I’ve been AWOL for a little over a week. Hadn’t even posted a recipe until this morning. Where have I been? I’ve been growing. Taking care of myself. Cooking. Thinking. Reading. Relaxing. Finally. I feel a metamorphosis coming on.
I worry a lot. Almost compulsively. Mostly about other people’s problems. Recently I was asked about a mutual relation’s problem. What was the status? Have they done anything about it? Will they? What will happen if they don’t? My first thought was why am I the one being asked and not them? Then I thought, I would usually be the one to know what’s going on, wouldn’t I? It’s just easier to ask me because I’m closer. By the time the above-mentioned questions were asked I’d become so exhausted by thinking about the subject that I just said “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.” At the time I was attempting to reduce my stress. I didn’t fully realize it, but I’d detached. Not because I was frustrated or because I thought the person was a lost cause (I’ve withdrawn from people in the past for exactly that reason) but because I’d realized that that person, and people in general, know what they want and need better than I do. Holy humility. When people talked to me, instead of listening, letting them vent and sympathizing, I’d try to help them with their problems. I tried to solve them for them. I internalized their discomfort. Bad news bears. I detached because the reality had finally sunk in that even if I’m mentally running myself ragged and losing hair stressing over what’s going on in their life and whether or not they’re going to ruin their lives in some inconceivable way, they’re going to do what they want. Who am I to tell them otherwise? In the end they, and only they, will suffer the consequences of their actions and I have no impact on that. Nor do I need to. I had decided to take a stance of healthy neutrality. I hadn’t yet caught on to the magnitude and deeper meaning of that conversation.
I’m an introvert. I don’t have many friends. At least I try not to. It’s never bothered me. I don’t mind my small circle, but there is a problem with it. My social circle is more of a caseload than a support system. I realize I’m the caretaker. The mom in most gatherings. The free therapist. That’s all fine and dandy until my flimsy boundaries allow all of that to drain me to the point of depression. I realize codependency is the underlying reason I don’t keep many people around. When you have a habit of caring too much and being overly involved, fewer loved ones equals fewer worries. Less anxiety. Fewer problems. It stresses me out when other people make bad decisions. I give unwanted advice. I worry about the possible and actual consequences they may suffer if they don’t take my unsolicited advice. I try to rescue them from those consequences and the negative feelings associated with them. Other people’s problems are not my problems and they’re not my responsibility, but I make them my responsibility. I had a recurring thought: I worry about others more than they worry about themselves. Truth is, I worry about others more than I worry about myself. That’s where it becomes true and destructive codependency.
What exactly is codependency? That’s a little fuzzy and there are entire books describing it and all of its many branches. The term has grown and developed over some years but it started in Alcoholics Anonymous. The word codependency literally interpreted means partners in dependency. The term was originally associated with the contagious trauma suffered by the loved ones of the chemically dependent. They adopt some of the same unhealthy coping habits and destructive emotional isms as their chemically dependent and self destructive loved ones, but without the escape of drugs or alcohol. Codependency includes enabling.
Melody Beattie, author of “Codependent No More” says codependency is a reaction. A normal reaction to another person’s abnormal behavior. I’ll interpret that as simply as I can, it’s almost as if to say “this person is broken, I have to fix them”. Like any reaction, it’s as unique as the person reacting and the situation they’re reacting to. Codependency is so many things. In my case, it’s crossing the line between compassion and care-taking. It’s putting the needs of others before my own. It’s resenting someone I love, for hurting someone I love… Themselves. It’s being upset because of someone else’s opinion. It’s over-involvement in other people’s lives. Feeling pain that isn’t mine to feel and trying to heal pain that isn’t mine to heal. It’s the sick side of “being a good person”.
From what I’ve gathered in my reading, codependency isn’t a disorder. It’s not an all the time, in every situation, with every person type of thing. It’s episodic and in my humble opinion that makes it easier to handle once identified. It’s a learned behavior. It’s a dynamic and an attitude. How do you change an attitude? You adopt a different one. That healthy neutrality I mentioned is my desired attitude. To bolster this attitude, I need to accept the fact that each person is responsible for himself/herself. Other people’s moods and opinions do not need to affect me or control my emotions. Other people’s behaviors and opinions have absolutely nothing to do with my actual self worth. I don’t have to help with, convince to change, counsel on, or even react to other people’s problems. These are facts. Learning to accept facts for the static things they are isn’t easy, but it’s simple. What is, is. Even if the most important person in my world flat out rejects me, I still am and I am worth no less than before. I’m still working on accepting that last fact.
I am still, and will always be a work in progress, but I thought I’d share my first steps with you. Before this whole thought process sprouted, my need for perfection probably would have squashed this post. Acceptance seems to be a side effect of this shift in thinking. I feel very different mentally. General positivity is coming a lot easier. I’m not just holding on and coping my way through the day. I’m living it. My mind isn’t occupied with things I can’t control. It’s kind of amazing. I’m still going to listen to my friends and family, just a little differently. My goal is to be there for them without trying to fix them or their problems. Without making them feel like they need to be fixed or they lack what it takes to resolve their problems themselves. I realize now that that’s what I’ve been indirectly telling them. That wasn’t healthy or helpful for either party. I’ve identified my codependent behaviors and I believe I’ve identified the path to change and healing, I don’t know what the ultimate result of this shift is, as I’ve just started to perceive it, but I feel good about it.
Codependent? The woman in this video will drive you nuts. It’s Not About The Nail. She used to drive me nuts but now I’m starting to get it.
Want more info? Here’s a link to an audio book I’m currently devouring. Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others And Start Caring For Yourself It was recommended by an old therapist of mine and I finally got it when I realized how much my codependency was affecting my life and relationships. “New York Times Best Seller” doesn’t really mean much to me but so far, I think this book is the bees knees. If you’re irreligious, there are numerous mentions of God and how the author uses her belief in her higher power for emotional strength. It’s not the only method mentioned. Don’t be too quick to dismiss. The message is still there and it’s still valuable. Lookin’ at you, G.
Aaaaand last but not least here comes the ol’ disclaimer: Do not take anything I say on this blog as even resembling diagnosis or medical advice. I share my personal experiences and interpretations only. What works for me may not work for you. I am not a professional. I’m just a human, trying to make it in this ugly-beautiful world, win the day to day battles and enjoy my remaining trips around the sun. I don’t have the answers. Just ideas and experiences. Take what you need, but keep in mind that when it comes to your health and well-being, there is no substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
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