Hello dear readers
This article is only for those who want to have a full and happier life. I warn you that in order to do that you will need to take responsibility for your life.
Note: Remember that when I write “relationships”, I mean any kind of relationship. Whether they are professional, partnerships, husband-wife, father-son… Relationships between two human beings and even relationships with our habits, of which we also become dependent.
Let’s do it!
Codependence is related to self-esteem. The lowest the self-esteem of a person, the more codependent one becomes. Lack of self-love creates emptiness, leading us to disconnect from ourselves and generating sadness, depression, anxiety, fear. None of these feeling is pleasant, so we end up trying to fill in the hole and to get rid of these feelings with something exterior. In most cases, people. We seek self-love in others. Does it make sense?
Codependence happens in cycles of unconscious behaviors, since it is rooted in our habits. Frequently passing from family to family. As society, there are habits that we take as normal and that are actually not healthy at all. Habits like pointing fingers because of events of the past or waiting for the “right opportunity” to throw at someone’s face something he/she did wrong. A good example is the following:
[The day at work went badly and you are so tired that you only want to stay on the couch with your beloved one. However, the other person had a better day, well succeeded, and because he/she is full of energy he/she wants to go out, chat and laugh. Everyone has good moments and bad moments and there is no need to “infect” and blame anyone. Each one needs it own experience. One needs to stay comfortable on the couch, the other needs to celebrate.]
What are codependent relationships after all? How do they look like?
Codependent relationships are relationships in which one doesn’t live without the other. In which “I” no longer exists because of “we”. Due to low self-esteem, each one’s identity is lost.
However, nothing better than creating a test based on a list of yes/no questions. The more “yes”, more codependent the relationship is. Here it is:
- Do you feel responsible for the feelings of another person?
- Do you prevent yourself from doing things because the other doesn’t want to do it or doesn’t like it?
- You aren’t feeling free?
- Are there dramas and issues to talk about but they go away without an honest conversation, so it doesn’t happen again, ending up in a cycle of drama?
- Do feelings seem like a forbidden topic to talk?
- Is the relationship made of extremes? Either very good or very bad? Huge dramas and epic reconciliations?
- Is there an exaggerated need of attention, validation, compliments?
- You don’t do anything without each other? You don’t have separated activities?
- Do you have the need of always being in a relationship?
- Do you have the need of being in contact all the time?
- Do you feel like you are always “running to rescue” the other?
- Do you feel that your energy is frequently drained by the other? (Example: you are usually in a good mood and the other person is not, so you end up being constantly cheering the other person up but eventually you become less happy.)
- Is there too much justification?
- It is not allowed to say “no” without being considered selfish and creating discussion and drama?
- Anything you do seems to please the other person? Wanting more and more from you and you always wanting to please more and more?
- Is there control?
Usually, in this type of relationships people tend to deny it because it hurts to admit. All of us have passed or are passing through some of these but, if you answered “yes” to some of the questions above regarding some of your relationships, the first step is to accept it. I remind you that the more answers “yes”, the bigger the degree of codependence. It’s not like if some of these situations happened once you are in a codependent relationship but if the normal of the relationship is for that to occur. I also remind you that this is about habits and habits are changeable.
Why are codependent relationships unhealthy?
Besides being a sign of low self-esteem, codependence is also associated to people who got stuck at some level of their emotional and social development (don’t take this personal. We all have stories, there are no exceptions). The stages of development are:
- The Phase of Total Dependency
When we are born, we are completely dependent of others. Our life literally needs another person. For a baby, the parents are everything. What can go wrong: an unanswered need that as an adult one seeks in other people.
- The Pushing Away Phase
When the child starts to understand that she/he and the mother are not only one identity. The child starts to push away, to want some time alone, exploring oneself as an unique and separate being. What can go wrong: if parents don’t allow this space or if this space doesn’t exist in the relationship of the parents (if they are codependent), the child doesn’t learn the importance and the difference between “I” and “we”, ending up for quitting the search for space and following the same pattern.
