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Over the years,   I have read many definitions of codependency.  All relate in some way to discounting our own needs and feelings and looking to others to validate and make us happy.   After all, we live our lives in relationship to others, our environment, our culture, and our jobs, so why wouldn’t we look to others for validation and approval?   However, there is a vast difference between discounting our own needs and feelings and becoming utterly dependent on others’ validation, in knowing when to work with others and when to branch out on our own, when to hold the line and when to step back, and in assisting others because they have requested our help or taking over when unasked and forcing others to meet our expectations because the only way we feel secure is when others conform to our neurotic control needs and wishes.  

Those of us who have found our way to 12-step meetings such as Families Anonymous, AL-Anon, CoDa, Adult Children of Alcoholics, etc. did so because we found that our excessive need to be needed, loved, and approved of, and to maintain control was making us unhappy and crazy.   The more stressed we got, the more we found ourselves nagging, criticizing, obsessing, doing more, and repeating off-putting behaviors that drove people away.  Just as with any other addiction,  it often takes a number of crises to make us recognize our need for help, for the harder we codependents try to maintain control and avoid criticism, the more we fall into insane behaviors such as trying to force others to comply with our needs, wishes, and ways of doing things.  Unfortunately, the more we lash out in our attempts to maintain a sense of control,  the more miserable and stressed we become.  

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Looking back over my own journey with codependency, I see letting go of my unhealthy need for acceptance and approval as critical.  I was the middle child and grew up playing the role of family mediator.  Thinking I had to be perfect to simply be good enough,  I would constantly compare myself to others and would find approval when acting as a buffer between my mother and sisters.  Even so, nothing I ever did seemed good enough.  Convinced that I was inherently unworthy of being loved for myself, I sought to earn the love and approval of my friends, husband, children, family, and church by doing, being and trying to have a cleaner house, perfect children, following the rules, overextending myself, etc.  

Thanks to both the program and my family, which refused to fit into my rigid expectations, I discovered that I could achieve more by letting go of my perfectionism and affirming the good in others and myself.  When I stopped focusing on our inadequacies and began looking for positives,  life began to unfold like a flower.  In time, the program’s “attitude of gratitude” made sense.  I learned to tell my kids that I had confidence in their ability to know what was right for them instead of telling them what to do.  I learned to let go of my need to see them achieve my dreams for them – such as graduating from college – and instead not just allow them to find meaning in their own lives and choices but to value and appreciate their journey, including their mistakes and failures.

Gratitude, I’ve found, has been my doorway to peace of mind.  By valuing and focusing on what is, rather than what isn’t, like the Apostle Paul, I’m learning to be content in and for all things.  I’m grateful that my struggles with codependency have taught me about letting go and letting God, or putting it another way, relinquishing control and embracing what is.

 God, grant me the gratitude to accept the things I cannot change, the gratitude to change the things I can, and the gratitude to know the difference.  Amen

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Janis Bell
Janis Bell
1 year ago

So well written. Life lesson we all need.

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