Connected…or Codependent? (Episode 196)
Are you connected... or codependent in your relationship? Codependency has definitely come more and more to the forefront as a hot topic. So how do you balance your connection in a way that isn't codependent? Or, is it a really a bad thing to be codependent? Let's break down what it means, what is healthy, and how to keep yourself in check.
Oftentimes there is a topic like this, while it is relevant and so needed to discuss, there is no way it can all be covered in a podcast or blog post. It's complex, nuanced, and oh so personal.
So first and foremost, know this. A blog post isn't going to give you all the answers or cover it all. Neither will a podcast. These are one-sided conversations that address big life concepts that are super personal. But what it does is open the door to awareness - to simply paying attention to what is happening in your life and whether it's working for you or not.
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Are You Codependent?
When you think of a codependent person, what, exactly does that mean? In some respects, this has become a catch-all word to lump anyone into that struggles with relationships much like ADHD is the reason why people are distracted and have trouble focusing.
This isn't to discount those who really struggle, yet we can fling around words like codependent, narcissist, and ADHD pretty loosely as a "diagnosis" when someone just isn't quite jiving well.
One identifier for codependency can be born from trauma. This in and of itself is a whole other topic. We all experience trauma in our lives. The simple act of being born can be our first impact of a "traumatic" experience. Again, not to discount the seriousness of trauma that some people have gone through, but to recognize yet again that this isn't a black and white situation, but a spectrum of understanding the extent of trauma in relation to our ability to cope with it.
Fixed or Growth Mindset
When it comes to that spectrum and navigating trauma - and the baggage we may carry from it - so much has to do with our mindset. I'm currently reading a book - The Growth Mindset Coach, and in it they discuss how it's not a matter of someone being a "fixed mindset" person or a "growth mindset" person, but that we all have the opportunity to approach things in either way.
Again, here is the distinction:
Fixed Mindset: Assumes intelligence and other qualities, abilities and talents are fixed traits that cannot be significantly developed.
Growth Mindset: Assumes intelligence and other qualities, abilities and talents can be developed with effort, learning and dedication over time.
So before we look at codependence, we always want to address where our mindset is to begin with. Are you a victim of your circumstances? Are you going to take that and flow with it and figure out what you are personally responsible for? How can you grow from here? What window of insight does this open when this door shuts? Are you looking to progress and move forward, or trapped with no way out?
What really came from my discussion with my husband Nathan is, where do you draw the line from connected to codependent? Nathan and I are together 24/7. We do everything together. He's my absolute best friend and soul mate and I want to live life with him by my side.
So are we codependent? Well, one thing we want to look at is how it's working for us. Codependency isn't really a fun feeling. It's full of resentment, feeling trapped, insecurities and more.
So stop everything and quit diagnosing yourself or others around you. Simply look at the relationship on hand - are you happy in it? Do you feel fulfilled? Pay attention to that. Do you feel dis-ease? Are you sensing unrest, insecurity, frustration? Has this lack of ease in your relationship become more like an actual disease that eats at you? That may be a key red flag that you've shifted from connection to codependence.
Being a supportive partner is not the same thing as codependence. There are some personality styles that thrive in a supportive and nurturing role that also have very healthy and positive relationships.
I talk a lot on this site about personality styles and the importance of understanding who you are. There are many different personality and behavior inventories that are out there, and honestly, it's a bit skewed to even call them personality tests.
What these assessments are is to determine your default behavioral tendencies. We have have default reactions to things, and studies have shown those can be lumped into these different categories. Every person is going to bring their own individual recipe and background to the mix, but it's a great first step to simply open the door to self-awareness.
These broad generalizations of default reactions can help us recognize our strengths and where we'll naturally thrive, as well as what might trigger our not so great sides where we may be reacting without really thinking of the impact it makes on others.
The High S Peacemaker
One of the behavior styles is the S style, which can stand for "steady". S styles are loyal, dependable, great listeners, and peacemakers. They can thrive in a supportive role and love to see others at ease - not fans of conflict!
When an S personality style struggles with security, all of a sudden, those strengths can turn to being a people-pleaser, enabler, maxed out...or even codependent.
Sometimes we intentionally choose to sacrifice a bit. Think about that first year of parenting, and, no matter how much you want to keep your independence, you're going to have to work around a human being who needs to eat every two hours!
Us giving for the sake of someone else isn't always that we've been trapped into codependency. Sometimes it's because that's a part of our spirit that truly brings us joy, and that's a-okay! Again, some people are going to give and support way more than others, and that in and of itself does not make one codependent.
It goes back to the mindset approach - is it with desire and peace that you are interacting with another, or resentment and insecurity?
What Is Codependence?
Having a codependent personality is not currently considered a diagnosable mental health condition by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMMD).
From the Everyday Health website, it states that:
"Codependent personalities usually follow a pattern of behaviors that are consistent, problematic, and directly interfere with the individual’s emotional health and ability to find fulfillment in a relationship.
