Codependent behaviors can be the source of grief in a lot of relationships. Unlearning these tendencies will greatly increase the quality of your relationships and bring inner peace.
At the beginning of quarantine in March, I was texting this guy. Quite the typical affair as you might imagine, and for a few days, he just didn’t respond. Maybe this was because of my period. Maybe Venus was in retrograde. Either way, I cried.
Why did I cry, you ask? Him not texting me back made me feel incredibly lonely and disrespected. I fell into those thoughts we all fall into every once in a while: “Will my special person ever show up? Am I just destined to be alone?”
First off, I just want to say, if someone doesn’t seem to be respecting your time, it is totally within you’re right to be upset at that and limit your interactions accordingly. However, in this case, I need to confront a bigger issue: Codependency.
I first learned about this word from a @melanatedmomma tweet which I saw coincidentally, very soon after this incident. Good looks on the universe for that truly.
Here is the Merriam Webster definition of codependency:
“A psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (such as an addiction to alcohol or heroin)
Broadly : dependence on the needs of or control by another.”
In practicality, it’s having your thoughts and emotions be reliant on other people’s behaviors. For example: if you ever find yourself saying something like, “If only they were more ____ I’d be happy; If they just changed their behavior, I can finally focus on me,” etc..
I’ve never had anyone close to me suffer from substance addiction so that’s not the reason I had codependent behaviors. Even so, I did have to reckon with the fact that for better or for worse, anytime I chatted with or dated a guy, a small part of me would become reliant on them for validation and emotional security. This is unhealthy.
Then @melanatedmomma tweeted a screenshot of the classic book on codependency: Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. I downloaded the book and within the first chapter, I realized that I needed to reevaluate how I interact with men. After all, 1) crying over a lack of texts is well, at minimum, extra and at best, obsessive and 2) if people want to leave you, you should let it happen. You should let connections flow and not be preoccupied.
After I realized I possessed codependent behaviors, I decided to take steps to change them. The emotional turmoil every time a guy disappointed me was too much. They simply did it too often, or at least I felt like they did and that pain was too much for it to be productive in any way.
Like any other mental health or emotional issue, there is a spectrum to codependent behaviors. I highly recommend reading that book by Melody Beattie because it’ll definitely give you clarity on what role codependency plays in your life, if any, and how you can overcome it and start working towards a healthier attachment style.
In the meantime, here are some codependent behaviors that Beattie listed in her book.
On a more personal note, some telltale signs of codependent behaviors for me were:
1. Inability to freely trust
I was always over analyzing, obsessing and thinking about all the possible outcomes and all the ways they could be lying to me. It’s okay to have caution when entering a new situation. You don’t go in saying everything about yourself and trusting them completely from jump. But there’s a difference between caution and paranoia.
2. I never believed what any guy had to say
I just assumed that everyone was going to leave and that they didn’t mean what they said. Combine paranoia and abandonment issues and you create this anxious preoccupied attachment style. People leaving your life is only natural. It’s not bad or good, it just is. Being okay with that is important. You shouldn’t hope for people to leave but don’t be ruled by the fear that they will either.
3. I couldn’t be alone romantically.
I distracted myself with some superficial romantic connection and would flirt constantly. Then I’d become so obsessive over the people I was interacting with which naturally harmed the connection and my mental well-being. There needs to be breathing room and time to tend to your separate lives outside of each other. You need to be okay just being alone. I wasn’t. I always felt the desire for comfort. The goal is to have comfort in yourself and revel in your solitude. Like I said in the “Decolonize Your Heart” post, reach out for a relationship from a place of emotional fulfillment rather than emotional lack.
4. I wanted an unrealistic amount of effort
I said I wanted effort from the other person. In reality, I wanted them to fight for me. This is probably an unhealthy expectation from Hollywood or Disney Channel but that isn’t a true connection. That’s obsession. True love and care isn’t obsessive. I needed to stop craving care from these guys.
5. I cried when I didn’t get a text back
After that night, I just said enough is enough. The only person I want to control my emotions is me. While this is tricky for me personally because my menstrual cycle controls my emotional ups and downs on the MOST frustrating, predictable loop, that’s still something I needed to work on and unlearn.
These were the signs where I realized in my small way, I had codependency issues. How did I unlearn these codependent behaviors?
Here are some of the Steps I Took:
1. I completely healed from any ex romantic hurt.
That meant confronting the issues with my ex, which for me, were a big roadblack to trust and connection. To do that, I isolated myself in a period of reflection and journaling. I also did speak with two of my friends on this issue (these are two people who know what I’m feeling before I even say it, it’s quite wild actually😂) and they helped provide me with clarity.
One thing I will say if you’re still healing from romantic hurt: Let🗣 that 🗣shit🗣 go🗣. Bitterness hurts no one except you. It literally does eat away at your soul and you can feel it doing that too (hint hint, that hollow feeling in the pit of your heart that feels like it’s sucking all of you down from the inside out? Sound familiar?).
