Solo parent

Week 8 – Recognizing and Overcoming Codependency

As solo parents, we work so hard at making others happy that we often lose ourselves. Author Melody Beattie describes codependency as a reactionary habit: “Codependents overreact and under-react to the problems, pains, lives, and behaviors of others, and of themselves. But rarely do they act.”

Listen carefully to these questions. Do any of these ring a bell for you?

● Do you feel responsible for other people’s thoughts, feelings, actions, desires, successes, or failures?
● Do you have low self-worth?
● Is your guilt and self-blame in overdrive?
● Do you often feel like a victim?
● Do you tend to obsess and feel terrible about problems and people, or do you think and talk about other people a lot?
● Are you controlling?
● Do you have a hard time communicating your boundaries or are you too quick to express anger?
● Do you ignore problems, minimize them, or pretend they’re not happening?

We can all recognize ourselves in these dynamics.

“Once it sets in, codependency takes on a life of its own, like catching pneumonia or picking up a destructive habit,” writes Beattie. “Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. If you want to get rid of it, YOU have to do something to make it go away. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. Your codependency becomes your problem; solving your problems is your responsibility.” Here’s what codependency looks like: You work harder on other people’s problems than they do. You make excuses, covering up for them. You might minimize what they have or haven’t done. You do this to your detriment, framing your drive for control as love or responsibility.

We can’t rescue anyone else from the natural consequences of their own life choices. Not even our children, unless we’re talking about pulling a toddler back from a busy road. When we labor under the delusion that we can control others—thus earning their gratitude or our absolution—we lose sight of what we need, and what we want. We set an expectation in all our relationships that we will not speak difficult but necessary things. We deny others the opportunity to learn for themselves. We train others that we will sacrifice ourselves.

Share Time:

Did you recognize yourself in the questions we asked? Which one, and how does this narrative affect your state or actions?

Author Scott Holstad described the state of codependency as dreaming the dreams of others to such a point that we look in the mirror and instead of seeing ourselves, we see them and their opinions, failures, or problems staring back.

You might have come from a family or culture that defined “good” or “right” as putting other people’s wants and needs first all the time. Is it biblical to serve? Yes, but not with codependent motives. Healthy, biblical love is helping others to help themselves with roots in a healthy sense of self. Even stepping back and letting that person make their own mistakes.

Codependency is idolizing the approval of others, or performing to keep the peace. When we’re selfless out of guilt or fear, we are not honoring God, ourselves, or the people we love.

You might have had responsibility pushed on you as a kid; you might have had to parent your parents to your own detriment or trauma; or you might have been raised to put yourself on the back burner in favor of others. Somewhere along the way, you might have internalized the message that life is about everyone else, and you learned to minimize your needs. This leads you to gravitate toward people who need you. What started out as a way to perform in an imbalanced family system became a survival mechanism in all your relationships.

At the height of this dysfunction, Beattie describes codependent people as “mere shells—people pleasers, martyrs, stoics, tyrants, whispering and clinging like vines.” Despite fancying themselves experts at taking care of others, people who need to be needed are not only unable to truly care for themselves, but they foster ultimately destructive behaviors in those they’re trying to help. We spiral, fruitlessly grasping for a control no human has. Every time we’re shown that we are not in control, we cling tighter and tighter until we are utterly depleted.

Relationship patterns are a pendulum. On one end is codependency: you sacrifice yourself to the needs of others, staging your self-esteem on the shaky ground of external gratitude. You lose yourself by requiring other people to be lost without you.

On the other end of the pendulum is counter-dependency: you push others away so you won’t have to depend on anyone else or have them depend on you. You’re wounded and guarded to the point of a self-fulfilling prophecy that you will always be alone.

It doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other. With self-awareness and intention, practice the middle state: interdependence. Base your actions and interactions on your value and your worth. Care for others without making their failures (or their successes) yours. Generate the gratitude, respect, and peace you need by looking to your own internal core.

Share Time:

Where on the pendulum do you find yourself most often: codependence, counter-dependence, or interdependence? Why?

Eight hundred fifty years ago, the poet Rumi wrote, “Why drink from another’s well when you have your own inner ocean?”

We think of our modern culture as being enlightened and evolved, yet they saw our traps just the same in the thirteenth century. Here’s how to break your own patterns, using wisdom that’s just as ancient.

1. Talk about your feelings.

Sometimes, the safest place to be authentic about what you need is with someone with whom you have no connection and feel no responsibility: a therapist. They’ll guide you to gather your thoughts and to be honest. With them, you’ll start to unravel codependent narratives and practice separating feelings from truth. Get curious about what motivates you and why. This is the first step to showing up for yourself and others.

2. Speak up.

Making your regard for yourself known takes courage. You have to be as willing to hear “No”’as you are to say “No”. It’ll make you squirm all over. It may make you feel like you’re creating conflict, or being selfish or unhelpful—especially if you’ve spent years training other people to lean on you. You may find others may not be available to help you or ready to hear you. Healthy relationships involve the push and pull of They are here for me today, but they might not be here for me tomorrow, and vice versa. This is okay. There’s no need to become a lone wolf who depends on no one; there’s no need to hook your self-worth on someone being helpless without you. Practice speaking up for yourself to land in the middle.

3. Give your relationships to God.

Beattie shares in her book The Language of Letting Go: “Bring any request you have to God. No request is too large, none too small, or insignificant. So often, we limit God by not bringing to God everything we want and need. Put the request in God’s hands, trusting that it’s been heard, then let it go.”

Beyond providing healthy food, fresh air, good sleep, and structure, one of parenting’s most essential tasks is to model life as a positive, well-adjusted, resilient adult. We lead by being their first and most adhesive example. We show them the benefits of deep and meaningful relationships. We let them witness interdependence: rather than seeking affirmation by crippling, suffocating, or controlling others, we show them how to care for themselves so well that what they contribute to others is of true value.

If the way you were raised or your relationship history has you stuck in a spiral of codependency, many of us share it. Rumi spoke of this so many centuries ago because it’s one of our most common and most corrosive relationship dynamics. Don’t feel bad for clinging to control, or for staking your sense of self in the outcomes of others. We grow accustomed to this dynamic over years, but once we recognize it and snap out of it, we can change. Lean on God for guidance and companionship. Pray for Him to be with you while you find your voice and love yourself as you love others.

Further Action Step:
Take a moment each day to identify what you’re feeling, and how that emotion shows up in your body. Is it a weight on your shoulders? An empty feeling in your chest? Paying attention to your emotional state is the first step to caring for yourself in a healthy way.

Consider what your feelings reveal about what you need. Take those needs to God and/or to others you trust to care about you. Practice the prayer, “Today, God, I will tell You what I want and need. I will not demand. I will ask and then let go.”