I’ll admit it. I’m a recovering codependent.
Codependence is a bitch. For an enabler, like me, it means that you’re letting someone else step on your feelings of self worth. A good functional definition of the codependent cycle is “Underdeveloped self esteem (dysfuncational boundaries) combined with an inappropriate caring for others (invading a boundary), and an inappropriate reliance on another’s response (having poor boundaries), in a negatively reinforcing loop”. Codependence is very common in folks who have endured abuse. It’s what enables the cycle of abuse to exist and continue.
When I was in my first marriage, I had no idea that our relationship was codependent. All I thought about was how to keep my husband happy, regardless of the situation. He was very rarely actually happy. Fortunately, he left me. That action gave me the push I needed to see a psychologist. I went to therapy during the divorce and after, and I worked with a support group for a long time. I learned that I wasn’t alone in the wrong thinking of “my partner comes first” in a marriage, rather than the healthier thinking of “We’re a team. We matter equally.” It’s all too common for folks to lose their perspective when they’re in love.
I can say, without question, that learning how to see the red flags that indicate codependent behavior (such as recognizing when action by another will negatively affect me) and being empowered to change my behavior based on that recognition changed my life profoundly for the better. It made me responsible for my well being and happiness. It ended a lot of needless upset. It ended a lot of unnecessary hurt.
If a friend is doing things that hurt you, they’re not your friend.
“Codependency, by definition, means making the relationship more important to you than you are to yourself,” marriage and family therapist Tina Tessina says. “It’s kind of a weird phrase, and it doesn’t sound like it means a one-sided relationship. But that’s what it is. It means you’re trying to make the relationship work with someone else who’s not.”
In the last couple of weeks, two people who I care for very deeply, who don’t know each other and are completely unrelated, have been causing me an unnecessary amount of stress, anxiety, and upset. And extra stress and anxiety for me only makes my MS worse. Effectively, by dumping their emotional baggage on me, they were actually physically hurting me.
Caring for your health is your first responsibility.
For weeks, I’ve worried and fretted about these people. I’ve done my best to be a good, caring friend and help them out of their difficult situations. I’ve told both of them what I think about the situations they’ve gotten themselves into. (Which is to say, I advised both of them that their behaviors were dangerous and that they were causing themselves harm.) Neither one of them were willing to acknowledge that they were hurting themselves. Neither one of them cared how their drama affected my life, or how their behavior affected others… so I realized, as I found myself cussing out the married boyfriend of one of them, that I desperately needed to draw boundaries for my own emotional and physical safety.
So, today, I unfriended both of them. One was a good friend for nearly 20 years. One was friends with my parents for years before I was born, and I was initially afraid of how it would affect my parents. Ending those relationships was hard. It took guts, but I knew I had to put my well being first. I had to practice self-compassion.
Self compassion is not selfishness.
Self-compassion is comprised of self-kindness (which requires that you actually show yourself kindness and understanding about how you feel and don’t judge yourself for it), mindfulness (being aware of pain and not exaggerating it), and recognition of our common humanity. It means putting yourself first, but not being an asshole about it. Caring for yourself is an obligation. If you don’t do it, you’re asking for things to get worse.
Selfishness is when you take care of yourself while lacking consideration, compassion and empathy for others. I know that I’m not being selfish because I genuinely wish both of these people the best. I want good things for them. But I also acknowledge that I have no control over their choices or actions, and that they, in fact, had some control over my emotions. That inequality is not healthy, so I had to take action to care for myself.
At the end of the day, you have to live with you.
I hope that by sharing this, I’ve helped anyone at all. Having the backbone necessary to eliminate toxic relationships is important. The best way I’ve heard it said is by an adorable little girl.