I was a codependent. It looks strange when I see that on paper. Codependency is not a recognised disorder nor does it make you ill in a true sense but my experiences and the experiences of countless others (many of my patients too) tell me that it can be just a devastating as a clear diagnosis. You see, codependency gives you a specific view of the world that ensures that you sacrifice your own needs and requirements for the benefit of others. On the other hand, I have written here before that codependency is also a form of control in that by sacrificing and creating an environment for the good of others ensures that the codependent will feel secure and loved. Sounds great in theory but due to the people that codependents tend to attach themselves to, that theory is often built on sand and like the proverbial house of cards, is sure to tumble at some point.
There are millions of articles and hundreds of books on codependency available and most look at the relationship between a codependent and their nemesis, the narcissist. While it may be true that codependents are more vulnerable to the emotionally unavailable distant people who often breeze tthrough their lives, it is only part of the story, at least it was for me. For me, it was a lifestyle that resulted in time spent with the wrong people, self centered people that knew all too well how to feed from my generosity.
I was a sacrificer, which meant that I gave constantly. This means myself, my ambitions, personal items, material things. I did this for a very good reason. To make people need me, like me or love me. While this was nice for the people around me as I was very accommodating, everyone had a high price to pay. For them dealing with my martyrdom attitude and the resentment it bred and me when the result of my sacrifice didn’t materialise into the things I wanted it to. It didn’t stop me trying again and a pattern emerged and was established. Not just with people but also with my work. I was a perfectionist and workaholic who drove himself to the brink of mental exhaustion with the demands I made of myself.
Where this started is clear… a dysfunctional relationship with one or both of my primary caregivers. I can see that today and of course, hindsight is 20-20 vision in such circumstances. I feel today that I am not responsible for the conditioning they gave me but I finally realised a few years ago that I was fully responsible for any change in that thinking. That I was finally going to put myself first. When I talk to codependent patients about this concept…putting your needs first….it seems alien and frightening at first. This is something they have not been used to or even thought was possible in some cases. Many, like me, accepted that was as good as it gets and often confused what they were doing with love. It isn’t love if you put limits on it, right?
I started my road to recovery in the 90’s initially and after a significant setback, got back on track a few years ago. I started with other hand inner child therapy and rediscovered the part of me I had abandoned as a child. The part of me that was never developed…the creative, playful side that I was too afraid to let show. Through a process or rediscovery and reparenting, I put all the guilt and shame I was carrying into perspective and went through mourning the loss of my childhood. These were the key elements…loss,guilt, shame and low self esteem as a result. This led to the clear feeling that I had to do more than I needed to keep someone interested in me…I was prey for narcissists.
Apart from that one setback, I have never really looked back……