Welcome to the third installment of Codepedency Diaries: Today, we meet J who has “given” all her life to friends, family and employers. Much of the time she gets the feeling, with some justification, that she is taken advantage of. However, while she constantly complains, she feels rejected and depressed when the demands for her time and energy reduce or stop. She is now at the point where she is mentally and physically exhausted and has started to have panic attacks when she fears she cannot cope. J is involved in a civil partnership with a neurotic, self-centred man who pushes his dysfunction onto her. They have no relationship to speak of but she still does most things for him and allows him to do nothing, thus enabling his bad behaviour. She wants to leave but finds excuses to stay. At work, she is the one that everyone goes to when there is extra work and her boss piles her desk full of unfinished tasks. She works overtime on most days while her colleagues go home on time and has been known to take work home with her. Any spare time she has is spent with her children doing homework and cleaning up after them. She has tried to give them responsibility for some things but does not maintain it. J is a full codependent who uses her martyrdom to control those around her. She has no “me” time or any time for relaxation or exercise and feels guilty when she is not productive in her mind. Here is her version of her situation which in parts is far from reality.
“I have to do everything because otherwise it doesn’t get done or done properly. I just cannot trust people to do as they say they will do. I have always had the attitude that if you want something done well, do it yourself! Just lately, it is becoming too much. I am tired and I am finding it difficult to do everything. Even so, no-one notices and tries to help. My partner says I should slow down but any attempt to push some work on him is met with a firm refusal, saying he doesn’t know how. My kids don’t help and prefer to spend time on their phones. I have asked to reduce time at work but we are very busy and my boss said he will see what can happen in a few months. I am exhausted and don’t know where this will end.“
J expressed a number of issues in therapy that pertain to her childhood. Firstly her father, who was a very strict, unsympathetic, distant man, never allowed her to believe that anything she did was good enough. He tasked her with helping him take care of her sick mother and what this meant in reality was that she did it and he criticized. She also looked after her siblings, who were extremely unappreciative of her efforts. As a child, she was not taught how to meet her own needs and in fact, does not even know what they are. She has been conditioned to be the caregiver in any situation she finds herself in. When her father died, he left her some money but in trust for her children which she was not permitted to access, saying in his will, that he did not believe in direct inheritance. J is getting to the point where it is a question as to what happens first, emotional or physical breakdown.
J had to learn anew what it was like to be an individual and have individual needs. For so long, she had defined herself by what she did for others. She used this to create connection to be appreciated. It never truly came. J spent a long time learning to set boundaries and to say no, eventually freeing up space for herself to meet her own needs. This part was difficult as she explored self-care and new hobbies and how to look after herself. She eventually left her partner and went her way with her two children who are learning also that their mother cannot and should not do everything for them. This is a new world for J but one that has her needs front and centre.