Signs of codependency include excessive caretaking, controlling, and preoccupation with people and things outside ourselves,” says Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a consultant, educator, and author of numerous books, including Understanding Codependency. "
When two people are so invested in each other they can't function independently, it clearly can be a crippling effect on both. Yet even this isn't in and of itself a horrible thing. I think about some relationships where you have a caregiver who really is supporting another individual who couldn't function on their own, and it doesn't have to be a toxic situation.
What makes codependence so toxic is that, typically you'll have one person that is more passive and reliant on the other to make the ultimate decisions. And the more dominant personality can tend to steamroll or control the other person, managing them since they are "incapable of managing themselves."
I have seen relationships that were completely positive and loving, and, spiral downward despite good intentions. In their desire to boost the other's self-esteem, they take care of everything to the point of enabling the person to stay trapped in their own insecurities while their partner overcompensates to keep them there.
We all bring a different energy to a room. Some people have a larger presence than others and demand more attention, for sure. That doesn't have to always be someone who is a narcissist or any other negative. It can simply be someone who has a dynamic energy that people are drawn to.
Are you sensitive to the energy of others? How are you able to navigate that? Nathan addressed on the podcast that, for him, a big clarification for whether you are connected or codependent is how often you can express your truth...or, even face it? In your willingness to be enmeshed with another person, are you able to sit with yourself as an individual?
It's a-okay to want people around you. It's a-okay to want to experience life together, want to weigh in on decisions together, and move forward together. But when we can't find any peace, joy, happiness, security without it...we need to pay attention to how much pressure we are putting on another to provide our own happiness and fulfillment.
Being a social human is not codependent. Needing your next "fix" of social approval in order to function? Now that is something to address.
Don't Go Overboard
Now, be careful - you can go crazy on the internet and end up diagnosing yourself as all kinds of things! What you want to look for is not one-off moments where you might have reacted in a way that was helpful. It's consistent behavior of hooking into and living life through someone else.
We went from one extreme to another, with an "it takes a village" approach to community to being so isolated and separate from others that it can get hairy trying to distinguish how to be a social community while maintaining independence. We as a society have become so independent that we've forgotten how to depend on each other in healthy ways.
What Is In Your Control?
This is a common theme among the podcast and website here - what are you in control of? What are you taking personal responsibility for? Are you willing to let go of that which is not in your control? That would be other people's emotions, reactions, etc...
What is in my control is what I am choosing to experience, perceive, and take to heart. It's me being able to take in a beautiful view and appreciate it fully - not waiting on Nathan to tell me how great it is. I can pursue the things that bring me joy and invite Nathan to be a part of it vs. waiting on him to determine if it makes me happy.
Do you feel at peace with where you are? Do you feel unfulfilled? Do you feel like there's constantly that hole of something missing? Do you have an outlet that creates ease? Do you have anything in your life that brings ease, joy, comfort and security?
Are you taking the time not only to breathe IN all that you need to do, but to breathe OUT and release? To recharge? You have to keep in mind the inhale/exhale of allowing yourself to recover. We aren't in control of everything -and that right there is what we might need to most recover from. So taking breaks to rest is so, so important.
Pay attention to your body. I believe so strongly in the body/mind/soul connection that, when I don't acknowledge one, I feel it in another. When I don't allow for that rest, my body is the first to check me. Now I see that not with resentment, but with major gratitude that boy, even when my brain can't get it all figured out, my body, mind and soul are working together. My body says, "Hey, reminder, this is beautiful vessel and the only one you have. You have to breathe in. You have to breathe out. And so I use this now as a great reminder to me. If I start to sense anything going on in my body, I know that I'm not looking at just the body; I'm looking at the body, mind and soul, and how I am feeding and fueling all of it.
Beware of Self-Preservation
We tend to go to extremes, however. We go from not taking care of ourselves, to our own self care taking such priority everyone needs to walk in eggshells around me and my needs.
This isn't about getting so obsessed with your self care that it is to the detriment of others around you - there is an important balance between self-preservation while recognizing your impact to the larger whole.
The best way to determine whether or not you're getting too inward focused is simply checking in with those around you. Are you all flowing well through life, or is your sudden self care at the expense of someone else in the family?
Do you feel you are making progress and you're connecting with yourself and others in a way that feels good, and you're bringing attention to those positive feelings?
Remember Your Focus
There is this view in Western culture that almost implies that a happy life is free from all negativity, and that's just flat now true. It's completely just how you move and dance with whatever arrives in your life. It can be your worst nightmare and the reason or excuse that holds you down, or it can be your catalyst to move forward and create something that works. When we simply bring awareness to what is coming into our lives and what we're in control of, it allows us to see things from a higher perspective - to simply observe before we decide what we want to do in any situation.
So when all hope is lost, when I don't have an answer for how to do anything else, I have an answer for myself. I can look inward. I can do one thing for myself today that feeds my soul. I can breathe in. I can breathe out. I can meditate. I can give myself a little moment of self-love. I can find gratitude in something.
We tend to wait for others to appreciate us. And we don't even give ourselves the time of day to really just sit with ourselves or notice anything to appreciate on our own.
