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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Mental Health Matters: Perfectionism

For most aspects of my life, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I recognized a specific trait, but I’m unclear as to when I learned the idea that I should be perfect. After much research, it seems it could have come from four areas.

#1: It is common for adoptees to develop perfectionism out of insecurity and fear that they will be rejected from their adoptive family (Brodzinsky). This seems reasonable. I discovered I was an adoptee when I was around ten years old, and the story I remember was one of happenstance. Our home included several bookcases filled with books. On one of these bookcases was a book called Why Was I Adopted? I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor and reading the book in its entirety. When I reached the end, tears dropped one by one.

“Why are you crying?” my mother asked.

“I feel sorry for these people,” I said. “They don’t know who their family is.”

She replied matter-of-factly, “You shouldn’t feel sad. You’re adopted.”

adoptedShe and I never discussed the shock that this new information carried. We never discussed “adoption,” why she and my father adopted me, or what it meant to be an adoptee ever again. I’m not sure why, and as an adult and parent, I can only guess it’s because they didn’t know how or because of shame. Adoption carries its own stigma for all parties involved. Sometimes it can be embarrassing for the adoptive parents who, for whatever reason, cannot conceive their own biological children. Oftentimes, adoptees are ashamed and feel as if they were not good enough to have remained with their biological families, thus creating a sense that they need to achieve perfection, lest they be removed from this family, too.

This is something to which the child version of me could relate. As a child with no explanation, there was this idea that I must’ve caused my own adoption. If I were just good enough, then I wouldn’t have been given away.

#2: Perfectionism can also be developed when there’s a “frequent fear of insecurity or inadequacy” (Good Therapy); apparently, it’s something parents can unwittingly teach. I’ve written before about how my mother required me to sit for long periods of time to focus on a task until it was right. In a time of typewriters and correction fluid, this meant beginning my fifth-grade report on Ethiopia over and over, until it was error-free because “it was a reflection of me.” That’s just one example. Several other instances  reveal compounded experiences where I learned that flawlessness was a preferred behavior, not just from my mother, from other family members as well.

number_one#3: “Excessive praise for your achievements” and “believing your self-worth is determined by your achievements” (Martin, 2018) can also lead to perfectionism. I was raised as an only child and was my maternal grandmother’s only grandchild for over twenty years. I was my paternal grandmother’s youngest grandchild. Being the only and the youngest means I was doted on quite a bit. Everything I did was not only praised, but it was always perfect. According to my family, everything I did was “the best.” You know what this breeds? An adult who frequently desires to achieve all the things all the time at peak perfection. It’s no wonder that, after receiving a terminal degree, my sense of ego was slowly deflated. I’d reached a pinnacle of success and there was nothing more to do to externally prove my worth. I had to determine how I’d live the remainder of life without doing something.

#4: A final idea is that mental health issues, like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are associated with perfectionism (Good Therapy). I can’t say with confidence that I don’t have OCD. I mean making stringent lists that make me feel as if my world will crumble should I stray from them may qualify, but I don’t know. However, for me, anxiety definitely does align with perfectionism. But, it seems to be a chicken/egg scenario. Does a predisposition towards anxiety and OCD cause one to seek perfectionism or does perfectionism cause anxiety and OCD? For me, not fully feeling a sense of belonging in my adoptive family, feeling insecure about my origin story, and receiving excessive praise seemed to have fed anxiety.

Luckily, I’ve been reflecting on perfectionism in varied ways over the past six years. Next week, I’ll delve into how I’ve unlearned (and continue to unlearn) perfectionism. Until then, feel free to add to this discussion. Are you a perfectionist? Are you a recovering perfectionist? Do you know any perfectionists? We need to undo this harmful and unrealistic standard. None of us are perfect and none of us ever will be.

January’s Mental Health Matters: Acceptance

February’s Mental Health Matters: Anxiety

Atlanta Book Reading

Do you live in Atlanta? Will you be home on June 15th? Are you interested in discussing the importance of father-daughter relationships? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then please come out to hear four of my co-authors read their stories and converse about familial ties.

There will also be free food and wine!

Details below:

Monday Notes: New Mantra

I was raised by a celebratory family. My mother’s side was known to praise any and everything that I did. No matter what I accomplished – piano recitals, school functions, dance programs – my grandmother, grandfather, and great aunts and uncle would proclaim, “you were the best one!” On top of that, my mother was known for creating parties. Some planned and some instant.

“Punch in a glass is just punch,” she’d say, “but when you pour it in a punch bowl, with sliced oranges, well that’s a party!”

We partied often. And it was something I grew used to.

Similarly, my father’s side of the family is known for arriving from out of town to celebrate accomplishments. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t seen or talked to the person in months or years, if they’re invited to a graduation party, birthday event, or funeral repast, they will find a way to join in and turn up.

My childhood was wonderful in this way. But then my mother died, and so did her parties.

Eight months later, I threw my own seventeenth birthday party. It was the first time since the funeral that family members were all in one space. It was the first time since we’d buried my mother that things felt normal.

