I learned early on that being myself only got me in trouble. It was safer, easier to morph into what I needed to be to satisfy the unending criticism and raising of voices. I wiped the slate clean of who I was and became the perfect robot.
I became acutely aware of how he liked things. I moved through the house like a ghost, treading lightly on eggshells treating the home like a museum. The less it looked like I had been there or touched anything, the better. I wouldn’t make footprints until I moved into my own place. It was safer. Easier.
But, I also didn’t find my identity until I lived on my own. I remember coming to the realization that I didn’t even know how I liked things. I had abandoned that part of myself because she was a troublemaker. She got us in trouble. It took a long time before I gave myself permission to have a preference.
I became a resentful people-pleaser. I was really good at profiling people and anticipating their needs. I was really good at manipulating people but I viewed myself as sacrificing without being asked. I thought it was a virtue. And, I psychologically punished those who treated it as an expectation even though I set it as one. My wrath was silent, swirling inside me and they were at a disadvantage because I knew everything about them while they didn’t even know the real me.
I chose people who didn’t care about taking care of my needs and I tried to teach them how to care about me. I waited for them to acknowledge that I wasn’t showing up. They never did. They resisted my superiority while accepting my sacrifices as I burned myself out in what I determined were the demands of loving someone else.
I abandoned myself time and time again. What I really longed for was appreciation. I was the tinkerbell dying for someone to clap for me to bring me back to life.
A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.
Psych Central defines the symptoms of codependency as:
- Low self-esteem
- Poor boundaries
- Dysfunctional Communication
- Problems with Intimacy
- Painful Emotions
A codependent relationship is one-sided and “enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior“.
I overlooked the damaging parts of the people I chose to love and assumed I could compensate for it. If they were depressed, I thought I could be the ray of light. If they weren’t ambitious, they just hadn’t found their life’s purpose. If they had a terrible relationship history, I was going to be everything their last girlfriend wasn’t. I was the answer to their every problem. I put them on my back and carried them along on the road of life.
I was the coach, cheerleader, I ran the concession stand, the fan and the player passing them the ball and determined to win the game whether they were playing or not. But, eventually I got tired.
When you don’t have a strong sense of self and clear boundaries, it makes you very hard to love and it makes it very hard to love others. Seething anger beneath the surface of any relationship damages it. Giving more than your fair share always puts the other person in a deficit. Not communicating your needs guarantees they won’t be met.
It took the crumbling of my last relationship for me to really look at myself. I felt like a failure, but it would have been very easy to look at all that he had done wrong and make him the problem. I had to knock myself off my pedestal as the long-suffering martyr and get real about all the ways I sabotaged any opportunities at intimacy with my choices and need for control.
When I discovered the information about codependency, I recognized my reflection immediately. By putting myself in the role of caregiver, I didn’t have to be vulnerable and I could manipulate the situation to maintain a safe distance, but I also managed to break my own heart and have my needs denied. I was making myself a ghost. I was trying to control the behavior of others by being lovable and giving enough.
I had to do very hard emotional work to uncover the fears I felt at really showing up and demanding to be seen, heard, respected and treated as an equal by a partner or friend who was capable of giving or not giving me what I needed because we were on equal footing. I had to learn my worthiness and understand my value. I had to see myself as deserving of love even in my imperfection and when I was cranky, needy and being shitty. I grew up not being allowed to have a bad day. My days were determined by someone else’s mood or how well I had hid my actions, feelings, needs or desire to relax.
My greatest fear was to marry and commit myself to someone who was perfectly happy with me being absolutely miserable with a fake smile on my face and dying inside every single day.
I had to say no and let love crumble at my feet while I refused to be moved. I had to choose healthy, strong people and be strong and healthy myself.
It has been scary. There are times when I fall back on old ways, but I am aware when I am putting a finger on my boundary to let someone in who doesn’t deserve it. I reevaluate and choose myself. Just recently I said no to an implied demand for my presence and I felt strong.
I made a decision that I don’t have to not need anything to be loved. And, anyone who demands that of me doesn’t love me in a way that is good enough for me.
If you are wondering if you could be codependent, here is a quiz:
It wasn’t so much about breaking free of him, as it was about breaking free of me.
–Grace W. Wroldson