Sunday, January 10, 2016

Codependence: What's My Responsibility?

July 8, 2014

Do you want your child to grow up being independent?

Most parents do, and I am of no exception! Holding my 3-month-old cuddly baby grandson, and watching his siblings (ages 5 and 3) play, I appreciate how important it is for a developing child to move through the healthy stages of dependency even at these young ages. It is through age-appropriate training, coaching and correcting that parents can help their children become more and more independent, so that one day they can really be on their own. Being a mature, grown-up, independent adult will allow him or her to start a family of their own and enjoy interdependent relationships.

Of course, we can experience glimpses of interdependency by training and coaching our children to participate and contribute to family chores and responsibilities, like those new immigrants whose kids learn to speak English much faster and are able and willing to take on some adult-responsibilities of communicating using the new language.

Children learn when they are given increasing responsibilities that allow them to gain competence and freedom, build relationships and characters, and continue to learn from mistakes which have natural and logical consequences in the world. But what if you are modeling codependence?

Do you find yourself consistently feeling unfulfilled in relationships, not asserting yourself enough, or perhaps you have difficulty figuring out where your responsibility for someone else ends? Issues like these and others, such as perfectionism, low self-esteem, distrust, and even physical illness related to stress can indicate that you have some codependent behavior.

Codependency commonly occurs when a loved one needs support because of an addiction or an illness, and we take care of that person at the expense of ourselves. Codependents can also attempt to control everything within a relationship, again, without addressing their own needs, thus setting themselves up for unfulfilling interactions and even sometimes unintentionally discouraging the loved one from seeking outside help.

We learn codependency by watching and imitating people in our family and in society who display the behavior; thus, it is often passed down from generation to generation.

Although not everyone is codependent, many of us are taught not to be assertive, for instance, or we don't know how to ask directly for our needs to be met. Women are sometimes taught that codependent behavior is how all women should behave.

Since codependency is a learned emotional and behavioral condition that means it can also be unlearned. Here are some ways to begin:

Recognize where it comes from. Many things we were taught as children set us up to become codependent. For example, sayings like: "Don't rock the boat" teach us to be passive and keep the peace at all costs.

Begin to understand where the boundary is between yourself and other people. Although this can be confusing for the codependent at first, when you start to realize that you are not responsible for your partner's depression or anger, for example, it will become an easier concept to grasp. You have to take care of yourself first. Remember the air travel admonition to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs? You can't truly help someone else until you've taken care of your own needs.

Learn when and how to say "no." As you become more self-reliant, you will have to learn to say "no." That can be challenging, but understand that your "no" is usually expressed anyway, often through resentment. It's empowering to say "no" when you want to. You'll also find that standing up for your needs and expressing yourself more frequently will improve your well-being and, even, your relationships.

The cycle of codependency can be broken as you find freedom and self-esteem in the constructive process of recovering your own voice and expressing it. In time and with practice, you won't worry so much about what others think of you, and you won't feel the need to control others or their response to you. Healing is possible, and it can start today.

Are you worrying about someone you love? Are you taking his or her responsibilities and protecting them from consequences?

Remind yourself that worrying does not solve any problem or help anyone, at least not in the long run. Instead of wasting your energy, use your anxiety and worry as signals to seek perspective and help from God and wise counselors. You'll find that it's okay to talk openly about problems; you won't worry so much about others and you won't feel the need to keep feelings to yourself.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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