I went to the grocery store last week and as I was loading my food onto the conveyor belt, at the cashier, I felt a very familiar feeling. I made some pretty good food choices that day. I had lots of fruits and vegetables, some protein and I permitted myself to buy something sweet. Just a small one-time snack that would be done in one sitting.
You see sugar and I are not friends. My weight has been all over the place my whole life, so I know that I have to be careful. Watching what I eat is part of self-care that everyone should practice. I learned from my overweight father long ago that food can make you feel good (at least for a while). So when I placed the treat on the conveyor belt, I felt ….well, I felt ashamed.
I’ve been battling codependency for 7 years and every once in a while some of those old thoughts pop into my head. Thoughts about not being good enough, thoughts of shame and thoughts that just generally want to beat me up.
The funny thing was that the woman behind me was tall and slender and she loaded her cart with all kinds of garbage. She piled on ice cream and chips and processed foods. I didn’t think anything of it. But for me one, tiny, little treat made me feel like shit and I felt that the cashier would judge me and the people in line would judge me, when in reality they couldn’t of cared less.
When I was young I was chubby and I can remember as far back as the age of 6 when my ubber thin mother would say things to me like, “You’re always going to have a problem with your weight…you’ve got your father’s genes….” The message was – you are defective, you’re broken…there is something wrong with you and I internalized that message and made it my own.
I have a three year old niece and she’s such an awesome little girl. I can’t imagine, for the life of me, ever putting any kind of thoughts like that into her head. I can understand that my mother was fed the same kind of disparaging messages when she was young and she was just perpetuating the same toxic behavior, but it still congers up a lot of anger in me, that my mother could be so…stupid. “Who says those kinds of things to a little girl.”
When I was young I had shoulder length curly blonde hair. I had a 65 year old grandmother that loved to comb my tangled hair. The problem was she had really and I mean really shaky hands. So sitting with her meant she would rip out my hair and I would cry and run away (who wouldn’t) every time she got near me with a comb. My mother’s solution was to cut off all of my hair, like a boy’s haircut and she would say,” It’s your own fault. You can’t sit still,” and despite all my crying and begging and pleading – off came the hair. My best friend had long, straight shiny dark hair to her waist and I looked like a boy. To this day I still have trouble dealing with hairdressers, but she always put the blame on me for everything and I was just a kid.
The messages I constantly got from her were, “You are bad – There is something wrong with you – You are responsible for everything bad.”
We didn’t talk about things in my family either. We ignored major issues that needed to be discussed. There was never any healthy, open dialogue about anything. When I was in my relationship with my long term narcissist, we didn’t talk about anything either. We avoided conflict and avoided the truth at all costs, because neither one of us wanted to acknowledge the truth. Nothing that needed to be said was said. We were both repeating our childhood patterns and found people who were, all too willing, to fill those familiar rolls.
The real truth is – I was just as afraid of intimacy as my narcissist was. Both of us were afraid to let the other in, afraid of how we would be judged and shamed if anyone ever found out about who we really were.
Codependency is such a dangerous disease, because it attacks us from within. It’s the monster inside of us and we keep feeding it, keep making it stronger and we keep replaying the same theme over and over again. The people who were closest to us, who meant the most, were the ones that caused us the most damage as children. They were the ones we couldn’t trust, so we kept looking for that same match as we marched our way through adulthood. That is our normal and it’s a terrifying normal, because there is no peace, no happiness until we get this monster under control. The more you recognize codependency in your life the easier it will become to manage.
Codependent Feelings and Behaviors
- Feelings of guilt or shame for normal human wants or desires
- Feelings of inadequacy or of not being good enough
- Feeling that you don’t deserve – love, to have your needs met, to be happy, to be treated with love and respect
- Fear of intimacy
- Fear of conflict
- Fear of being judged or abandoned
- Quick to doubt yourself and feeling that you need permission
- Belief that you have to be perfect in order to experience things that other people simply expect
- Feelings of not being comfortable in your own skin
- Inability or fear of communicating your needs
The disease of codependency is a wily one. It attacks from all angles. It’s that hurtful, hateful, enemy voice that is always trying to make us feel shame and guilt for being ourselves.