When I graduated high school, I asked Grannie if she was going to have a party afterwards. Some call it an open house.

“You want a party?” she asked.

“Yes,” I beamed.

“Well, you’re gonna have to pay for it yourself.”

biggest_fan_2So, I did. I bought royal blue streamers, royal blue tablecloths and napkins, and ordered myself a white sheet cake, with royal blue icing that read, Congratulations Kathy! After graduation, family and friends celebrated the occasion with me in Grannie’s basement.

Throughout the years, this pattern continued. If I wanted to celebrate me, then I created an event to do so. Sometimes these were joint, out-of-town birthday parties with friends. Other times, like my doctoral graduation or 40th birthday party, I planned a celebration independently to physically say congrats.

Over the past few years, I’ve grown weary of planning festivities for myself, yet I’ve continued to achieve. To maintain a commemorative spirit, I’ve begun taking myself out. If I do something that I believe is extraordinary, then I splurge on a meal.

I also share great news on social media, because even though sites like Facebook can be annoying, the reality is that Internet communities love to uplift you when you’ve done something positive. To be honest, it’s like dipping a glass ladle into that fancy bowl and scooping out the bright red punch my mother used to make. It tastes sweet. It feels special.

But as I approach 46, I realize those things are all outside of myself. And because I seek growth in everything I do, I’ve developed a new mantra. What I’m doing is important, even if no one else acknowledges it.

Don’t get me wrong. I still celebrate myself in explicit ways, but this phrase reminds me to also turn inward. It reminds me that my self-worth is not tied to my success or anyone’s validation of it. And it liberates me from expecting external gratification in the form of celebratory acts. This is a new practice. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, tell me if you’ve ever had to re-frame how you function in the world because of your upbringing? Are you a celebratory person?

Self-Love Series: Importance of Self-Love by Michelle Tillman

When we try to live life, it strategically sets us on an evolution of the following:

  • Becoming
  • Being able to self-love
  • Learning how to self-love

My dogs died in my early teens. My grandfathers died in my mid-teens. My grandmothers died in my early twenties. My dad died when I was twenty-three years old. My first real love and heartbreak was at seventeen years old.

love_yourself_wandaThose events began to shape my heart. I know that the word adopted is fundamental in my love language. Being an adoptee pushed me or taught me to appreciate who I am and to love who I am becoming. As love began to hit me in my adult life, I learned how to hone in on the pain and the feelings of rejection, albeit most times this reaction taught me to deny the why of everything. I know that when rejection hurts it can nudge, push and pull us in dark and undeniable places. I have learned that someone’s rejection of me is neither a detriment towards me, nor should it be an obstacle for me.

I am learning that God has prepared us and purposed our lives in such a way that there are no coincidences. Our choices place us on different paths other than what we ask for. Divorce happens. Love is hard. Life creates a ménage of events that leaves us breathless, yet we do not know what life will entail. We are incapable of learning and knowing without going through the process. Life leaves us faultless without a covering, healing is necessary.

Each wound teaches us a different way to love ourselves. Lessons teach us that we are not who we were, but we have become on a grander scale. We are evolving, all within understanding our feelings and emotions. As our faith deepens, our spirituality matures. Our way of thinking impedes upon us to do better, to be better and not to remain stuck in a painful way. It is our divine responsibility to take care of self, to love ourselves-to learn how to love ourselves.

God created us to create. God created us to love. His greatest commandment is to love one another as you love yourself. That I believe is one of the hardest mandates He gave. In order to love ourselves, we have to be aware of who we are. We have to know what makes us tick, how we are living this life is ever-growing, ever evolving-there is no mastery to loving oneself.

We do not come into this world knowing how so we allow the hurt, the pain, the wounds and the disappointment to redirect us into a whole other realm of loving, of living, of thinking. In order for us to love ourselves, which God requires. If I love myself, there isn’t any way that I am going to maliciously, purposely and with intent harm you. Learn to practice self-forgiveness on a daily basis. Do no harm.

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(Shared for Forgiving Fridays)

Self-Love Series: Journey to Self-Love by RayNotBradbury

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One of the lessons I quickly learned in my formative years was that life can be unfair. As a little girl, I’d been told that I must be gracious, soft, and empathetic to all. To always offer a welcoming smile. To be a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. And I did just that. I became a sort of expert who had perfected the art of loving others. People were drawn to my positivity. Don’t get me wrong, it was as pure and real as they come. I wasn’t faking my concern for people. And it was truly fulfilling being a beacon of light and support for others. But after a while, I began to experience an undesirable side effect. I became drained and discouraged, almost to a depressing degree. I needed love too! Looking back, I realize that feeling was inevitable. I’d learned how to love others but had no idea how to extend the same to myself.

Nowadays, I’ve learned to strike a balance between how much of my energies I dedicate to others and how much I reserve for myself.

I’m happier with myself now and…I don’t feel drained so often.

