I Am A Codependent in Recovery
“Have you ever considered that you may be codependent?”
I’ll never forget the day my therapist (who one of my clients hilariously refers to as her “grand-therapist”) asked me this question. I had just spent a solid twenty minutes complaining about how the guy I was seeing was not prioritizing spending time with me over his ridiculous work schedule. Her question came completely out of left field. Me? A codependent? No way. I’d spent the past year in therapy working towards being okay completely on my own. The last thing I need is a relationship to make me feel whole.
I remember staring at her in confusion. She told me my homework was to read through the symptoms of codependency. Being the overachiever that I am, I pulled up an article as I was walking down the street to my car after our session ended. Here’s what I found:
Low self-esteem. Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame. Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
People-pleasing. It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.
Poor boundaries. Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else. Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.
Caretaking. Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.
Reactivity. A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.
Dependency. Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
I instantly texted my sister the link to the article. Not only is she an Enneagram Type 2 just like me, she has the exact same Myers-Briggs personality type (shout out to my fellow ISFJ’s). If there is one person who understands me on every level it has always been her. “Do you relate to this?” I asked. She responded “Kind of”. Kind of?!? There was no denying it now. No excuses left to make.
The next week, I walked into therapy with my head hung low. Once again, my therapist had recognized something in me I had not seen in myself. “So how do I make it go away?” I asked. If only it was that easy.
I am slowly learning codependency, much like anxiety or depression, is something that never truly goes away. However, it is something you can learn to manage.
Trust me, it won’t be easy. You may even lose some people in the process. After finally speaking up to that guy I mentioned earlier about feeling like I wasn’t being prioritized, I was promptly ghosted. But I was filled with a new sense of empowerment. I had put my feelings ahead of my fear of someone else’s reaction for the first time in as long as I could remember. I became not just a codependent, but a codependent in recovery.
If you relate to any of the symptoms of codependency, I challenge you to put yourself first. I challenge you to tell people how you feel the moment you feel it. I challenge you to set boundaries, to say “no” when you don’t want to do something, to not let the opinions of others ruin your entire day.
I once read a quote that summed it up perfectly. “Codependency is letting others decide how you feel”. By setting boundaries and sticking to them, by making “no” a complete sentence, by taking the opinions of others with a grain of salt, you are setting yourself free. You are giving yourself your power back.