Which relationship is the most important relationship in your life?
If you answered with your significant other or parents and siblings or best friend… not quite. Yes, those are all important relationships, but who is most important?
I’ve struggled with that concept for years. Learning about codependency and the fact that I’ve been plagued with it my entire life was more than eye-opening. Understanding that I have issues with codependency unlocked an opportunity to make some major changes.
What is codependency? It’s marked by:
- low self-esteem
- poor boundaries
- dysfunctional communication
- problems with intimacy
- painful emotions
Somewhere along the way in my childhood, I discovered I had difficulty connecting with my peers. Social anxiety and a healthy dose of awkwardness dominated my interactions with others. I desperately wanted friends, and for people to like me.
I learned to people please, because of my low self-esteem. Because I began people-pleasing, my boundaries were practically non-existent. Sometimes I became so preoccupied and almost obsessed with what people thought of me, that I became willing to do whatever it took to keep my relationships with them. I never said what I really meant. Instead, I said what I thought would keep me liked and needed. All of my wants and needs came dead last, and I often felt used up, angry, and exhausted without understanding why.
The cycle of codependency is truly vicious. One trait led to another and another and so on and so forth. I lost who I was a person for a long time. I didn’t know what I liked or disliked. I felt like I was taken advantage of a lot of the time, not realizing that I turned myself into a complete doormat.
I realized I was codependent in 2014 but didn’t know how to handle it. Initially, I rejected the idea. (Oh, look at that, denial.) I was so used to “helping others” that I didn’t think I needed to stop. Codependency made me a “good person”. I was a squad mom. I took care of my friends, even if I was drunker than they were. I made sure they were safe.
An example of my codependency? A friend of mine got jumped on Halloween a few years back. I was walking drunkenly (stumbling, really) down the Destin Harborwalk with a few other friends, and I notice blood on the ground. I look ahead and see my buddy on the ground and his girlfriend and our friends yelling and crying and some dudes running away. I immediately snapped out of my drunken haze, sprinted over, and looked for signs that he was concussed and for other injuries. That Self-Aid Buddy Care training from being in the Air Force kicked in, I guess. He didn’t want to go to the E.R., so I drunkenly drove them home and stayed at their apartment to make sure he didn’t go to sleep and not wake up.
I put myself at risk of a DUI to help someone else who had a whole girlfriend and a bunch of other options (Uber, for example) to get home safely. That’s only one example, out of probably thousands of times I’ve done something like that. I didn’t know how to stop. It felt like an addiction.
So what made it possible to change my ways? Therapy, duh! That and self-awareness. Choosing to do things, because I wanted to do them, not because I thought it would keep people close. Saying no and not explaining myself. Figuring out what my boundaries are, and sticking to them. Saying “¡Adios!” people who did not respect me or my boundaries without feeling bad for doing so. Not obsessing over what other people thought any longer by focusing on being better for me. Unsurprisingly, I’m happier than I’ve ever been (and feelin’ and lookin’ pretty darn good, too, if I do say so myself ?).