Throughout my young adult years, I prided myself on cultivating a strong group of friends and never prioritizing my romantic relationships.
On the outside, I was a confident, happy, and self-sufficient woman who was never needy… or at least not vocal about her needs.
That was why, when years later I discovered that I was codependent, I was absolutely shocked. Codependency reminded me of relying entirely on a romantic partner, such as the scene in Wedding Crashers when Isla Fisher pleads for Vince Vaughn never to leave her.
I didn’t realize that codependency can manifest in many different ways, and the idea you have preconceived in your head could be completely inaccurate.
These are the three behaviors that helped me realize that I had been struggling with codependency since childhood.
I needed other people to enjoy myself
From working a job where I was surrounded by busy people, living with roommates, and going out in the evenings, I always ensured that every day was filled with people and plans.
The moments when I was alone were filled with texting or calling friends to distract myself from the emptiness threatening to reveal itself from deep inside of my heart.
One memory that always springs to mind is of when I was at a concert, and a voice popped into my head that said, “You believe that you are nothing without other people.”
There was no denying the reality that everything I did was with other people and that my own company wasn’t one that I ever wanted to keep.
I put other people’s needs first at the expense of my own well-being
When it came to my friendships or relationships, I was always doing everything to make everyone happy.
If my boyfriend wanted to stay up late and party, I would stay up late and party. If a friend needed me to drop everything (even if I was studying for a test the next day), I would drop everything and rush to their aid. Oh, I would still get decent grades and get what I needed to be done, but I wouldn’t make any time for myself, and there were several years when I only slept a few hours a week.
Ironically, I prided myself on not being needy when the reality is that I was too busy prioritizing everyone else. In fact, if you had asked back then, I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what my needs even were.
I kept attracted partners who needed “fixing” due to my childhood role as a caregiver.
There was the incredibly insecure boyfriend who couldn’t quite kick his smoking habit and needed constant validation.
Along came the next boyfriend, who couldn’t be vulnerable and open up due to his broken relationship with her father, so he always kept me at arm's length.
On the surface, the following boyfriend seemed incredibly stable and hid parts of himself for months until he revealed that at one point, he had carved the letter “M” in his chest for the word monster.
Even if I didn’t want to admit it, something within me was attracting these partners, and it was no coincidence that everyone that I dated needed to be “fixed.”
Identifying our behaviors is the first step in being able to work on them.
Years ago, I was perusing through a thrift store when I noticed an older book about the topic of codependency. I began sifting through the pages one night before bed and felt my stomach sinking because everything I read… sounded exactly like my own behaviors.
After taking a deep breath, I realized that even though I was sad… I was relieved. Now that I knew what was happening and why I acted the way I did in my relationships, I could begin to work on myself.
Years later, I am astonished at how far I have come. Now I allow at least 1–2 nights a week for time alone to focus on myself, and I cherish that time. I have also been able to identify my needs and vocalize them in my relationships.
Don’t be afraid if you are reading this and realizing that it hits too close to home. Healing from codependency has been one of the greatest parts of my adult life, and it is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to celebrate.