Here we all are, drawing closer to leaving 2021 behind and beginning a new year. These past 12 months have been momentous in so many ways – and I know that you don’t need me to go into much detail about that. For some of us, this year that’s ending has included much loss and grieving – of people we loved, of businesses and jobs that evaporated because of Covid-19 and other factors. For other people, there were opportunities for growth and well-being – with all kinds of shades of grey in between for so many of us.
But what holds true for all of us is that our lives are made up of a combination of experiences, how we perceive them and how we choose to handle them. Some days, during this past year, we felt like we were trudging through darkness with the weight of the world upon us, with no light in sight. Some days we either stayed as busy as we could or dipped even further into already-present addictions, not wanting to think (or perhaps feel) too much about what was happening. And yet, here we all are again, being asked about our New Year’s resolutions – something we don’t seem to be able to get away from pondering at this time of year.
For the past few Decembers, I’ve written articles about the difference between ‘resolutions’ and ‘intentions’ – and although I still feel this is a very important distinction worth discussing, I now want to explore it from a different angle – specifically from the perspective of codependency and recovery.
While there is nothing wrong with reassessing yourself from time to time and exploring changes you would like to make, the problems come when you allow yourself to over-identify with the “hype” of the season. It’s one thing to make the overblown and often unrealistic New Year’s resolutions that you think you should make at this time of year, and quite a different process to take stock of where you are, in present time, to see what you might like to be doing instead so that you can live your best life.
In short, it’s important to increase our level of self-awareness so that we can successfully make distinctions such as these.
RESOLUTIONS vs. INTENTIONS
My dictionary defines RESOLUTION as “the action of solving.” It stands to reason, therefore, that if we are looking at making resolutions, we will be focusing on problems in our lives that need to be solved. We will be looking at what we think is “wrong” with us and how to “fix” ourselves. Common examples of resolutions might be losing weight or getting more exercise because we see ourselves as being too heavy. Whatever our resolutions may be, the perception will be that something is wrong with us and we need to fix it.
But when we base our ‘resolutions’ on how we believe other people might negatively be perceiving us, we come far too close to the perils of codependency, which is a condition that can take us far away from both our true selves and how we genuinely want our lives to be.
Before I continue, I want to give you a simple definition of codependency: This is when we put other peoples’ needs ahead of our own, on a fairly consistent basis. Many of us – especially a large number of women who are basically programmed as little girls to behave in exactly this way – do this because we want to appear “nice”. We want other people to like us and want to be with us, and we grow up mistakenly believing that this is what it takes to feel like we are part of our families, part of our friendships and relationships, part of our work or school environment – part of our world in general.
The choice to behave this way, especially without self-awareness, can be extremely detrimental to our self-respect – and this can result in a very difficult way to live.
PAY-OFFS AND PRICE TAGS
The fact is that once we are caught up in the throes of codependency, we become unwittingly addicted to the pay-offs this brings us. For example, we’ve all heard people talk about others – again, usually about women – saying “Oh, she is such a saint!” “She never thinks of herself first.” “She would give you the shirt off her back.” “She is always so nice and kind – and always there for everyone else.” These types of accolades make the codependent person – who gives and gives, generally without complaint – feel very good about herself. For a minute. Or maybe a minute and a half. And then because her self-awareness and sense of worth are both so fragile, these moments of feeling good about herself are fleeting at best. She then needs more accolades about what a ‘good person’ she is – over and over and over again, in order to fill herself up. This in itself is a classic definition of an addictive behaviour.
As we choose to become more self-aware, we begin to see how we’ve been going-along-to-get-along – which is much more of a self-protective stance than the actions of ‘good’ person. Please understand – I’m not saying that people who practice codependent behaviours aren’t good/nice/sweet/kind people. I myself am a recovering codependent person so I know that we are all those things – sometimes. I also know that we don’t always feel that way, even though we far too often may act as if we do and then present that happy face to the world.
It’s important to understand that addictive behaviours such as alcohol and/or drug use, over-eating (or under-eating), smoking, over-spending, gambling, and spending too much time on the internet are generally used to avoid facing what is really going on in our lives. In order to avoid a variety of life tasks, or to avoid having to experience real feelings, many people create destructive and self-sabotaging distractions for themselves. The same can be said for codependency – which leads us to work even harder on relationships that are not healthy in the first place.
Can you relate?
These are some of the price tags we can experience from indulging in codependent behaviours. If you can see the truth of this and think it may be the case in your life, you might want to consider doing something differently in 2022.
Because here’s the deal: When we are in our people-pleasing modes, it is more for our own self-protection than it is about trying to be good to others. As codependents, we all hate conflict – across the board – and until we become more self-aware, we will do just about anything to avoid becoming engulfed in that. Sometimes this means not saying what we really think, feel, and mean, such as saying Yes when we mean No. I do understand the concept of ‘picking one’s battles’ and I do believe there is a time and place for doing that. But when we give in and give up quite consistently, then the bottom line is that we are protecting ourselves from that conflict we are trying so hard to avoid.
And – yet another price tag is that this opens us up to manipulative behaviours from others, because we have taught them how to treat us. We have shown people over and over, in all kinds of examples, that they can treat us any way they want and we will still come back for more. Without the self-awareness to understand that this is what we’re doing, our self-respect takes a hit each and every time that happens to us.
An INTENTION is very different. My dictionary defines intention as “the determination to act in a certain way.” This has nothing to do with seeing yourself as a problem that needs to be resolved; instead, intentions are about becoming aware of different ways that you would prefer to be in your life. Some examples of an intention might be to become more patient with the people in your life, to treat others with more kindness, to feel like you’re making a positive, authentic difference in the world – and – to put yourself first more often.
If you’ve been consistently codependent and can see yourself in the words you’ve been reading here – if you are not appreciating the price tags this addictive behaviour is costing you, then it may be time to ask yourself a very important question:
“Am I willing to try something different?”
If the answer is YES! then I truly congratulate you. This is a very courageous choice to make, especially because those in your life who are used to you putting them first may express their displeasure – right after they get over the initial shock of hearing a NO from you or a diverse opinion about something that is important to you!
When we have the intention to recover from codependency, we are basically taking our own life back. We are choosing to say “I love and care about you, but I also love and care about ME – and I need to get to know myself better than I do now.”
That, in my opinion, is the greatest intention we can set – and it opens the door for others we care about to do exactly the same for themselves. When we can be honest and genuine in our relationships with others, true intimacy and connection cannot be far behind.
The spiritual philosopher and poet Thich Nhat Hahn brilliantly said that “Understanding is love’s other name.” If you’re wanting to recover from codependency and learn how to love yourself by standing in the light of your own truth, then self-understanding and self-awareness are the keys – developing these traits is the only way to get from where you are now to where you want to go.
Happy New Year to all of you – I hope it will be as nourishing for you and those you love as you’re yearning for it to be.