I have always been afraid and ashamed to be me. Being me was something that I had to hide and not let anyone see. I used food to experience moments of joy, the kind of joy that only a sugar rush will give. It momentarily filled my void. These were behaviors that I modeled from my parents.
Today when those thoughts pop into my head, I am detached enough from them and I am able to see them for what they are, so I will actually say to that voice or those feelings, “F**k you.” I overpower them and I don’t react to them anymore.
Internalizing, feeling or wanting to be invisible, believing that you need permission, feeling constant heartache, disgrace, self-hatred… all of these reactions I have managed to overcome, mostly through cognitive processes, by recognizing them for what they are and knowing where they come from. When you realize that you are an adult and that you have the power to change how you react and handle situations, it becomes your salvation.
As adults we can learn new coping strategies. We can take charge of our lives, we can empower ourselves, we can get inspired and we can take action. All you have to do is start to wade through all the cobwebs in your thinking and start paying attention to how you are feeling and how you react. Ask yourself – In what ways does codependency manifest in my life? Once you start to notice it, you will realize that you have a choice – you can keep reacting like a codependent, or you can start reacting in healthier ways that will make you happier and benefit your life. The truth is, when you’re a child you don’t have a choice – you were a victim of your environment – now you have a choice – make the right one and keep making the right choice until it becomes second nature and when that voice pops in your head and tries to beat you up – you know exactly what to tell it.
Hey, is that chocolate?
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It hit home! Oh no Savannah, like reading my own diary You exactly described my childhood. Are you sure you are not my twin sister?? I’m so glad I found myself, never too late to touch those parts. Thank you for sharing this.
HI Savannah. You touched on a sore subject of mine from childhood. I too, had a short haircut and looked like a boy for many years because my mom did not want to bother with my hair. She also treated my firstborn, a daughter with barely a glance. But when I had my son almost 11 years later, she adored him and couldn’t get enough of him! I was criticized for my friends, clothes (she bought the clothes I wore until 8th grade. I had NO say…. Where I found my “out” was when I married my 1st N at age of 21. When after a few years I told her I wanted to leave, she told me “you made your bed, now sleep in it!” I was dying inside, so unhappy…. we had trouble conceiving and all I wanted was a baby to love. I finally had my baby girl after 5 years of marriage and trying. I left when she was 6 1/2. Her father “destroyed” her too. Many emotional issues because he put her in the middle of our divorce. AS I look back and have forgiven him because NOW I KNOW… his mother who had 7 kids DID NOT MEET HIS NEEDS!!! I did nothing wrong except to try and support and encourage him. AS a co-dependent, I now know there is no living happily with these people unless you want to lose your real self in the process. It took a breakup a year ago from my high school sweetheart (reunited after 30 years) to find your blog (a lifesaver) and discovering the REAL woman and human is good, loving and wonderful. Through no fault of my own, due to my childhood,the relationships and my being a RN I am a codependent. I know now the “Warning red flags”. Case in point. Met a man online, met this weekend, then stepped back and said “WHOA” no way!!!! Another Narcissist!! Dodged that bullet FAST. I don’t know if I will ever meet a man to share my life. I am OK with that. I am finally happy and content with who I am. That it wasn’t “me” that failed those relationships.It was them the “n’s” of my life. Thank you again Savannah for your blog. I have told my friends about it and several read it too.God bless. Happy Thanksgiving!
This article really spoke to me. Even though my N mother has been dead for 24 years her abuse still haunts me. I am now 65 years old and wonder if the only way I will get peace of mind is when I pass away also. I also have an older malignant sister who I went No Contact with 17 years ago. A family member lets me know she is still trying to find me. She was the over indulged, spoiled princess who could do no wrong in my mother’s eyes while my middle sister and I were beaten almost to death by our mother and older sister. I’m still trying to work through all the pain but it seems it will never end. Thank you so much for this safe and valuable site. It really does help.
I have to say this is My favorite website. Everything you went through I can so relate to. As a child my Family never talked about the major problems we had. I was always made to feel bad for doing anything wrong.
