I always thought codependency was reserved for the immediate family members of alcoholics or drug addicts. A group of people who couldn’t see that their loved one was participating in destructive behaviors who continued to enable them.
Turns out I was wrong.
Codependency is really an addiction itself. An addiction to relationships. To be technical, codependency is defined as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.”
Typically due to an illness or addiction. Not always. Codependency is caretaking. It’s trying to fix another person’s problems so they don’t have to hurt. Codependency is losing yourself in other people. Finding your identity in your roles, rather than your being.
Codependency is allowing someone else’s opinion of you to shape your opinion of yourself. It’s sacrificing who you are to become who you think you’re supposed to be.
Hi, my name is Virginia. I’m a grateful follower and believer in Jesus Christ, and I struggle with codependency.
I’ll share more of my story in my upcoming posts “Dear Codependent Wife,” and “Dear Codependent Mom.” The short version is that I lost sight of who I was for a long time. I was defined by my roles as a wife and mother. Even now, several months into recovery, I have a hard time answering the question “What do you do for fun?” because all of my “fun” has been doing what I thought everyone else wanted to do for fun.
In short, I buried Virginia. My value was tied to what other people thought of me, and every day I prayed for God to make me different. I didn’t pray to be closer to Him or for God to reveal His truths to me. I prayed to be someone else, the person the people in my life “needed.”
It has been a slow journey back, but today I want to share with you a few of the things that have helped me to get my life back.
I am, by no means, any kind of expert on the subject. I am actively working through my codependency and kicking it to the curb. But as quickly as I can process through one thing, another comes to the surface.
I am going to share with you a few of the things that have been the most effective for me rehabbing my life.
Set Healthy Boundaries
This might seem obvious, but if I’m honest, I’ve never had good boundaries. I just never learned how to effectively stand up for myself, decide what’s okay with me and what’s not, and to realize what’s within my realm of control.
My eyes were opened when I read “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.” There is an analogy toward the beginning of the book that I keep in the forefront of my mind now.
Think about how property ownership goes. Let’s say you and I are neighbors. We live on a quiet street in the suburbs. There is a property line that goes around each of our homes and we are each responsible for what happens within those boundaries. I’m not responsible for cutting your grass, and you’re not responsible for picking up doggie poo in my yard.
It is the same with people and relationships. We all are responsible for our own space. I am responsible for my own feelings and actions. My husband is responsible for his. You are responsible for yours.
Give Value to Your Own Feelings
Especially in Christian circles we are taught to value others. To “love your neighbor as yourself.” We value sacrifice and service, and these are good things. When done with the right heart.
Let me give you an example. We were cleaning our house one day, and my husband asked me to do a task I had done a couple days before. It wasn’t a big deal – just clean off my nightstand – but it was making me feel resentful.
Are you giving out of the fullness of your heart, or out of obligation?
The Bible says to “love your neighbor as yourself,” not to love your neighbor more than yourself. This means that your feelings, your reservations, and your concerns are just as valid as your neighbor’s.
Listen to your internal self. Always, and in all circumstances. Sometimes we are faced with situations that make us uncomfortable, but being self aware we can help us determine why it’s making us uncomfortable. With awareness, we can process those things and maybe diffuse them altogether.
When you faced with something that you are uncertain about, ask yourself:
- How does this make me feel?
- Am I comfortable doing this?
- Do I have the resources to do this?
If the answer is “no” on any one, don’t do it. Give out of the fullness of your heart. Acknowledge your feelings, they are valid, even if you think they are wrong.
Change Your Internal Narrative
If you’re anything like me, your mind is full of “proof” of your inadequacy. I’m here to tell you that every one of those is a lie.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). You are made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5). You have been set free from sin and death (Romans 8:2).
Those are truths. Whatever is going on in your mind is not a truth, but rather a lie from the pit of hell. The further I am in this recovery process, the more convinced I am of this.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says,”We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (ESV) Take every thought captive. Every thought.
This means every time you have a devaluing though you stop and change it. Every time. It’s exhausting, but it pays off. And you will realize how much mental energy you have spent on tearing yourself down and believing lies.
Focus your energy on praising God. Thank him for His beauty and strength, and who He is in your life. Seek the Lord, not your relationships. You might be surprised by how much He wants to walk with you. I know I was.
For me, having support has been critical to my success in recovering from codependency. Support can be as simple as telling a spouse or trusted friendabout your codependency, sharing your struggles with them, and having them keep you accountable. An outside perspective can be very helpful. (If you are in an abusive marriage, your spouse is not the right choice for this one. Find a friend who you can confide in and trust with the softest part of your heart.)
For me, something more formal has been useful. I have been attending Celebrate Recovery meetings at my church for the last several months. Celebrate Recovery is a Christian based 12 step program. There are CR meetings all around the US, and should contain a large group time and a small group time. During the large group there is either a testimony or a teaching, and the small group time is left to share. Groups are split by gender and hurt, habit, or hangup. Check with a group in your area to find out what support groups they offer, as it will vary by need.
Celebrate Recover has been the biggest support for me. I can openly share what I’m struggling with, and know these women are going to pray for me throughout the week.
Another support group is Alanon. Alanon is an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous, set up to for those who have been affected by someone else’s alcoholism. I believe it would be helpful for other codependents as well. I’ve never attended the meeting, but have heard good things about it.
Lastly, you can get support through personal therapy. When you are codependent, it can be difficult to look through your own lens and see what needs to change. Having a neutral party like a counselor or therapist can help you learn new skills to live in healthy relationships.
The same thing isn’t going to work for everyone. If you try a support group, I encourage you to attend three or four meetings before deciding if it will work for you. If it doesn’t, see if you can find another meeting. Each group has its own personality, and it may take some time for you to find the one that fits you best.
Above all, stick with it. It’s not going to be easy and there is no “quick fix.” It’s simply building your life back, one day at a time, one moment at a time.
It’s believing that you have value, simply because you are God’s creation.
It’s taking responsibility for your life, and no one else’s.
It’s letting others fall, fail, and hurt, because that is part of their journey, and not something that you need to fix.
Recovering from codependency isn’t easy, but you can do it. I believe in you.
Can you identify with any of the traits of a codependent? What are you doing to kick codependency?
Image Credit: FreeImages.com/Piotr Ciuchta