- You say "yes" when you want to say "no."
- You do more than your fair share of the work.
- You're disappointed or angry with all the slackers around you.
- You are surrounded by needy and demanding people who never really seem to appreciate you like they should.
- You feel pressured, over-committed, stressed, rushed, undervalued, and used.
- You are last on the list. And you just thought: "Wait a minute. I'm allowed to be on the list? Isn't that selfish?"
- You're hoping somebody will notice you and make you feel better.
- You think that saying "no" makes you a mean, bad, unspiritual person.
- You suspect that people who say "no" to you are not especially nice and maybe not too spiritual, either.
- You feel sad or angry because nobody seems to do as much for you as you do for them.
- You feel anxious and guilty over other people's feelings, actions, wants, needs, and well-being.
- You can't say what you really think or feel, because that would hurt the other person's feelings or make them mad.
- You walk on eggshells.
- You don't really know how to have fun. And if you do have accidentally have fun, you feel guilty.
- You worry about what everybody thought about you after you leave a meeting or party.
- You aren't quite sure how you feel. But it's not mad, sad, or scared, that's for sure. Those feelings are bad.
- You let other people hurt you. Again and again and again. You call this forgiveness.
- You lie to protect other people. You lie to protect yourself. You lie to yourself to protect yourself.
- You're terrified of the truth. You can't even name it in your own mind.
- You come to a point where you just can't deal with the pain any more.
- You get really angry, intolerant, distant, and shut down, because that's the only way to be safe.
The term "codependent" was coined in alcohol and drug treatment programs to talk about the maladaptive behaviors of friends and family members who supported and enabled the addict to remain addicted. Now we recognize that you don't necessarily need a drug addict or alcoholic in the equation to have codependent behaviors.
For me, the bottom line with codependency is a pattern of confusion over what is mine and what is yours. Responsibility and consequences are all out of whack. When I'm being codependent, I'm helping you when you ought to be helping yourself. Helping makes you happy with me right now, but ends up making a mess in the long term.
Books and books and books have been written about codependency and how to get out of it. Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend is a great place to start. The Search for Significance by Robert McGee digs into the deeper spiritual issues that keep us wrapped up in other people's junk. If you want to get all crazy and read a feminist author, Harriet Goldhor Lerner has a great book called The Dance of Anger that pretty much blew my mind the first time I read it.
I have three tips that have helped me in my own recovery.
Number One: A Practical Tip
Practice on the people who don't matter. (I hear you out there howling already, but bear with me.) There are people who really, really matter in our lives. Our parents. Our children. Our in-laws. And if we're codependent, we are probably going to be in it up to our necks with these people. The patterns have been in place for years, and change is difficult with them.
For some of us, being able to identify the fact that we don't like something, and to tell the person we don't like it, and to ask for what we want, and to allow the other person to have their emotions about it--that is ENORMOUS. We have had absolutely no experience in this, and we need to practice, practice, practice. And it can help to practice in the small, everyday exchanges that aren't quite so emotionally charged as family interactions.
If you live in America, you can start practicing on the fast food industry. Send back the cold fries, my recovering-codependent friends! Never eat a wilted salad again! No espresso shots in the chai tea! In the huge scheme of your life, what that server thinks of you just DOES NOT MATTER. You need never see them again. So take the opportunity to identify what you don't like, and ask for what you do like. This is not about being mean and ugly and selfish, it's about being honest and assertive in baby steps so that we can experience the fact that the universe will not implode when we ask for what we want, and maybe someday take a similar baby step in a relationship that really matters.
Number Two: An Emotional Tip
Do the right thing and learn to live with a little guilt. When you start changing care-taking patterns, you will probably feel guilty and worried about what the server at McDonald's thought of your Christian witness when you refused the cold fries. That's OK. (Unless you cussed her out, which is not OK. I said assertive, not aggressive.) Don't let your emotions control you. You just do the right thing, and eventually your emotions will get used to it. It really helps at this point to have a couple of close friends (or a counselor) who can help you figure out the right thing, and press on through the guilt and fear. When you're feeling confused and upset, talk it out before you take any action. Make sure you're doing the right thing and not the guilty, fearful thing.
Number Three: A Spiritual Tip
God is in charge of the universe, and it his His job, not mine. I am not responsible for the health and happiness of every person I meet, even if they tell me that I am. If I'm running around like a crazy person, feeling all heavy-laden, then it's likely I've taken over trying to run the universe again. Jesus offers rest for my soul, but He won't force it on me.
A few years ago, I was sitting in front of a pastor, weeping, and saying, "When will it ever be enough?" And this man said to me, "It is enough already." The reason it's enough already is because Jesus has done everything that needs to be done. His love is enough for me, and His love is enough for you.
We can walk together in that, trusting that God cares for us.