Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Word for What I Struggle With: Codependency

Anyone who has been reading my blog for any amount of time knows the demons I wrestle with: my continuing need to validate my actions and choices to others; my fight to validate my own decisions that are made purely for my own good; the need I have to explain, over and over again, why I’m doing what I’m doing, in the hopes that eventually I will be able to explain away the fear I feel, and, often, the judgment.
It’s not a new term for me, but it is only this week that it has become apparent how well it fits me. There is a word, a term and a condition that describes what I have: it’s called codependency.
This is not my need to do what I need to do; it’s my struggle with trying to make others understand why I do it. Codependency is not the “selfishness” I have spoken of that I am trying to embrace; it is the thinking that makes putting myself first is a bad thing. Codependency is not the part of me that craves the adventure of traveling abroad, but it IS the part of me that makes those decisions partially so that I can escape the opinions of others about what my life should be.
Basically, codependency is trying to control people, situations or even impressions so that I look good; so that I look perfect; so that I look like I have it all under control. It is also the thinking that the whole world would topple if I weren’t there to hold it up: that if I am not there to help someone take care of themselves, they couldn’t do it for themselves. It is the idea that if I don’t do it myself, it will never get done…or done as well as I want it to be done.
I recently looked up the definition of codependency, and I found several versions, all of which  apply to what now looks like insanity in my own past: a need for others to tell me that I am worthwhile, because I don’t have the ability to know this myself. A need to show a perfect front, even as I am crumbling inside. A need to give and give until there is nothing left. Blaming others for not understanding, even as I refuse to take responsibility for my own actions, my own lack of boundaries, for my own life. It is the part of me that has said in relationships in the past, “I will show him that I am worthy of his time and attention by putting up with all the bullshit he gives me, because that’s how you prove that you really love someone.”
Codependency and empathy are closely related. Both have to do with being incredibly sensitive to other peoples’ needs. With empathy, you pick up on the feelings of others. With codependency, you take it one step further: you try to fix whatever the problem is, regardless of whether it’s your problem to fix or not (and usually, it’s not your problem at all.)
I first heard the term codependency years ago. Since then, the term, the idea and the steps to reverse its effects have been an important part of my life, even if I wasn’t always able to label them for what they are. Even if it’s taken me until now to write about it, I am so much better than I have been, and it’s only through the healing process that I have come to where I am today: the point where I realize that there’s a word for what I have been struggling with, and a way out. The way out is doing what I’ve already been doing: purposely making decisions every day that have nothing to do with anyone else but me; realizing that the scope of my life should not be about other people, their problems or solutions, but about me, and MY problems and solutions.
Now, I realize that the reason I do this – pick up other people and their opinions – is because I am hiding from myself. What I call emotional sobriety has nothing to do with others; it has to do with recognizing that I am trying to focus on another person and how I could help them or be of use to them because there’s something uncomfortable in my own life that I want nothing to do with. It feels like the pain will be so great that facing it will kill me. Instead, I focus on someone else, and find myself to be temporarily reprieved, much like someone who will drink away their sorrow, just for a moment of peace.
Now, I realize what this is, and I purposely turn my attention back to myself. I recognize many of my codependent tendencies, and when I see them coming – see myself casting about for someone to fix, or somewhere else to look – I look at myself instead. Often, dealing with whatever I’m avoiding is painful, but every time, it’s short-lived. It turns out that dealing with the pain is easier than burying it. It turns out that getting to know myself is infinitely better than psycho-analyzing others, over and over again; it’s more rewarding, fulfilling. It leads to important discoveries, and changes to my thinking that are leading me toward my own happiness. Most importantly, getting to know myself is about no one else but me