Co-dependency is an increasingly popular and often times misunderstood term. It’s use originated to help health care professionals describe the behavior patterns of those individuals or families involved in relationships with people addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. It has been commonly used to describe the “walking on eggshells” behavior pattern of people in those dysfunctional relationships.
More recently, “co-dependency” has been adapted to help describe the behaviors present in any dysfunctional relationship where one person sacrifices “self” in the hopes of satisfying the personal needs of feeling wanted, desired, loved, valued, etc. These behaviors are also seen in the dysfunctional families where abuse (emotional, spiritual, physical or sexual) or abandonment is present. Co-dependency is generally used to describe any self-sacrificing, unhealthy behavior patterns which result from dysfunctional relationships from the past or present. More fuel is then added to the fire when dysfunctional relationship patterns are carried on from one relationship to another. It’s a circular pattern of behavior that is dishonest at its heart and is often destructive for all those involved.
For our discussion, let us embrace and own the idea that having healthy relationships in life is a good thing. To be able to enjoy healthy relationships, we each need to be able to know what healthy relationship looks like. One of the first steps in identifying healthy relationships is to be able to identify what we do and do not have control over in the relationship process. The answer to this is quite simple – you only have control over yourself.
If we understand that we can only control ourselves in relationships, it becomes obvious that this is the starting point – we need to make sure that we bring the best we can be to all of our relationships. What does it mean to be my best? To learn how to be “my best self” I need to understand the difference between being responsible for others and being responsible to others.
Everyone carries some baggage from their life’s journey. Everyone is lugging around some different sized loads – but we all have a load to bear. It is irresponsible for anyone to try and dump their baggage on someone else and equally irresponsible for us to try and carry someone else’s. It is important that we all carry our own load. (I’ve always said, “If we have a heartbeat, we are carrying baggage. It is how gracefully we carry it that matters.”)
With this baggage carrying analogy, it becomes easier to see that if someone is trying to carry the load of another person the weight can become unbearable (he/she has been dumped on). While one is feeling over-burdened in the relationship, the other person is experiencing unbridled freedom – no worries or fewer worries. This isn’t a healthy position for either person.
Everyone has their own baggage or burdens to live through and carry. Life is just that way. Things happen on an everyday basis – we all must experience, learn and (hopefully) grow through these experiences – thus becoming more graceful at carrying our own burdens. If we try to carry baggage for another, we really are depriving the person of experiencing his/her life. We are getting in the way of the lessons that are being introduced to them. We are feeling responsible for another’s life – for their happiness – for their success – even for their failures. That isn’t our job.
The same can be said if we try and get others to carry our life’s baggage. If we keep handing it off and not dealing with it ourselves then we are expecting someone else to be responsible for our lives. We are giving up our power and a fundamental sense of self and freely giving it to someone else. We will miss out on all of the opportunities we are presented to experience, learn and grow as a person. We will never learn how to gracefully walk with our burdens – our baggage. We are not being responsible for our self or our life.
Instead, it is a much more healthy approach to living if we consider ourselves responsible to other people rather than being responsible for other people. Sometimes life dumps a trunk on us and we need genuine help to carry it. It is far too heavy to carry alone. These are times in life that are extra heavy, extra difficult, extra trying. In these cases we are all responsible to ask for help and those of us who are able would be loving and supportive to help others during those times of trial – i.e. illness, death, divorce, natural disaster, abuse, war, etc. These times call for assistance – a temporary sharing of the load that someone has experienced in their life. (That is one of the blessings of relationships.) To help the person struggling is to be responsible to them – we are there to help, supporting others during difficult times of trial and pain. We are assisting, not trying to carry or control the burden alone. We are helping out for a while until such time as the trial is lifted or it passes.
It is important that each of us learns to carry our own baggage and experience the life lessons that come our way. It is equally important that we support and love others to carry their loads – and allow them to learn their life lessons. Healthy love is the key to the co-dependency relationship issues. We should strive to live a life of love with all of our relationships where kindness, gentleness, grace, support and encouragement are present without trying to take over and control situations or manipulate circumstances in an other’s life.