“You don’t need to set yourself on fire to make somebody else warm”
I recently heard a woman in one of my relationship support groups say to a younger member lamenting over a boyfriend not giving as much as she did within the relationship, “You don’t need to set yourself on fire to make somebody else warm”. Boom. The room became silent, as if this idea was inconceivable, but then, settled into the cracks of truth some seldom want to really see. She was onto something and everyone in the group shifted uncomfortably. The stage was set, and the real work stood before us.
I like to look at relationships as a laboratory in which we can experiment with being who we are- messy, clumsy, triggered, traumatized, and sometimes not fully developed little people riding around on our little tricycles through the world. Being in relationship can bring us our greatest contentment and also our deepest pain. But still, we must! Our most treasured songs lament about not being able to go on without someone, about being less of a person on our own, and how powerless we are to every person we call to every potential soulmate. And there it is, codependency… quietly rearing its ugly head- so quietly that not many people will even recognize it! In fact, I recently saw a new client who had been living in a codependent marriage for over 25 years without even knowing! Since the term “codependency” became popular and mainstream with the publication of Melody Beattie’s first book “Codependent No More”, followed by ‘‘Beyond Codependency,’’ and “The New Codependency” we now know that codependency is defined as being affected by someone else's behavior and obsessed with controlling it. It is also defined as a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity. Let me also say, not all codependent relationships turn sour- any healthy partnership will have some codependency simply to have give and take. Where the real problem lies is when there is a total loss of your sense of self without that person or relying on them to define and make you whole.
Let’s get into this a little deeper: If you wonder whether or not you have codependent traits, below is a list that might help guide you. According to Melody Beattie these are the most common characteristics of someone who is codependent:
Do you feel responsible for other people--their feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being and destiny?
Do you feel compelled to help people solve their problems or by trying to take care of their feelings?
Do you find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others than about injustices done to you?
Do you feel safest and most comfortable when you are giving to others?
Do you feel insecure and guilty when someone gives to you?
Do you feel empty, bored and worthless if you don't have someone else to take care of, a problem to solve, or a crisis to deal with?
Are you often unable to stop talking, thinking and worrying about other people and their problems?
Do you lose interest in your own life when you are in love?
Do you stay in relationships that don't work and tolerate abuse in order to keep people loving you?
Do you leave bad relationships only to form new ones that don't work, either?
Do you say yes when you mean no, do things you don’t really want to do or do things for someone else which they are entirely capable of doing for themselves?
If you recognize yourself in some of these listed traits, perhaps it is time to take a look within. Perhaps it’s time to loosen your grip on others and begin to focus on what’s going on inside to make you feel so unsafe within the world and in relationships. That sounds like a huge feat, I know. And here’s what I can say -- it’s ok. This isn’t a time for beating yourself up for not getting it right. Hell, that’s possibly what got you here to begin with. Instead, let’s look lovingly and respectfully at the person with so much love to give, but the target is a little ‘off’. Though it is ultimately an individual journey, you are not expected to make it of the other side entirely on your own. But first, you will have to surrender-- to the truth, and to those raw, primitive and painful emotions that can come with seeing clearly. And although I do not believe codependency can be healed within this blog article, I do believe that can be a jumping off point to some very honest conversations within the therapy room.
What is stopping you from really getting what you want out of your relationship? I am in the camp of believing that by focusing your energy on self-healing and personal growth, you will automatically (perhaps unknowingly) usher yourself into a new way of being in relation to others, and also begin attracting healthy romantic relationships and maintaining boundaries that feel comfortable and safe. You can reclaim healthy love in your life by (1) Seeking out a therapist who understands codependency or can guide you in exploring why you must rely so much on another to feel complete as well as who can navigate self destructive behaviors that need healing (2) Also seeking out couple’s counseling to be able to better sift through what belongs to whom within the relationship can have a profound effect on healing and managing expectations (3) Taking time to rediscover who you are- what are your likes/dislikes, as well as hobbies or passions that may have gone dormant- it’s time to bring back pleasure from doing things you once enjoyed (4) Reconnect with old friends or family members that fell to the sidelines as you became more enmeshed within the codependent relationship. (5) Be gentle with yourself throughout this process - in the end, this journey to healing is about fostering self-love and forgiveness. This is the most important piece of advice I could give to you right now. I wish you nothing but love and strength on your journey to freedom that lies ahead.
A therapist for nearly 15 years, Gina Moffa, LCSW, MA is a Clinical Director at the highly acclaimed Addiction Institute of New York at Mt. Sinai- St. Luke's Hospital. Gina also has an active private practice where she specializes in the many faces of grief and bereavement, as well as situational depression and anxiety, life transitions, and the vicissitudes of trauma and PTSD. In her free time, Gina loves to create, produce and perform in one woman cabaret shows surrounding topics of courage, connectedness and empowerment. Visit Gina @ginamoffalcsw or via Psychology Today : https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/343996