It's a word we hear thrown around so much that we assume we know what it is, but have you ever really thought about it? Like most people, you have probably been accused of being codependent at some point, and you've certainly encountered it.
Perhaps you have been the codependent partner in a relationship or you were with a partner who was. Maybe you've experienced it through your family and friends? Maybe you believe that you are codependent--but what does it really mean and how would you know?
All people have codependent tendencies to some degree, but that doesn't mean we all have unhealthy or destructive relationships. Certainly though, codependency can lead to very unhealthy and toxic relationship situations.
It can cause you to hurt yourself and be hurt by others. It can cause you to manipulate and allow yourself to be manipulated by others.
It this post we're talking about what it is, what it isn't, and what to do about it.
Codependency is when your worth, value, self-esteem, identity, and happiness are tied up in your relationship. In other words, you believe that without that relationship, you do not have any of those things.
Of course, the loss of anything that you Love will usually involve some pain, but grieving over a loss is not the same as feeling that you are nothing without it.
The feeling of being in Love is incredibly intoxicating. It's that feeling you get at the end of an incredible first date when the attraction is there on both sides and you know it's going somewhere exciting. It's the feeling you have the first time you kiss someone, and the excitement and the attraction that builds up between you. It's the feeling when you really start to fall for someone, when you open your heart to them, when you feel safe and at home with them.
The experience of falling in Love is among the greatest highs that we have in this life.
The main misconception about falling in Love is that you think the experience is coming from the relationship rather than from inside of you.
This is the false idea that is at the heart of codependency--the idea that the Love you feel is coming from the other person, that you can only get it from them, and that it doesn't come from inside of you.
In a relationship, we experience the best parts of ourselves, oftentimes for the first time in years. Being with this person makes us want to be a better person. Because of the Love and attraction that we are receiving from that person, we become confident, bold, adventurous, generous, gentle, happy, kind, and forgiving.
We don't take things as seriously, the world feels lighter and overall, life seems more exciting. A relationship makes an otherwise gray day feel full of color.
The natural assumption we make about these experiences is that the relationship is doing this TO us--that IT IS GIVING US these feelings.
This is a very dangerous predicament for a relationship. It is the foundation of all codependency and the reason why the vast majority of relationships fail.
Similar to how when you watch a movie--especially when the lights are low and the music is just the right intensity for the scene that is taking place--you can actually feel the heartbreak, the excitement, the tension of whatever is happening in the movie.
Those feelings are not coming from the movie--they are coming from you. The movie is just a stimulus for them. Relationships work the same way. Because of how you feel in the presence of that person, you allow yourself to access thoughts, feelings, and ways of being that usually feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and are unfamiliar to you.
But rather than recognizing that the relationship is simply an environment in which you allow yourself to access different parts of yourself, you think of it as though it is giving you those experiences. When you do this you are placing yourself at the mercy of the relationship and the other person.
This is when fear sets in. You start to think, "What happens when he/she doesn't Love me anymore?" The moment you cling to a relationship in this way, you are experiencing co-dependence.
In this moment the relationship is no longer free. You now have an agenda for it. It is no longer an environment in which you are being your best self with no regard for the outcome. It is now an environment that you have to control and manipulate to get something from it.
We all know that experience, the first moment of fear in a new relationship: He didn't call when he said he would or she isn't answering her phone. Sometimes it's the first "bad day" that one of you has, or when suddenly you're not feeling the love like you did before.
As soon as you have that moment of fear, your heart that had been wide open says, "Maybe it's not safe to be so open anymore," and you start to close off in the relationship.