure most of us have navigating through some level of codependency at some point of our lives, especially when we were younger and trying to figure out so much. What might be intriguing, though, is what happens when a codependent personality connects with a healthy personality. I’m going to go and google that. LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hey, Mrs. Lady. I am not familiar with this term, but I am familiar with trying to please a family member. 🎶 Looking back over my years… turned into 🎶This means war…. to 🎶I need just a little more Jesus!
    I have learned voicemail is my friend and I will never let them see me sweat ( so-to-speak) again. And during this pandemic I have been relaxing through coloring, reading on my lunch breaks and wine!😉
    ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ha, I’m a recovering codependent (which is probably no shock to you as our journeys have been eerily similar) as is my daughter. My codependency comes from growing up in an alcoholic household. And while I did raise my daughter to be more independent than I was she still has a lot of codependent behaviors because she was raised by someone who was raised in an alcoholic household. I didn’t realize or understand I was codependent until I recognized the effects of being an adult child of alcoholics. In fact, reading through the codependency list the first time (a friend showed it to me because her therapist recommended she try CODA), I didn’t think *any* of the items applied to me. It wasn’t until I read the book about adult children of alcoholics that I recognized what a lot of those terms means.

    Anyway, it’s been a journey.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re right. I’m not shocked lol We’ve been living these parallel lives in alternate universes called, states, apparently 😉

      Raising children is such a fine line. It’s like you don’t want them to experience what you’ve experienced, but then they end up having a whole new set of BS from which they have to recover smh

      Thanks as always for chiming in Akilah ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes, absolutely I was co-dependent all of my life and when a therapist told me I was co-dependent I laughed at her and said that I am one of the most independent women you will ever know. It took years for the light bulb to come on. I started to see the light when I realized that my ex-husband was still looking to me to figure out his life. I took a workshop on codependency and the light started to come on when the facilitator said, “If you need to be needed you are co-dependent.” She was right. I fixed everybody’s life. I had the worst relationships. Now if someone says they need help I say to myself, “I am not God” Especially during this Pandemic, I have to self preserve. There is nothing left over for anyone else after I use all my energy managing my Comorbidities that make me more vulnerable to the virus. I am allergic to anyone that is having issues in their life. I am not in the business of being needed anymore. MY self worth comes from giving all I have to stay healthy physically and mentally. I plan on coming out alive and spend a lot of time with my 15 grandchildren.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. LOL. I think I’m the opposite of co-dependent, whatever that is. In fact, I can easily slip into guiltless detachment altogether, which is something I have to be mindful of, because it is very natural for me to self-entertain and self-fulfill, focusing on what I want and need over someone else’s whims. That said, I have seen myself in my daughter too. Interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Sadly, yes. I didn’t really realize it was co-dependency (I’d always had the vague idea that term meant giving booze to an alcoholic, who then gave you back whatever you were addicted to), but I recognized myself in many of those words. I look forward to reading about how you dealt with it. For me, having kids of my own was key, because I knew there were things I had to work on in order to be a good parent, and was lucky enough to have people who could help point me in the right direction. Still, life is always a journey, and I think we always have to work on ourselves.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Riiiiight. I think that’s kind of like what Joan explained below, which is where the term came from. Working on ourselves is a constant. Blogging and aligning ourselves with other people with similar interest/work is pretty helpful, though.

