I was the kind of person that was always putting others before myself. Empathy and compassion are two of the gifts God gave me, I can read the emotions in a room like a book in my hands and my heart extends to both the happy and the sad, the strong and the weak. Basically, I am an other-people focused person. This is something I’ve always known about myself but haven’t always handled healthily. There was a period of my life that I was SO outwardly focused that I would lose track of taking care of myself to the point where I’d be going, “Mariah who? oh yeah me.” Need a late night shoulder to cry on? I’d be there. Just need someone to listen? Pick me. Need a ride, your picture taken, advice, comfort, prayer? D, all of the above. Even if it’s something I didn’t know how to do yet, I would do my best to tackle whatever it was for you. No matter the cost or sacrifice on my end. I was *that* friend. And to some degree I still am, but we’ll get to that. If you’re reading this and going “okay yep that’s me” to any of the above, you’ll want to read this next part (and even if it’s not you, it’s good to know anyways because you 100% have at least one friend whose brain operates this way):
You cannot give whole love to others if you aren’t taking care of y o u r s e l f .
What do I mean by whole love? What do I mean by taking care of yourself?
There is a fine line between being a good friend and being codependent. Codependency in friendships is a sneaky thing because it makes the feeler think they’re being kind and it makes the friend expect the behavior. Codependency isn’t just putting someone else’s needs above your own, it’s putting someone else (or maybe multiple people) above yourself every time, because that is where you have told yourself your value lies.
I used to seriously struggle with codependency, and in all aspects of my life. It has been in my personal case that the codependency doesn’t completely go away, but rather becomes a tendency rather than my lifestyle. Tendencies are something one can be made aware of. By being self-aware, seeking counseling, and gaining new perspectives I can at least realize when I’m being codependent and make the healthy decision instead.
If you don’t know what being co-dependent means, here are some examples I used to struggle with (and some I still sometimes do!). Please remember I am not a psychologist or a doctor, so don’t use this blog post as a means to self-diagnose. Instead, if you are curious seek help from a professional who can properly assist and educate you. This is purely my personal experience I am sharing with you as someone who has struggled with co-dependency:
1) people pleasing.
“no” is not an option. if someone wants to do something you don’t want to do, if someone gives you advice or offers something, if someone makes a suggestion on your behalf. often times co-dependent people won’t say no because maybe saying no will upset the other person, and the thought of being left behind creates anxiety. With co-dependency, your value is found in others, so you just avoid no altogether.
2) blurry boundaries.
you feel responsible for the state of other people’s emotions. especially in the negative degree because negative emotions require fixing. if someone is angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, hurt..your helper ears perk up and you feel it is your job to make everything all better. and you stick around until everything is all better. every time. on the other side of the coin, because you react and become involved in everyone’s emotions, if someone’s emotional response to something doesn’t line up with yours, you feel personally attacked or like you cannot trust that person because of the lack of boundary.
you find purpose and definition in helping and fixing others. if you cannot help or fix, you don’t feel of value or necessity in the relationship. if the other person doesn’t ask for your help, you get upset because you feel you have nothing else to offer. “if they don’t need my help, why am i here?” helping makes you feel needed, valued, and like you’re fulfilling your purpose. and i’m not talking Bill Mathers “lean on me when you’re not strong and i’ll be your friend” helping. this can be obsessive, searching for problems to fix so that the other person eventually feels like they HAVE to have you around. it’s the sense of being needed and wanted, which reverts back to blurry boundaries.
this one goes hand in hand with helping. sometimes as a codependent person the draw for helping is to feel control. this one snuck up on me, but was something I struggled with severely. as someone who also struggles with OCD, having control is a major mute button on my anxiety (but it’s also a reason for the anxiety sometimes too..a very real catch 22). how does this connect with helping others? well when you’re that shoulder to cry on, when you’re the #1 go-to “late night text emergency” friend, when you are the person they all come to for advice, you’re kind of playing puppeteer. controlling their actions and dictating what they do next, all from just “helping”. friends will keep coming back and asking for your help like a puppy who’s thirsty for water. you are controlling people by navigating and influencing their actions decisions, and while you tell yourself it’s helping it’s really coming from a place of self definition and worth. you feel value when YOU can help, and control.
5) being misunderstood.
it is so easy as someone who struggles with codependency to get caught in the anxieties of being misunderstood, hurting someone else, making a mistake. i know for me sometimes i feel myself just trapped in this whirlpool of what ifs and oh nos and i hope they don’t think such and such. the reason for this is simple and at the root of codependency: being liked by others is what creates and defines your definition. if someone doesn’t like you anymore, you are no longer of value, that’s what codependency teaches.
The friend that is codependent not only dishes out this behavior and mentality but also expects it in return. Often times codependent people end up with hurt feelings and eventually leave friendships and relationships behind because the other person doesn’t “care as much” or would “never do what I do for them for me”. The reality is the other person is most likely having boundaries, whereas the codependent person who lacks boundaries feels like they give give give and never get anything in return. This is common codependency behavior.
Philippians 2:4 says:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
You may be asking what about putting others before yourself? How does that come into play? Well, there’s a difference between being compassionate and being codependent. You can be compassionate (selfless) and still take CARE of yourself. There is a fine line between these two characteristics, and that line is called intention. The compassionate person genuinely wants to help because they care and empathize, and they will help where they can. This is done all while still taking care of him or her self FIRST. There is no compromise to self-care. The codependent person also will genuinely help others, the difference being that ultimately this is done for the feeling of being accepted and valued in return. The codependent person’s version of self-care is to help others. How is that self-care if you’re only helping other people? You guessed it, it’s not. The codependent person throws self-care out the window if it means being able to “help”. Compassion asks for nothing in return, codependency has expectations. You can still be compassionate without being needed. Codependency is fueled by feeling needed, your heart and your mind crave it. Sometimes to the point that it almost can be compared to a high. The intention behind why you are doing what you’re doing is truly defining in these cases of compassion vs codependent.
First and foremost regardless of your God-given strengths, we are called to find our value in Christ first. When we start at the cross and allow that love and definition to bleed into the rest of our lives the desire to help others comes naturally.
Matthew 6:33 says:
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Nothing is expected in return because that is the nature of Christ. He loves us despite the fact that we can never give anything back. He protects us, He fights for us, He provides for us, and He speaks to us. All without asking for a single thing in return. No expectations. He knows we will fail Him, and He still pursues.
Compassion is the nature of Christ.
Now reverting back to the original questions: what do I mean by whole love? What do I mean by taking care of yourself?
Imagine a cup on a table. Now imagine the cup has a dozen or so different holes starting at the bottom and making their way to the top. The holes are all over the cup. Imagine trying to fill water into that cup. It’s not going to work, right? Now imagine trying to pour what little water makes its way into the cup, into another cup.
That’s what codependency does to our hearts, friend. Every hole is another time you’ve put someone else before your own needs. You cannot give whole love to others when you yourself are full of holes. You cannot pour into others if you are constantly drained, if you only have to offer the little water that made its way into your cup.
My prayer for you today is that you remember to stay rooted in Christ. In Jesus we are capable of wholly and completely finding value, definition, and purpose. You need’nt look for acceptance in other earthly things, you have a Savior who has already claimed your heart. My prayer is that you seek for purpose in Jesus, sweet friend, and allow what grows from that yearning to bloom.
If you have any questions, prayer requests, if you’re confused and wanting answers, or if you would like to know more about my personal experiences with codependency I am always just an email, dm, or text message away. I am happy to help you get connected with someone who might be able to help, as well as lend a listening ear.