This morning, there was another shift from within. It was almost as if I’m beginning to stand a little beside myself, little by little. An inch here, and then another. Sort of a dissociation from the Old Me, in phases.
It’s not a pathological type of personality dissociation. It’s not a denial of–nor a refusal to acknowledge–who I’ve been and how I’ve operated up until this point. It’s simply a refusal to continue operating that way and subjecting myself to narcissistic and other unhealthy people and relationships.
At first, it occurs in theory: you tell yourself you won’t tolerate narcissistic abuse (or other types of abuse) anymore, but there may be a lag time between the declaration and the readiness to walk away if and when it happens again.
Because it will happen again. Telling yourself you won’t put up with narcissists and toxic people anymore is like being book-smart; actually following through and refusing to play their reindeer games is like being street-smart. Both types of smarts have their merit and purpose, but guess which one is typically better for survival in the real world?
The Shift that occurred this morning felt like a key settling into a lock. I felt two separate components, bringing a little boost of both types of smarts.
The book-smart knowledge I gained was that I am indeed codependent after all. I had thought that I wasn’t, as I’d retained my sense of self, spoken up about my needs and wants, refused to enable anyone else’s addiction or other self-destructive behavior, and so on. I knew that I’m responsible for myself, and other people are responsible for themselves. There was a line drawn there, and I thought I was in the clear.
However, what I did not know, was that my impression of codependency was egregiously outdated. I had perceived and understood it through its original context, which was that of addiction, and spouses of addicts, who flop over backwards and enable the addict to continue doing what they do. The codependency term has since been expanded (a lot) to include anyone who has a need (such as to be loved, validated, complimented, etc) to be satisfied outside of oneself – that love, validation, compliments, recognition, and so on, don’t come from within.
Lisa Romano’s video on “Signs of Codependency” was extremely eye-opening. I nailed all of her examples: taking it personally when the other person doesn’t take your advice, feeling emotionally drained and exasperated because deep down you know that you’re not caring for yourself while caring for everyone else, using deflection (denying the truth about the other person’s glaring issues instead of paying attention to them), being highly sensitive to criticism, avoiding confrontation (don’t rock that boat, keep that peace, walk on those eggshells!), ruminating about who needs what and what others think of you, feeling unable to ask for help, feeling unworthy of asking for help or for what you want or need…the list goes on.
She had my number.
The next video I watched, also Lisa Romano (“Why You Can’t Have Healthy Relationships Until You” (heal from codependency)), was about how to think about codependency as something you can recover from. Codependency develops at the subconscious level, as a result from programming before age 7, at which point we are programmed and from which point we keep living out and attracting people on that level – people who need us in some way. Perhaps these people are fellow codependents, needing us for their own fulfillment. Or maybe these people are narcissists, needing us for supply and validation. Either type of person actually saddles us with the responsibility of doing something for them that should come within them, and if we’re codependent too, then we might play right into that, in our own quest for fulfillment.
Hint: it doesn’t work. It’s impossible. That’s why we often end up so miserable. That’s why we often attract narcissists and other depressed or empty people, other people in need.
How did this happen?
Key people in our lives (often parents, maybe teachers) inadvertently taught us not to have an “I”, resulting on a loss of self-hood. We learned not to honor or respect ourselves because those key people didn’t, and they set the example, they gave us our first lessons on how the world worked and shaped our development from the beginning. We didn’t have the right to feel, so as we grew up, we just learned “don’t feel”, and turned toward fantasies of rescuing people and being rescued someday. We’re taught to need others, and to align with and put faith in them, without being individual (the latter of which is persecuted in the family).
As a codependent, I people-pleased and fawned over others, in hopes that I could “save” them, “win” them over, make myself attractive to them. And in so doing, I sacrificed a lot of myself – my time, my knowledge, my caring, my energy, my own needs and wants, my other obligations. I put up with far more than I should have, stayed much longer than I should have, gave people the time of day that I shouldn’t have.
Why? Because I harbored deep-seated far and shame. I feared rejection, abandonment, anger, and hostility. I was ashamed about feeling like a drama queen or an intense bitch or a high-maintenance chick in the eyes of men. I presented myself as a level-headed, low-maintenance, logical, drama-free person, and genuinely, I am all of those things. Those things are not bad things to be.
However, while I set aside my own needs and wants for a very select few, the truth is I did set aside those needs and wants, and they went unmet. I did put off school work to tend to a relationship problem. I did forego pleasure-blogging because I agreed to go out to dinner with my now-ex. I did spend quite a bit of time away from my own household, husband, and kitties because my ex claimed he “wasn’t the ‘I need space’ type” and I didn’t want to disappoint him or leave him feeling alone.
