Yesterday, I sent an email to my mailing list, consisting mostly of single women on a personal development path, entitled “Open this if you’re looking for love.”
The email invited them to take a look at my How to Fall in Love courses – Laying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence and reminded them that if we have dreams, we deserve to create time and space to make them happen.
It was about time I got in touch with my followers. Some of them might have actually wanted to know about the dating course I’ve just begun, yet I’d kept quiet about it, partly because I’ve been struggling with the aftermath of coronavirus (more on that in my next post) and partly because my deep-rooted shame routinely sabotages my marketing efforts (more on shame later).
Anyway, I was pleased I’d finally reached out to my audience after weeks of silence.
Later that evening, on the way to the beach with my husband, I called my 70-something aunty.
“Thank you for your email,” she said.
“What email? Did I send you an email? When? Today?” I replied.
“Yes. It arrived earlier.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes. And I was very impressed. Your courses sound very good. I didn’t click on the links as I didn’t think they were for me, but what you wrote really motivated me. It helped me to realise that if I want to make something happen, I need to get on with it!” she said.
By now, the penny was dropping. And my stomach was churning and my heart was sinking.
There was only one explanation as to how my email about a dating course had ended up in my aunty’s inbox. And that explanation had embarrassing consequences. It meant that everyone else on our ‘Wedding Invites’ mailing list had got the email too – including my husband’s mum, his blokey mates, at least one of my ex-boyfriends, two of my husband’s ex-partners, some of my single friends who might find it useful or feel offended, and – I fear but I’m too scared to check – the happily married vicar.
I instantly knew how it had happened. I’ve been working with a virtual assistant on cleaning up my mailing lists, which required the removal of the wedding guests’ emails from my platform. Or that was the plan. It turns out their emails got amalgamated with those of my clients.
So a mistake happened.
They do that, don’t they? Mistakes happen. Or we make them. We all do.
Yet I had an instant shame attack. I felt mortified. I wanted to skip the beach, turn the car around and spend my evening on screens, sending out apologetic messages or frantically phoning friends.
Since I was with my husband, who’s a wonderful antidote to my workaholism, we continued to the beach. But my shame attack carried on. And do you know what I did? I took it out on him – the patient man stood right in front of me; a man who’d had absolutely nothing to do with the mix-up.
I snapped at him over something trivial.
Seconds later, I realised what I’d done.
I’d managed my shame and my anxiety by putting him at disease.
This is one of the symptoms of codependency.
If we’re codependent, we manage our shame and anxiety by putting others at disease, by making others feel uncomfortable, by lashing out at others, by shaming them, judging them and criticising them.
Another, perhaps better known symptom of codependency is that we manage our shame and anxiety by putting others at ease. We are a doormat. We bow down to others. We subjugate ourselves. We go out of our way to be what others want us to be. We are chameleons, always changing the colour of our skin to suit our environment in order to feel safe.
We modify our behaviour – what we say and what we do – because we anticipate other people’s anger, disapproval, rejection or abandonment and want to avoid it at all costs, often at huge detriment to our sense of self and our wellbeing. For example, we stay in toxic, harmful relationships or in soul-deadening careers.
Our functioning, the way we live and conduct ourselves, is dependant on a reaction we imagine, expect and fear.
I’ve been exploring codependency for more than a dozen years, healing from it and recovering from it. As I’ve healed, my understanding of it has deepened.
Codependency is a loss of self. It stems from a deep, often early wound that produces fear, low self-esteem and insecurity, alongside chronic shame – a sense that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me. These by-products of the initial wound or wounds then alter our behaviour in the world – the way we communicate with and respond to others.
We are controlling or we are compliant. We are victims or we are aggressors. Sometimes we’re both, swinging from one extreme to the other.
Sometimes I manage my anxiety and shame by putting others at ease. I overwork, over-deliver, over-promise, overcompensate for a deep sense that I’m not enough. I say Yes when I mean No and vice versa. I lay down at the feet of authority figures or people I admire or fear and allow them to trample on me, undervalue me, or take advantage of me. Much less than I used to, of course. I’ve changed a lot. Yet I remain a work in progress.
On the other hand, as I said earlier, I manage my anxiety and shame by putting others at disease. I snap, criticise, judge, lash out, find fault.
And only now am I seeing what a harmful affect this has had on my romantic relationships over the years. Thankfully, I’ve done so much work on myself that I’m not at risk of sabotaging my marriage. I notice my behaviour quickly and apologise instantly, as I did yesterday on the beach. But without this inner work, I wouldn’t be married, or I’d be at risk of breaking my marriage whenever I felt shame or anxiety.
It pains me to look back on past relationships and remember the occasions when I belittled people or undermined them or judged them or criticised them, in order to manage my anxiety or sense of shame. It also pains me to remember the occasions when I adapted myself and lost myself to avoid rejection, when I became who I thought you wanted me to be.
Can you relate to any of this?
Do you manage your anxiety, shame or fear by putting others at disease?
Do you manage your anxiety, shame or fear by putting others at ease?
Do you swing between the two?
Do you modify your behaviour – what you say and what you do – based on a perceived threat, on the possibility that the person before you might be angry, might disapprove or might abandon you?
When I ask my coaching clients and course participants what their biggest challenge is in relation to dating and entering into relationships, many of them say it’s being their authentic selves in relationship, staying true to themselves, not abandoning or losing themselves.
I get it.
But it’s codependent, and so damaging, to modify our behaviour so that someone will love us or to make them stay.
Clearly, we’re all on the codependent spectrum. There are degrees. We may omit to tell the whole truth to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid discomfort. Or we may do something we don’t want to do for an easy life.
The problem is when this codependency wrecks our relationships or our chances of finding love.
Or when this codependency keeps us in a relationship that’s harmful, potentially dangerous or a complete waste of our precious life.
Or when this codependency keeps us in a job that’s stifling our spirit and sending our soul to sleep.
Or when this codependency drives us to give too much of ourselves in order to please others, leaving us exhausted, drained, burnt out and with nothing left for ourselves.
I have been there – to all of these places – and, in so many ways, I have recovered. In others, I am making progress, always growing and learning. Perfectly imperfectly.
You can recover too.
Read my book, How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. You’ll find a wealth of resources at the end of the book, from further reading to support groups.
Check out my How to Fall in Love courses (there’s still time to join the dating course if you’re quick!)
Subscribe to my YouTube channel and watch some of my self-love and dating masterclasses.
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie is a great introductory book to codependency.
You’ll also find some good definitions and resources on this website.