I never thought of myself as being co-dependant until I started reading your articles. I read these and just sit and tears well up. I know this is me. I am trying to let go of my N. It’s hard. I do good by telling myself No No but as soon as he walks in I cave. Then I feel hurt and lonely once he leaves, again. You talk about your childhood, I don’t remember my childhood being a bad one. I still have yet to look back and really try to remember anything bad. I know I can relate to everyone on here. I really need a boost of self esteem. I know I have a lot to do but I am just learning and with the help of your articles and everyone’s comments I am learning a lot about myself. I have a lot to learn and a journey ahead. Bless you all for your great informative comments .
Another great article and reminders. Sassysussie thanks for your additions they are spot on. I recently experienced the “red flags” questioned. I saw them and broke it off, then with what Savannah wrote about ” the spagehtti technique” I started really seeing what had happened. At this point I still had that little nagging voice of doubt, so I conciously decided to test my gut. I engaged again and within 2 weeks I was 100% certain that YES I could trust my gut!! I had learned and healed so much over a long torturious 18 months and I saw the proof. I treated myself with a mani/pedi.
I am eternally grateful for this site, others, the counselors who understood, friends, family and many books.
Listening immediately to the red flags, telling the doubt to f:,k off and staying true to what I want to do and the people I choose for my life will be a journey for awhile longer I am sure, but each day is comes more and more natural. I just can’t thank everyone enough!!! Good vibes and healing out to all of you on your journey. 🙂
Amazing article! I am finally at a point in my life to be able to make decisions for myself and be okay with them without feeling totally inadequate and wrong. It is a slow process, but I am happy to be growing.
Sassysussie: I can totally relate to what you wrote. It’s sad that we accept that kind of treatment from the person we love. Thinking it’s normal. To be honest, I still don’t know what a normal/healthy relationship is suppposed to feel or be like. I am still working on healing from my last painful relationship.
Savannah: I have been reading your blog for awhile. It is really informative and I look forward to new posts.
I am struggling with one thing though. It has been 18 months of NC with my ex and only recently I discovered traits of NPD. The day that I read about this, I felt this heaviness from my heart lift and the prison doors in my mind was opened. It was like it all made sense. The more I read though, I start second gussing myself. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I really am just a difficult person who is unable to form intimate relationships with others. Espeically being able to communicate. Perhaps, he and I were both codependents rather than he being a N and I the co-dependent. I guess it doens’t really matter what the answer is, because he never chose me.
Natrually, I think those who have been discarded or left in the dark, want a name or an answer to the madness one endured. Once we can put a name on it, we can begin to take steps to move forward. It was only 2 months ago that I felt that NPD described my experience. But, now I am unsure. I still feel low about myself, my life, and comparing how he is doing so well. I haven’t changed it seems.
As a recovering codependent I have finally found something that works. I found a book on the Internet in off format (you can also purchase the book depending on your cash). It is called “learning to love yourself” by Dr. Hendricks. As we learn to love ourselves, it takes the needy behaviors as you are not trying to “milk love out of a stone” but you are able to love yourself in a healthy way and begin to love others the same way. It will eliminate codependency, at least it has for me. Blessings
I once heard a fellow codependent give the perfect definition of codependent people like me: we say yes when we want to say no.
The truth is there are always people around who want to blame and shame and criticize. My problem for many years — which you describe perfectly — is that these outside voices of criticism lined up perfectly with that monotonous, endless INSIDE voice saying the same thing.
I could give so many examples, this was a constant for many years (and still raises its head at times, just like in your description of the checkout line). For example, I coached kids in youth sports for a number of years. I never missed a practice, worked hard to teach the kids what I knew, tried to be fair about playing time, etc. But in my mind I was always comparing myself to other coaches, people with far less demanding jobs than mine whose whole life was wrapped up in coaching. Instead of praising myself for helping kids and volunteering I felt inadequate, always comparing myself to the coaching “lifers.” And one time a real jerk of a coach took the liberty of “correcting” me in front of my team (something I and most coaches would never, ever do) regarding a certain technique I had taught the kids — and I just sat there, believing that yes maybe I deserved it, maybe I had not taught them correctly. Just thinking about it now makes me so angry; I would never accept that crap today!
