Trying to be an ex-codependent
August 14, 2013 1:45 AM   Subscribe

I have this habit of emotionally lunging toward people. If I feel disconnected and alone, I find one person and I throw myself at them, hoping that I will stick. I've thrown myself at so many ex's and "people I used to date" by now that I've gotten to a point where I can recognize when I'm backing up and preparing for the jump.

I just don't want to make the jump this time, not with anyone. I don't want a kindred soul who I can connect to on a deep level, because for me connecting with someone on a deep level means disconnecting with the rest of the world around me. That person becomes so big in my life that they have their own gravitational pull that keeps me in orbit around them. I don't want that. I hate feeling out of control of myself like that. I hate feeling like I am losing myself. I hate waking up from a foggy haze after being disillusioned with yet another imperfect soul who I tried to make my messiah.
I don't want that. Not now, not ever again. I want friends, yes. But I don't ever want to lose myself in any one person ever again. I know there is a way to keep from doing that. Maybe I already know what it is and I just need to dust it off. I don't know. I need some advice on how to break free of my codependency. I want to be my own person, not mold myself around what I think someone else wants or needs me to be. I have been single for a month now, and I have been focusing on my career and doing things that are good for me. But still, I am getting that old urge to find someone to attach to. I hate that feeling. How do I be whole on my own?
posted by Cybria to Human Relations (10 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
YMMV: CBT + finding other things to invest yourself in. I was thinking "mindfulness" but if you want to crank the lever as hard as you can in the other direction, engage with a professional that can help you get the foundations there. Especially when you feel this much fear on the subject.

Find a hobby, not something random, something you can completely engage with, perferrably something that is in a group setting. Approach it professionally - make friends, go hard, but don't go crushing or falling in love with anyone there (See: CBT + Pro support). If you get all the non-relationship areas of your life big enough, for long enough, when someone rolls around again they have a place to fit in, instead of becoming the thing everything else fits in to.

Good luck!!
posted by analoguezen at 2:34 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks, I do believe that CBT is what I really need right now. Working on the group setting thing...I've been broke for awhile and I'm just now getting to a point where I can afford to have a social life outside of Facebook. Thanks analoguezen. :)
posted by Cybria at 3:20 AM on August 14, 2013

Uh, yeah. I know this feeling. ;)

I've seen people recommend a book called 'Codependent No More' on here? I haven't read it, personally, but that title is stuck in my head for some reason. Maybe someone else can chime in.

I'm not sure I can be much help, but you are welcome to MeMail me. I just wanted you to know that you're not alone. Hang in there.
posted by Salamander at 3:34 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

No worries. I know the cashflow thing doesn't help, there's always volunteering if you need something with some structure that will get you in the mix. It's a good cheap start as long as the transport costs don't get you. If you can't afford access to a professional right now, books like Happiness Trap should be at your local libray and can be a good toolkit to get you started.
posted by analoguezen at 3:37 AM on August 14, 2013

This got long. Sorry.

This doesn't sound like a habit that is easily broken-- even though you consciously want to break it, it's very difficult not to fall into similar patterns if that's how you primarily interact when in love. CBT seems like it would really, really help.

Most people want to meet someone who will "get" them; I think this is a pretty universal feeling. We all tend to revel in our uniqueness-- but the irony is that we crave someone who will see inside us and understand us implicitly. The reality is that nobody but you is you, and no one will ever have your sum of experiences and thoughts, and so the thought of a kindred soul mate is a little misguided. There's only people, and some people suit each other better than others.

That said, connection is a beautiful thing, and I truly believe that there should be a deep connection when in love, that both parties want to cultivate and deepen. The difference between that and co-dependence is that a healthy connection is always mutual and never one sided. It will never feel that way.

I often get a similar urge to attach when in love-- the urge is for me to be 'seen' by somebody, deep inside. To see and be seen; to show myself. And when you find someone that you like-- it's easy to get carried away in the feeling of connectedness, which at first, is almost usually always to good to be true. Sometimes, you cling even when people very obviously don't suit, or are not reciprocating. The more exciting it seems to be, the more they jerk us around, and generally-- the worse these people tend to be for us.

When things start feeling bad, it's a sign of co-dependence. When you start giving and giving and giving and feel as if you're pouring love into a bottomless pit, then you need to re-evaluate your motivations. Thing is, it's okay to be there for each other -- it's okay to connect deeply with someone. But If you have been doing at the exclusion of all else, and your wants and needs, then yes, you need to curb those tendencies. But I'm not sure if that's all it is here. I think it's most of the problem-- but not all of it.

I don't know, but from your question it kind of sounds like you've been really burned by love recently, and you came out pretty hurt and damaged and in pain. Because of this, it kind of seems like you're going: "I thought they were finally it, and I invested so deeply-- but I was wrong *again*. I'm so stupid. I never wanna invest so deeply again!"

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's kind of what kinda seems like too.

It's normal to feel that way when you get out of an intense (usually damaging) relationship. Love is hard.

But don't be discouraged.

And don't be too scared to feel things again. Yeah, you need to not fall into another damaging co-dependent spiral. You need to not lose yourself again. But this doesn't mean you gotta cover your heart in barbed wire and swing a firey brand at anyone who ever come close again. Would you want to be with someone who is eternally guarding their heart and doesn't want to let you 100%?

