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How to Stop Being So Codependent

Being wired for connection doesn't mean we can't learn interdependence.

Human beings are wired for connection.

We have innate processes running deep throughout our subconscious that drive us towards other human beings, similar to a magnetic pull that—while intangible—can’t be disputed.

We seek love. We seek comfort. We seek connection.

So why don’t we talk about codependency?*

Why don’t we talk about the impending emptiness that we fear if we leave our comfort, our security, our vice?

Why don’t we talk about how many of us would rather settle for mediocre relationships that don’t meet us at the level of our needs, because that beats the potential of being alone?

What is it about being alone that is so terrifying?

The dictionary definition of codependency is "a person with an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner." We can also have codependent relationships with friends, family, validation, and so much more. To me, codependency means that my state of self-worth and well-being is contingent on anything outside of myself.

If I need your approval to feel OK about myself, that is codependence.

I once reached out to a friend about my intense loneliness when I was 25 years old and had just experienced a painful breakup. I was bombarded by well-meaning friends and family telling me, “You’re going to meet someone better,” “You’re going to find the man of your dreams,” and, “There are so many fish in the sea!"

But I am beyond grateful for the friend who said to me, “Hannah, I don’t need to say ‘you’ll find it again,’ because it’s not promised and maybe you won’t. And that is OK.”

I stared at my iPhone screen, jaw dropped. Stunned. I could only respond with “Ya. Oof.”

She said, “I know it feels good to be comforted … but like, you don’t need that. It is not a necessity. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter why you ended it or what comes down the road. It just matters that you love yourself. You are well taken care of.”

If only we were all courageous enough to combat hardships and pain head-on this way.

No, there is no guarantee.

No, you may never experience the level of beauty and health in a relationship that you had before.

But yes, that is OK. You are still OK. And, above all, it’s OK to not feel happy at all times.

If pain is our greatest motivator for change—and if pain motivates us to grow more than any other external or internal process—why is it that we find such difficulty in facing it?

Codependency, for me, ran much deeper than my alcoholism. I celebrated four years sober in a 12-step program in August of 2015. Not drinking and not using drugs is the very tip of the iceberg. I tell my patients this on a daily basis and they stare at me like I’m an alien.

What came before alcohol and drugs as our primary solution?

Emptiness. An innate discomfort.

As our basic text calls it, a constant state of being irritable, restless, and discontented. That is what my baseline state of being was without drugs and alcohol. That is what my baseline state of being is without a relationship.

We all seek something—we’re wired for it. But when we stop ourselves and attempt to stop the cycle—stop the reactivity, the impulsiveness, the constant and relentless need for more of something—what happens then?

We are left with ourselves.

Codependency is insidious, though. It tricks us into believing that we are not whole without our significant other—or any significant other.

These last six months have been by far the most eye-opening and awakening for me. I keep thinking of one of my favorite quotes: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” –Rumi

How different would the world look—would we all look—if we did this?

In 12-step programs, we are encouraged to write a list of “ideals” that we have in mind for our partner. I heard a speaker at a 12-step panel convention say, “Our ideals list is so much less about what we want the other person to be and all about who we should be in a relationship.”

Mind = blown.

So maybe we need to work on being emotionally available, communicative, and our ability to be vulnerable and trusting?

Maybe we should stop focusing all our energy on trying to manufacture a relationship with someone to fit this cookie-cutter mold and instead, focus all of that energy inward.

What a concept.

For I am whole already and the entire universe is inside of me.

The entire universe is inside of you, too.

Stop seeking. Dive in.

*Book recommendation: The Codependent's Guide to the 12 Steps by Melody Beattie.

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