I was decluttering when I found some pages I had photocopied from Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. They include a list of things codependent people tend to do; I had written a number next to each item to represent how often it is a problem for me.
This discovery inspired me to dig up this post from January 2013. If anything, my codependency has gotten worse since I wrote it. I’ve decided to re-post it as a means of re-committing to what I’d started then but never finished: reading and doing the exercises in the book in order to help myself become less co-dependent.
I look over at Fox; he is sleeping. Anger rushes through me; I feel my shoulders and jaw tense. Why does he sleep so much? Doesn’t he want to spend time with me? Maybe he doesn’t love me. Maybe he’s taking advantage of me … coming here, just to sleep in my bed! Maybe it’s my fault he sleeps so much, I should be a better partner. He shouldn’t stay up so late! Doesn’t he care about his health? About me? And if I’m up late he should ask me to come to bed! It’s not fair that I wake so early and he gets to sleep!
I just wish I could get him to sleep and be awake at the same times as me! That way I wouldn’t be sitting here, unsure what to do with myself and feeling guilty for wanting to wake him. I feel sad and alone, abandoned again …
That’s a typical experience for me, especially since I tend to wake earlier than Fox. Until recently, I was convinced his sleeping was my problem; what I needed was to get him to change. It wasn’t until I wrote Using Words to Say What They Cannot that I first separated the effects of Fox’s behavior on my quality of life from his actual behavior and intentions. Creating that separation helped me to see how, possibly, the problem may lie in how I am perceiving and reacting to his behavior – not the behavior itself.
I’ve started reading Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. The first four chapters – which make up Part One – clarify what codependency is and help the reader identify aspects of codependency in hirself. Chapters 2-4 end with written activities; I would like to share and reflect upon my responses in this post.
I Can Relate
The activity for Chapter 2 asks the reader which codependents’ stories ze identifies with and why. Without posting the stories for context (and possibly violating copyright), it seems most meaningful to share the aspects of the stories that I identify with the most. Some of them appear in more than one story.
- losing friends, hobbies, and love for life after entering a committed relationship
- feeling guilty
- feeling depressed
- feeling like I lost myself
- feeling angry and unappreciated while trying to make others happy
- endlessly caring for others
- getting caught up in and trying to control others’ emotions
- feeling lost or enmeshed in others’ emotions and concerns
These issues come up the most in my relationship with my Mom, followed closely by my relationship with Fox, and to a lesser extent (I think) with Banji – in other words, with the people I’m closest to and who are the most central to my life.
There are many different definitions of codependency, each of which explains different aspects of a complex problem. Beattie provides a brief history of codependency to put these definitions into context and convey the meaning(s) of the word more accurately. I encourage interested readers to learn this history.
At the end of Chapter 3, Beattie asks the reader to define codependency for hirself. I combined multiple definitions from throughout the chapter into one:
Codependency is a habitual system of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors directed toward myself and others that cause me pain (p. 38). It arises from allowing another person’s behavior to affect me and wanting/trying to control that person’s behavior (p. 36). It is a result of living much or most of my life with unspoken, silent, oppressive rules that limit my expression of emotion and open, direct discussion of problems (p. 32).
Codependency is why I feel like Fox is controlling me and why I want to change certain aspects of his behavior. It is why I feel so guilty and angry
all much of the time. It’s why I find the time I spend with Mom so draining – even when our interactions and endeavors go well! I’m codependent.
But it’s not my fault, it’s essentially how I was raised! My parents and other family members kept secrets and avoided expressing emotion. They didn’t deal with conflict well – they either tried to avoid it, or erupted into screaming arguments that terrified me as a child. They taught me to hide my problems; they didn’t take me seriously.
My responsibility now is to do something about it – not by trying to change anyone else (including my mom, as much as I really wish I could), but by changing myself.
It is time for me to unlearn my codependency.
How Am I Codependent? Let me count the ways …
Chapter 4 is essentially a list of characteristics codependents tend to have. It’s very long, and the majority of items apply to me at least somewhat; many to a strong degree. They are organized into categories: caretaking, low self-worth, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, weak boundaries, lack of trust, anger, sex problems, miscellaneous, and progressive.
The activity at the end of the chapter invites the reader to mark each characteristic with a 0 if it does not apply at all, a 1 if it is “occasionally a problem,” and 2 if it is “frequently a problem.” As I did the activity, there were some items for which I wished I could apply a 3!
