As a recovering codependent, I have had to take a radically different approach with dating to heal myself, and I how I show up in relationships. I had to choose behaviors that were initially very uncomfortable and unnatural at first to learn how to become more secure in my relationship style. The work has been extensive, but also very enlightening and rewarding.
When, like me, you grow up in an uneasy, unpredictable, and abusive household, you will often create a fantasy world to exist in, to escape to. I did this, big time. As a child, it made sense to create an imaginary world for myself, but this defense mechanism did not translate, or work for me in adulthood. Unfortunately, as the subconscious mind so often does, I recreated this habit over and over until I decided to become conscious and change it. I would often find unavailable, unhealthy partners, and to cope with their behaviors, I would create a fantasy of who they were, rather than see and accept them for their true selves. This pattern is very common in codependency.
In extreme experiences, I have had harsh wake-up calls with partners. I once learned that a long-term partner had been cheating and lying, meanwhile I had been romanticizing my relationship with them and they had been gaslighting me. While this was severely challenging, it was also the wake-up call I needed to learn how to take care of myself properly and put me on the road to healing.
Things like prioritizing myself in a relationship were once very unnatural for me. I would give everything and ask for nothing. I used to constantly cancel other engagements to fit my partner’s schedules. I would allow work, friendships, and family relationships to suffer, so that I could put my partner first. The cliché is true that if we do not take care of ourselves first, our relationships will suffer. To be clear, I am not talking about healthy sacrifices that come with a secure relationship. In a secure relationship, we do sometimes need to make sacrifices, negotiate, and care for our partners. The key is healthy giving and reciprocity.
In the past my relationships looked like this:
· I put my partner on a pedestal
· I gave everything and asked for nothing
· I put my partner’s needs before mine
· I accepted abuse and made excuses for it
· I isolated from friends and family and lied to them about the state of my relationships (only sharing the positive)
· I communicated poorly and often walked on eggshells to avoid confrontation
A big portion of my healing was moving out of fantasy, grounding into reality, and taking responsibility for my life. In other words: I learned to own my shit. I gave up the idea that anyone would save me. As one of my therapists once told me: you must be the hero in your own story. If you can do that, it will require work and active engagement in your healing process, but it will also give you a deeper sense of groundedness and belief in yourself.
We are interconnected and we do need each other. Codependency can be a healthy and natural thing, even. But at the end of every day, you must go to bed with your own mind and emotions. It is best that you become good friends with your mind and body.
Healing, for me, has looked like this:
· Letting go of the fantasy and learning to root myself into reality
· Accepting my partners for who they are
· Asking myself: Have I made my partner more important than me?
· Asking myself: Have I been communicating properly?
· Creating a cocoon of support via healthy friendships, my therapist and family
· Attending support groups (specifically CODA and Alanon) and daily meditation
· Making high self-esteem a survival tactic
· Creating healthy boundaries and learning to communicate assertively
· Learning to ask for help/Learning to receive help
Remember, no relationship outside of yourself is the cure for your unhappiness. The most important relationship you have is with yourself. The path to loving ourselves can be incredibly empowering – it certainly has been for me!