Co-Dependency Further Defined

Co-dependency. It’s not what we do, but why we do it.

Take my friend Emma, for example, who I introduced in an earlier post. If you recall, she was sticking it out in an unhealthy relationship convinced she was doing the right thing. But I beg to differ and here’s why.

If Emma and her husband were both committed to making their marriage successful and were actively seeking professional help in working it out, then I would give her credit for not giving up easily. In such a case, honoring her marriage vows would be motivated by love. She would purely want to make it work for the sake of making it work. No hidden agendas. But the key word here is, both.

Are they both working on salvaging their marriage? Or is Emma doing all the work while her husband happily skips along in status-quo land? If she alone is trying to save her marriage, then she is demonstrating co-dependency. She needs to make it work because she’s looking for a payoff. And for her, the payoff is the feeling of doing the right thing.

If guilt or fear is the motivating factor in staying in an unhealthy relationship, then the marriage is already doomed. You can stay together forever, but it will never be a real marriage. It’s fake. It may look whole on the outside but it’s empty on the inside and your marriage license is merely a piece of paper that says you file your taxes jointly.

This is the co-dependent’s mantra: If I try hard enough, I can fix it.

This is where Emma gets stuck. She thinks she can fix her marriage by herself. If she’s patient enough. If she’s loving enough. If she gives enough. If she’s unselfish enough.

What complicates Emma’s little plan is that her desire to make her marriage work is not the only factor in play. What does her husband want? Is he willing to put in the sweat in order to reap the equity? Is he motivated by love to change what isn’t working? Or, is he content with the way things are, thinking good enough is good enough? Or even worse, that Emma deserves to be his emotional punching bag?

My ex-husband use to say, “Either shit or get off the pot.” I apologize for the crudeness, but it’s so true. Either do something, taking real steps toward fixing the core problem, or stop complaining. Stop pretending. Be honest. Most likely you are fooling no one but yourself with your pretense that everything is fine when it’s not.

In my first marriage, our son came to us one day and said, “Mom, I love you and Dad, I love you, but I can’t stand being around the two of you together.” As a Junior in high school he moved out and went to live with friends. If that isn’t a wake up call, I don’t know what is. My husband and I were legally married, living under one roof, regularly attending church, and raising our children together, but we were failing miserably in giving them the home they so desperately needed.

That’s what we co-dependents do. We settle for what is instead of either making it what it could be or admitting it’s beyond repair.

I do not advocate divorce. I do advocate healthy relationships. Therefore, if the one you’re with insists on maintaining their dysfunctional status-quo, you have not only the right but the responsibility to separate yourself and your children from the crazy-making. I’m not talking about imperfect people. We’re all imperfect. I’m talking about toxic people. Unsafe people. Crazymaking people!

You know who they are by the gut-wrenching feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when they verbally attack you for no good reason. “It’s your fault everything goes wrong,” they say. “You can’t do anything right. You don’t try hard enough.” You know the spiel. They’re very convincing and you find yourself walking on eggshells, trying to prevent anything from upsetting them.

Even if there was a good reason for confrontation, the matter should be discussed in a respectful manner. Never, ever with insulting, name-calling, blaming, or shaming! This is verbal and emotional abuse and it causes as many scars as the physical kind. Do not be deceived into thinking it’s your fault or that you deserve it. No one deserves to be treated with disrespect!

But after two failed marriages already under her belt, Emma is desperate for the self-respect she’d get from doing what she considers to be the right thing. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that by allowing her husband to treat her disrespectfully, Emma is inadvertently teaching their children to disrespect and verbally abuse others. This is how dysfunction travels from one generation to another until someone has the courage to stand up and say, “Enough! No more!”

Recently on Facebook I read this post submitted by Whitney Renee Huntwork on February 19, 2017:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text

How we treat others and how we allow others to treat us, is a big deal. Larger than we realize. I was raised in an era where such things were not discussed. What happened behind closed doors, stayed behind closed doors. In religious circles it was considered sinful to separate for any reason and it was believed that you somehow earned heavenly brownie points for being long-suffering and patient and kind in the midst of abuse. That’s a lie.