This was not part of the activity, but I wanted an easier way to see which categories I need to focus on most to overcome my codependency, so I developed a scoring system. I added my 1’s and 2’s to determine how many “points” I “scored” for each category, then divided it by the maximum possible “points” (number of items, times 2) to learn my percentage. Some of the results surprised me:
- I scored highest in Anger (91%), followed by Repression (83%), Lack of Trust (79%), and Controlling (75%).
- Caretaking (68%), Low Self-Worth (67%), and Dependency (67%) did not score as high as I thought they would.
- Somehow, I scored 66% in Denial. I don’t see how …
- I only scored 50% in Obsession and Weak Boundaries; I only scored 47% in Poor Communication! These were categories where I would have expected to score much higher!
[June 10, 2014 Update]
I’m kind of in denial about my new scores for these categories; clearly I was too quick to give “2”s to items that should have received “1”s and “1”s to items that should have received “0”s.
I scored 100% in Repression (+17%), 88% in Controlling (+13%) and Anger (-3%), 85% in Dependency (+18%), 82% in Low Self-Worth (+15%), 79% in Lack of Trust (no change) and Progressive, 72% in Caretaking (+4%), 69% in Weak Boundaries (+19%), 63% in Denial (-3%), 60% in Poor Communication (+13%), 56% in Miscellaneous, 50% in Obsession (no change), and 47% in Sex Problems.
Preparing to Change (Myself)
I’m scared to change myself. I don’t want to let go of how I’m used to understanding myself, or my old familiar comfortable habits (even when they hurt me). I don’t want to risk people I love liking me less because of the change.
But I know I really need it and I think I can do it – if I try really hard and allow myself to make mistakes, while remaining committed.
If I begin to change I hope I’ll start to feel better and be happier, more confident, and more capable. Maybe people will like me more – or, at least, I’ll find social interactions easier.
Changing won’t be easy, especially since it’s scary and I think the people I’m closest to and need the most support from will try to keep me the same. But maybe I can tell them what I’m trying to do and ask them to be understanding / try not to take it personally if I’m more assertive, etc. I’m doing what I need to get better!
So Now What?
Part 2 of Codependent No More is comprised of 16 chapters with information and written activities intended to teach the reader how to care for hirself. If I want to do it right, it will take quite a while for me to get through the rest of the book. I’m inclined to do the chapters in order; I might blog about some, most, or possibly all of them.
What are your thoughts on codependency? Do you think you might be codependent? Do you think anyone you know is codependent? Do you have any advice?
This book changed my life. It enabled me to own the part I played in my failed marriage, and it helped me to extricate myself from the manner in which my ex’s alcoholism was overtaking my whole being. I still have to work at managing my tendencies to co-dependence where my kids are concerned, but at least now I have a clearer vision of it.
Wow, I’m glad to hear you found it so helpful! I’m hoping I’ll be able to stick with it and benefit from it as well.
I actually wrote a post about the book myself. http://muddyrivermuse.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/the-key/
I enjoyed reading your post. For now I’m reading the book straight through, pausing to think about the written activities at the end of each chapter but not stopping to actually do them. Each new chapter brings up something else I’m so glad to have read. It’s quite awesome.
Is there any chapter in particular you found exceptionally helpful? What steps did you take (or not take) that helped you walk out of your cage?
Tough question! I don’t think I could point to a particular section — it was really the way the whole book caused me to reframe the way I thought about my situation. I was deeply mired in victim thinking– focused on what was wrong with my partner’s behaviour. The book turned a mirror on ME and led me to “own my own shit.” When I was able to finally acknowledge the parts of the cage I had actually built myself, then I was able to see my way clear to starting to dismantle it.
That was a complicated process — we were married for 20 years and have two children. It involved a lot of support from a good family counsellor, and a lot of strategizing about how to mitigate the impact on the children. But ultimately it was thinking about the children that gave me the strength to end the marriage. That too was a reframing — I went from thinking that going through a divorce would hurt them to realizing that watching their mother settle for a bad situation was already harming them, and the best gift I could give my daughters was to model healthy choices.
You sound like you have a lot going for you in this situation. You appear to have supportive people you can talk to. I started by trying to get my partner to work through our problems with couples counselling, but HE wasn’t ready to acknowledge his problems. He’s an alcoholic, and even after I left him it took years for him to come to grips with that.
You’ll need to figure out what makes sense for you. Maybe the book will give you something you and Fox can work through together — or maybe it’s telling you you’re done. Only you can decide, but you’ll know you’re there because no matter how awful it is on the surface, deep down it will feel right.