“God Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” - The Serenity Prayer
Codependency is difficult to define because it is like an onion with many layers. There are many characteristics that can be a part of codependency. Different individuals can display different characteristics but still fall under the category of being codependent. Yet, one common thread that seems to run through most codependents is the desire to control others behavior and a tendency to be affected by others behavior in an unhealthy way.
Melody Beattie, who wrote the book Codependent No More, defines codependency this way, “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.”
Many times the individual who has codependent tendencies sees the other person as the problem; but the problem is not the other person. The problem is how we respond to the other person’s behavior.
Sometimes people want to please others so much that they forget to take care of themselves. In the process they neglect themselves. They may do this because they value others more than they value themselves. The problem is that when this occurs they have nothing left to give. Or if they do have something left to give they become resentful when they do it because they are neglecting their own needs in the process.
Jesus said one of the greatest commandments is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Sometimes it is easier to love our neighbor than it is to love ourselves. It may feel good to get praise from others when we give to others. There is nothing wrong with this but if we are wired to get our needs for attention and acceptance from doing things for others we may end up getting addicted to pleasing others in the process. When this happens we neglect ourselves and many times lose our self identity. We forget what is important to us and who we are. All that matters is pleasing others.
One individual, who identified himself as a codependent, shared that he would start a relationship and treat the woman like a queen. He said he would do this for a few months and then he would become resentful because he would think that she didn’t appreciate him or that she was taking advantage of him. During this time of giving he would not communicate his feelings or needs and assumed that she was selfish. He would then abandon the relationship and pull back without sharing why. The other person became the problem. The reality is that he did not value his needs and set boundaries because he was wired to give to gain acceptance. He said that he would do this over and over again in his relationships with women. The reality is that he did not value his needs and set boundaries because he was wired to give to gain acceptance.
Fredrick Buechner said it this way, “Our shimmering self gets buried so deep we hardly live out of it at all… rather we, learn to live out of all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.”
Yet others may be addicted to trying to fix others. They find themselves in the fixer role in their relationships. This also can be exhausting. These individuals attract broken people. They are looking for people who have problems. They like to play counselor and to tell others what they need to do. They may be very critical and judgmental and controlling. This person does not realize that people can’t be fixed or changed. So, this person ends up disappointed, angry and overwhelmed.
Others may get caught up enabling others. This means that they rescue others from life and in the process the individual they are trying to help does not experience consequences for their actions. So, the person does not see a need to change. Others may become dependent on them to save the day. They may seem to change but when the enabler or rescuer is not there they go back to their old patterns.
Another type of person is the taker. This person looks for people who want to rescue them so that they can take. When people please them they esteem them and when they don’t they blame them and criticize them. They see others as responsible for meeting their needs. This person is very hard to please and is an energy blaster (he or she sucks up other people’s energy).
Regardless of what role we may identify with the key to getting healthy is to realize what we are doing. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. For the codependent it is essential to realize the pattern of behavior that leads to destructive results and to find a new way to respond to others.
The serenity prayer can be a very helpful reminder to us of some basic core truths – that we cannot control others and can only control how we respond to others. By learning to value ourselves and paying attention to our feelings and needs we can begin to prioritize us. Then we can begin to be assertive about our needs and not neglect them. We can begin to set boundaries and in doing so gain more control of our lives. The result will be living healthier lives.
PHOTO CAPTION: "Photo Courtesy Flickr." Photo by Xurble.