In Part One of this series, I gave you Melody Beattie’s definition of codependency from her book, “Codependent No More.” She says, a codependent person is someone “who has let someone else’s behavior affect him or her, and is obsessed with controlling other people’s behavior.”
This was the playbook for my entire life. So, now that I understood codependency, what could I do about it? Imagine trying to change a pattern of behavior that you have been learning since birth and have been practicing faithfully for your entire life. Unlikely right? Unless…you are highly motivated to do it. By the time I got sober from alcohol, the depth of my misery was awfully motivating.
The Old Playbook:
I didn’t interact with anyone without trying to control their interaction with me. I am a very sensitive person. When I was young, the way a person spoke or treated me could and would cause me to have a flurry of emotions. Positive or negative. I learned to not be so affected by most people as I got older, but those close to me could still send me into an emotional spiral with their words and actions. So, controlling others’ behavior became a defense mechanism. For example, if I didn’t want to feel judged or hear opinions, I would just tell the part of the story that didn’t leave me exposed. Or, if I wanted your help or approval, I would spin a circumstance to make myself appear to be the victim. In all of my relationships, I was playing the role of the person I wanted everyone to see. Please remember that, in my adulthood, I was also the alcoholic in my codependent relationships, so basically, I was a hot mess.
Codependency can take on many forms for different people and even the same person. For me, in my relationship with my mom, my codependency took the form of not trusting her with my feelings so I kept her at arm’s length, emotionally. I did this while also depending on her for support whenever I needed it. She could feel this so there were many times when she would get fed up and all of her anger would come out at once. I managed her anger by giving just enough of myself to get us back on good terms. If I was the one angry or hurt by her, I would stuff these feelings down and give the impression that I had ice flowing through my veins. I tried to never let her know her behavior could affect me.
In romantic relationships, I tried to present the version of myself I thought my partner wanted. I can remember making decisions and even life choices based on how I thought my partner might respond. At the same time, I tried to change them into the person I wanted them to be. I did these things because, in each of my relationships, I never felt as if my authentic self was good enough and I was with someone that was not right for me.
I would not have been able to break this cycle of behavior without, first, getting sober and then, working on my emotional sobriety and self-esteem. I then had to understand and accept that my real problem was not the way others saw me or treated me, it was, as Beattie says, my own codependent behavior. She sums it up with these words: “Who’s codependent? I am.”
New Rules of the Game
This meant that the problem was completely mine to deal with. It also meant that I no longer had to live the way I thought others wanted me to or let their behavior affect my emotions and actions. Learning this was the truly freeing part of this experience.
Beattie explains the way to combat codependency is to simply live for one’s self. The answer is just self care, people!
The rest of her book is broken up into chapters, such as, “Detachment, Don’t Be Blown About by Every Wind, Have a Love Affair with Yourself, and many others that break down the steps of learning to take care of ourselves.
Wanna Know How I’m Doing It?
This process is yet another, “simple, but not easy” thing to work through. But, like all the rest of my change and growth, to be successful, I have to take it one step at a time. Now that I know the problem is my behavior, I make a conscious effort to be responsible for my own actions and only my actions. The suggestions I use from Melody Beattie’s book, depend on the situation.
Nowadays, when talking to my mom or my friends, I try to express my feelings without tempering them to try and control how they each will react. I put Beattie’s chapter on Communication into practice and speak directly. When someone says or does something that upsets me, I pause before I react and take time to Feel my Own Feelings. Then I can respond appropriately, whether that’s standing up for myself or realizing the best course is to drop it. When a person brings me an issue and wants my help, I now practice Detachment from their emotions, consider what is best for me, and offer or decline help on my own terms. This does not mean I am being cold or unfeeling. In fact, I’m making sure I’m being kind and sympathetic, but firm at the same time.
The Unintended Consequences
Freedom from guilt and social anxiety. Self-respect and a growing understanding of my self-worth. Real connections and true intimacy with others. This means I have real friendships these days! I’m learning who I actually am versus who I thought I should be. I experience both happiness and joy on a regular basis! I couldn’t ask for more but the list of rewards goes on.
If you missed part one of this series, go back and check it out!
Has codependency affected your life and have you overcome it? What suggestions would you give someone else who’s struggling with codependency?
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