Updated: Mar 31, 2022
Most of us are familiar with the word “co-dependent”, but to steam-line things and for simplicity’s sake, I will define it as referring to a form of attachment in which a person puts their needs on the backburner in order to maintain a relationship. Codependence typically comes with a variety of emotional and behavioral traits, such as low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, guilt, difficulty with boundaries, and feeling overly responsible for others.
All of my life, I scoffed at co-dependency.
Whenever I felt like I “needed” someone, or felt a tug towards wanting validation from others, I jugged myself harshly and reminded myself that people that needed others were weak, or inadequate. I grew up in a family system where both parents operated on the basis of essentially living independent and separate lives. My parents saw one another as partners, but the companionship kind, with little intimacy, so I never grew up watching people model intimacy and vulnerability in relationship. Ironically, more than anything, I craved interdependent relationships, or relationships that have a strong sense of connection and self-love.
As I reinforced my identity that I was a strong person by not needing others, I also created a complex that people seemed to appreciate and validate me when I helped them. And I realized if other people needed me, it reinforced that I was a good person. When other people validated me, it offered a direct route to my own self-love, and I could view myself as worthy and loveable.
Hence, my codependency went underground. It became the specialized type: undercover codependency. My story of being the wounded healer, and creating my identity around it, became one of my core character traits. If there was a way I could help, I was there. I was the person that skipped classes if friends were emotionally distraught and needed someone to talk to. My application for college included an entire page of volunteer experiences, and I was always the first one to jump at the phrase, “We need a volunteer.” Naturally, I found myself going to college and studying social work and social justice, so I could find more ways to give back to the world, and to try to help “others heal.” In actuality, although my deep love for other people was truly authentic, at the core, I was trying to heal me. I was trying to heal my sense of inadequacy - to prove that I was a valuable person. I have journal entry upon journal entry about how much my soul wanted to help heal the world. And yes, my love for the world is, and remains, completely true. But, although I knew I was a good person then, I wasn’t enough on my own. I didn’t have my own sense of validation. I bypassed myself by pouring my love into other people. Truly, if other people needed me, then I was enough. At least, for a while. When I look back, I see a tender-hearted, little girl with massive love for the world. I remember lying in bed at night when I was 7 years-old, thinking about love. And quite suddenly, I remember saying in my head, “I would die for anyone.” I started listing all my immediate family members, my extended family, friends, neighbors, strangers… even people that committed really painful crimes, or were currently causing violence in the world. As I stared at my orange nightlight glowing on the ceiling, I remember smiling with the realization that I loved people so much, that I was okay giving my energy to them so they could have what they needed. I wanted everyone to know they were loved and worthy. Although this realization was really true for me, it began to warp as I grew up without the awareness that I could hold this level of self-love for myself. I continued to give my love for myself away to others. I gave away my power and sovereignty. I ached. So, I loved more. And then I became resentful, so I loved more to bypass the ache and the anger. My undercover codependency turned into the strongest coping mechanism I have for feeling negatively about myself. So, naturally, I found myself going to graduate school to become a counselor. Luckily, my studies at Naropa slowly unbraided this strategy. I am so thankful that Naropa literally makes you sit, for hours, by yourself, and in com