“Good morning. I’m James and I’m a codependent.” is how one begins a turn of sharing at a Codependents Anonymous meeting. Twice a week for going on five years I have gathered with others in a small group of 6-10 people. It is there I have found comfort, growth and safety to learn to be the “me” I really am.
The term “Codependence” is so misunderstood and often ill-defined. It frequently ends up with a meaning to many that is not even close to its clinical definition. To boil it down as far as I can in my own words, codependence is a loss of one’s self to where there is no clear sense of identity or positive self-esteem. A codependent then defines them self largely by what is outside them through either being overly controlling or overly compliant. Inside they feel at least partly empty and fear letting people see who they really are, what they feel and what they think.
Most of the time it is hard to spot a codependent as we become so good at projecting what we think others want to see. Usually such people are successful in their working life as the controlling variety of codependents frequently make good managers. The compliant variety make great employees. It is in personal relationships where these natures cause problems. Since what others see is only a projection, true emotionally intimacy is essentially impossible with one with moderate to high codependency.
Codependence often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns. In a general sense being a Codependent means making things outside yourself far more important than you are to yourself.
Here’s a paragraph I found on-line that describes well the feeling of codependence: So there’s a shell there, on the outside, and people look at the shell, and they talk to it and they act like it’s really you, but you know it isn’t. It’s just a mask. A cover. A defense mechanism carefully tweaked over years and decades, with razor-sharp antennae out, reading the signals, ready to react, ready to duck for cover, ready to be whatever it is that they want me to be today.
Everyone has some codependence in them, but for those of us in recovery that is excessively true. If you are curious to know if you suffer from being a codependent, take the quiz at this link: CoDA Quiz Link I will warn you though, one of the surest signs a person is codependent is to score as one and then deny that’s true.
The original poem is titles: “The Perfect Friend” By author Shannen Wrass.
The Perfect Friend
(By Shannen Wrass)
Today I found a friend
Who knew everything I felt
She knew my weakness
And the problems I have dealt.
She understood my wonders
And listened to my dreams,
She listened to how I felt about life and love
And knew what it all means.
Not once did she interrupt me
Or tell me I was wrong
She understood what I was going through
And promised she’d stay long.
I reached out to this friend,
To show her that I care
To pull her close and let her know
How much I need her there.
I went to hold her hand
To pull her a bit nearer
And I realized this perfect friend I found
Was nothing but a mirror.
Now days I live a mostly happy life and no longer need to show the world someone else other than who I am, at least most of the time with most people. I am grateful beyond words to my therapist, The Meadows and all those I have attended a CoDA meeting with. Without you all I simply don’t know where I would be today.
National Codependence Anonymous Organization link: http://www.coda.org/
Another link that may be helpful: http://www.mnwelldir.org/docs/mental_health/codependency.htm