If there's one area of our lives that we tend to care most about, relationships might be it. In Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, she describes her friend, a psychologist, who is asked to offer counseling to Cambodian refugees. Daunted by the task of helping people who have suffered such harrowing journeys, she discovers all they wanted to talk about were their relationships.
Relationships bring us our greatest joys and our greatest challenges. From a spiritual perspective, relationships are assignments for the purpose of growth opportunities. It is in the context of a relationship with another individual where we see the places in which we need to heal, based on our triggers, blocks and patterns.
Codependency is arguably one of the biggest challenges most of us face in relationships — that feeling that we can't exist without the other person, that their existence and validation is required for us to feel happy, even complete. Codependency blocks us from accessing our best selves, and also blocks the potential for further growth in the relationship.
Strangely, most of us don't even know we're enacting codependent patterns in our relationships. Why? Because we've been taught to believe certain myths about how relationships work, especially romantic relationships. Many of these myths foster codependency.
I was living in codependent relationships for two decades and didn't even know it. When I hit a rock-bottom in a breakup a few years ago, it was all revealed to me; my fears came rushing in and my patterns rose to the surface for me to finally see them clearly. My fears of being alone, my deep longing for the love and attention outside of me, the fact that I had placed my power in another person making them the source of my love and happiness, all came into my awareness and there was no turning back.
I was finally ready to do things differently. Knowing there must be a better way, I stepped onto my spiritual path and experienced a radical transformation from the inside out, beginning with the relationship with myself. First step was awareness — recognizing the ways in which I had been living in codependent relationships and letting fear run the show, which was not love.
A lot of the time codependency looks like intense love, but "needing" another person often stems from fear, not love. Here are ten common ways to identify if you're in a codependent relationship (and might not even know it):
1. You can't live without the other person.
I know, this is supposed to be romantic, but it's not, it's attachment which is different from connection. It's not sexy and it's not fulfilling. Recognize your wholeness and completeness so that you can truly enjoy the other person in your life rather than being half of a person who is incomplete without someone else; you are the cake — everything else is the icing.
2. The other person must behave in a certain way.
In order for you to feel loved or for you to love them, the other person must be who we need them to be. This is conditional love (as opposed to unconditional love), which doesn't allow the other person to be who they really are: in other words, your happiness is dependent on them being how you want them to be.
3. You blame others for how you feel.
We are actually responsible for how we feel and it's not someone else's responsibility to make us happy. We make ourselves happy first so that others can make us happy.
4. You play caregiver.
A healthy relationship is between two adults, not two children or one child and one parent. When we are mothering or taking care of someone who is not taking care of themselves, it's disempowering for both people. When we spiritually grow up, we learn how to take care of ourselves so someone else doesn't have to do it for us and we can live in our highest truth, not as a child or a victim or helpless. We are all capable.
5. You're controlling outcomes and situations.
When we are controlling the other person or how things are unfolding, we are living in fear not in love. Surrender the relationship, surrender the other person's process and what their choices are and trust that everything will unfold perfectly if you allow it to do so.
6. You give from a place of lack.
We might be putting ourselves last and focusing on the other person more than we do ourselves and we lose ourselves in the relationship. This pattern comes from a lack of self-love and when we try to give from an empty well, anger and resentment can build because we are not filling ourselves up first and giving from a place of abundance.
7. You think your happiness is predicated on the other person.
It's not. Our happiness is within and when we stop searching for it in our partner, and instead connect with ourselves in a daily practice, we connect to our true source within and that happiness can overflow to the other person, rather than making them our only source.
8. You don't feel free.
Love is freedom. Rules and constrictions are fear. We must do what we want to do, not what other people want us to do.
9. You're waiting to be saved.
No, this isn't a conscious choice and yes, it's rampant in our collective psyche. Save yourself. Be your own knight in shining armor, the heroine of your own story and then he can be exactly who he needs to be, without having to rescue you.
10. You think you need to get the love you want.
Giving love is more important than getting love. You have an unlimited source within you. It will come back to you tenfold.
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