The narcissist who came into my life was the ultimate exploiter; she intuitively grasped my codependency and mercilessly took advantage of it. After the overvaluation stage (which is like catnip to someone like me with low self esteem: finally, someone who likes everything about me!), the outside voice of her eventual devaluation fit in perfectly with the inside voice that was afraid to lose this source of love and approval. It was not until the pain got too great that I finally saw I had to get away from her. And it was not until I unpacked the relationship, going over it in detail in my mind, that I could see how my codependency led me into that painful situation. Toward the end of that relationship I was still saying “yes” to her but my gut was screaming “no, no, no.”
Now, like you Savannah, I try to say “F U” to that negative voice in my head. I try to ask “is this [person, interaction, event, relationship] good for me? Does it feel good? How do I really feel about it?” And now, when I want to say No to a request or person or relationship, I say No!
I have made a complete 180 with the issue of saying “no.” I now say “no” all the time. My knee-jerk reaction now before agreeing to anything is to want to say “no.”
As I may have mentioned before, my Narc was an inverted, parasitic type who just took, took and took from me until I was a shell of myself. Not only did I nearly allow him to destroy my spirit, but he took tangible things from me as well: money. belongings, and he invaded and took over the home that I lived in. He was such a POS that he would even wake me up in the middle of the night when he wanted attention, or he would do everything inconsiderate that he possibly could to prevent me from going to sleep (like playing loud music, blasting the television) on a work night. He literally would not let me sleep, and would try to deny me one of the most basic human needs. “I have to work,” “I have a long day tomorrow,” “You’re being rude” meant nothing to him. I recall being so exhausted that I have broken down in tears because of it. I now understand why sleep deprivation can be used as a form of torture, and I think I have some sense of how new parents feel. But the difference is you’re waking up in the middle of the night to care for a child who cannot take care of its self, and you do it out of love. Imagine being woken up by a 35-year-old man because he is drunk or wants attention when you have to work the next day.
The point I was getting to — because I gave so much and had so much taken from me, not only by my Narc but by others — that I’m at the point where I don’t want to do ANYTHING for ANYONE (save for family members and the long, long-time friends in my life who pretty much are family).
I so identify with that powerful pro-NO recovery. Every day when I write out my “to do” list the second item is the most pressing business of the day. The FIRST item is the same every day: “1. Speak Up and say NO.”
Oh, isn’t that just so true! It was always so much easier to say yes instead of embarrassingly trying to explain and justify myself…which did no good at all, because the narcs in our lives are so adept at knocking down our reasons with cunning and selfish reasons of their own.
Something I also found extremely difficult to do, was being able to articulate properly. This last weekend, some friends from up country, that I haven’t seen for over three years, arranged to visit me when they were down my way. I’d said something on the phone which I realised later wasn’t quite right (I’d got a bit mixed up), but I was able to explain what I meant when they arrived. I also said that sometimes I get a bit nervous, which doesn’t happen so much now, but when I do I often can’t articulate myself properly. They perfectly understood. It was a far cry to three years ago when I still wallowed with embarrassment inside and struggled with the inability to speak about my confusion or not feel bad about it.
My friends were amazed at the change in me and they were really pleased to see how well I looked. We had a really fab couple of hours and I talked as much as they did, which was another confirmation for me how wonderful it is to have a voice and feel relaxed in using it. Practice makes perfect, and it seems to get better all the time…although I don’t want to be perfect, but am more than happy to make mistakes and be able to acknowledge them without feeling worthless because of them.