Nowhere in the Bible does God say you should allow yourself and those under your care to be abused. Jesus was known for speaking up against pretense and injustice. He gently corrected the sin while still loving the sinner. He taught us when and how to be angry. Healthy relationships always has been and always will be His message to mankind. He died a humiliating and cruel death on the cross to restore broken relationships, first with God Himself, then with ourselves and others. There is hope, and there is help. “Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.”

Thankfully, we have more resources available to us today to deal with such issues than did our predecessors.

Unlike them, we have no excuse!

It’s time we realize that our co-dependency in sticking by an abuser is doing no one any good. It is, in fact, doing a great deal of harm! Whatever payoff we think we’re getting is not worth it.

Whether our motivation is to support the underdog (my motivation), or whether our motivation is to do the seemingly right thing (Emma’s motivation), it’s time we stop the crazy-making. Separate yourself and your children from it long enough to be able to accurately evaluate what’s really going on, what your options are, and what needs to be done next.

By all means, get help from available safe people and professionals. You are not alone. Yes, life is filled with problems and challenges. As a healthy individual, you can meet them with wisdom and courage.

We each have the responsibility of taking care of what God has given us: the opportunity for physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health. We do this best when living a crazy-free life!








Are You A Rescuer?

Co-dependents are rescuers.

My personal rescuing method of choice was in the form of picking the runt of the litter. By bestowing my love and attention on the runt, the one everyone else over looked, I was validating her worth.

Case in point: As a child I wanted a puppy. After receiving the typical responsibility lecture that parents feel bound to give, my mom and dad gave in. We visited a local farm that was selling puppies. As we walked into the barn, several happy, bouncing puppies greeted me. I noticed several other families playing with the puppies, carefully choosing the one they would take home.

My radar, however, zeroed in on one particular puppy cowering against the wall. She had a scratch on her nose and she was significantly smaller than the others, indicating that her time at the feeding bowl had been limited. I could just picture her trying to eat as the other fatter, stronger puppies pushed her aside as they gobbled up more than their fare share. My heart went out to her.

I went over and picked her up. She shook in my arms. “I want this one,” I announced. My mom and dad looked at each other. “Are you sure?” they asked. “Wouldn’t you like one of the healthier ones?”

Their response only added to my resolve. “No. Lots of people want the others. No one wants this one. I want her.”

And thus began my life of co-dependency. You can call it kindness, generosity, a sensitive loving heart, but it was co-dependency in the making.

In junior high as Valentine’s Day approached, I knew what was going to happen. The popular kids would exchange valentines in order to preserve their elevated spot in the pecking order. Unpopular kids would give valentines to the popular kids in their effort to elevate their spot in the pecking order. The whole thing disgusted me. So I decided to do something to even things out.

I purchased two types of valentines that year. One box contained your usual greetings. The other more expensive box contained valentines with the usual greeting, but with attached lolly pops. Then I carefully addressed each envelope, the plain valentines going to the popular kids and the lolly pop endowed valentines to the unpopular kids. I knew my action would upset the way things had always been, but I didn’t care. I was a rebel at heart.

I passed out my valentines, getting the expected response. The less popular kids were delighted. I can still see the looks on their faces! The popular kids were confused. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Who would dare do such a thing? Certainly not the quiet, shy Diane!

What they didn’t know about me was that “I’m a December girl. I was born with my heart on my sleeve, a fire in my soul, and a mouth I can’t control.” I read this on a tee-shirt this past year and loved it. This is totally me. I don’t go for astrology so I’m not sure where this saying came from, but it speaks my language. The only difference is, back then I did control my mouth. I was a good girl and kept all my bad thoughts to myself. But you better believe they’ve been there all along! Now, sometimes my mouth gets away from me, but I try to control it while still being authentic and forth right. I say what I think needs saying, but in an appropriate way. At least most of the time.

What I didn’t realize back then was the fact that I was practicing reverse discrimination. To have been totally non-discriminatory, I would have given the same valentines to everyone. What I attempted to do was even the score. Bring down the popular kids and elevate the less popular. That is still discrimination, just opposite of the norm.

