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 community, so that you have a mirror to begin seeing yourself more fully before becoming a counselor. It unraveled me, but even then, I could only see how critical I was of myself. I was not even aware of the larger pattern underneath. There is such a deep wound in the healing community that you need to sacrifice your own needs in order to make sure other people are met. And believe me, it is hard for me to say no. But I am learning to ask myself, “Am I doing this with my full, gracious and authentic heart?” and, “Am I sacrificing any part of myself, in any way, in order to be validated?” If I don’t ask these questions, and just say yes, I unknowingly reinforce a sense of my own needs not being as important as others. One of the most important skills I have learned to combat my undercover codependency, has been to lean more fully into my spiritual certainty. And this simply means knowing I’m a spirit, that has chosen this vessel, to learn and evolve and grow in. When I disregard myself as a spirit, meaning I turn away from my own core of love, I push away from the truth of what I really am. When I am codependent on others for their validation, I invalidate my vibrancy as a soul. We don’t “deserve” love. We are love - it is our basic nature. We all have a deep well, an aquifer of love that flows through us, indefinitely. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I felt my own river gush towards others, but I couldn’t locate my own inner well. When we love ourselves freely and openly, and discover our own soul spring, our frequency naturally heals others. When we are unapologetically aligned in love with ourselves, it gives other people permission to see this possibility in themselves. For example, not to get overly political, but many people talk about how important it is that our presidents, vice presidents and leaders are no longer just white men. When we have presidents and leaders that are diverse in race, culture, sexuality, gender identity, ability – you name it, it allows everyone to step into the possibility that they can become those things as well. When we can see our identities in the people we admire, and when the people we admire share their truth with us, we have a chance to see these possibilities deeper in ourselves. By authentically living your truth and doing your own work, other people see it and say, “Wow, I didn’t know that was possible. I didn’t know this deep well of love is inside of me. I want to access it, now that I know it’s there.” When you locate your own soul spring and honour others in theirs, we create a web where we are more aware of spiritual certainty, together. We begin to depend less on others for validation, and we see the goodness that is our core essence. Although it might seem opposite, compassionate people say no, because they are being truly vulnerable and authentic with their energy and want to give out of a place of abundance, rather than obligation.