Confessions of a Codependent

The first time I heard the term “codependent” I was sitting across from one of those free college counselors.

I was quite skeptical and confused by what she meant.

A few years and many graduate level psychology courses later, I’m still piecing together what codependency means and what it looks like in my life.

Codependency has become a hot topic in psychology lately, and is quite prevalent among women. It sometimes involves a relationship where addiction is involved, though this is not true in my case.  There are many definitions of codependency out there. Here are a few:

“Someone who is codependent is one who has let another’s behavior or feelings affect them in a way that interferes with work, creativity, other relationships and personal growth.”  Copyright 2009 NBC Health

“The condition or fact of being codependent; specifically, a) tendency to place the needs and wants of others first and to the exclusion of acknowledging one’s own, b) continued investment of self-esteem in the ability to control both oneself and others, c) anxiety and boundary distortions relating to intimacy and separation, d) difficulty expressing feelings.” H. Dan Smith, EdD, MFT

Or simply, “the need to be needed.”

There are also jokes about codependents, Q: “What flashes before a codependent’s eyes before s/he falls off a cliff?” A: “Someone else’s life.”

But for many of us codependence is not just a definition or a punch line, but a harsh reality.

In many ways, the simple awareness of my codependency has helped. I now know that it’s okay (even healthy) to get my needs met, it’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to have (and even express) feelings. Some of you may be raising one eyebrow to me right now, but honestly these facts were revolutionary to me when I learned them, and I’m still working on them.

Though my knowledge of my codependency does help, it doesn’t fix everything. I still find myself trying to figure out when I’m being codependent, when I’m being healthy, or when I’m being just plain selfish.

For example, the other day I wanted to cook dinner for my roommate because I knew she was tired and she was in the middle of watching a movie. So she tried to help me cook, and I told her “no, don’t worry about it, just go watch your movie, I’ve got it.” Then I literally had to stand there in the kitchen and think, “Okay. Did I just offer to cook out of obligation? Did I offer to cook because I wish that I had someone to offer to cook for me? Will I resent her for this later?” (ie, am I being codependent?) OR “Do I just sincerely want to do something nice for my roommate, and I don’t mind because I’ve seen the movie before anyway?” (ie, am I just being a good friend?). I decided that I really just wanted to cook for my roommate to be a good friend, not out of obligation. Sigh of relief. Commence cooking.

Another example. Two of my sisters are pregnant. As their sister, I feel I should throw them baby showers. However, we couldn’t fit them in over Christmas. So whereas in the past I would have felt obligated to organize the shower anyway, now I feel like it’ll just have to rest on their friends’ or my mom’s shoulders because they live closer and Christmas was the only time I’d be up north to help out. Now I’m not sure if I’m setting good boundaries (it will still get done if I don’t do it, and it doesn’t make sense for me to plan it from so far away) or if I’m just being selfish, because I don’t want to do it. I’m still not sure on this one.

These scenarios may seem silly to you. They probably are. But to me, they are the questions that fill my brain and my heart every day. Do I say no to the person who needs my help at work, if I’m already feeling overloaded? Do I sit and talk while someone else does the dishes, because they’ve asked me to let them get it this time? Do I say no to an invitation not because I have anything better planned, but simply because I would rather not? Do I volunteer more because I’m never doing enough? Is it helpful if I tell my friend I’m worried about her, or am I trying to “fix”? Are my feelings valid? Are my feelings important enough to share? Am I being too sensitive? Do I just need to suck it up?

One of the hardest realizations in my journey of recovery was realizing that many of the things I thought I was doing out of love, I was doing for selfish reasons. Doing the dishes, folding the laundry, calling friends, giving hugs, making personal sacrifices, reaching out, being supportive- often these were unconscious efforts to get others to do my dishes, fold my laundry, call me once  in awhile, give me a hug for no reason, sacrifice for me, reach out to me, be supportive of me.

What I didn’t get was that no one knew that’s what I needed. How could they if I never asked? I was too capable, too strong, too independent, too perfect to ever need anyone’s help.

Yet, now that I know part of the answer- simply to ask people for what I need- it’s still a struggle. What about the things I can’t ask for? What about the feelings that can’t be comforted? This is my frustration now.

When I’m lonely, who can I ask for stimulating conversation? When I need physical touch, who can I ask to hold me? When I feel empty because the holidays are so damn romantic, who can I ask to kiss me?

The simple answer is, of course, Jesus. Jesus will love me. Jesus will support me. Jesus always wants to hear my feelings and He knows my heart. In my strong moments I know He is more than enough.

But in my weak moments I am frustrated. Jesus can’t hold me, can’t hug me, can’t touch me. So I guess I’m just not quite sure what to do with these needs. The codependent in me just wants to pour myself into serving others and neglecting myself. The recovering side of me knows that part of the answer is that I just need to feel it. Good or bad, I need to allow myself to feel it.


19 thoughts on “Confessions of a Codependent

  1. Wow, the first thing I’m thinking is everyone co dependant. Excellent testimony. Katie is right, the way you worded everything makes it very clear. Your honesty encourages me to me more honest about my feelings and be able to label and call it what it is. The more recovered I think I am the more recovery I realise I need. Thank you!