So, why did I do it? There’s payoff in co-dependency. You feel good about yourself; you feel like you’re making a difference. The difference between co-dependency and just plain having a kind heart is the need factor.

A kind person will do something just for the act itself. Help an old lady across the street, that type of thing. No payoff. Just do a good deed, no thanks necessary, and get on with your life.

The co-dependent will do the same good deed, but her motivation is for what she gets in return. She’ll help the little old lady across the street, then look around to see if anyone noticed. She needs this attention, this validation that she herself is worthy. It’s as if we give what we ourselves need, in an attempt to fill our own unmet needs.

After high school, my co-dependent heart when to college where I encountered more injustice. My freshman year I became part of a group that just hung around together. Guys and girls, freshmen and seniors and every thing in between. It was an awesome group. No expectations or drama or games. Just pure enjoyment of sharing adventures. We would often go to John Bryan State Park. Sometimes only a few would go, other times the whole crew. Regardless of how many attended, we always had fun.

In that group was a handsome young man, a junior, who was a little on the quiet side until you got to know him. He was very intelligent but not arrogant. It was easy to be around him. One day this junior dared to ask a popular senior out on a date. She said no.

I was so outraged by this injustice, this sign that she thought she was superior and he beneath her, that I started paying special attention to him in an effort to even the score. Teach her a lesson! Show her what she was missing! I’d show her and the whole world how worthy this young man truly was! And when he asked me out on a date, I accepted. Not because I really wanted to go out with him, but to prove there was nothing wrong with him. He really was a nice guy and I liked him a lot. I just didn’t like him in that way. But my co-dependent heart didn’t know the difference. The payoff I received was that I felt good about myself. I was elevating this young man’s status from being rejected to being accepted and appreciated.

What I know now that I didn’t know then was, this young man did not need rescuing. He took the rejection better than I took his rejection. He was fine. I was the one who was not fine.

What about my other relationships? Pretty much the same MO. I was attracted to those who I perceived as needing my validation of their worth, thereby validating my own.

Therefore I went through my adult life both looking for those to rescue and those who would rescue me, since that was my underlying need.

It’s been eight years since my last divorce and I’m determined to do it differently this time. That’s why I didn’t jump into dating right away, like I did after my first divorce. I knew there was something about me that made me choose good men who were not right for me. It’s taken me eight years to come to the place where I feel I am finally ready for a healthy relationship.

I’m looking for my soul-mate. That one guy, although not perfect, is perfect for me and I, albeit far from perfect, is perfect for him. I still believe in fairy tales and I still believe in Prince Charming. Although, at the tender age of 60, my prince will most likely look like a frog to the rest of the world. Pot belly, receding hairline, you get the picture. He’ll probably have a lot of hair on his face to compensate for what’s no longer on his head. Men do that. I don’t know why.

That’s where I am in my life and he will be, too, so I’m okay with that. I’m after relationship. Connection. Companionship. A feeling of safety and comfort in his presence. A warm feeling inside just thinking about him. That’s what I want these days.

I don’t need a rescuer, and I no longer need to rescue. God is my rescuer and as such, I am now able to freely give out of the pure desire to give, without attached motives.

My soul-mate, that perfect guy for me, will be my companion through the coming years, one who will bring a smile to my lips and a flutter to my heart. We’ll be that old couple on the beach, holding hands, looking tenderly into each others eyes. While others will most likely look at us and say, “Aww, what a sweet old couple,” I won’t even notice because their attention and validation is no longer important to me.

That’s when I’ll know, I am co-dependent no more!






Co-Dependency Defined

In my last blog, I encouraged readers to take steps toward ridding their lives of dysfunctional behaviors and relationships. But the deep level of anger I felt writing that article surprised me. I had to step back and take a good look at myself to figure out why I had such a heated reaction to my own writing. Sure, it was hard to understand the hesitation that hinders so many of my friends from making healthy decisions for a healthier life. But it was more than that. It felt personal and the mother bear in me came out with claws flailing.

This week I had an epiphany that revealed why I had reacted so strongly. I was talking to my friend Emma, getting more and more upset over the fact that all she wanted to do was complain about her husband. She was either unwilling or unable to take responsibility for her own misery and do something. That’s when it hit me. Emma thinks it’s her responsibility to fix her husband. “If I stay with him,” she told me, “maybe he’ll become a Christian. If I leave, then he won’t.”

