I’m returning from a pretty long hiatus from my blog, so I’d like to reintroduce myself. I am a 33-year-old woman living in the United States. I come from Mexican and indigenous heritage, and I have struggled with self-identity, sexuality, anxiety and chronic depression for the majority of my life. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) at the age of 18, after a major depressive episode led me to drop out of college.
In 2019, my mental illness intensified to the point that I was having constant nightmares, traumatic flashbacks, and episodes of dissociation. I was unable to work or even care for myself. I knew that if I continued down this path, I was not going to live very long, so I decided that I would do everything in my power to understand my mental illness and learn how to heal.
In April 2019 I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and started going to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) twice a week. After over a year of consistently attending DBT and CBT, I was referred to trauma therapy by my therapist. I started trauma therapy in September 2020 and was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).
In the past two years of my life, I’ve learned many self-soothing practices that required a lot of introspection. I’ve been in a constant state of self-reflection to understand what thoughts and values lead to my emotional pain, physical reactions, and trauma responses. With the guidance of my therapists, I was able to recognize that a lot of my emotional instability and behavioral responses stemmed from my issues with codependency. After more introspection and observation with the present and past relationships in my life, I realized that many of the relationship values I was taught as a societal norm, were in fact facets of codependency.
I decided to write this blog to share my thoughts and observations on codependency and how it has affected my relationships and mental health.
What is Codependency?
The term “codependency” originated to describe the condition in which a person in a relationship is controlled or manipulated by the other person’s pathological condition. The term was first coined to refer to the spouses’ of addicts, specifically alcoholics, but has since broadened to include relationships that are one-sided or emotionally abusive through the dependence of one person on the other.
Codependent relationships often include a dynamic where one person feels responsible for the actions of another, and where they feel they do more than their share of the work and are hurt when this is not acknowledged.
People who are codependent struggle to set personal boundaries, and feel guilty when asserting themselves. This can lead them to feel confused about their own feelings, wanting to please others rather than voice their emotional needs. Their self-esteem becomes based on the approval of others, and they will endure abuse to keep the relationship instead of risking abandonment.
When I learned about codependency, I immediately recognized the role it has played in my entire life, with just about every relationship I’ve ever had. I have been codependent on others and others have been codependent on me, which is why every relationship I’ve had has been chaotic, dysfunctional, and emotionally painful.
Looking closer, I noticed that these codependent characteristics are not limited to relationships where substance abuse and mental illness are blatant. With the rise of relationship ideals through social media meme culture, twitter, and relationship blogs, I’ve noticed a lot of unhealthy dynamics being praised as “relationship goals” when they really are setting people on the path to codependency.
Whether you truly believe you have a “soulmate” out there, there are a lot of expectations that when you find the right partner, they will be your missing piece. Even the common jargon for marriage is about unity, or becoming “one”. Suddenly, you are no longer an individual, but an incomplete piece that needs another to be “whole”.
Although this sounds romantic and beautiful, it’s a setup for expectations that are not only unrealistic, but can be potentially harmful for you and your partner. No one person can fulfill your every need, and they should not be expected to.
I remember being a young girl, a very lonely young girl with extremely low self-esteem. At school, I was bullied for being overweight, big, and hairy. I was bullied by kids on the bus for being ugly and bullied by a family member who made fun of everything I did and said, saying I was lame, I was a nerd, and that no one liked me.
At night, I used to dream about one day being beautiful enough that someone would love me. I would write stories in my diary and draw pictures of what I wished I would look like. “Someday I will meet that perfect person”, I would tell myself, and they will love me and everything will be better.
Before I had ever had my first kiss, I was already setting unrealistic expectations for my first relationship. I was hoping for someone to come save me from my trauma and to magically boost my self-esteem.
When I had my first romantic relationship, they were the first person that ever paid attention to me. They came in and told me that all the mean things people said to me were lies, and that I was amazing and that they loved me. Sounds wonderful right? Wrong.
I saw them as my savior, my missing piece that had finally found me, and so my entire identity and self-worth became reliant on how this person saw me. If they said I was beautiful, I was beautiful. But then the relationship turned sour. They started calling me stupid, boring, unoriginal, and a “whore”, so I worked harder to try to earn their love back. I was terrified of being abandoned and alone again, so I became completely dependent on their dysfunctional need to control me through harsh words and verbal abuse.
