In my last blog I talked about my usual social media dislikes. My thoughts always seem to be an analysis of other people. And mostly the things I don’t like about them. So, I usually set out to figure out what it is that drives me crazy about people in general. But what I don’t always tell you is that there is rarely a time when I don’t learn something about myself. Sometimes it’s little things, like “I’m clearly giving this entirely too much thought.” And then there are big things. Like what I learned writing my last piece. I am codependent. And I’m textbook. But it’s cool. I’ve got this.
There was a time when this would insult me. Actually, I recall my ex-father-in-law telling me this directly about fifteen years ago. I recall my brain exploding. “How dare he!! I am NOT codependent. I’m self made. We’re equals. Plus I earn more than my husband.” My thoughts went on and on only to wind up here – fifteen years later and wildly underwhelmed with my younger self. I actually just said to myself, “Meh. He was right.”
I remember his tone rather well. It was somewhere between trying to enlighten me and completely exhausted by the steady stream of excuses I made for his son. While I was a total disaster, I can say that looking back, he definitely could have handled it better. I regarded him and saw him as a confidant. Surely he knew how fragile his pupil was. Which is why he had engaged with me – to help me. Perhaps he could’ve explained what he meant, rather than becoming frustrated and curt. (This is why going to an actual therapist is valuable, rather than talking with people who think they missed their calling.) But I wouldn’t have heard him anyway. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have resonated as deeply as it does now.
Codependent – Who I Was, Who I Am
What my father-in-law saw clearly irritated him. Before him sat a young woman who would do anything for her husband, without any regard for the damage it caused her essence. He saw a young woman who lived for the approval of her love. And when she didn’t get his approval, she’d adjust to make things better for him. And she was in control of everything. She knew the “right and wrong” ways of everything and she knew how to best take care of him. (See, I told you I was textbook.)
But the truth is, she was in control of certain variables. And she never thought she controlled her partner. Because he was in complete control of her. No matter. Because her control of everything else meant there were no extraneous variables that could come along and upset him or their relationship dynamic. This control helped assure her that the reward of his love was more certain.
So why was my father-in-law so frustrated with me? Because I couldn’t see things clearly. And that alone is frustrating. But he was also frustrated with himself. He was watching his son behave just like a younger version of himself. And that’s a bitter pill. Especially when you already know the outcome. His son was clearly using the same narcissistic tendencies which he had learned from his father (and mother). And he was using them to manipulate me. And because I was/am codependent, it worked like a charm. Every. Damn. Time.
Options & Choices
And this is the part where I start layering on some pretty hefty realizations about myself. I mean, what’s the point in realizing you’re codependent if you don’t start figuring out how this came to be you? Only then can I figure out how the hell to break this cycle. So, I’m essentially starting in the middle, working backward, then jumping forward. Bear with me.
Realizing that I’m codependent allowed me to see, a bit too clearly, that I was always willing to be someone’s option, rather than their choice. What’s the difference? After all, people choose from options, right? Right. But for me there’s a finite detail which resonated. Allow me to explain.
“Option” implies one of many. And when you see yourself as an option being “chosen” implies that you’ve been given a gift. Or received a blessing. You are “lucky.” Which also implies that you were less than worthy, but somehow outshined all the others. And being codependent, you do whatever it takes not to lose being the chosen one.
It’s ironic that the characteristics of codependent behavior literally drive all of that away.
A Little Codependent in the Making
And here’s the part where being codependent gets confusing. It’s the part where look back. All the way back to childhood to figure out how I so unwittingly became codependent. And don’t get me wrong. I love my parents. But loving them certainly doesn’t mean they were perfect.
I’m sure I’ve told you that my parents were emotionally unavailable. There were high standards of appropriate behavior. And I was never allowed to be “too needy.” The more I think about it, it’s a weird cauldron of circumstances which contribute to my codependent personality. Parents who were emotionally volatile. Sparse positive attention. But plenty of ridicule. Constant negative reinforcement left me awkward in social situations and completely insecure. Whatever love I received was earned. Never given freely. And in the end, that’s all I ever wanted. Just to be loved. I knew that my schoolwork earned me kudos from my parents, but never my behavior. So everything I did, from a very young age, was to earn kindness and love.
And Then I Met Him
That night back in 1998 I found someone. Someone whom I thought was out of my league. And he chose me! The very thought alone shows you that I didn’t feel very worthy. And since I was an excellent student, I (subconsciously) took the role of “codependent” seriously and set out living and breathing for him. And because my entire life was spent ensuring I performed correctly to avoid reprimand, I knew exactly what to do. I gave him all I had. Including my identity (what little I had) and I quickly became the union.
