Remember our question from Part One: How do I know if I am acting codependent or loving? Also, let’s review our definitions of “codependent” and “loving”:
Love: An intense feeling of deep affection. For the purpose of this article, we will include some more distinctions of love:
Codependency: Codependency, for the purpose of this discussion, is a recognizable system of learned personality traits that negatively affect knowing one’s self and others. Codependents become dependent on “others’” approval and control the situation in order to get this approval. Codependents often avoid honesty and confrontation, which can enable abusive behavior. Thus, the codependent does not require the abusive person to change or improve.
So when we compare love and codependency, I believe we will find actions from love are different than codependent actions, which are based in fear. In general, it takes an emotionally strong person to live in love, not codependency. As we said in our definitions, codependents are driven by the need for others’ approval, so a fear of not having that approval drives the behavior. People operating out of love are not driven by fear. Codependency is usually a way of being someone unconsciously decided they needed in life to survive.
Brave vs Afraid
When we see things that are wrong in the world, e.g. bullying, domestic abuse, lying, emotional abuse, and hatred, it takes bravery to stand up for what is right. It takes courage to say this is wrong. If we have a friend who shows up with unexplained bruises over and over again, do we say nothing or do we find our backbone and say something? If you are going to have an honest conversation with a friend, ask permission: “I am concerned and would like to talk to you.” Always come from being concerned, your observations, and wanting to help as a friend. If the door gets slammed in your face, you will survive. And if something bad happens, you will know you did not pretend all was well.
We can’t help everyone, but we can let others know we are there for them. If I need you to like and approve of me, I will be afraid to speak my truth. Codependency paralyzes us in situations; we need to be brave and take action regardless of who likes us. Remember, as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”
If I am your teacher and I think you are lazy, not living up to your potential, careless, capable of doing better work, and I don’t have the courage to say something to you because I want you to like me, I am not a good teacher. I need to be brave and require you to be the best you can. Remember, if I am codependent, I don’t require you to improve or do your best because I am focused on needing your approval. As a codependent, I live in fear because I always carry my hidden agenda of being liked. I am focused on being nice to you, usually at the expense of myself and our relationship.
Kind vs Angry
As a person who comes from love, I can be kind because I am taking care of myself, so there is plenty to give to others. Kind is better than nice because kind embraces actions which benefit you. Nice is just a string of empty words designed to avoid upsetting you. Kind means I thought about the fact that you have an important meeting, I have an easy schedule and I can honestly help you. Nice is I might help you, but I also might be busy and wish I hadn’t offered to help you, so I might be resentful and angry. When I build up too much anger (because I am too nice to you), I have to let it out somewhere. One day, I may just no-show for something; I will then justify that to myself by saying you always ask me to do things, but I don’t do the same to you. I will be angry because I don’t take care of myself, but you will never know that…because I will be so nice to you.
If I agree to people’s requests because I am nice and driven by wanting people to like me, I become overwhelmed and angry because I am always taking care of others. If I put my own oxygen mask on first, I can be kind to you because I will be discerning about the requests I accept. There is no need for me to become resentful and angry because I am not driven by wanting everyone to like me.
Trusts vs Suspects
Trust becomes very difficult as a codependent because my actions are based on not trusting the world. I don’t trust that you will like me with all my foibles. I don’t trust you/we can handle any altercations, so I don’t allow any to happen. I suspect you will abandon me (which is what I have done to me), so I keep on trying to please you. Of course, I am going to suspect the worst in all situations — because I perceive the world from that point of view. I try to control you by not upsetting you. I don’t encourage you to give up your bad behaviors or choices, so that makes you happy. I don’t love myself, so I don’t believe others can love me. I don’t really have discernment, because I want everyone to like me. I already suspect they won’t, so I try to control what is going on by having my “please at all costs” personality.
Love trusts and does not suspect. Love starts at home with loving one’s self. Love doesn’t need all those people to love him/her; loving one’s self builds so much confidence and, in many ways, is enough. If people fall by the wayside, love believes that is probably a good thing. Your choice: codependency or love?
This article was originally published on Recovery.org
© 2019 Dr. Anne Brown; Psychotherapist, Speaker, and Author of Backbone Power The Science of Saying No. Permission needed for any form of reproduction.
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