February 12, 2018

Codependency decoded: how to remedy a lack of self-worth

Wellness Relationships
02122017_co-dependency Photo courtesy/Stacy J. Warner

A healthy relationship starts without codependence when we share our true selves with another person.

Codependency has become a popular term but what does it mean?

Does it make sense to use the word as indiscriminately as we do or is codependency really just being human?

The term originated back in the 1930s with Alcoholics Anonymous, which observed that people living with addicts had developed certain behaviors due to the nature of the relationship – labeling them codependents. The simple definition is “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.”

From this simple definition, I am not codependent. But since the term first originated it has taken on a broader definition, which upon closer inspection encompasses almost all humans in some way or another – unless you're enlightened.

In our present-day what are the general “symptoms” or characteristics of being codependent?

I’ve pulled this list together from different resources including, Pia Mellody’s "Facing Codependence," Melody Beattie’s "CoDependent No More," and allaboutcounseling.com:

BOUNDARIES: Boundaries can be confusing. Only recently have children been raised to understand their right to say no and have a boundary. Boundaries might be a whole new concept for you. Maybe you don’t have any, saying yes, when you mean no or you have boundaries that are too severe – not letting anyone in or maybe you switch from complete lockdown to a free bird. There are physical and emotional boundaries.

LACK OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This shows up as not knowing what you’re feeling or not being truthful about your feelings for fear of creating upset. The flip side of this is being overly emotional and sharing your feelings without moderation. You could also avoid your feelings or deny them all together, which leaves you outside of true intimacy.

COMPARE AND DESPAIR: You constantly equate your own self worth by comparing yourself to others. Are you up or down? For example, your friend just bought a house, you can’t afford to buy a house so you believe you have less worth and therefore you're one down. But then you think about your other friend who just lost her job, and you feel better because you have a job, your self worth is back and you’re one up. This is a sad state of affairs but common. Have you ever got off social media feeling horrible? I bet an image of your friend on vacation or doing something fabulous might be the cause. It happens so fast we don’t notice it.

CONTROL: A codependent believes they can control other people’s experiences, realities, and opinions of them, often times manipulating the person through helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving, or domination. This can also appear in much more subtle ways where you spend the majority of time thinking about other people and how they could live their lives better, not focusing on your own life.

Self-esteem comes from sharing your feelings, setting boundaries, releasing control, making healthy choices, and focusing on yourself instead of everyone else.

LOW SELF ESTEEM: It’s easy to see how all of the above stems from low self esteem and lack of self worth. Often times codependents feel they don’t know who they are. Not believing we are intrinsically worthy creates havoc in our lives. It’s why self love is key to being able to love anyone else in a healthy manner.

Could you find any of these characteristics in yourself? My guess is probably yes. So if we are all able to find ourselves in these characteristics, perhaps being codependent is the norm. Maybe "codependency" is how we learned to deal with the lack in our childhoods or, in other words, our childhood wounding. There is comfort in realizing that we are all healing our childhood wounds. We are all in the same boat.

So why label it at all? Perhaps putting a name to it or being diagnosed with it helps us to wrap our heads around it to heal it.

I believe it’s safe to say we can distill the idea of codependence down to lack of self-worth.

Based on the characteristics listed above, here are some ways we can gain self-esteem and ease our codependent tendencies.

SET BOUNDARIES: Start saying no when you mean no. When you first start setting boundaries it can feel very scary because you will feel like you might be abandoned, and you might but that person wasn’t meant to be in your life if that’s the case because they weren’t with the real you. They were with the scared, people-pleasing you.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This is the key to life. When you are able to share your feelings your whole world opens up because it creates true connection with the other people but also with your true self. Again, this is very scary the first few times you try it but each time you do it, you will feel more empowered and gain back a piece of yourself.

FOCUS ON YOU: When you start setting boundaries and share your feelings, the amount of strength and preparedness this takes will lessen the time you have to be focused on everyone else in the world. Instead of grasping for self-worth from the outside, you will begin to gain it from the inside. You will begin to see there is a natural cycle to life and you will discover how to surrender to it.

RELEASE CONTROL: The truth is we really don’t have control over anything. Even when we think we have control it’s false. Allow others their realities, there is nothing to fix or do. If you are with someone who doesn’t resonate, set a boundary, if they don’t listen you have the power to walk away. The need to control as adults comes from the lack of control we felt as children. Remember you are now an adult and can make choices that are best for you.

SELF-ESTEEM: Self-esteem comes from sharing your feelings, setting boundaries, releasing control, making healthy choices, and focusing on yourself instead of everyone else.

So may I suggest that we embrace the idea that in some way that we are all codependent, deeply wounded individuals just trying to find our way. Perhaps this will lead to a softening and we can become more compassionate, patient and less threatened by others' needs, over independence, lack of boundaries, emotions, advice, controlling nature.

But more importantly, maybe this will allow us to forgive ourselves and stop beating ourselves up, allowing love in to heal our wounds. This is Self Love 101 and the first step to true self worth, and maybe someday we can say, “Goodbye codependence.”