Are we all just codependent?

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Are we all just codependent?

As a society, I find we generally label and diagnose feverishly in an effort to understand our world.

Everyone is allergic to something…gluten, dairy, intimacy, loneliness. Everyone now has ADHD, depression, autism and restless leg syndrome. But somehow, codependency slips under the radar.

We all love love. We find acts of selflessness to be heroic. We honour the martyr.

This is a slippery slope though. As a relatively intuitive empath, I have always been drawn to those who have difficulty emoting, people who are overwhelmed by their feelings. I become a kind of emotional dialysis machine for them. Likewise, I seem to pull pathos out of those who bury it under logos. Consistently connecting with people based on my ability to be available at times of need, contributed to my feeling that self-worth was centered on how helpful and “understanding” I am. I understand that after early separation and loss of my mother, I clung onto women for soothing whether it was my grandmother or aunts, friends or eventual lovers, I soon worked out what they needed (often an empathic ear) and bought proximity through sensitivity.

I had created a dynamic within which I felt safe and valued. I spent years in one-sided connections, giving endlessly of my time and emotional energy. I spent time I will never get back in relationships with addicts (of one form or another), the mad, the bad and the sad. I was addicted to people who didn’t really know how to relate. So I had bought proximity but remained emotionally undernourished. Learning to trust and receive is an ongoing journey.

In less extreme and more commonly occurring examples, I see couples who so love being with each other that they spend nearly all of their non-working time together. Friendships are lost, hobbies abandoned, plans for the future forgotten. The masses may label these relationships as “sweet,” “committed,” or simply “being in love.”

I propose that there is a spectrum of codependency. It may range from the stereotype of the mum, bruised housewife living with the abusive, drunkard husband, to the guy who just wants to “save” his girlfriend from any “negative” feelings or situations, meanwhile feeling jealous and angry when she seems fine and social and interacting with anyone other than him.

When looking at these scenarios, a Buddhist may bring up questions of attachment. As someone who has spent a good deal of time with addicts, I see elements of addiction even when a substance is not involved. Byron Katie says, “Addictions are always the effect of an unquestioned mind.”

So let’s question. Let’s look at how we are in relationship with others.

Read the following statements and choose the most honest answer: 1–rarely true, 2–often or sometimes true, 3–almost always true.

1. People are not trustworthy.

2. I feel uncomfortable asking for what I want and need.

3. I worry my partner may leave me.

4. Other people’s problems keep me up at night and distracted during the day.

5. I give to others much more than others give to me.

6. When someone I care about is upset, it is my responsibility to help them feel better.

7. It is difficult to receive compliments or praise.

8. I don’t really believe other people love me.

9. If people would just fix their own problems, I would be happier.

Brush up those maths skills and add up the numbers associated with your answers. As with any over-simplified system, I invite you to use these results not as a diagnosis, but as a springboard for taking a critical and compassionate look at yourself.

(9–14) Highly Healthy—You have a calm confidence and appreciation of self. You may have moments of doubt or worry, but you also have a strong base of self-worth and trust in others. You can savor intimacy and ask for help. While no sane person enjoys watching another suffer, you can appreciate that your role in their suffering is never the sole cause, nor are you their saviour. You can be present and balanced for both your own and others’ hard times.

(15–21) Room to Grow—You have moments of clarity, peppered with stress. You may find that when alone you can sense being a whole, fulfilled human being, but when around certain people, you can’t hear your inner voice as well and feel a bit shaken. You may be sensitive, unsure of yourself or wanting attention. You may feel pulled in many directions when someone you care about is hurting. Be aware of all of these reactions. I invite you to ask yourself: when (someone else) does (something), how do I feel? Or, when I believe (a stressful thought about myself, someone else or a situation), how do I feel and what do I do?

(22–27) Help is Out There—You have some things going on that would cause most anybody some emotional stress. Not only can this be internally, spiritually damaging, but nothing exists in a vacuum. Are your relationships with other people all that you want them to be? Do you feel, or understand, happiness? What role do other people play in your life? Counseling, Codependents Anonymous (CODA),research on codependency and the development of a mindfulness practice may be paths to the construction of a stable internal core self that can relate intimately with others without losing its own innate strength and beauty.

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