The Book Report series consists of monthly articles reviewing one of the books I read that month followed by the complete list of all the books I read and/or listened to. I disclose my monthly reading list (the good, the bad, and the embarrassing) so my readers can draw from the same resources I do or just get an insight into the many interests I have that I might not blog about. If you have any book recommendations for me, pass them along!
Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself
By: Melody Beattie
This book, despite being published in 1986, was totally new to me this year. Prior to reading it, I assumed that codependency was an unhealthy style of relationship with another individual where one or both partners had become excessively dependent on the other. I threw around this term as if I knew what it meant (of course in reference to other people, never myself because I was soooo independent) and now I look at that past version of myself with the utmost compassion because I was horribly wrong. I had never recognized that I was actually codependent.
I honestly wasn't even sure I wanted to choose this book to highlight this month because it would require admitting my codependent patterns. But I suspect that almost everyone has developed codependent coping strategies in at least some of their relationships; exploring the origin of codependency and how to manage it is truly liberating. So here we go...
What is codependency?
As Melody Beattie defines it, someone who is codependent is "one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior." Usually codependency arises as a coping strategy while in a relationship with someone who has an addiction - either to alcohol, drugs or unhealthy behaviors. My understanding is that the "co" refers to the partner of the "dependent". So while codependents may have their own addictions or unhealthy behaviors, their codependency is actually an attempt to control a situation in which they can feel wildly out of control; at the mercy of someone else. This is why a codependent will go out of their way to take care of someone else. They tend to be excessively hard on themselves and have a hard time "just letting it go."
I found myself in this situation with a few people in my life. I distinctly remember the feeling of being out of control when I realized someone very important to me was lying about substance use. I tried to set boundaries but when they were crossed, I just redrew them and hoped things would get better. I not only assumed the caretaker role, I was proud of myself for being the kind of person that would go above and beyond for someone else, even to my own detriment. It took years for me to recognize that the reason I gave lavish gifts, sacrificed too much of my time, or put myself last was because I was trying to control the amount of love and appreciation I was given by others. Without knowing it, I was manipulating others all the while feeling they might be manipulating me.
While reading this book, it was like the clouds cleared on some aspects of my childhood where I felt I was responsible for my family members' feelings. Often, when codependency develops in childhood, it's because the child is made to feel responsible for a parent's moods or behaviors. This is how I felt: if I was a good child, my parents were happy; if I was bad, they weren't. I certainly don't blame my parents for this, it's just the dynamic that develops especially in South Asian immigrant families. But it set me up for a lifetime of believing I was somehow responsible for other people's feelings, and because that is too big a burden for anyone to bear, let alone a child, I tried to control how others felt just to relieve myself of the heavy load I was carrying.
I didn't feel then, and still struggle to feel now, that I was worthy of love if I wasn't accomplishing something. In fact, the idea that I can just exist as a bump on a log and deserve love simply because I am is hard to grasp. It's lifelong work to overcome this.
Co-dependency doesn't just show up in relationships with family members or romantic partners either; it's quite common in friendships too. Some of my closest female friendships were those in which my co-dependent tendencies went into overdrive. Looking back, one of the biggest signs that I was in a co-dependent relationship was the money I spent on my friends. I never considered being a generous and gift-giving friend a sign of a dysfunctional relationship - and indeed, I think in certain contexts it's perfectly fine to be generous. But if that generosity is laced with underlying feelings of being taken advantage of or not being appreciated, then that will hurt the friendship over time whether or not those feelings are valid.
Recognizing our own patterns and holding ourselves accountable is not easy work; in fact, it can be pretty painful. No wonder so many turn to distractions that quickly become additions. Brene Brown writes beautifully about "numbing" behaviors - things like substance abuse, eating too much, shopping, wasting time on social media, etc - that people engage in to try and escape their difficult emotions. The problem is that by escaping the difficult emotions, you escape the positive ones as well. You can't selectively numb your emotions.
If any of this resonates with you, or if you suspect you might be codependent, check out this book. I highly recommend the audiobook version narrated by Christina Moore. It's like having a friend explain codependency with compassion (and believe me, if you are codependent, you need compassion because you are way too hard on yourself!) This format would be especially helpful for anyone who tends to be harsh in their self-talk so that your mind registers the information as coming from a friendly source.
Have you read this book or will you be adding it to your list? Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below!
Reading List: June
Before We Visit the Goddess - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Association of Small Bombs - Karan Mahajan
And One Last Thing - Molly Harper
Codependent No More - Melody Beattie
Now Discover Your Strengths - Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton
Aromatherapy for Health Professionals - Sherry and Len Price
Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs - Molly Harper
The Heart of Aromatherapy - Andrea Butje