A codependent may display some of these characteristics:
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.
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.