“How many years have you stayed with him so that maybe he’ll become a Christian?” I asked.

“Twenty-five,” she answered.

“So, what’s going to change this year?”

She shrugged her response. I so wanted to quote Alcoholics Annoymous’s definition of insanity but held my tongue.

“Whose responsibility is it for his salvation?” I continued. “Yours or his?”

Again, she had no answer.

And that’s when I realized Emma was co-dependent. She needed her husband to need her. She needed to fix him. And for reasons she couldn’t even begin to grasp, this dysfunctional relationship had her in a grip she was unable to break. Misplaced loyalty and guilt had a grimy strangle hold around her neck and she was stuck.

I was Emma a decade ago. That’s why her dilemma felt so personal. Because it was.

My son was out with his wife one evening, and on the way home he became sick. As he struggled to get his car window open, he vomited. Window, door, cup holder, seat, floor, you name it. It was also below freezing so with the window now open, the vomit froze where it landed.

When they got home, he announced with disgust, “I’m not cleaning that up!” He has a weak stomach to begin with. He even detests holding babies because they might drool on him. There was no way he was touching frozen vomit, not even his own.

His wife was just as adamant. “I’m not cleaning it up, either! We’ll just get rid of the car.”

But me, being the loving (Note: CO-DEPENDENT) mother I was, went out into the sub-freezing night air, armed with a flashlight and buckets of hot soapy water, numerous cleaning paraphernalia in tow. An hour and a half later I came into the house and announced with more than a little pride that the car was as good as new. I felt like I deserved a standing ovation. I had scrapped, soaked, brushed, and detailed with a sharp knife every inch the vomit had touched.

You’re probably reading this and saying, “Oh, what a wonderful mother! So loving. So giving. So unselfish.” Well, that’s exactly what I wanted everyone to think because my motivation was not to clean frozen vomit, it was to earn my son’s approval. Actually, the whole family’s approval! It was to make him dependent on me because I was the only one (Note: THE ONLY ONE!) who would sacrifice so much for him. I needed him to need me, therefore I tackled the unthinkable. I was Emma.

You notice my daughter-in-law was not co-dependent. She didn’t need to earn her husband’s love or approval. She didn’t need to sacrifice her own discomfort. But, as a deeply co-dependent mother, I did.

In the end, they got rid of the car anyway, even after all my hard work. My sacrifice was wasted because my motivation was wrong. If my motivation had been to simply clean a filthy car, then I had succeeded. But my motivation had been to earn their love and make myself indispensable. My self-gratifying efforts were not rewarded.

That is what we co-dependents do. We waste countless amounts of energy, countless resources, countless hours, and sometimes countless years (Note: YEARS!) on people who do not appreciate us or what we do. The validation we so desperately seek is never realized.

So, do we learn? No. We try harder. We do more. And as our enhanced efforts are not appreciated by our loved ones, we grow resentful, blaming them for our unhappiness.

In actuality, we have no one to blame but ourselves because, as I explained in my previous post, we teach people how to treat us (I first heard this from Joyce Meyer). If we neglect ourselves, we invite others to neglect us. If we criticize ourselves, we clear the way for others to criticize us. If we abuse ourselves, we open ourselves up to abuse from others.

Demanding respect falls on deaf ears. It takes action on our part to motivate change. We have to pave the way. We need to break new ground. We need to start over.

We do this by respecting ourselves.

Do You Believe In Second Chances?

If I take any credit for the way my kids have turned out, it is because I modeled for them a love of continuous lifelong learning. And each of them, by choice, has followed suit. Now as adults if they’re curious about something, they investigate. If they question something, they look into it. If they doubt something, they search for the truth.

They don’t wait around for others to tell them what to think or do. They are self-motivated because they see the direct correlation between cause and effect; action and result; cowardice and regret; wisdom and reward.

They think for themselves and develop their own opinions yet have learned to play nicely with others. Few things are more disturbing than to see people “express” themselves at the expense of someone else or, to “be themselves” in an obnoxious way.

