Identifying Codependency: What Is It and Am I playing a part?

It has taken me a long time to understand codependency.  For years I thought it only referred to additions, like alcohol or drugs.  Since no one close to me suffered from these, I never thought of my self as being codependent. 

As I examined some of the relationships in my life, I realized that I was enabling certain debilitating behaviors.  If someone repeatedly made bad decisions, I rescued, so they never had to face the consequences. 

I rationalized my actions, but when I dug deeper within myself, I found that it made me feel needed and significant, especially if I felt insignificant in the relationship.  I also did it to cover up the other person’s irresponsible behavior so no one would know.

When I looked at it as enabling debilitating behaviors and not just addictions, I painfully realized that I have been in one or more codependent relationships all my life.  I was accustomed to that role.

Codependency can begin in childhood, when a mother or father checks out and a children are forced to parent a parent, putting a parent’s needs before their own.  When they grow up, they continues this harmful behavior.

Unfortunately I am not the only enabler.  Lately, I’ve bumped into several people who are caught up in this destructive dance.

It’s hard not to bail out our family members and friends who have come to depend upon us, to watch them experience the consequences of their decisions.   But if we don’t let them, we will be aiding them in repeating the same mistakes and their expecting us to fix them.

If we do this for our children, eventually they will expect us to be responsible for them even after they have left home if they do. They are accustomed their role, too.

Neal A. Maxwell said, “Those who do too much for their children will soon find they can do nothing with their children. So many children have been so much done for they are almost done in.”  This same counsel can be applied to friends, coworkers and others.

James E. Faust added, “It seems to be human nature that we do not fully appreciate material things we have not ourselves earned.” 

When we over do, we rob them of the elation that comes from succeeding and the pain and learning that comes from making mistakes. Eventually they may either come to resent our help seeing it as interference or feel entitled to it.

It is a challenge to know how much to help. One guideline is first we show and teach, then we hand them the tools and help when asked and finally just tell them the hammer and strew driver are on the workbench in the garage.   “Put them back when you are done.”

In this process, we must decide whether our goal is teaching a skill or expecting perfection. Perfection is usually a dead end street.  Teaching a skill and letting others learn is empowering.

When we stop and set a boundary, they will not like it.  We may feel like we’re riding a bull and the eight-second buzzer will never sound.  They will twist and turn and try to get us to do what they want.   Although it is HARD, we will be better off and they will either learn to or teach someone else to establish boundaries.

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