I just read a list of codependent behaviors on the internet and realized a ton of them describe the ways I have navigated/still navigate my relationships. Particularly: getting upset/stressed about other people’s problems and trauma, abandoning my needs to cater to others, and getting strong dips in my self-worth/self-confidence when the people in my life aren’t totally happy/excited about me.
I realize these issues can’t be fixed without tons of work but do you have any “in the moment” solutions that can at least stave off these responses/emotions when I feel overwhelmed by them?
I ask because I’m seeing someone new and I really like them, like they are so dang cute and the time I spend with them feels great so I’d really like to keep that going and I’m starting to worry that these behaviors could really get in the way!
I Just Can’t Hide It
Dear I Just Can’t,
Oftentimes the ways we relate to people we are romantically and/or sexually attracted to run along tracks that are deeply grooved in our minds, emotions, and bodies so it can be tough to change those patterns by just saying “Hey! Cut it out, self!”
The ways we learned to get our emotional and physical needs met as small infants (professionally dubbed our “attachment style” by the likes of psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby) carry over into our adult relationships in ways that can be both beneficial and/or problematic. Your tendency to abandon your own needs in order to cater to others, for example, may have been a great efficient strategy to get what you needed as a child in relation to your caregivers but in your present adulthood, it’s no longer serving you as well.
This doesn’t mean that this tendency is bad or wrong, but it does mean it’s maladaptive and is now causing you more harm than good, more unhealthy relationships than healthy, and so might be due for a tune-up. Working with a therapist might help this exploration and shift.
Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about attachment styles and how they factor into adult relationships, check out Stan Tatkin’s easy-to-digest book Wired for Love (though I don’t agree with ALL he says in that book, overall it’s an interesting read and breaks down attachment theory well).
As for quicker-to-apply strategies, I’m noticing that many of the things you’ve listed above as “codependent behaviors” are actually primarily feelings or thoughts that might be leading you to codependency.
Something you might try out is to list these negative feelings/thoughts you have about yourself and/or the behaviors that go along with them. Then, make a list of “evidence” that might disprove your negative beliefs about yourself.
For example, you think to yourself, “This person isn’t super excited about me so I must not be worth a lot.” What I’m feeling when I do that: worthless, low self-esteem, etc. What I’m thinking: I’ll never meet anyone who likes me as much as I like them, this new partner will never like me, etc.
Evidence disproving these thoughts: Just because this person isn’t immediately excited about me right this minute doesn’t mean they don’t or won’t like me ever. If this one person doesn’t like me back, I am still awesome and worthy of love and affection. This person isn’t the only person in the world whom I’ll be excited to date. I’ve survived unmatched crushes before and I can do it again, etc.
This exercise might help you achieve a more balanced perspective on the matter, more positive feelings about yourself, and therefore may lead to healthier behaviors such as not attempting to be in constant contact with that person, increased self-care, and greater comfort with alone time away from them.
Finally, be easy on yourself! Crushing hard is a nearly universal experience and what flows will surely ebb. So when in doubt, ride it out.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.