While none of us are perfect and we all learn from our mistakes at our own pace, some of us learn more easily than others. It took my brother, as a little boy, only one time of jumping off a stone wall with an umbrella to learn that cartoons weren’t a reliable source of reality. A broken heel reminded him that, unlike our mouse friend, Jerry, an umbrella would not break his fall. It’s a good thing he learned quickly, otherwise he might have jumped off a cliff like Wile-E-Coyote with drastically different results!

And yet, many of us jump off the proverbial cliff over and over, expecting a time-lapsed float instead of the free-fall that plummets us to earth. We get hurt by a person or situation, and yet we return time and time again.

A friend of mine recently told me she always seemed to choose the wrong men. She ended up with the ones who needed to be rescued and she wondered where all the good men were. It wasn’t hard for me to see why: Her radar was set on men who needed rescuing while emotionally healthy men passed by without her notice. Now well into her third miserable marriage, she recognizes the problem but can’t find the solution.

I’ve made similiar mistakes. Because of my lack of self-identity, or rather, a reluctance of sharing the real me for fear of rejection, I married men who saw potential and thought it was their duty to change me. And later when I resisted, to control me. Two failed marriages later, I see why. Because I was open to the idea that someone else might know what was better for me than I did, I attracted men who were more than willing to take on the job. Except that, it wasn’t their job or their responsibility. It’s only one person’s responsibility to fix me, and that person is me.

Most of us are more comfortable trying to fix others than to work on ourselves. It’s easier to see their problems than to see our own. And we think our problems are their fault. “If only he would treat me with respect ….” Maybe if you respected yourself, he would either follow suit or leave. “If only she wouldn’t spend so much money ….” “If only he wasn’t so lazy ….” “If only she wasn’t so moody… ” “If only …..” The list goes on and on. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we see how the behavior of others trails directly back to us.

“Do I respect myself enough to not allow someone to mistreat me? But how do I do that?” you might ask. “Are you really saying that if he mistreats me, I should remove myself from his presence? Not take his phone calls? Not answer the door when he shows up unexpectedly? Go to safe places and hang out with safe people? But …. but …. but…. You don’t know what you’re asking!”

Yes, I do. I’ve done it. Remember the whole lifelong learning thing? If what you’re doing isn’t working, well, we’ve all heard the definition of insanity coined by Alcoholics Anonymous: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If what you’re doing isn’t working, by all that is good and holy, stop doing it!

In her book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron discusses the two main hindrances to our recovery from whatever is not working in our lives. Crazymakers are external barriers to an emotionally healthy life, and skepticism is an inner enemy that sabotages our efforts to make improvements. While Ms. Cameron is writing specifically about recovery from blocked creativity, what she says can be applied to all areas, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In my own life, I apply her insights to my recovery from being stuck in unhealthy patterns of living.

She also refers to the crazymakers as poisonous playmates. Other authors use different words to describe them: Unsafe people, toxic people, narcissists.

You know who these people are in your life. They’re the ones who make you feel like you’re the one going crazy. When you catch them in a lie, they accuse you of not trusting. When you ask them why they are so grouchy, they accuse you of being negative. They put a spin on every situation that makes no logical sense and then somehow turn it around to make you look like the bad guy. They leave with a smug grin that says they won the argument, and you’re left wondering what happened. You had logic on your side and yet they seem to have come out on top once again. Things just don’t add up.

She also refers to skepticism as, the secret doubt. Just when we start seeing some improvement, skepticism jumps in and says, “Whoa. This can’t be true. Nothing ever goes my way. I must be imagining it.” This thought gives us permission to give up without looking bad. After all, we’re just being realistic, right? Getting our heads out of the clouds like we were admonished as children? The temptation here is to step back, give in to what is, and once again accept things the way they are. “After all, it’s not all bad,” we console ourselves. “It could be worse. I need to be thankful for what I have. No one’s life is perfect. We’re suppose to be content where we are, right?”