  2. Thank you Krista for being so honest. The definitions I read make it okay for me to have those feelings and realize that I am not the only one who is questioning my every move. I want to not be codependent but I still want to be there for people and the relationships I have with those people.
    I too hate the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas especially becuase I have to see everyone else be with the people they have to support them, love them, kiss them and listen to them. But at the same time I would miss it immensely having missed that shared time.
    I need to be more honest with my feelings and not feel like I need to hold everything back because they cant handle it. They can handle it and they may just be waiting for me to put it out there to share something that is on their heart.
    I dont know where the happy medium is. Lord knows I wish I did. But I am willing to keep trying and pushing myself, even if I second guess myslef all the way.

  3. Hey krista..
    this is amazing. I am 18 years old and I am a christian too. I just rescently heard the term codependency, and I know I am codependant. I also rescently started taking ritaline with a docter perscription and I’m not sure if this is really bad for me. I think your story is amazing and I will pray for you! thank you lots

  4. Thanks for your comments and prayers, Rhianna. I know Ritalin can be helpful for some people and not for others. Hopefully you’ll be able to tell whether it’s good for you. I wish you the best on your journey.

  5. Hey Krista,

    I stumbled upon this blog while I was reading Ben Wilson’s blog. I enjoy reading your posts and this one in particular really caught my interest. I am not well educated in psychology (Psychology of Personal Adjustment freshmen year is the only formal psychology education I have) however, I am interested in the subject. In reading this I couldn’t help to think, can someone be co-dependent on trying to find his or her co-dependency? If you study and second guess every act of kindness you do (to understand why you are truly doing this act of kindness), are you not being co-dependent on analyzing everything you do? I’m very curious to hear your opinion! Thanks for the blogs!

  6. Brett, an interesting observation. I’m not sure that you can be codependent on trying to find your codependency, as you put it. However, I’m sure you’re right that second guessing every kind act I do is probably not a good thing. As with any type of recovery, however, there is going to be a period of time where normal actions or behaviors seem foreign and new, and you just have to be patient until you feel comfortable and confident in yourself and your ability to choose right from wrong and healthy from damaging. Thanks for your comments.

  7. Krista,
    Ironically found your blog on codependency shortly after asking you what it was in person. Thanks for the clear verbal and written answers. For me, having a name for an illness whether physical or emotional can be very helpful. It helps to legitimize it to myself in some way.
    I have been doing some heavy thinking and am ready to start making some healing changes. Just wanted to thank you for your help in my journey.

  8. I appreciate your story and relate to it well. I carry so much anger and resentment around because of the expectations I have of others. I was never sure if I was codependent, until I read your blog. Thanks so much for being honest with yourself and with us.

  9. The ‘light bulb’ did not go on about being a full blown codependant until I was married with children and in my forties. It is so great that younger people are having their ‘Ah ha!’ moment so they can spend proportionally more of their life healing than becoming entrenched in the co-dependency. I seem to have fit in with plenty of people with narcissistic personality disorder who programmed to suck the life out of me and I have been letting them. But why? No boundaries, no personal goals — I didn’t even know what boundaries were. I didn’t even know what ‘I’ wanted – only how to help fulfill the goals of others. It was my role in life to help others succeed.
    But now I know and now I can begin to slowly move forward in my life – as soon as I figure out what that is.
    Thanks for putting your finger on the issue.

  10. I agree with the comments of the others and identify with what you said in your original text.

    I’ve been trying to please others for decades, and have just “woken up” to that fact and acknowledged it in the past eight months.

    Your expressions of doubt and vulnerability with respect to your roommate and family sound very familiar to me as well.

    I am at a state at 50 years old, never married, where I don’t have a clear idea of who I am and how to determine what defines me as as a person.

    Admitting that to myself and to the world is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

    Like yourself and others, I’m struggling to find who I truly am and how I move on with my life with that knowledge.

  11. It’s been a while since your post, but I’m very glad I found it… thank you for sharing.

    I was wondering if you’ve come across any resources to help “revive” your identity, as your blog title suggests you’re doing. I think you and I have very similar experiences, and I’ve just realized that almost every thought in my head is not mine–it’s said to someone else and my feelings about it are then based on the other person’s imagined response. I don’t have thoughts of my own and feel totally lost. If you feel like sharing a similar experience, some advice, a good book, I would be receptive!

    1. Hi Briony,

      I do have a lot of books I recommend! Any of the books on my blog under “recommended reading” are great for working on these issues. My favorite would be Stronger Than You Think. After that- Boundaries and Bittersweet are two more faves. Let me know if those work for you or if I can help you in any other way!

      sorry for my delayed response, I hope you see my response:)

      1. Of course, I didn’t see your list, that’s so helpful! I have to say, the way you put your experience into words spoke to me more than any writing on codependency I’ve read (which is mostly Melody Beattie’s books). I can relate so much and so, just had to ask for your advice. I’ll definitely look for those, and I’ll also suggest one of my own finds in case it’s new to you–The Courage to Be Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele.

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