I have a friend who is always in relationships. She is never single. There’s always a next lover hanging in the sidelines while she’s breaking things off with the soon-to-be-ex-lover. Every relationship in which I’ve seen her over the years has been destructive to her confidence and her quality of life. She dates narcissistic guys with dominant personalities who are concerned mostly with themselves and their own gratification and she spends the course of the relationship bending over backwards to make them happy, knowing in the back of her mind that the same courtesy will not be reciprocated. Even though she knows that this pattern is unhealthy, she always tends to find herself in a rut, trying to pick of the pieces of her broken self-esteem after these guys have worn her out and moved on to the next codependent chick.
“Am I not good enough for him?” “What does she have that I don’t have? Is it because she has a better body than me?” “Is it because I’m still in school and haven’t started my career?” “ Was I not a good enough sex partner?” “It’s because he doesn’t like my cooking, isn’t it?” “Is it because I didn’t do that thing he asked me to do that one time?” These are typical questions I’ve heard her ask as she tries to figure out what is wrong with her that deems her unlovable.
Codependency is a complex term which can describe someone who puts their needs at a lower priority level than others and often is preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can affect many different types of relationships such as romantic relationships, friendships and work/school relationships. It’s a condition that usually develops during childhood and can be detrimental to one’s quality of life for the rest of her life.
I am amazed by how many young women I know who are codependent and find themselves stuck in relationships in which they lose their sense of self and end up being controlled by others.
Perhaps this is a result of the frequency of broken family structures in our society. Codependence could also be partially due to the messages that the media sends to women of all ages that they are never skinny enough, good enough in bed or youthful-looking enough. Young women grow up feeling insufficient and develop a condition that is characterized by extreme dependence on another person or object. These dependencies can be emotional, social or physical. Codependent people depend on fixes, externals and inappropriate people for gratification.
Whether you’re the girl who can’t say no to your classmate who always makes you do all of their work, or you are in a relationship with someone who could care less about your needs or you’re a mother whose life is defined by your kids or you have an affliction for alcohol which is the only thing that gets you through the day… there are ways that you can fight your tendency to be codependent and give yourself a chance to find yourself, love yourself and get on track to being independent.
You absolutely have to set boundaries. Without boundaries, anyone can treat you however they like and you’ll have no right to complain about it if you choose to stay in the situation. Once you’ve set those boundaries, you have to declare them to the person or object with whom you are in the relationship.
Start by identifying and declaring the following:
1. What is important to you,
2. What you will tolerate and
3. What you absolutely will not tolerate
When you put your cards on the table in the beginning, there is no room for surprise in the future. Once your boundaries have been established, the key is stick to your guns. If you bend your boundaries once, you’ll be inclined to bend them twice and thrice. Then you may find yourself trapped within the confines of a controlling lover, friend or substance. Like most things, sticking to your boundaries comes with practice. The more you agree to things that are important to you and say “no” to the things that need to be eliminated from your life, the better you’ll be at maintaining your boundaries and the more control you’ll have over your own life.