Monday, January 2, 2012

On Codependence

G-d, grant me the serenity
To accept the people I cannot change,
Courage to change the person I can
And the wisdom to know it’s me.


It’s difficult to remember the particular instance when I discovered that I am codependent. It was shocking, that’s for sure, but there was a comfort, a validation of sorts, in finding a label, in knowing that I was not alone. Codependency is part of the addictive spectrum. As with other addictions, codependency is essentially a coping mechanism used to lessen emotional pain.

A codependent may display some of these characteristics:

-Easily absorbs the pain and problems of others.
-Value of self comes from the approval of others.
-Uncomfortable expressing true feelings.
-Wants to be in control.
-Overwhelming desire to feel needed by other people.
-Feels guilty for the behavior of others.
-Difficulty trusting other people.
-Keeps quiet in order to avoid confrontation.
-Uncomfortable accepting compliments from others.
-Feels terrible about making mistakes.
-Difficulty refusing someones request.
-Remains loyal, even if the other person or situation is harmful.

When I initially heard the character descriptions of a codependent it was difficult for me to comprehend that this was a problem. I thought I was SUPPOSED to take responsibility for other people’s behavior. I thought it was good that I accepted the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was meant to fix other people’s problems, wasn’t I? To help them change and have better lives? I thought I was being a good Jewish wife and mother.

Well, I was obviously doing something wrong so I tried harder to make things work. To make things better. I pushed myself a little further and inevitably, I would feel overwhelmed and become resentful. This in turn would lead to guilt over my feelings. How hard is it to make someone else happy? Am I so selfish that I can’t give a little more to resolve this issue for another person? Isn’t it easier to take responsibility for an error that belongs to somebody else than to deal with the aftermath, with their feelings of inadequacy? Oh yes. It was the most efficient way to exist. Take care of everything myself. After all, if I wanted it done right, I needed to do it myself.

As my awareness grew about codependence and its patterns, I would recognize myself more and more. I began to realize that I was being dishonest. I didn't always want to be that accommodating, yet I felt that I had to. That it was expected of me. I wasn't really accepting - I wanted people to change. I noticed that my resentment would follow an instance where I pushed myself too far. Where I gave more than I wanted to. Where I ignored my boundaries.

Codependents see things in black and white. Or always and never. (You never take out the garbage when I ask you to. You always leave your socks in the living room.) This faulty thinking pattern prefaced an over-reaction in my life, about a million times. Maybe more. It also led to my feeling defensive and antagonistic.

Another faulty thinking pattern I had perfected was “expecting the worst”. Constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and the emotional chain reaction that ensues is exhausting. I wish I could take back the many hours I willingly gave to planning for the worst case scenario.

Our experiences during childhood forge our adulthood. When a child is raised in a negative environment (be it addiction, neglect or abuse, etc.) they devise survival mechanisms that develop into social/emotional habits such as compulsive caretaking, martyrdom, controlling, people-pleasing, and approval-seeking. As adults, codependents frequently surround themselves with unhealthy people. Something reminiscent to that which they are accustomed to from childhood.

How is caretaking different from parenthood? How are people-pleasing and martyrdom different from friendship? How is controlling different from marriage? These questions leave me most challenged, yet they are also the ones that give me the most clarity.

As parents, we give to our children in a selfless way so that they learn to give to themselves and ultimately to others. We care for them completely, allow them to grow, learn and gain independence. 

Friendship is an interpersonal relationship that is mutually beneficial. Two distinct people share a respect for one another, a deep bond, enjoy each other's company and bring out each other's potential.

Marriage is a relationship where two parts of a soul merge and find completion. It is where two people become one, yet remain individual, with their own needs and desires.

Giving from a place of kindness and love is not enough for me.  I need to give from a place of well-being, a place where I remain within my boundaries. As long as I hold on to that value I can give the world. As soon as I give outside of my boundaries, it becomes a destructive behavior.

My therapist initially mentioned codependence to me and helped me recognize my telltale signs. The exhaustion, the guilt, the resentment, the emotion. Now these are my cues, my reminders, that I've gone too far. I am developing the ability to track these symptoms before they become full-blown.

I have gained tremendously from the work of Rabbi Shais Taub. Shais's book, God of Our Understanding discusses the Jewish perspective of the 12-step program. Many people I have spoken to about the 12-step program expressed concern about its source. Shais allays those concerns in his book and describes the spiritual principles and their compatibility with Torah. The work of
Melody Beattie, a codependent herself, include many books such as Codependent No More, The New Codependency and The Language of Letting Go. I recommend reading any or all of her writing and also the work of Pia Mellody.

Most beneficial has been my participation in a CoDA (Codependents Anonymous) meeting. As with all 12-step programs people facing similar challenges meet and share and provide support for one another. I am particularly grateful to my fellow codependents, as we face ourselves and each other with honesty, dignity, acceptance and compassion.

My name is Chana and I am codependent.


Some affirmations that I value from my CoDA meetings

Just for today I will respect my own and others’ boundaries. Just for today I will be vulnerable with someone I trust Just for today I will take one compliment and hold it in my heart for more than just a fleeing moment. I will let it nurture me. I am beautiful inside and outside. I love myself unconditionally. I can allow myself ample leisure time without feeling guilty. I deserve to be loved by myself and others. I deserve love, peace, prosperity & serenity. I forgive myself for hurting myself and others. I forgive myself for letting other people hurt me. I am not alone. I am whole and good. I am capable of changing. The pain that I might feel by remembering cannot be any worse than the pain I feel by knowing and not remembering.


  1. Unbelievable. First of all the writing is incredible. But that aside, I can't believe you had the courage to share this! It's so personal and honest. I am a reader and a fan and I will tell you this post tells me you trust and appreciate your readers. Thank you.
    p.s. about what you actually addressed, this issue is not one I can relate to but i learned something new about people and their pekeles today.

    1. Hey. Don't you love the new reply option. Finally, blogger.
      Thanks for your comment and feedback. Very grateful.

  2. Chana, I love reading your posts. THere is always something to relate to and think about

    1. Thank you anon. I appreciate your feedback

  3. beautifully written I have all the symptoms of codependency....:(

    1. thanks anon. Welcome to the club....
      We are all a work in progress.

  4. Really great writing and I know this must have been difficult to go public with.

    P.s. if I promise "never" to leave my socks in the living room again, is that a codependency symptom?

    1. thanks Pinny:)
      Don't make promises you can't keep.

  5. what's the opposite of codependency .... that's me !!!
    shabbat shalom!

  6. Thank you for sharing this and reminding me that we are all works in progress. I appreciated how clearly you distinguish what healthy relationships are and your honesty.