- The Phase of Conflict
Divergences start occurring. The child begins wanting to impose her/himself, to show her/his own opinions, different from the ones of the parents, and to not accept what the parents want for reasons of “just because”. What can go wrong: Adults that don’t know how to discuss and have healthy arguments. Adults that don’t accept different opinions. Without this phase/test successfully done, the child doesn’t develop the abilities of conflict, discussion, assertiveness and will be a repressed adult.
- The Phase of Independence
Now it is the phase to discover the world alone. This phase is the moment to try different things from the ones one knows, one being willing to try everything. It is the phase to discover ones’ likes and dislikes, personal values… What can go wrong: The parents or the environment don’t allow this healthy exploration of the good and the bad. The child doesn’t develop the confidence that he/she can succeed in life alone, becoming a dependent adult. Even the most basic challenges can be a big source of stress and disharmony.
- The Phase of Sharing
After independence, the child, teenager, adult is ready to create connections with other people in a genuine way. Who arrives to this stage has a good self-esteem, is vulnerable , confident of who she/he is and her/his values. Of course, as everyone he is going to change, but he is open to accept those changes and share those experiences with others. What can go wrong: Even in the last phase something can go wrong! If the parents and adults around the child don’t have healthy relationships where there is sharing, after independence the child becomes someone extremely selfish and egocentric, seeking to have all his needs fulfilled without giving anything in return in relationships.
This type of relationships causes anxiety, depression, emptiness and dependence. Did you ever think why you always end up in relationships with the same kind of people? This article is good to give you that clarity. We are habits and patterns. Until you solve your codependence and grow (self-development), your relationships are going to be “more of the same”. And it doesn’t matter how much we obtain from external sources (love, friendship, fun). A drug addict always wants more, right? Because he is only momentarily satisfied. The logic is the same.
Maybe this kind of relationships is everything you know. Codependence can be considered a social/mental/psychological illness that progresses over time (as most diseases) and, if at first the person can have feelings of his own, over time he becomes more and more empty and apathetic of emotions. More unknown to himself.
In addition to the negative aspects I already mentioned, codependence brings drama and necessity of control. Drama is good in movies but when it’s our turn to pass through it, it is not so nice to have unnecessary arguments, aggressions that lead us exactly to the opposite of what we want: healthy relationships.
Regarding control, as one becomes needy of the other (to receive the “dose” of what is lacking) also an uncontrolled fear of losing the other person arises. As a consequence, one starts wanting to know everything about the other as well as the need to control her/his life. Do you understand the dynamics? I deeply hope you understand. I already made so many mistakes in this area!
There is hope! How to break the cycle of codependence?
Limits and Boundaries
Relationships need boundaries. This can be a big challenge if one has grown and lived among codependent relationships. Fortunately, because the effort for a healthier and happier life in some areas affect other areas, creating healthy boundaries in a relationship is a sign of increasing self-esteem . We become more assertive, free and happy and we create more fulfilling relationships.
“Boundaries in relationships work both ways: they create emotional health and are created by people with emotional health. They are something you can start working on today with the people close to you and you’ll begin to notice a difference in your self-esteem, confidence, emotional stability, and so on.” – Mark Manson
Boundaries/limits is simply to say and act according to what is okay for us and to what is not. It is knowing how to say no. Frequently, the codependent person works hard and gives more than what is healthy for him/herself, due to the fear I already mentioned: losing the other who is needed. This way of serving is not sincere though, because the person is not giving (love, friendship, serving) for the joy and pleasure of giving, but to receive what he/she so badly needs in return. Usually, these people tend to victimize themselves, showing an attitude of “I work so much, I do this and that and nobody values it!”. That person resents because he/she gives in order to receive. Saying yes to what we are willing to do without expecting to receive and saying no to the rest is a very right choice.
The writer, sociologist and scientist Brené Brown talks about this topic in her last book. She has been studying the behavior of people and their emotions and, in order to do that, she needs to make many experiments and interviews. She says that one of the most shocking discoveries in her research was having realized that the people with more compassion are the ones that impose their boundaries and limits more.
