“Well,” the counselor interrupted, “you’re clearly codependent.”
Her condescending smile almost tricked me into thinking it was a compliment. Why is she nodding so incessantly? Larry put his hand on my knee and urged me to continue but I forgot what I was saying, or I didn’t feel like saying it anymore.
“She’s full of shit,” our brazen Romanian friend said on our walk home from the workshop. “She’s not even qualified to make a diagnosis like that, and in a room full of people? She’s a counselor, not a psychiatrist, not a therapist, not even a psychologist. She’s a counselor.”
The way she spat the words in disgust made me smile. Romania trained her well. I want what she’s having. Why was I so meek and amicable? Sure, I was shocked but my emotional response didn’t trigger taking offense. I was too concerned about being liked to ever pass judgment of my own. I should have stood up for myself.
There’s a difference between codependence and love. After spending ten months cooped up in a house with the same person, it’s only natural to consult them in social settings. My partner knows me best. He’s heard all of my stories before. Some of them, he tells better than I do. What’s so wrong with looking at him or inviting him into my dialogue?
I attended this “Self Sabotage Workshop” knowing it would involve some public speaking. I wanted to step outside my comfort zone. Plus, it was a nice excuse to get out of the house and mingle but I was starting to think I sabotaged myself by going. I thought about it all the way home. I’m not codependent. I’m in love, goddamnit!
Still, I knew there was some truth to it.
What’s the difference? Codependency vs Love
Interestingly enough, “codependency” is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Instead, it is a term borrowed from the language of drug and alcohol addiction.
The key difference between codependency and love seems to lie within the intention. With codependency, feelings are often rooted in low self-esteem, insecurity, and inadequacy. It’s the notion of needing someone versus wanting them. This typically results in a person losing respect for themselves and only focusing on the needs of their partner.
Of course, there’s a fine line between the two. When you truly love someone, you’ll find yourself wanting to put their needs before your own. I believe that’s both healthy and necessary in building trust and creating a lasting bond. So how do you know when your love is out of balance?
How to decipher if your love is off balance
Since the definition is vague and discluded from the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic tool, I don’t think anyone really has the authority to label someone codependent. Certainly not me. Still, my experience with this counselor sparked my curiosity, which led me to the following research.
Allan N. Schwartz, Ph.D. published an article about the topic and noted a few signs that might allude to an unhealthy attachment in one’s relationship. He states, “Because of low self-esteem and deep-seated insecurity, the codependent cannot be the person they really are. Instead, they work to please the other person in order to ensure they will be loved.”
Fear of abandonment is a common driving force for someone who shows signs of codependency. In regards to the attachment theory, children who do not establish a strong bond with at least one caregiver are more likely to become codependent as adults. The obsessive desire to be loved might lead them into abusive relationships later in life, as they are more likely to pursue a partner who may not treat them right. This is because they did not have proper examples of love or personal relationships throughout childhood.
Some degree of dependence is normal
Depending on a partner for reassurance in social settings does not deem you codependent. It doesn’t mean you have a social anxiety disorder either, which I Googled after I got home from my workshop. Larry snapped my laptop shut.
“Stop,” he said gently. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
So don’t let me or a workshop counselor tell you there’s anything wrong with you. If you feel that you resonate with some of the signs mentioned above, you can check in with your partner and consider a professional consultation.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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