Codependency and being dysfunctional are clichés because they’re age old problems. For as long as people have been unhealthy, we’ve had unhealthy relationships. As my friends in AA remind me, “What we lived with we learned and what we learned we became.” We tend to relate as others related to us growing up.
We learned to earn conditional love because unconditional love was denied us. We sought acceptance by doing and being as others wanted us to be. Is it any wonder then that we do not know how to relate to others in healthy ways?
We do what we believe we must until the day comes when we can’t do it anymore. We change because we must and in order to change we must pay attention to what we’ve ignored most – ourselves.
For so many of us, feeling needed was as close as we ever came to feeling loved. We taught people to expect the world from us and to give us little or nothing in return. We did this without ever noticing the lengths we went to. We simply did enormous amounts of work, gave endlessly of ourselves, and sacrificed. Then we pushed away any praise, appreciation, or reciprocity they might offer because we didn’t know how to receive it. This left us feeling empty, resentful, and chronically disappointed.
We’d secretly hoped that others would figure us out and do for us as we do for them. We couldn’t bring ourselves to ask and so we dropped hints and we gave more and more. All to no avail. We were left with no one to meet our needs.
To care for others is different than to take care of them. Being and doing as they wanted never made us feel fulfilled. It never gave us more than a moment of peace. We took a long look at the people in our lives and we noticed they were primarily selfish people and that many were unhealthy. Some relations we kept and some we ended because it hurt too much to hold on.
In some relationships we learned that we could change boundaries and set limits. Healthy people are receptive when we do this. It is uncomfortable to do at first but it reduces stress and creates a vastly more manageable life. We learned to say “no.” We learned that we didn’t have to explain and that we could simply tell people what we were willing to do and what we weren’t.
We came to believe that taking care of ourselves is not selfish. It’s healthy and foundational for loving others. It starts with yourself and your Higher Power – all other relationships are built on that foundation. We saw that we had built lives filled with good intentions on crumbling ground and we decided to give ourselves something far more stable and lasting.
Having chosen to make ourselves a priority, we became more aware of our feelings and of what we most needed and wanted. This did not feel like progress at first. We had not learned to cope in healthy ways and felt unworthy of the things we wanted. We were ashamed that our needs had not been met and we understood (perhaps for the first time) that we had blamed ourselves for the failings of others. We sought support for what we did not know and we learned that we need not feel guilty for how we feel or think – only our actions can be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. Thoughts and feelings simply are. They occur naturally whether we like them or not.
We learned that we had more skills than we realized. It was shared with us that if we knew how to do something for others then we knew how to do it for ourselves. This is the Golden Rule in reverse – we are free to treat ourselves as we treat others.
Ultimately, we had to get out of our own way. We stopped complaining and started journaling. We expressed ourselves artistically. We became far more honest with ourselves. We stopped living in regret and started exploring possibilities. We invested in new friendships, new hobbies/interests, and became part of groups of like minded and passionate people. We learned to connect and that once we knew our true selves that we were free to share who we really are. You can too.