- Mental Health
Codependent or Just Crazy?
Causes and Symptoms of Codependency
Feeling crazy is normal for people struggling with all that is codependency. But you're not really crazy. You just haven't put all the pieces of the codependency puzzle together yet.
What Codependency Looks Like
This is a partial list of how codependency manifests itself
- endless guilt
- low self-esteem
- obsessive behavior
- track record of dysfunctional relationships
- anger issues
- care-taking/rescuer personality
- overly responsible or controlling
- inability to trust
- weak boundaries
- repression (fear of speaking up lest there be punishment or rejection)
- denial (can't see there is a problem)
- numb or frozen (don't feel anything)
- inability to enjoy intimacy
- tendency toward addictive behavior (chemicals, smoking, sleeping, sex, shopping, etc.)
- on-going physical ailments
- terrified of rejection
- unable to make decisions
- feel overwhelmed easily
- worry too much
- consumed with shame
As if these weren't enough, there are constant lies swirling around in the codependent's head that make it impossible to function normally. They include:
"My happiness depends on whether everyone around me is 'happy' and approves of me, no matter what it costs me."
"I am responsible for fixing everyone and their problems."
"I am 'bad' and basically unlovable."
How Does It Start?
In a healthy home, a child's emotional needs are met. She is heard, acknowledged, nurtured and loved. In a dysfunctional one, she instead feels ignored, fearful, belittled and responsible for the well-being of the adults. In these families spontaneity and laughter are replaced by rigidness, an abundance of rules, secrets and ongoing tension.
Individuals are often enmeshed, meaning they are too entangled in each other's emotions. Boundaries are often overlapping and ignored or nonexistent.
Addiction is very often at the core, but not always. All this negativity, hostility and emotional confusion makes the child scared, insecure and eventually, angry.
Verbal and emotional abuse is common. In many cases so are verbal and even sexual abuse. These all lead to deeper, more dangerous feelings in the child such as rage, guilt and shame.
Spoken and unspoken messages like, "Don't talk, don't feel, don't trust" are commonplace. These create a sense of uncertainty and lead to a feeling of being crazy. By the time the child leaves this home, she is burdened with all the unhealthy emotions, thinking and behaviors that have come together to form a codependent personality. Since she only knows what she was raised with, she goes on to form equally dysfunctional relationships as an adult.
Being codependent will rob you of a real life. It will distort your self-view. It over rides everything you say and every decision you make. You are doomed to live out your life as half a person, and you will pass this legacy of unhappiness on to your children, unless you make the difficult decision to end this generational cycle.
How Do I Overcome It?
Anyone who has gone through the battle with codependency and come out of it victorious (yes, there are many who have) will tell you that it took years but it was so worth it. Remember, you are going to have to undo the habitual thinking that was ingrained in your mind as a child.
The very first step that must be taken is to commit to setting aside time for your own wellbeing. Why is that so hard? Because one of the hallmarks of codependency is that we believe we don't have time to do that, considering how much time we invest in 'helping' and 'fixing' others. That combined with our endless fatigue and magical thinking that tells us it's either hopeless or that we're fine. We are our own worst enemies!
Secondly, you must be willing and able to see yourself from a new perspective. Again, since you have always had a distorted view of yourself, this is very difficult.
Then, you have to go from 'knowing' to 'doing.' This is huge. Your natural behavior is destructive and negative. Our codependent, eternally reasoning minds will come up with all the answers, but the actual doing is terrifying because it requires going against our very nature. But that is, after all, how new habits are formed.
Finally, you must believe you can be healed. Can you truly see yourself with a new, fresh body, mind, soul and environment?
Your transformation will be on all these levels. It will require ongoing, intense therapy, reading, learning, praying, self- training and many tough decisions regarding the kind of life you want to create.
Mindfulness is an integral part of your healing. By using this simple way of reframing your thoughts, you can literally change your world. When searching for a good therapist, be sure and ask if he or she is familiar with this practice.
In my book, "You're Not Crazy-You're Codependent," I dedicate a third of the book to this incredibly powerful skill.
Codependent people are notorious for chanting, "I know, I know" without really committing to practice what it is they know. Make a decision to let yourself be immersed in these ideas and practices which may at first seem far-fetched. When you begin to feel overwhelmed or anxious, just walk away for a bit. Return when you can focus.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing the work of healing. If you are truly tired of being half-alive, make the tough choice to change from the inside.
It's important to remember that codependency is a lot like any other addiction in that while it is completely possible to overcome, you will always have to take it day by day, moment to moment. Why? Because your old thinking will naturally want to take over if you're not eternally vigilant. The difference for you in the future - after you've given yourself a new set of skills - will be that you will see what's happening in your thoughts. You will know how to mindfully stop the old, habitual, destructive thinking and put in its place your healthy thoughts. This will determine how you speak, act and view the world. The temptation to 'relapse' into old patterns will get less powerful as your new habits take hold.
Just as the recovering alcoholic extends her hands and words to help those who came after her, you will one day be ready to do the same. Be patient and stay committed. It will be worth it, I promise.