Codependent with a Twist
While being codependent has its own characteristics, there is more to the making of a personality. We often say we “keep attracting the same type of people.” Or we say “I’m attracted to certain personalities or situations.” Truth is. We subconsciously seek out situations which are familiar to us. And if we get close but something is still lacking, we will do things we don’t even realize to make sure we know what to expect. Because our instincts are conditioned to stick with the familiar. It’s how we learned to survive in our environments.
I earned everything from my emotionally unavailable parents, including love. It stands to reason I was unable to just let my relationship flow. I can look back on my marriage and see that I needed challenges to prove that I had earned his love. So I created them. It seems that right out of the box, my “type” of relationships are the emotionally unavailable and challenging types. They’re just what I need to keep myself feeling as though I worked hard and earned it. I remember my dad always said, “Something for nothing is worth nothing.” I didn’t even realize how literally I took that.
Over the years I didn’t need his money or what he could provide. We were equals in that respect. What I needed was his love. And my aforementioned personality quirks would keep me pushing him away to maintain the challenge of earning his affection. Little did I know he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A narcissist through and through. He “chose” me because his personality characteristics sensed he could manipulate me for his own selfish reasons.
I was attracted to him for being emotionally unavailable. Making him someone from whom I wanted to earn love. He was attracted to me because he (subconsciously) saw that I could be easily taken advantage of for his own good. He could be moody and I would rush to his side, eager to help him. It would feed his ego. Then he’d be rude and I would stand strong, despite my wounded feelings. Because hurt feelings were proof that I was facing a challenge.
Eventually I would stand up for myself, otherwise known as “pick a fight.” But I knew the stronger I was the more worthy of love I proved myself to be. He likely thought I was annoying, but it still stroked his ego, so he used this tactic often. In the end, I was pushing him away, and he was pushing me away. But we were feeding each other’s personality disorders. Honestly, it was a win-win, from a very dysfunctional perspective.
The Bitter End
Then the day came when I had to close my business. I had little to no money and no career to easily fall back on. It was time. My little codependent self needed to get something in return. I needed reassurance from the man whom I defended and backed up for nearly twenty years. And I didn’t get it. I found myself alone. Worse yet, he became verbally abusive. Like I had never seen before – full of hate and disgust for me.
He no longer had any use for me. I challenged myself to be successful, and many times I succeeded. And all of my successes made him love me and secured my relationship. My business endeavor was my biggest success challenge of them all. A big win would mean no matter how moody he was, he would stand by me. Only this was the challenge where I failed. I was no longer worthy.
The Biggest Epiphany of Them All
But you know what’s worse? I’ve realized that failure was the goal all along. You see, I thought I was on a mission to prove myself worthy. But the truth is I’ve been on a mission to prove that I’m unworthy. I subconsciously, yet willfully set myself up for failure. Because from a young age I learned that no matter what I do, it will never be good enough.
And that’s when I unwittingly embarked on a five year journey through the darkness on the path of self awareness.
Codependent No More…Well, Almost
Now that we’ve spent some time in the past, let’s look to the future. And I’d like to add that you’re witnessing a very big step along this path I keep talking about. What’s more, I’m really happy to share with you. Even though I don’t know you. Thank you for “listening.”
This epiphany was five years in the making, and it was worth every painstaking minute. Once again I am experiencing enormous gratitude for the times I perceived such suffering. There’s part of my brain that wonders if I would have reached this point sooner had gone into therapy five years ago. Instead of embarking on my own, solitary journey. Then I wonder if therapy would’ve helped. Maybe. But I’m not sure I was in the right frame of mind to receive the help. No. I needed to do it this way. Because now I can see why so much of my life is a challenge. It’s because I literally don’t have the instincts to react or even understand how to “be” if it were easy. So, I just keep challenging myself.
Undoing Codependent Behaviors
Before we look at how to work on managing codependent behaviors. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of codependency. (Note that the Source Link below the images is a great article and resource for those of you who are interested.)
I have to be completely honest with you. This epiphany of mine resonates deep within me. I simply can’t believe how I have avoided this for so long. It’s wildly freeing and a bit intimidating to truly embrace this personality of mine…and how it came to be. So I’d be foolish if I told you I know how to even begin to fix it. But I can tell you this, the worksheets, such as this one, on PositivePsychology.com are already proving to be invaluable. It’s also a bit unnerving just how accurate the thought patterns of the textbook codependent individual match my own.
So as I embark on this new level of self awareness I leave you with this little poem I wrote. It overstates the obvious, which as you know drives me bonkers. But I feel it deeply today. Especially after wrestling my demons for so long to get to the depth necessary to make a real change in my life.