So he said goodbye and you’re left standing all alone. You put on the best mask you knew how to, in order to please his whims, desires, lusts, and so on, much like a performer puts on make-up and gets into character, trying to play the role of a lifetime. Now you are angry, disillusioned and dumbfounded that it wasn’t enough to keep the relationship together. Why not? you ask, still swimming in a sea of stormy, up and down emotions.
You watched someone significant in your life battle either with low self-esteem or maybe self-esteem that bordered on narcissism, learning that in order to hang on to that one all-important relationship, you must play the chameleon, ever changing into the passion of the season, feeling much like a puppet whose strings are being pulled while your partner meta-communicates, “Dance, monkey, dance!”
At work, you’re a champ, a well-respected, high performer. In larger social settings, you navigate deftly, picking up on cues and allowing yourself to be more of the real you. But when you were alone with him , all you knew was to lose your opinions, ideas, and inspirations and laugh at what they laughed at, watch what they wanted to watch on television, try things that you really never had any interest in at all, and just generally give up the essence of who you are.
Maybe it wasn’t this way for you just this last time. Perhaps you have gone from one relationship to another that are the same, excepting the names have changed. Or, maybe you’re reading this after only one relationship that involved codependency. In either case, you may be asking yourself, “How do I recover from codependency — from losing myself in what should be the closest, most loving and trusting of relationships?” Let’s dive into some deep but healing waters to deal with just that question, shall we?
Steps to Codependency Recovery
What to do now:
- Develop accountability
- Honor the lessons
- Learn to trust your gut…and then follow it
- Don’t make key decisions in isolation
To break out of this cycle you have identified in your own behavior, whether it was a cycle that repeated regularly in one relationship, or one that you have serially displayed in successive relationships, it is crucial to develop accountability. Yuck! Who likes accountability?
Most people want to think of themselves as free agents who only have a broad impact when they are doing good, showing their benevolent side; and, when they want to delve into more intimate relationships, think that their decisions will not have a ripple effect. In fact, many want to claim that what they do only impacts them and their partner. But is that so?
What about the friends you called or texted in the middle of the night when you had some blow out after your codependent behavior and the traits in your former partner brought out the worst in one another? What about when you or your ex called out of work, missing a critical meeting or deadline because you’d been up crying, drinking, or otherwise trying to cope after everything hit the fan?
No, you are not an island, my dear reader. And, once you’ve lost yourself in a relationship, it is so easy to do it again and again. So, of course I recommend looking into therapy to get at the root of the why and pull the proverbial weeds out of the garden of your soul.
However, you may not be ready for that; but you still must do something to keep yourself on the straight and narrow. Find someone — a pastor, women’s group leader, men’s group leader, solid friend, anyone that you know keeps your confidence, has your best interest at heart, and cares enough to tell you the bald-faced truth when you are about to stumble back to your ex or blithely go forward into yet another relational minefield.
Meet with that person regularly. Set up clear expectations or an understanding of what the accountability will look and sound like from your side and theirs. Be sure that your accountability partner is someone to whom you have no sexual attraction. This is, after all, a time and strategy for codependency recovery.
Some of the things you will want to discuss is what to do when you want to pick up the phone, text, email, meet with your ex or someone new; what you think triggers you to give up who you are; and healthy habits to engage in when you are tempted to backslide.
Changing your behavior, even when you feel like you are white-knuckling it, will help even if your emotions and conscious thoughts about why you tend to make these choices haven’t caught up. When you intervene on behavior, emotions, or thoughts, the other two will generally be areas where you see growth and transformation as well. It’s difficult and takes consistent practice. That is something with which your accountability partner can and should help you.
Honor the lessons
What did you learn from this relationship? When I ask that, I am referring to what you can now step back and see in yourself. What did you gain? What did you lose? What about you allowed you to choose to get into and stay in an unhealthy state, in a relationship that could never last?
The brutal truth that most of us don’t want to face and will even argue over is when someone tells us that we are getting something from even the worst situations or we wouldn’t stay. (Clearly, I am not referring to a situation such as kidnapping, human trafficking, or anything else where someone is physically held against their will.) Think about this before dismissing it and clicking away from this article, please, for your own sake.
Did you gain a roof over your head, groceries on the table for your children, terrific sex, the closest thing to love you have ever experienced? When you can honestly assess and name what your gain was, it is one more step to breaking free of this behavior.
You can find other ways to meet your needs without giving up who you were created to be and fulfilling what you are called to accomplish. When you name and are thankful for the lessons, you are more able to move closer to your authentic self. It brings you out of the automatic pilot life into the intentional life.
Set yourself, your ex, and others free by granting forgiveness. Forgiveness provides great relief and release from emotional chokeholds. Own that you made the choices you made to get into and stay in an unhealthy relationship and what you contributed to that lack of health, and then realize that if you want to move forward, you have to forgive yourself.
Do the same for your ex and anyone else who either contributed to your decisions that were unhealthy or those that you became furious with when they reached out to you from a helpful place and tried to have you recognize the truth of your choices and make healthy changes.
Here is again where you don’t rely on or wait for feelings. Forgiveness is a decision, yes, a choice. It is also a process in many cases rather than an event. You may have to audibly state several times a day, everyday for weeks or months, your forgiveness of self and others.
Then, you may have to replace your negative, ruminating thoughts about the relationship and the people you have decided to forgive in order to keep new bitterness from developing and get one more tug on the emotional weeds that are still trying to strangle new growth in the garden of your mind which impacts your whole life and well-being.
Learn to Trust Your Gut . . . Then Follow It
When you look back, I truly think that you will see the warning signs of the relationship taking a turn for the worse and your choices that fostered codependency creeping into and spilling out of your playbook. You saw that your partner dominated, drank too much, cared too little, or whatever other red flag is appropriate to your situation.
You recognize when you started to do anything you could to gain their attention and approval, when you settled for less than the true love you can offer and should receive. When you were about to walk off of the proverbial cliff, you heard the melodramatic soundtrack in the background; but you kept walking anyway. Could you have avoided the bumps, bruises, and cliff-jumping?
You could have if you had recognized the jewel that you are, created in the image of God Himself. I submit that if you get to the root of why you had the blinders on, ignored the music looming in the background, and ignored the churning in your gut, which can be painful initially and then incredibly freeing, you will be able to choose to listen to and follow your gut. You will flee danger and the addiction to others and emerge strengthened with a much clearer sense of your identity. Once you have that, it is not going to easily be stolen or given away again.
Don’t Make Key Decisions in Isolation
This is the final point which really incorporates those who came before. When you isolate, you are more prone to the danger zone of decision-making. When you have an accountability partner, have truly learned lessons, are practicing forgiveness, and have learned to trust your gut, you will not isolate.
You will be an active member of a personal community. You will attract others who have your best interest at heart and gain a group of friends that will insist on meeting a prospective serious date and possible mate. They will let you know if you have been shutting them out, no longer going on trips you had planned, not taking their calls, or otherwise slipping into old patterns.
Listen to your tribe. They love and know you much more than this newer person who you find intriguing. If this individual has healthy motives, they will want to know you and your village. They won’t have anything to hide; nor will they ask you to do so. They will prefer you, in love, finding joy in watching you shine. They will bring balance. And you will be able to operate from your authentic self who love the other without losing yourself.
Christian Counseling for Codependency Recovery
If you could use some help in your journey to overcoming a codependent relationship, please don’t hesistate to contact me or one of the other counselors listed in the counselor directory. We would be happy to help in any way that we can.