2. I turned all of my notifications for every single app off.
I even occasionally turned off iMessage completely. When I said I was isolating myself, I meant it. But this time, it was very intentional reflection and also, returning to myself. During this time, I really cared for my inner child. I colored, watched Charmed over and over again, cooked random recipes, danced a lot, and journaled (I actually finished the journal I started at the beginning of quarantine today. First time I’ve ever finished a journal and it felt GOOD).
The biggest thing for me was remembering. Before I moved to the United States in 2013, my life consisted of school, church and piano lessons. At least for me, there was no Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (I literally started my social media in college). To talk to my friends, I physically used a landline and that worked because I linked up with them every day in school anyways. My days consisted of iCarly, eating julie mangoes and conversations with my grandparents (which were always my favorite part. Sidenote: Please wear your masks so I can go home. Ah beg😩). And to top it all off, I was an only child and the baby of the family, so outside of the family occasions where I’d link with my cousin, I was basically always alone.
Even in high school, I was never as connected as I am now. I always spent time with myself and I loved it. I reveled in it. Solitude was comforting and easy. I had to remember and return to that. So the times I did reach out to people, it wasn’t out of loneliness or paranoia, it was a desire to connect, to check in, just to vibe. Nothing more, nothing less. Another sidenote, my phone literally looked like a tamagotchi. Look:
3. I stopped worrying when someone didn’t text me back
I just always told myself, “They’ll reach out when they can/would like.” And if they don’t, that’s really not my problem either. I’m not begging for attention or someone’s time. Give it to me or don’t. I’m good either way.
I stopped chattin with the guy I was chattin with at the time. I stopped calling. For a month, I just vibed and did me and honestly, that month and the months after it birthed this website and my podcast. I made so many discoveries about myself and pursued so many dormant interests. It was so fulfilling. I take this approach with everyone now but especially guys, if they respond, they respond. If I feel like responding, I’ll respond. There are no texting games.
I don’t time my responses (not that I really ever did that but you know). Going with the flow became my mantra. And I am a hella involved texter when I like someone but even if I send them three tweets in a row, I don’t care. I just send the message and go and I don’t think about them, what I said or when they respond. It’s even better now since I don’t get notifications for literally anything.
4. I work hard to unplug
In addition to turning all my notifications off, I also try to have days where I only look at my phone 3 to 5 times. I just put my phone to charge in another room or leave it somewhere random and I just don’t think about it.
5. I started asking myself more about what I wanted
Another part of codependency is molding yourself to fit someone else. Meaning that you try to please them by following their decisions and going with their needs and desires at the expense of your own. I had to be honest about what I wanted. Then I realized some of the guys I was stressing over do not meet those needs and desires in pretty big ways and thus, it was easier to let go. I also leaned more into people who did meet those needs and made my heart happy (all the while maintaining healthy detachment of course).
I also had a moment with myself where I literally was sitting at my dining room table at midnight on a Friday watching Itaweon Class (shoutout @kay._.mars for the rec; go follow her page @ragingblacktivists!), and I literally said to myself: “For this man to type paragraphs upon paragraphs to me, answer all my questions, and be completely transparent only to end up with that as a lie, is sociopathic behavior. Literally.” It’s one thing to lie in a couple of sentences but through paragraphs and Facetimes too my guy? Nah.
After I came to that understanding, I let the trust issues go. Now, I look for transparency and openness. If they dodge the simple questions, I take note of that and move with them accordingly, which usually means moving on. Now, I take the information at face value. I don’t look for any pretext. I don’t project the meaning that I want or don’t want on what the person says or texts, I trust it and just go with the flow.
6. Lastly, I don’t save numbers and I also mute/block people on social media liberally.
I don’t do it out of malice or anything. It’s more of a protective measure for my peace. Not saving numbers is how I remind myself to not hit people up all the time. On a practical level, it takes more work to text them because you have to find the number in your phone rather than just quickly typing in the name. This is a bigger deterrent than you think. With regards to muting/blocking, it just helps me not think about people. Removing them from your space, including the social media one, is very helpful.
And I think I did good. Later on in June I also saw these tweets from @melanatedmomma and they really spoke to me because that’s where I’m at now. Vibing. Chilling. The biggest thing with unlearning my codependent behaviors was really getting that “It ain’t got shit to do with me” attitude.
Now I’m at a point where I really don’t bother with anyone else but me. Not in a selfish way, but a practical one. Being able to practice healthy detachment is important. Give people space. Breathing time. If they come back, they come back and if they don’t, that ain’t got shit to do with you.
What people do reflect THEM, not you
I know it’s hard to identify and accept you codependent behaviors, particularly as women, and especially for minority women (shoutout to all the daughters of immigrants), because we are taught to be overtly nurturing and accommodating at the expense of our desires and needs. It makes sense that we approach relationships in this way. Unlearning codependent behaviors will benefit you and all of your relationships. You can care about people. But there is a difference between care and obsession. As my therapist says, there’s a difference between understanding and making excuses and justifying undesirable behavior. Focus on you, boo boo.
Say it with me folx: “What they do, ain’t got shit to do with me.”