      And I totally agree about having children. I knew for a very long time that I did not want to raise my girls the way I was raised, so they know how to think and come up with solutions for their problems with some gentle guidance, and I’ve recently told them they should never feel like they HAVE to be somewhere just because they feel guilty, but rather because they actually want to. Whew. I think kids are here so we can learn from them 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you’re right. I know having kids gave me the motivation to identify and work on my own issues. They really do challenge us to be our best selves, and to tap into strength we didn’t even know we had!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I have came across this term two years ago and when I looked it up I realized I had issues. So, I slowly but surely started working on myself. It’s a healing phase for me now. Thanks for sharing with us. Your post here is relateable to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Unfortunately I know that term all too well and have spent years trying to “fix” most he associated terms. It’s a process but it’s worth it. Always so authentic in your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Another word for it is “enabling.” SO’s of alcoholics and addicts often contribute to the problem by enabling it to continue, for instance, bailing the person out of jail, giving them money knowing it will be used to purchase alcohol or drugs, deliberately choosing clothing or wearing make-up to hide bruises or other signs of abuse, taking the rap for things their SO did while drunk or high, like break a lamp or cause a fender bender.
    I’m a co-dependent. I’ve read all of Melody Beattie’s books on the subject. I wish she gave more real-life examples of behaviors that are codependent and what the enabler should do instead. She talks a lot about boundaries, but the line between help and enabling is often blurred, and as you said, it’s not easy to set boundaries when you’re unclear about who you are and what you want or deserve. Addicts are manipulative–they know it is in their best interest to make sure you’re too overwhelmed and beaten down to ever figure those things out. Introspection is necessary. Clarity is essential. You can’t stop self-defeating behaviors until you realize/admit you are doing them. Therapy and writing have helped me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Joan. I think being the SO of an person who lives with addiction is an important distinction to make because who doesn’t want to “help” their loved one? It’s a fine line between simply helping and enabling (with anything, really).

      I read the one book (The New Codependency) and I noticed the same thing…that there are really no concrete examples, which is actually how I began writing and fleshing out my thoughts about it, and like you, through introspection, clarity, and admission of my part in all relationships, I was able to be liberated and consciously live a little different.

      So glad you added this part ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The term “enabling” initially described a common dynamic between addict and spouse, but it could apply in many other types of relationships. One person is doing something harmful, and although the other wants the harmful behavior to stop, they do things that make it possible for it to go on undetected. There are many reasons for it. Here is a fictional example: I am the second of four girls and the one who lives closest to my mom. Mom keeps getting into fender benders for spurious reasons. She backed into a tree she “couldn’t see” and hit the gas when she meant to hit the brake and ran over a parking block. No one else was involved so she didn’t report it. The damage so minor, she didn’t bother to repair it. I probably would have done the same, but I wonder if she should still be driving. I bring it up–gently–and she goes ballistic, saying if I “really loved” her, I wouldn’t be trying to take her license away. This week, she “forgets” to open the garage door and bumps into it, denting her fender and one of the garage door panels. She doesn’t report this accident either, and balks about filing an insurance claim because it will make her premium go up. She asks if I will loan her $1000 for the repairs and help her drop off and pick up her car at the body shop. She would also “really appreciate it” if I didn’t tell my sisters about any of her little mishaps. If I help her, I’m enabling her to continue to drive and possibly hurt herself or someone else. If I refuse to help her, I’ll lose my status as her “favorite.” If I set things in motion to have her driving issue looked into and it is deemed she is unsafe to drive (a likely scenario), she will be furious with me, not to mention I will have to make room in my busy schedule to drive her everywhere she needs to go. So, Melody, what do I do? Where do I draw the line? There is little incentive to do what I think is the “right” thing. How can I be a “good” daughter without enabling her? The book I need would give examples like this and show me the way out. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Joan, I know what you mean and I hope you don’t mind my offering what’s worked for me. At its most base level, I’ve had to learn that it doesn’t matter if I’m a “good” family member or friend, or rather, the perception doesn’t matter. It’s subjective and will always change depending on who you’re talking to, plus it’s like perfection…you’ll never really BE the “good” whatever, especially if you’re relying on someone else to say what that is. The example in the book I read talked about a father-son-grandfather situation and it wasn’t until the father released expectation of the son and also stopped trying to control the grandfather (even though it was in the best interest of the grandfather) that the father had peace. Soooo, I’m saying, you’re gonna have to partially give up being the “good” daughter; recognize your mom is a grown woman who makes decisions that you are not responsible for; and establish (and maintain) at least one boundary between you and mom.