But, this only happened when I began to learn to take care of, and most important, love myself. In our overly narcissistic and self-centered world, such can appear an unseemly venture. But like everything in life, a healthy balance is all I endorse. I needed that phase. And I’m pleased to share a few cool things that I discovered on my journey to self-love:

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  1. It begins with a deliberate effort. If you’re like I was and prone to caring for others to the detriment of yourself, you’re going to need a deliberate plan to cut that off. Decide that you will love others, but also purposefully love yourself.
  2. You must respect and value yourself first. Have you ever had nice and expensive plates and cutlery? Or perhaps something else that meant a lot to you? If you did, I’m guessing you took great care of them. Why? Because things of value are worth giving the utmost care and attention. You are valuable, my friend. More than any of your possessions. You should love yourself.

Eat like you love yourself. Move like you love yourself. Speak like you love yourself. Act like you love yourself…and LIVE like you love yourself.

  1. It helps boost your self-confidence. Deliberately loving yourself helps you feel great about yourself. You begin to take on your daily tasks with an air of assuredness and positivity. And very soon, others can notice this new lease of life as well. You tend to laugh more, glow more and feel healthier.75ecf687-0ddb-4da5-82c5-54c2f6a7b41d-800-00000076c2d844d1
  2. It helps you become a more mature person. When you embrace self-love, your outlook on life changes, and you become a better and more mature individual. The opinions of others become less significant to you and you become more conscious of the things you spend your time and energy on.

And in the end… guess what?
To love yourself helps you love others better!

This was my most shocking discovery on my journey to self-love. The more I loved others, the bigger my heart grew to care for others. I was happy and fulfilled inside, so it became easier to get others to partake of the same. After all, it’s said that you can’t give what you don’t have…

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(Shared for Forgiving Fridays)

Self-Love Series: A Tribal Investment by Lady G

I am Lady G, and just like you, I AM a unique physical expression of God!

My particular story began with my Earthly debut in the city of Augusta, Georgia at the tail end of the 1960’s.

Now, before I proceed to tell you about my journey to self-love, allow me to take you a couple of steps back:

Prior to my birth, my godmother, who was the equivalent of a nurse practitioner, used her vast knowledge of Augusta’s medical landscape to handpick my mother’s OB/GYN, as well as my pediatrician. After all, she knew that my father had “good insurance,” and she was determined to help my parents take full advantage of his benefits.

With that said, she chose the best of the best to entrust with our care!

3heartsNow, I didn’t tell you that to brag. I simply wanted to illustrate that my parents and their tribe, which included my godparents, were determined to prepare a safe, warm, and loving place for me to land.

Admittedly, some of you may be wondering why I selected the word tribe. Well, frankly, it is the best word that I could find to describe all of the folks who encircled and upheld my parents who had moved 300 miles away from their hometown in Southern Alabama.

They were only twenty-two and twenty-three years old for God’s sake!

Bearing this fact in mind, the neighboring elders decided that it was imperative to invest in our young family’s success!

But that’s what folks did back then.

I digress!

At any rate, in spite of having not one local relative, these two young’uns managed to build a beautiful and loyal surrogate family.

Oh, by the way, let me step off track here to tell you that I am clairsentient and sometimes clairaudient so I can clearly hear Dr. Garland somewhere in the ethers hollering, “Lady G, please address the topic at hand!”

Well…Er… I promise Doc, I’m getting to it!

But seriously, this little bit of my personal historical context is a necessary piece to our topic.

Why? Because I believe that my parents and their people, created an environment, prior to and after my birth, that helped me to feel loved, valued and treasured during my formative years, and it was reflected back to me in every one of my early childhood experiences.

Basically, I saw love in my mother’s eyes as we danced to “Just my Imagination,” by The Temptations.

I felt love in my father’s kiss as he greeted me after a long day at work.

I heard love in my godfather’s voice when he asked, “What ‘choo know good Gwin?” and then genuinely listened to my three-year-old answer.

I witnessed love when I watched the brothas and sistas downtown Augusta singing, Say it loud! I’m Black and I’m proud!

In short, it was my wonderful start in life that helped me to develop a strong love for self.

The tribe had succeeded!

Right?

Uh…not so fast!

As you might have guessed, in later years, I found myself associating with people who made me question my worth. They attached conditions to our relationships like size, looks, education, financial status, and so on.

As a result, I did my share of worrying about whether I was good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, and ad infinitum.

But, I must admit, in each case, I was eventually able to find my happy “due north” which always led me back to self-love and acceptance.

Of course, there is much more that I could say about the process of returning back to self-love, but the professor is counting words so I have decided NOT to tempt fate!

Just suffice it to say, that I took time to synthesize and integrate my wonderful early childhood experiences with my personal spiritual insights in order to reclaim the love that I always had for myself. Best believe it was not an overnight process, which I am convinced is probably a blessing in itself. I say that because I’ve learned to appreciate every journey that is presented. For me, it is during these times that I receive my deepest insights regarding the importance of practicing self-love and appreciation.

And with that, more will be revealed…

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(Shared for Forgiving Fridays).