One woman’s story of breaking free from codependency.
A very old school of thought was that babies were born as blank slates and their environment and life experiences were what shaped them into the grown up people they’d become. We now know that’s not really very accurate. Years of studies have shown that we’re partly hard-wired and partly shaped by our environment and life experiences. The idea is not nature vs. nurture, but nature plus nurture.
Personality traits are, in their simplest form, hard-wired, but I think they’re also very malleable. I’ll explain by using myself as an example.
One of the aspects of my personality is my stubbornness. My mother will attest that this particular trait was present upon my arrival into this world. I recall her telling me several times as a child that I was stubborn (which was usually followed up with, “Just like your dad”). Being bull-headed can cause issues at times, but when a person learns to embrace and channel that in a positive vein, we can change the label to persistent or assertive. So now I can say I’m assertive. I don’t give up easily, don’t take “no” for an answer.
A couple summers ago a mission trip I was a part of was suddenly in danger of not being able to happen because our leader left the group. This would’ve been my third time taking this particular trip, and since I was very passionate about its cause, I didn’t want to see it fail. So I picked up the mantle and saw it through. I had no idea what I was doing and a few people questioned my ability (sanity?) to raise $20,000 in two months and lead a team of ten people to Guatemala to build a house for a disadvantaged family. My mantra that summer became Andy Mineo’s song “You Can’t Stop Me.” I gained some incredibly valuable lessons from that experience and felt immensely satisfied after we had returned home from that successfully completed mission trip. My inborn stubbornness had paid off big time.
A personality trait of mine that has morphed is somewhat related to being hard-headed, but is independence. As a child, I was pretty shy, an introvert. Because of a series of complicated events in my formative years, I wound up being co-dependent in my teen years. I was entirely too emotionally dependent on a boyfriend. When that (way too long) relationship ended, I was devastated to the point of not being functional. I was in college at the time and visited with our school psychologist. He diagnosed me as being co-dependent and gave me a really great resource with which to work through that issue.
Reading Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More and working through the exercises in each chapter was one of the toughest things I’ve ever undertaken. I basically had to change who I was. I had to rediscover my true identity, and realize that it’s not based on anyone else’s perception of me, but my own definition. It was at that point in my history I had decided that I was an individual who could be completely independent.
Now, I’m not saying I’m an island. I’m saying that I don’t base my personal value on someone else’s life, opinion, goals, actions, etc. I can make decisions about my activities, wardrobe, meals, friends, whatever, without needing someone else’s approval first. It was one of the scariest transitions I’ve had in all my 40-plus years on this planet, but it is also one of the most freeing! Of course, I’m still an introvert by nature, but I’m no longer shy or too reliant on others.
Embrace the parts of your personality that you love, tweak the ones you’re not satisfied with and see if you can work on the traits you just really don’t like about yourself. You don’t have to completely accept the idea of “that’s just the way I’m made;” you could instead re-invent yourself.
Photo: shots of carmen fiano
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