The Loyal Partner
I constantly see the word “loyal” get thrown around in relationship conversations to mean complete devotion to your partner. If you are hungry, you don’t eat without your partner. You don’t do anything that would offend or hurt your partner, no matter what, and if you don’t know what that is, well that’s your fault and you should know. That’s loyalty and if you’re not loyal, then you’re selfish trash. That’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?
Having the need to do everything together and like the same things all the time is not only impossible, but it’s exhausting and demoralizing. Basing your entire day and existence on what another person is doing is going to lead to fights and resentment. People need individuality, and meeting your own needs is not selfish, it’s a necessity.
If the needs of your partner don’t align with your values and impede on your needs, then the relationship is not going to work. You can try to force or guilt (emotional abuse) the other person into “devoting” themselves to you, but that is just creating a codependent relationship instead of doing the healthy thing and allowing the relationship to end.
A codependent person will try to be this “loyal” person to you, because they don’t believe that they have a choice. Codependents are often “people-pleasers” and will sacrifice their own emotional and physical needs to be what another person expects of them. Their boundaries get blurred, and their own feelings will become confusing to them because they will no longer think in terms of their own wants but of what their partner wants from them.
In my second relationship, I struggled to do things without my partner. I experienced chronic loneliness and was already codependent, so I had the unrealistic expectation that because I did things with them, they should always do things with me.
But me and my partner didn’t share the same interests, so when they didn’t want to come to my soccer games or go to the beach with me, it hurt me. I thought that they didn’t love me and didn’t want to be around me, which wasn’t true.
On the other side, my partner constantly expressed what they did and didn’t want me to do, and put me down if I didn’t want to do it. In a relationship where both partners are codependent, the emotional pain is going to come naturally. I tried to be what they wanted me to be, even though it made me betray myself. After a while I grew more lonely and resentful, and so did they, and the relationship inevitably crumbled.
“Love Will Find A Way”
All You Need Is Love. Love Will Find A Way. Love is often described as this all-powerful and resilient emotion that will pull you through even the darkest times. “As long as you love each other” seems to come from just about everyone’s mouth. The hard truth is, very often, love isn’t enough, especially when your idea of “love” revolves around codependent ideals.
One of the most prevalent symptoms of codependency that I experienced was denial. I thought love was this powerful entity, and that as long as we kept at it, things would work themselves out. I was afraid to tell the truth about how I felt and what I wanted, even to myself. Instead, I worked to become a person that would make the relationship work, because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by being something they didn’t want me to be.
I was in a constant state of anxiety because I was looking for cues of how I should be, I was always guilty and ashamed that I kept my real feelings secret and that I wasn’t naturally the person that my partner wanted me to be. I was always telling myself, “If I really loved them, then I should be able to do this”.
The truth is, I did love them. I loved them with every inch of my heart and I still do. But love doesn’t fulfill you. Love doesn’t take care of your needs. Love doesn’t make trauma disappear.
I felt like an awful person because I wasn’t happy even though I loved them. I became terrified of being my authentic self, thinking that people would judge me, hate me, or abandon me. I felt more and more alone because people didn’t know the real me; I didn’t even know the real me.
I based all of my self-worth on being able to accomplish things that made others proud. I needed constant validation that I wasn’t worthless. Depression and hopelessness overcame me, and living became a nightmare of pain and regret. People loved me, and told me that they loved me, but it wasn’t enough. It didn’t solve my problems. It didn’t make the pain go away.
Codependency is learned behavior, and I have seen it everywhere: in children’s achievements to feel loved, in lovers’ devotion to feel worthy, in friends’ blurred boundaries to be available. In every instance, people love each other and yet still hurt each other. Is that the saying? Isn’t love supposed to hurt? That’s what I used to think.
What Did I Learn?
In no way do I think I have this all figured out. In fact, I feel more lost than ever because the entire foundation of what I believed love was has been dismantled. But I’m not afraid of learning how to love from scratch. I have been in emotional pain almost my entire life, and for the first time I’m finding myself in a romantic companionship with a person that never makes me feel less because of who I am or what I do.
There isn’t a fairy tale ending to anything. Things don’t just work out. You have to take care of yourself, and that starts with addressing your own healing. Needing to heal doesn’t make you selfish, it doesn’t make you unworthy of love, and it doesn’t mean you don’t need anyone’s help. There is coexistence, romance, and love without codependency, and just because you haven’t learned how to love yourself doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to love or be loved. I’m still not sure I know what love is, but I do know that I’m able to love better now than I ever have before.