So last week I shared a little about how the environment I had grown up had contributed to my codependency. As well as how I understood that as an African woman, this is something that had been passed down through generations in my family, yet each woman tried her best to raise her children better than her own mother did. It has been important for me to embrace change and choosing new ways of approaching life while at the same time respecting the fact that those before me could only do so much with what they had or knew at the time. What was raising a healthy child then, is of course much different to now because the society as a whole has changed and so has the environment and the people themselves.
Now, as I look back I would like to share with you how my own unhealthy upbringing has affected my life in different ways:
First of all, we usually attract the kind of relationships that we were taught to have as children. Growing up, there was a huge difference between the friendships I attracted v.s the romantic relationships I attracted. Having grown up with siblings, who I could confide in, play with, trust and who had been with me for most of my life, I developed a great standard for platonic relationships – I often attracted good and enriching friendships and was never too desperate to make new friends because I grew up having that need well fulfilled already at home through my sisters. I think my relationship with my sisters were much healthier than say my romantic relationships, to which my biggest example was of my own parents, who, unfortunately, mostly due to my father, were not able to create a good example of healthy romantic love.
My codependency led me to unhealthy romantic relationships – for example, my first relationship was with someone I wasn´t even romantically interested in, only because the person love-bombed me and kept pushing my boundaries until I gave in. Not exactly the start of world win romance. I was only 17 ish- and luckily, it didn´t last long before it ended. In that relationship, I learned that I had been flattered too easily by someone´s attention and perhaps too easily because I didn´t have enough self-esteem and validation. Enough at least to choose to not let just anyone be my boyfriend just because their persistence wore me down regardless of my own feelings.
Later in my early twenties, I dated a few other guys, though some great ones too, they mostly left me feeling like I had sold myself short or even, given in to things when I really wasn´t ready. I took on much of the relationships emotional responsibility, even when the emotions proved to be unhealthy and even toxic – I believed I could handle it because it could get better. I was raised to be okay, getting the shorter end of the stick when it came to emotional needs and I didn´t really stop believing that when I started dating.
The relationships where that showed genuine love and care and emotional maturity turned out to scare me into self-sabotage. I was uncomfortable with the lack of the unhealthy patterns I had apparently come to expect in such relationships. So if there were no problems, I felt like I was the problem or even at times, I would create the problems myself. All in the name of recreating the familiar, regardless of how painful it was.
When you are codependent you are enmeshed with family members’ emotional boundaries and you treat them as extensions of yourself. Therefore, you do not like to see them in pain, uncomfortable, making unwise choices, or unhappy. You like to fix them or their situations to be what you think is right and good for them. If codependency operates to an extreme, it involves subtle control over your adult children’s choices of career, place of residency, religion, choice of marriage partners, and over all you dominate their decision-making abilities. Secretly you feel safe, secure, and loved when others need you and depend on you; it makes you feel important and gives your life meaning because you do not have your own life fully understood and integrated.
Why do codependents do this? Besides the overall comfort experienced when others are dependent on you, the main reason is to avoid dealing with the painful feelings that are stuffed in yourself. These might be feelings of disappointment, unhappiness, trauma, abuse, victimization, lack of fulfillment, stagnation, and not growing and expanding towards potential. If you focus on another, then you can take your mind off of what has happened, or is happening, to you emotionally and you can stay in denial that you have problems that need attention. Since another’s problems dominate your thinking, keeping busy with someone else’s issues eases your inner discomfort, which keeps your emotions at bay. If someone is dependent on you and needs you, you do not have to look at your dependencies. It starts in childhood where rigid, unhealthy rules dominated the family system. (Read more here)
These blurred or damaged lines and boundaries are also why you find yourself feeling responsible for others reactions and feelings. Everything is and feels personal and you are constantly trying to control the wellbeing or conflict in others in order for you to feel better. You feel that it is your responsibility to fix things and others, even when it isn´t. You have somewhat developed a damaged sense of healthy separation from those around you, or the people you love. All this creates a cycle of hurt and disappointment since you are constantly fighting a lost battle: the control of external factors in order to ease the discomfort within you instead of going straight to the source of your pain.
I also found myself not knowing how to handle conflicts in relationships, believing any sign of conflict meant that the relationship was in danger of dissolving. Needless to say, I had a lot abandonment issues which also made me a needy and unstable partner who didn´t know how to stay grounded in myself while exploring someone else. I felt like I couldn´t swim but was in desperate need to be saved, yet anyone who would try, I would almost drown with my panic.
It wasn´t until I went through two very heartbreaking breakups that I knew I had to learn to love differently- I had to learn to fill up my own cup of love instead of expecting others to do it for me. I had to develop the qualities I sought in a partner for myself. I had to give the compassion, support and attention I gave to others or craved from others to myself first. That was how I started on my journey to recovery.
In my next blog post, I would like to share more on the things I have been doing on my path to recovery as a codependent – to find fulfillment and centeredness in my own life and being. Also, how this has affected my life and relationships 🙂
I hope this post has been of benefit and wish you all love, light and healthy relationships until next time!