Ms. Cameron sums up our struggle with our two main enemies to recovery, crazymakers and skepticism, this way:

“One of the things most worth noting in … recovery is our reluctance to take seriously the possibility that the universe just might be cooperating with our new and expanded plans. We’ve gotten brave enough to try recovery, but we don’t want the universe to really pay attention. We still feel too much like frauds to handle some success. When it comes, we want to go.

“Of course we do! Any little bit of experimenting in self-nurturance is very frightening for most of us. When our little experiment provokes the universe to open a door or two, we start shying away. “Hey! You! Whatever you are! Not so fast!”

“I like to think of the mind as a room. In that room, we keep all of our usual ideas about life, God, what’s possible and what’s not. The room has a door. That door is ever so slightly ajar, and outside we can see a great deal of dazzling light. Out there in the dazzling light are a lot of new ideas that we consider too far-out for us, and so we keep them out there. The ideas we are comfortable with are in the room with us. The other ideas are out, and we keep them out.

“In our ordinary, pre-recovery life, when we would hear something weird or threatening, we’d just grab the door knob and pull the door shut. Fast.

“Inner work triggering outer change? Ridiculous! (Slam the door.) God bothering to help my … recovery? (Slam.) Synchronicity supporting … with serendipitous coincidences? (Slam, slam, slam.)

“Now that we are in … recovery, there is another approach we need to try. To do this, we gently set aside our skepticism – for later use, if we need it – and when a weird idea or coincidence whizzes by, we gently nudge the door a little further open.

“Setting skepticism aside, even briefly, can make for very interesting explorations. In … recovery, it is not necessary that we change any of our beliefs. It is necessary that we examine them.” (pp. 41-51)

Ms. Cameron’s last statement is key: “In recovery, it is not necessary that we change any of our beliefs. It is necessary that we examine them.” (p.51)

Often times we feel trapped; like we’re stuck with no way out. That’s a lie. Reality is, we all have choices and there is always something we can do. It may be a small, seemingly insignificant step in the right direction, or it may be a big one-time move. It doesn’t matter. Figure it out and do something. Stop feeling helpless or victimized, and stop expecting some kind of brownie points for being a martyr. There aren’t any. There’s only more suffering ahead if we choose to do nothing.

Those of us who were raised with a strong sense of right and wrong are often the most plagued with a sense of misplaced duty. Showing unconditional love and being steadfast in the face of adversity are admirable qualities. But when our sense of duty is hurting us and those we love, it would be advisable to step back and evaluate where our true duty lies. Is it in sticking with the crazymaker and letting her have her way, thus sidetracking us from our other responsibilities?

We’ve all heard the old saying that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets greased. This is never more true than with crazymakers. They are always squeaking because things are never right and we are never doing enough. Their needs are endless.

Thus, crazymakers eat up an inordinately large portion of our time and energy to the point where we simply cannot take adequate care of ourselves and those we are truly responsibility for. Skepticism, as the evil twin, joins right in and says, “What’s the use of fighting it? She’s my mother so I have to do what she says, even though I’m an adult. She has to come first,” or, “He’s my brother-in-law so I have to keep peace in the family,” or, “I married her so, that’s just the way it is.”

Enough with the excuses. It’s time we get off our fearful hinnies, make some tough decisions, change what isn’t working, and create a life worth living. We’ve wasted enough time and energy on those who don’t appreciate our help. It’s time we looked around and saw what’s been in our faces all along: those who truly deserve our time and attention. It’s like a person petting a stuffed animal while his dog looks up expectantly. We waste our lives on what we can’t change, and make no effort to change what we can.

I love this prayer written by Reinhold Neibuhr in the 1940’s: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (

When conflicting thoughts come, and they will, ask a safe person for help. Now is not the time to put on an invincible facade. We’re not fooling anyone other than ourselves when we claim to be OK when it’s obvious we’re not. It’s time to admit what everyone else already knows. We’re human. We’re vulnerable. We’re afraid. Now, let’s do something about it, together.

When all is said and done, we each have a choice. Stay where we are, stuff down the disappointment and frustration, maintain the status-quo, delude ourselves into thinking there’s virtue in suffering, and die unhappily at the end of a miserable life. It’s up to you.

But, if I were you, and I was, I’d do something and get back on the right path. There’s no better time than the present.

What Is Success?