Give Space To Struggle
Life isn't all roses and the hard waves will still crash in from time to time. It's not about getting all your ducks in the row so it's sunshine from here on out. It's in the contrast that we gain our perspective, and we learn how to better navigate and build up that emotional resilience that keeps us going.
Maybe things are going well for you, or you're the more dominant one in a codependent relationship, taking care of the other because you don't believe they can do it themselves. Guess what? If you continue to do it for them, they won't be able to. Sometimes it takes some really honest and hard conversations to make a shift.
When we tiptoe around and avoid conflict, those little grains of salt grow into bigger pearls of deceit, anger, resentment or pulling away. When we help someone out, give them assurance, or make decision for them, are we helping them, or hurting them? Be careful about whether you are falling into enabling them to simply stay trapped in their own insecurities and inabilities.
It takes two for a codependent relationship. There may be one who is doing everything at the expense of their own needs for the approval of others. But there is another who's letting that happen. There is a difference between weighing in with one another to share life, and weighing in because we don't know how to live otherwise.
It's important to encourage one another's competency, even if you're a little scared. Stepping out and doing something on your own can be scary, yet is the most empowering thing no one else can give you. Our relationship is for both of us to add to it. If I'm doing everything for Nathan and taking over, or protecting his feelings, needs, emotions and his decisions, I'm not loving him well; I'm doing him a disservice. I'm not showing any trust in him to take care of himself - how's that for a confidence boost? In your desire to help, you can take away someone's self-worth in their ability to navigate their feelings on their own.
In our desire to help, we can sabotage growth by just handling it all and feeding into their inadequacy. It's easy to confirm, then, that, "yes, you're right. I can't do this myself. I need you to do it for me."
Recognize the best love you can give to someone is the space to let them stumble. Allow them to find their own balance. Allow them to build their own emotional resilience muscle...that only is developed at its being worked.
It has been in stepping back and allowing others the space to fall, to fail, to stumble, and to question that we see the greatest growth. It's letting go with love and grace, so they can choose to come back to you in a different way.
We need to be very, very careful in our relationships with our partners and children that, as we are loving and supporting, we are not monopolizing their ability to walk or stand on their own two feet.
We Are Fluid Beings
We are not a portrait on a wall. Even if we were, as time goes by, the portrait will age, styles will change, and it would need an update. We are constantly growing, learning, and adapting. That means it's never too late to step into your greatness. It's never too late to pull back from codependency and step into connection...even if that's connection to yourself.
Everything is moving forward. We can't freeze frame who somebody was. We cannot freeze frame life. If we can't do that, then how are we flowing with it? What are we holding on to? What are we in control of and how are we seeking joy and finding the good in the light throughout?
We have a lot of things about dealing with our kids on building up emotional resilience and letting them fail. And the truth is, we're all kids of different ages. We're all growing and learning. And, and sometimes it's our partners that we need to give that opportunity or that space or that grace.
We Are All Artists
There are the not so sweet parts of life. There are things in our world, like not having sewer hookups, being eaten up by no-see-ums, or a hard travel day that could really darken our fun adventure. Yet I'm not seeing that as my negative and my drawback in life. I'm looking at that as being part of the paradise tax of where we're living right now in the Florida Keys. As a camp host, we camp for free...with the exchange of cleaning bathrooms and campsites, etc. And I do it with a grateful heart because of what all I get because of it. It's all about this exchange; that give and take, deposits and withdrawals, what we're getting versus what we're giving - all of these different aspects are how I can paint a story. I can paint a picture of my life in absolute abundance.
We're the artists. We're the ones painting. Sometimes we forget that. We think that the paint is just squirting on the canvas when it's really us handling the brush. So pay attention to how you're handling the brush this week.
Our challenge is really to get real with yourself.
Are you focusing more on -
- how other people's emotions are
- how other people are doing things
- how all these things are going wrong...
Or, are you focused on -
- what you personally are in control of
- what you are personally grateful for right now in this moment
- allowing the space for your whole family to not only experience the joy and the light in life, but also to navigate those rocky roads that may be part of their journey
It's not that the shadows and negativity don't happen, but we have a whole new level of enlightenment and awareness on how we can cope with it and what we can choose to do with it from there.
It gives you a beautiful framework for recognizing where you can really make a difference - where you can really make an impact of growth in light in your own life. And also, what you are able to give and to share with others. By simply keeping that in mind, we have to look inward first, and, as we understand that, then we can better understand how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us. Namaste
Dig Deeper with These Posts and Episodes:
- Get the Free Family Vision Email Series Here
- Do You Have a FULL Life…or Simply A Busy One? (Episode 191)
- What’s Left Unsaid – Nonverbal Cues (Episode 192)
- Drama Doesn’t Make An Appointment (Episode 190)
- 3 Reasons You’re Feeling Stuck (Episode 189)
- The Steps For Emotional Resilience (Episode 150)
- Embrace The Struggle (Episode 41)
- Learning from Home the Socratic Way with Samantha Jansky (Episode 158)
- Have Life Seasons Got You Stuck In A Funk? (Episode 179)
- Awareness At Home
- What are your behavior defaults, and those of others in your home?
- What Is A DISC Personality Assessment?
- Coaching with Ashley