Your insistence that you never ever want to get so close to anyone ever again? Thing is, there's a difference between connecting with someone you love, and who loves you back-- and being co-dependent. You can have one without the other. In fact, you kind of need to get to a place where you can do one, without losing yourself. Again, therapy will probably help.

I understand that it's scary to fail and come out of a disillusioned relationship (believe me, I am still feeling the aftershocks of losing my 'soulmate'; and the thought of failing again in love makes me want to cry), but, don't be afraid to try, just because you made some mistakes. Just because you invested deeply in someone who wasn't right for you-- doesn't make you stupid. Thing is, you're not alone. A lot of people make the wrong choice-- look at couples you know and you'll probably know at least one very obviously ill-suited couple. We're all trying to kinda find someone complimentary.

Yes, you may fail again, and it may hurt again, but the greater tragedy is becoming too jaded to ever truly open up to someone again. So instead hardening up so that you never fall that deep again, maybe try to figure out the patterns that make you drawn to people who very obviously don't compliment you, and are not good for you, and who take and take from you. I think this is a big part of why you fall into the habit. Again, therapy would probably help you with that.

In the meantime, to stop from losing yourself, it's important to re-iterate that you're the most important thing, to you, and nobody should trump you. Often, co-dependency stems from poor self-esteem. We elevate others because we feel we don't deserve good things. Any time this is occurring, remind yourself that you deserve to be treated well. You deserve attention. You don't deserve to ever be overlooked, or ignored, or for others needs to trump your own. Your needs always come first. Anytime it starts feeling bad, it probably is bad.

And if you do find someone, don't let them be the center of your world. Don't neglect your friends. Make time for them. Even if you have to rigidly limit the days you dedicate to the person you're with, make sure you keep a foot in the world, not both feet in the love bubble.

And also, um, it might sound odd, but be your own best friend. Do things with yourself. When I feel truly alone, I try to look inside myself. I try to separate my 'mind' from my 'self' -- I think of myself as if I am thinking of a dear friend. So, for example, when I feel alone and I miss being held, or a hug, I kind of think of hugging myself. Yeah, it sounds goofy, and it is, but in that moment, I don't feel as alone-- I got my back.

Good luck. You can do it. Sorry for the length.
posted by Dimes at 3:46 AM on August 14, 2013 [35 favorites]

From an anonymous MeFite:
Did you know that there are CODA groups - Codependents Anonymous - much like those for other addictions? I have found 12-step groups to be very helpful in my own recovery, and so have hundreds of thousands of others. The framework gives me goals, behavioral modification opportunities, and people to practice with/on. Anonymous meetings are typically free or very very cheap ($1-$2) and are an excellent supplement to therapy, or, if you cannot afford therapy, a good starting point until you can.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:56 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was going to pipe in with some codependency recommendations. What you describe are classic elements of codependency - seeking to bury yourself in others, becoming obsessed with them, ignoring your own self-care while trying to get others to care for you. When I was looking into it about 15 years ago, I found that there were unfortunately very few active CODA groups around the US. It's not always easy to find one. However! You can make a lot of progress using the materials online and in books.

My #1 recommendation is to read Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, followed by Beyond Codependency. Read Codependent No More like a workbook. Read it with a notebook nearby, and at the end of each chapter or whenever she suggests an exercise like making a list or journaliing about a disappointing incident, do it - don't just read about it, actually do it. I found this a startlingly enlightening process. Then, too, follow all the links you can find online to helpful guides, forums, etc. The CODA Tools for Recovery are available even if you can't find a meeting. Plenty more available if you start Googling.

I think the key is that you have to do the work - read, self-interrogate, be honest, observe your own reactions, and be serious about changing. Therapy would sort of hold you accountable for doing some difficult work, but if you can't be in therapy now, you have to do that for yourself. It's possible, though. Once you really get sick of your patterns - and it sounds like you are - it's pretty easy to recognize the need to change and muster the determination to learn enough to do so. Good luck!
posted by Miko at 6:11 AM on August 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

In addition to all the excellent advice above...

get a pet - they're great! and it gives you something else to invest in rather than get consumed by a relationship.

strengthen your relationships with "boring" people that are "easy" to catch. It might feel uncomfortable, or even slightly suffocating. Get used to it. That's what normal stable relationships are.

let people give to you - don't refuse or deny it. Accept the gift fully because a) it is good for the other person to give to you, it allows them to practice generosity b) healthy relationships require reciprocity; your part in a healthy relationship is to accept gifts. And if they are not giving to you in a mutual exchange, this is an illusion of a relationship. It is a mirage.

practice the art of leaving people to be responsible for their own emotions. Nowhere in your job description does it say "I love so-and-so, therefore so-and-so must never again experience pain." Love holds people responsible. You can hug and comfort, but don't rush into an action designed to shield them from themselves, or the natural consequences of their own actions.

Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:56 AM on August 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm actually going to disagree about CBT and say that if this is a pattern you've recognised recurring in yourself then it is probably something that you need to take out and examine in more detail. Almost certainly the root is somewhere in your childhood attachment experiences. If you want to make a profound change then stamping down the symptoms (via CBT or self-will) is not the answer. Try really examining the feelings and ideas behind either through reflection or in therapy.
posted by Dorothia at 8:24 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am going to agree about CBT. And sounds like you are doing it on your own: "I've gotten to a point where I can recognize when I'm backing up and preparing for the jump." That is amazing. You should be proud of yourself for this self-awareness.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:57 PM on August 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

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