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A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior. The heart of this definition – and of recovery – lies not in the other person, but in ourselves, in the way we have let other people’s behavior affect us, and in the obsessing, controlling, “helping,” and other dependencies on peculiar people that result in abandonment of our self.
Codependents overreact and underreact, but rarely do we act. We react to the problems, pains, lives, and behaviors of others. We react to our own problems, pains and behaviors. Many of us come from extremely unstable and unloving environments and have coped for years by losing ourselves into other people in a desperate effort to gain love and acceptance.
Our coping efforts have been both admirable and heroic. We have done the best we could. But our self-protective devises may have outgrown their usefulness. Sometimes the things we do to protect ourselves turn on us and hurt us, become self-destructive. Many of us are barely surviving and most aren’t getting our needs met.
Codependents tend to….
Think and feel responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, needs, well-being.
Get depressed from a lack of complements and praise.
Try to prove our worth through giving.
Think and talk a lot about other people.
Focus a lot of time, money, and energy on other people and their problems.
Think we know best how things should turn out and how people should behave.
Ignore problems or pretend they aren’t happening.
Latch onto whomever or whatever we think can provide happiness.
Worry other people will leave us.
Avoid talking about our problems, feelings, and thoughts.
Ask for what we need indirectly – through body language, metaphors, sarcasm, hinting, jokes.
Do things for others although others are capable and responsible for doing for themselves.
Why are we codependent? Most of us desperately want someone to be there for us. We need someone – anyone – to rescue us from the loneliness, alienation, and pain. We want the good stuff, but the good stuff is not in us. Pain is in us. We feel helpless and uncertain. Others look so powerful and assured. We conclude the magic must be in them. So we become dependent on lovers, spouses, friends, parents, our children. Other people become the key to our happiness.
Unfortunately, we need other people so much, we settle for too little. We become dependent on troubled people. We tolerate abuse and insanity to keep these people in our lives. Then, we become trapped, sick.
Recovery from codependency starts with detachment from unhealthy people and from problems we can’t solve. Detachment is based on the premise that each person is responsible for himself, that we can’t solve problems that aren’t ours to solve and that worrying doesn’t help. We give people the freedom to be responsible and to grow on their own. We stop interfering. We stop playing God. Detachment involves living in the truth of what’s real here and now. We allow life to happen instead of forcing and trying to control it. We make the most of each day.
Detachment also requires accepting reality – facing the facts – about other people and ourselves. It requires faith – in ourselves, in God, in other people. Detaching doesn’t mean we don’t care. It means we learn to love, care and be involved without controlling and worrying.
It’s time to detach when we can’t stop thinking, talking about, or worrying about someone or something; when our emotions are churning and boiling; when we feel sick, when we believe we have to do something about someone because we can’t stand it another minute; when we’re hanging on by a thread and it feels like that single thread is frayed.
Detachment starts with accepting people and events for what they are, not what we want them to be. Then, we let go and let God. We understand that we have power over ourselves only.
This week, I invite you to ponder and act upon the following:
What can I do today to change ME rather than the world?
*excerpts from Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie.
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