From time to time I like to practice my super powers. Yes, I’ve always been weird like that.
When I was 5 years old, for example, I’d turn and twist for hours in an honest and frustrating effort to become Wonder Woman. Later on in life, I opted for the nose twitch here and there in hopes that my room would get organized by itself. As I grew up, I realized that even though flying and having super strength were not part of the powers I possessed, I did indeed own incredible qualities that were powerful in their own way.
I embraced and cultivated these qualities to the most of my abilities and resources. Being in control of my own life and being self-sufficient were perhaps the most exciting ones.
This was an incredible discovery for me, especially at the end of my teenage years. You know, those times when even the simplest things were a “life or death” situation. There was never going to be another party like Nathalie’s, life was ruined and over without those sneakers or that dress, it was a total tragedy to miss the game and not being with that person, who just happened to be the love of my life, meant that nothing would ever have any meaning again!
Back then, it seemed happiness always came from external sources.
Of course, I was raised to believe being independent was definitively a good thing, being dependent on others not so much (only during harsh times), and being codependent… God forbid! In time, I’ve come to appreciate these teachings (Thanks mom.)
Learning the lesson was no walk in the park though. It can be hard living in a world where movies, songs and magazines constantly tell us that we are a complete – or rather incomplete - nobody without somebody else’s love, recognition, company or acceptance.
You just have to turn on the radio and boom! You get bombarded with these messages. Gotta be with you, need to be with you…I can’t be without you baby, I’ll be waiting up until you get home ‘cuz I can’t sleep without you…
And what about movies? Who can forget the “oh, so romantic” you complete me! Hello? You got me at codependent much?
And what is social media other than the adult version of high school popularity? Our worth is linked to how accepted (and followed) we are, how much others like and retweet our thoughts and how high our Klout score is.
One of my favorite jokes goes something like… You’re codependent for sure when you wake up in the morning and ask your partner: “Good morning, how am I today?”
Codependency is not a funny thing though. Although it is often talked about in reference to families or couples, a codependent person will expand their “codependent ways” to all other relationships – intimate or casual.
What is codependency?
How you feel about yourself and about your life is constantly based on who smiled at you, who spoke to you, who is mad at you, who called you… Your evaluation of each day is based on how others behaved towards you at work or at home. That is codependency.
In a romantic relationship, codependency might be very destructive. This “I can’t live without another person” thing really troubles me. The general idea behind codependency is that a person persistently puts other people’s feelings and needs before their own, hence relegating (and even forgetting) their own wishes and feelings to the bottom of their priority list. Now, I very much doubt that Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa were suffering from chronic codependency syndrome, so there must be a limit somewhere, and I believe it has to do with happiness and self-esteem.
People who are in codependent relationships sooner or later end up feeling resentful, angry, frustrated and depressed but even then, they stay in the situation or reproduce it in other settings (their next relationship or friendship).
I believe we all have been in codependent situations at some point in our lives; some of us keep repeating and prolonging them, and some of us are able to learn the lesson faster and move on. It’s part of discovering ourselves.
But the truth is that our cultural belief that true love is unconditional and painful does not help. I say, relationships must require conditions in order to work out! The condition you will respect me, you will be loyal, you will be honest… I might still love you if you won’t… but I won’t stay and settle for less than what I need, want and deserve.
How do I identify codependency?
No matter how you name it, whatever is making you unhappy or harming you in any way must be dealt with. When it comes to codependency, self-awareness is the key. Are you making excuses for your pain and suffering? Is you life still yours or are you living your partner’s?
It is hard to place all our bets on somebody else – parent, children, friend, lover. I have noticed the difference in my own relationships. When I restrict my network of friends and I limit my activities, my partner becomes the source of satisfaction… and that is such a burden for the other person, and for myself! The times when I have been the most independent in my relationships (more friends, more hobbies, more productive at work), are the times I have been the happiest because I have felt confident, supported and full of experiences to share with the other person. That has also given me the certainty that even though I choose to be with them, and they choose to be with me, we have our own worlds apart that will not fall out if we separate.
The moment anybody thinks that if the other person leaves, life will drastically change – that is the moment when that red flag must be dealt with immediately.
In many cases, there is no need to end the relationship. Not all codependency is necessarily a sign of danger or long-term illness. Or at least, it does not need to be. Sometimes, we just reproduce the relationship patterns we better know – but mindful living allows us to overcome those patterns and grow out of them.
I’ve learned that relationships usually heal when people heal, and some other times they end because the pattern that held people together does no longer exist and there is nothing left to bond.
Sure, breaking up is hard but after all, it is true that what does not kill you, makes you stronger… and you would be surprised at the survival rates after a breakup!
I guess sometimes it’s a matter of reason versus feelings. Just like smoking cigarettes when you understand they may harm you but you feel unable or not ready to quit. And sometimes it’s a matter of finding the hero within; the one with the superpowers of self-sufficiency and independence… and also self-produced happiness.