        This is all my very UNEXPERT opinion lol But I do hear you…MB should give some accessible/do-able activities.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It seems like I have an ethical responsibility to try and keep her off the road, or at the least, facilitate an evaluation to determine if it’s safe for her to be driving. Not reporting harmless fender benders to the authorities or insurance seems reasonable, but loaning money and keeping all of this a secret from my sisters doesn’t sit well. If this represents early dementia or something, she may not be capable of responsibly deciding when to give up driving. I might be the only person who is aware of what’s going on. You see how it can snowball and a person can be torn about what is the most loving, ethical, helpful path to take to protect all involved. It does help to know I don’t need to come out of it looking “good.” 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Again, I love your vulnerability. I’ll say that I’ve been codependent in romantic relationships in the past but never with family or friends. I never allowed anyone to emotionally blackmail me into doing anything I didn’t want to do.
    But that’s probably the Capricorn/Scorpio in me.
    That said, my son taught me my own lesson. In the past, I had tried to monopolize his time but ol’ boy was like naw Ma, no disrespect but imma do what I wanna do. He was financially independent so he didn’t rely on me for anything, not that I would use it, but I had no external leverage and I never wanted to push emotional leverage so I came to understand that he’s his own man. And to be fair, isn’t that what I want him to be? ✊🏽

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Lady G!

      So, yeah..I’ve been codependent in ALL relationships lol and you all with that Scorpio (sun/moon/rising) are a trip. I’m affirming that that is most definitely it! Because you all are very clear about what you are not having!

      Anywho, yes to wanting our children to be their own people. I think that’s a fairly new concept for some parents and some cultures. I almost never felt like my family wanted me to be myself…or rather, they seemed to want me to be myself in a version they could accept…if that makes sense lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Chile, I’m 4xScorpio —rising, moon and 2 additional ♏️ placements. It ain’t easy tho. LOL! We’re like Shrek; we have layers 😂
        As for your family, they put that onto you. I wonder how things might have been had you been given the freedom to be you!
        Either way, you’ve done (are doing) some good work to be the person that we see before us today.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that you’re not familiar and can’t relate lol because it takes quite a bit to disentangle oneself from its effects. Thank you for reading and commenting, though 😊

      Like

  17. Our upbringings are polar opposites, Katherin, however, I experienced this in another way. My mother had very rigid ideas and religious values. I was meek and obeyed. I was forced to marry immediately when my mother found out I was sexually active with my fiancé. It was traumatic and wrong. After battling depression years later, I confronted her in therapy and broke free.
    So even with the antithesis of your situation, i have struggled with suppressing feelings, as well as being a people-pleaser.
    I forgave my mother, who loved me and thought she was doing what was best for me. But with my own daughter, my approach is so different from my mother’s. She is free to openly share and make her own choices. I am sorry for your frustration over your daughter’s choice of boyfriends. Hopefully, she will figure it out!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Judy, I can’t imagine being forced to marry someone just because I was sexually active. That seems borderline abusive, no? I am glad, however, that you were able to confront her and liberate yourself.

      I think it is interesting how there are different ways to arrive at the same point (codependence, suppression, etc.) and I’m glad we have the language to have a conversation about these things and how they’ve impacted us.

      As far as my daughter…I do hope that she notices patterns in her life sooner, rather than later, but like us…it’ll be up to her, really.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Definitely have experienced codependency! I can think back to former relationships & friendships that I too felt I had something to prove. Ultimately, I was trying to prove to my self I was worthy of not being abandoned, worthy of being loved, and worthy of being chosen.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I like your honesty here. I have been codependent in some ways and I think subconsciously. It has been through my own discovery and therapy that has unearth some things about me that explained some of my past and current behaviors.

    Liked by 3 people

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