How to set boundaries?
In the beginning this change can generate some conflicts but remember that this is one of the phases of growth and thus, it is necessary to pass through it. Creating boundaries is not to say “no” to everything or just because now we want to set limits. To be something positive and not only an act of rebellion, it is important to first listen to ourselves and begin to know our values. Knowing and living by our own values will make us become more upright and our self-esteem increases exponentially (yupaaa).
When a person asks/demands something or wants to solve something for you and that makes you feel uncomfortable, stop. In a world full of noise and information, stopping is one of the wisest acts. After reading this article, the notion of codependency might not come through emotions, but thoughts. In these situations, listen. Thoughts, emotions and intuition are all weapons to help you grow and be healthier.
After perceiving that “that” is not, somehow, okay for you, it is time to try comprehending why is that not okay. With time this intellectual exercise will help you to understand what your values are. Integrity is one of the pillars of self-esteem and it is developed as any other ability, like driving a car: with practice.
You don’t have to always arrive to conclusions. Here is where you impose you limits. When I say “impose”, it doesn’t have to be rude, although in some cases it might be necessary.
Afterall, trust me, if the boundaries that you are now creating are right for you, they are also going to be right for the other. And believe that people with boundaries are much more attractive. Think: do you prefer to be with someone that says “yes” because he/she really wants to, or someone that says “yes” to everything, just to look good? (Another question that should have been included in the test).
Story of rupture with codependency
Vasco is ready to choose his career. After so many years until finishing high school, his parents are happy for him. However, his mother has dreams and lives that she didn’t live due to lack of courage. His mother always wanted to be a cooker and thus taught Vasco delicious dishes. The boy learned very well. Therefore, the mom puts pressure on him for him to pursue a career in cooking. Vasco’s father, well, he only wants to see his wife happy, at least for some moments, because she is always out of energy and unhappy. Vasco is a good cooker and he is even tempted to pursue that career. After all, cooking is what he grew up with. Yesterday he wasn’t even dreaming, he didn’t dare thinking that other possibilities existed. It was cooking, period. But by coincidence Vasco found this blog and read this article that made him think. Because at home the noise was loud, he decided to go for a walk in the streets of the village. Does he really like cooking? If he had to do something forever, would it be cooking? Is cooking in accordance to his dreams and values? While walking he saw an old lady fall. She tripped on a step and skinned her knee. Without thinking, he was helping her and even without knowledge, without skills, he was already making the most creative wound dressing ever and taking her home. Vasco remembered of reading here to listen to himself and he began thinking of helping people. He thought for days, since he still had time to apply for a course. The more he thought, the more he was dreaming of making a difference. Of how he could create specific infrastructures, so situations like that wouldn’t happen again. After a lot of thinking, he filled himself with courage and decided to tell his parents that he wanted to be an engineer. He wanted to come up with solutions for problems that would help people. Of course, the world of illusion of his mother collapsed and she began to say that all her sacrifice had been in vain. The father, once again, stood by his mother and showed disapproval. Not that engineering is a worse profession than being a cooker. Both are excellent professions. This happened because Vasco’s mother wanted to have become a chef and because she couldn’t, she transferred that responsibility to her son. Vasco became a great engineer, even without the approval from his parents. He was seen as selfish and not compassionate for his parents’ pain, but he lived his life and he was happy. After a few years, Vasco’s parents, already very old, used to use the ramp he had created, which allowed them to move outside and inside of the house. The parents lived their lives without imposing boundaries and so they never truly lived their lives. Vasco said no to cooking and to his parents’ will, which made him live with passion and to be useful to everyone. He grew and reached the stage of sharing.
I think this story illustrates well a codependent family. I wish that many, many people read this, so please share. I wish I had read this with my 18 years old, but it’s never too late and I’m grateful for life lessons.
When surrounded by people, observe. Pay attention to the behaviors and interaction between you and ask yourself: Am I trying to create connection with this person or codependency?