My Efforts to be Codependent No More – Part One: What’s Codependency and Who’s Got It? (Me!)

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.

Defining Codependency

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.

[/Update]

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?

Detachment

Last night I read the first chapter about how to take care of oneself in Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. It’s about the hardest thing for codependents to do: detach from whatever we’re obsessed with.

This doesn’t mean we have to go through life not caring about anything; ideally, if we detach from a person, for example, we can still love that person – love zir even better, in fact! Detachment is about loving, caring, being involved, etc. … without going crazy. Without losing ourselves in worry and anxiety. Without trying to control things we can’t. Detachment allows us to let that person or that problem or whatever be and focus on ourselves: living our own lives, feeling our own emotions, tending to our needs.

I’m in denial about my attachments.

When I was reading the chapter, I thought about why my mother needs to read this book. Fox probably should, too. I responded to the written activity at the end by venting all my anxiety about Mom being needy and clingy and controlling when I move back in with her. Somewhere there’s still the hope that if I change, she will too; my desire to change is still a desire to control her by proxy.

It’s hard to imagine how detaching from her will help the situation. In my reality, she‘s the one who’s clingy and needy and controlling and always talking about someone else and getting wrapped up – trying to get me wrapped up! – in other people’s problems. I would love to change that but this isn’t even necessarily about changing her, it’s about improving my life. I need space. I need her to detach from me. I …

I need to detach from her.

I’m the one who’s afraid to confront her about the things she does that hurt me, because I don’t want to hurt her feelings or create tension in our relationship. I’m the one who lets her go on and on about stuff, who gets wrapped up in concern and anxiety over her problems, her relationships, the people she talks about and their problems, etc. I’m the one who lets guilt control my decisions about whether to do something for her (probably “yes”). I’m the one who gets angry but lets that anger eat away at me and butt into my other relationships instead of using it to construct and enforce the boundaries I need.

Who cares whether she’s losing sleep worrying about me? I’m the one losing sleep worrying about whether she’s worrying about me! And feeling guilty. Can you get any more absurd?

Breathe, Ziya, just breathe.

But it gets even worse.

I’m attached to my laptop. I get attached to video games. I was attached to feminism for a while; it’s still very important to me but I think I can be passionate about it without getting too crazy, now.

What do I mean by this? I wake up and the first thing I reach for is my laptop. I can’t go to bed without spending some time on my laptop. I’ll be done doing whatever I needed to do and stare blankly at the screen, trying to come up with something to do because heaven forbid I should actually turn off and walk away from my laptop!

When I’m obsessed with a video game it’s all I’ll talk about. I’ll think about the story, the characters, what I want to happen next, how to make that happen, the relationships, how I want to build my character, the mechanics, the universe, etc etc etc. It occupies my thoughts, emotions, even dreams. It annoys and alienates my loved ones. It creates way too much chaos in my life. My sims’ house is perfect, right down to the strategically-placed, purely decorative stack of magazines. My real-life room is cluttered with dirty clothes, haphazardly-stacked empty boxes, random pieces of paper, and stuff I just never put away. And dust.

Don’t get me started on feminism; I’ll just say that I’ve written novels about it in comments on Facebook while my homework has gone undone. My obsession with such-in-such related topic has made me late for or even miss my women’s studies class.

I’m attached to WordPress.

I think I put a reasonable about of energy into thinking of topics for blog posts and writing the posts themselves. Maybe a bit more energy and time than is really necessary, but I hold my writing to high standards. And the results are worth it.

The attachment comes in when I spend inordinate amounts of time refreshing my stats page to see if I’ve gotten any more visitors and views, or staring at the map of diverse countries visitors are from (by the way, I think it’s awesome how many of you are from Australia). When I check to see if I have spam comments because I can’t believe no one has commented on my blog in the past 5 minutes and I’m hoping maybe the filter picked up a legit comment by mistake. When I delete a perfectly good draft because it’s bothering me that I have an unfinished post or I feel anxiety about its content. When I can’t go to bed because I’m waiting for a reply to a comment I posted, or to see if my comment “awaiting moderation” has been approved. When I’m too tired to think – much less write – but instead of going to sleep I stare at my blog worrying that I’ll lose readers if I go more than 24 hours without posting something.

It comes down to anxiety and control. I want people to see me and to like what they see (“like” as in the cognitive/emotional response, not necessarily clicking “like” on the post). I worry that they won’t. But all worrying does is interfere with my ability to live my life (and have something meaningful to post about, ironically). I can be a good blogger – a better blogger, even – and Let. It. Be.

This is going to take a lot of work.

My Efforts to be Codependent No More – Part One: What’s Codependency and Who’s Got It? (Me!)

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.

Defining Codependency

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!

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?