When someone first suggested I was codependent, I was offended and angry. I thought codependency implied that I was to blame for what happened to me.
I was incredibly hurt by the notion that I was part of the problem. I was the victim! I wanted everyone to know that I was the injured party and not responsible in any way for the despicable and harmful behaviors of my loved one.
Being called “codependent” added insult to injury. I was already deeply hurt and very sensitive to anything that felt even remotely blaming, attacking, or critical.
Am I codependent or just traumatized?
Codependent people are traumatized people (but not all traumatized people are codependent). We’ve had bad things happen to us that overwhelmed our ability to cope. There’s no blame or judgment in that. If you reflect on what’s happened to you, probably the vast majority of the population would also be traumatized by that kind of abuse, betrayal, and manipulation.
We didn’t cause these bad things to happen. Our codependency may have kept us trapped in a dysfunctional relationship, but our codependent behaviors aren’t responsible for us being abused, neglected, hurt, betrayed, or demeaned. The perpetrator must own total responsibility for the harm s/he caused and codependency doesn’t change that.
Codependency doesn’t mean you’re inadequate, weak, bad, or can’t cope. I think it can actually stem from childhood strengths; It reflects strong efforts to cope in childhood (see my previous post: What Causes Codependency?).
The label “codependent” wasn’t the problem. The problem was my identity a victim.
I was the victim. There’s no doubt about that. And I needed to be validated not only as the victim but as being “right”. It was initially essential to be seen by myself and others as the victim, but it wasn’t a healthy place to stay. Being a victim was a fact, but not an identity. It’s part of my history, but not who I am.
I didn’t want to remain feeling weak and resentful. I didn’t want to continue to be afraid. I didn’t want to be pitied or placated. I needed to take back my power. I needed to be whole again. And owning my codependent traits was part of that.
Accepting my codependent traits doesn’t mean I accept responsibility for anyone else’s behavior.
I wasn’t to blame for being mistreated. One of the characteristics of codependency is that we tend to take responsibility for other people’s feelings and behaviors. We’re too quick to accept the blame when we’ve done nothing wrong. Codependency doesn’t imply that you’re to blame. It simply means you’re caught in a dysfunctional relationship pattern and you’re trying your best to free yourself. Understanding the pattern and your part in it is critical to freeing yourself from it. I couldn’t move out of being codependent and a victim until I accepted my codependent nature. This is different than accepting the responsibility for the harm caused by someone else.
Once I was able to heal emotionally, I could see the dysfunctional relationship dynamics. But, again, this didn’t make me responsible for anyone except myself and my choices.
As I moved out of my defensive stance, I could let information about codependency in. I could be curious about how it might apply to me. It didn’t all fit, but a lot of it resonated with me. Understanding codependency was valuable information that helped me create healthy relationships. It helped me better understand myself. It helped me accept my imperfections and struggles.
All labels have limitations.
Labels are only helpful to roughly categorizing things or people. They aren’t precise and don’t capture the unique experiences and tendencies of individuals.
I don’t mind being called a “recovering codependent”. I choose to see it as a positive. It’s a victory. It’s a statement of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. It’s humbling and it’s honest.
You may not like the term codependent and that’s OK. I don’t use it with any judgment or blame. I use it simply as a way to generally categorize a set of behaviors and feelings common in some types of unhealthy relationships. I was once hurt and offended when someone pointed out my shortcomings. “Codependent” felt like a criticism. Now I try to see it as tool for self-understanding and growth.
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