The truth is that codependency recovery is becoming your own “I”. Who am I? What do I need? What do I want? What do I like to do? What do I feel like doing right now? How do I expect people to treat me? How will I respond if they don’t meet that expectation? What rights do I have as a person who is supposed to have free will? How much power do I have in a relationship situation?
Many times, I have allowed other people to answer these questions for me. I have handed over my power, under the spell of being in love and aiming to (people-)please. I went with the flow, even if the flow was a waterfall over a cliff.
And narcissists love people-pleasers; they need them, gorgeous ones.
I was not living authentically, which is to be true to yourself. I did not hold myself (or others) accountable for their actions. The Book-Smart Me knew that I couldn’t control others, so I didn’t consciously seek to do it. It also knew that, theoretically, each person is responsible for their own actions, but here’s where book-smarts-only gets you into trouble: no follow-through. I still tried to help, suggest, encourage, coerce, even give “lectures” on various topics–everything from relationship dynamics to maturity to how the real world works to basic adult socialization skills to health advice–with the intention of being helpful.
I did indeed feel the need to rescue and be rescued. And I even became addicted to the rescuing.
I am indeed a “helper” – but when you’re trying harder to help the other person than they are to help themselves, there’s a problem. It stunts their growth, if they’re even capable of growing, and narcissists generally aren’t.
Being true to myself would have been to walk the walk and follow through on the knowledge that we’re all self-responsible, by letting go and simply deciding for myself whether or not I wanted to remain in a relationship in which conversations about basic adult socialization and how relationships work were even necessary in the first place.
Authenticity is tough for those (like me) who haven’t actually been. Living true to yourself means standing up and asserting your boundaries when they’ve been violated, leaving (for the night, or forever) when a conversation (or a relationship) has gotten too toxic, gray-rocking through all the button-pushing, considering yourself first in the equation. After all, so is everybody else.
Codependency recovery requires self-accountability – what have I done, where do I fit? What did I contribute to this unhealthy or toxic relationship dynamic? How did I respond that enabled it to keep going and reach the nadir that it did? What parts of me or my life got denied or ignored because of my desire to people-please and soothe the situation? There needs to be a huge moment of clarity on this.
We must accept our own feelings toward ourselves; there is no Prince Charming coming to save us. If we feel down on ourselves about one thing or another, if we feel unlovable, unlikable, undeserving, insecure, vulnerable, unworthy, etc, we need to address that. We do not need a partner to fulfill those missing pieces of ourselves; we need to develop and cultivate those for ourselves, gorgeous ones.
The first step to doing all this, according to Lisa Romano’s video (the second one I mentioned), is an awakening – realizing that this is my issue – that I am codependent. Being codependent is like being stuck in The Matrix, where there’s a blindfold over your eyes, everything is focused on the other person and their behavior, and you’ve offered yourself as the sacrificial lamb, completely ignoring yourself and your own role.
It’s easier said than done, but important not to, resist the idea of codependency. If I resist, I only reinforce The Matrix, the blindfold. I must process the resentment that comes from having people-pleased and handed myself over, which carries an expectation of reciprocity that was never met. I must become self-actualized, which is a grown-up and scary skill.
The awakening step isn’t just about saying “I’m codependent” and exploring that topic, gathering knowledge; that’s not enough. It’s also about analyzing oneself, saying “I tend to do X in Y situation, I didn’t realize that before, but I do realize it now” and take that power back, breaking through the programming laid down in childhood. It’s about asking myself if, in the narcissistic relationship I’ve recently ended, I was actually continuing the experience I’d had with my dad in adult life, as though I’m pleading with them not to hurt me and I keep giving them the final say over whether I’m worthy of sticking around for or not.
It’s about having that authentic relationship with myself, in which negative self-talk is replaced with positive, no longer waiting for someone else to compliment me but affirming my own strengths instead, not begging for someone to see me anymore, not making decisions based on someone else or gaining their recognition.
So first, recognize the codependent patterns, where do I assume a subordinate position relative to others, when do I people-please, what triggers me to hand over my power or give up my right to my feelings. Past patterns matter – my feelings weren’t important, Mom was subordinate, Dad was indifferent and temperamental.
It’s important to begin to see yourself as your own rescuer, the father you always deserved, protecting and nurturing yourself in a loving way without negativity or resentment toward anyone. And ask yourself if you’re rescuing someone else, and if so, why? Start saving yourself, stop seeking external validation.
The only way to fix all this is to observe the subconscious mind at work and recognize the codependent behavior patterns, triggers, our responses, and emotional set-point. Don’t want for someone else to come along and save you, because there’s no rescue ship coming. Self-worth, self-respect, authenticity, and boundaries all come from within.
The street-smart knowledge I mentioned early on in this post involves having reached the point of truly shifting the focus of the healing process away from the other players and genuinely onto myself. This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s time to build within.
Let the construction begin. 🙂