Thanks again Savannah for your intelligence character and generosity..missed you last Monday!!.. and the comment below from Sassysusie is very good. Savannah, I too am angered that my Mother could be so cruel to her own child and-not so to another one! When you said sometimes those thoughts come back to you like at the grocery store. my experience is what I call “all of the sudden I am the old me-the undertow pulling me back and I am like my own enemy or something. It comes on unconsciously-yet we HAVE TO MAKE IT CONSCIOUS and defeat it instantly and can. It is kind of like the tape stars rebooting and I have to knock it off the playback. My mother did not like all my good features-but the other Mothers around did. She gave my naturally curly hair a PERM-friggin caraaaaaaaaazzeey, wanted me to be a quiet child-I am a very energetic and full of life person and child. She lost weight and could not sit still while pregnant with me AHA TAKE THAT ! MY SPIRIT WAS THERE FROM THE BEGINNING AND GOD WANTED ME HERE . even though my Mother said I was proof against the Rhythm Method of family planning. She was an only child and was sent to boarding Catholic School and College and then was a concert pianist that met a Devilishly handsome man and had 4 children that he abandoned.. and her father was a high class alcoholic who really wanted a son….weeeeee all the angles that gave. Nuns who did not want to be there and Nuns who did-thank GOD for that My Mother preferred her son, and was unilaterally on his side against me-and let him carry our her abuse through his physical attacks and an attempted sexual one that he did not succeed at. When told of this she merely turned her face away. I kept myself safe from this bully with my cleverness and inner Tiger-once again thanks GOD for that too. I functioned a s the scapegoat and rebel and I live my dream now and they are all ill physically but not me. I stood up and got mad and railed and left them and DIVORCED THEM. PERMANENTLY. I do pray for them though. Being COGNIZANT and keeping aware ..having your OBSERVER ON ACTUALLY IS FUN AND FREEING. Savannah , you share so much and it is really illuminating and helpful. I sure do appreciate you.
Yes, this used to be me until 3 1/2 years ago, when I took on co-dependency with a vengeance after my breakup (which caused a breakdown) that led to my healing.
The list you wrote about the feelings co-dependency causes was spot on. I could identify with every one of them. I would like to add a couple more that I noticed played a big part in my co-dependency especially in romantic relationships. One is that co-dependents routinely ignore ‘red flags’ in their relationships. These include little things like snide comments and belittling with ‘funny’ jokes and big things like him punching a hole in my windshield because he was angry. I always found a way to blow it off and rationalize it away (he’s under stress, it was my fault he blew up etc). I did not realize it is NOT OK for people to treat me this way. Emotionally healthy people will not put up with repeated abuse and usually leave quickly before a relationship can even get going. Their secret is that they love THEMSELVES more than they NEED him, and feel WORTHY of better. So notice if you keep making excuses for other peoples’ bad behavior, and try to keep the blame squarely where it belongs.
The second trait co-dependents often have is trying really hard to ‘fix’ him. I thought that I could teach my n with my love and the power of my example how to treat someone with affection and respect. I thought my patience and attention and kindness and listening ear would eventually be reciprocated. It wasn’t. The problem with this strategy is that he actually DOES know how to treat you this way. Remember the beginning of the relationship when he was your best friend and soul mate and stared into your eyes like you were the only woman on the planet? He DOES know. He just CHOOSES NOT TO, unless he wants something (usually sex or money or he is low on supply and is stopping in for a quick refill). It is excruciating to accept this, but once you do, you are nearly free. You stop beating yourself up because you couldn’t ‘reach him’ and that is a big victory in this battle. I am no longer do-dependent, but those little shame gremlins still whisper in my eat occasionally. I too, tell them to f*&ck off!
Sassysussie, your additions to the list are spot on!
And Healing — I think that second-guessing is part of the cc-dependency.A good friend had talked about narcissism with me, but I also verified it with the marriage counselor, who took me through every marker — everyone of which applied to my then-husband. Yes, it is a great weight off your shoulders to understand that you were not the problem. A lot of your behaviors were just a response to how you were being treated. Remember that and stay strong!
I relate so much it’s scary to me. We actually are not together no more. But he still shows up. And I still let him in. I tell myself all the time that I’m not going to put myself through this again. But it’s like Im powerless. I hate it. I am jealous of him . I know he is seeing someone else. Plus he is seeing his other two exes also. But I have known about them. I just get so angry at myself forecasting him here. I am just learning what this N is all about. And yes I have a lot to learn. I never thought of myself as being that dependant on someone the way I am with him. I have had past relationships that were pretty bad. But nothing like this. I am thankful for you and all these peoples comments. I’m not alone. It’s hard as hell. But I know I can do this. Thanks for all of you.