There are 2 codependent words that I have learned to hate – “have to”! These 2 words are spoken with great passion by codependents the world over! They “have to” take forgotten lunch money to their kid at school. They “have to” do extra work on the project because their co-worker won’t. They “have to” wake their spouse up in the morning or they’ll oversleep. That’s why codependents are easy to spot – they are exhausted and overwhelmed!
I’ve had great debates in my office when I try to convince the codependent that they don’t “have to” do anything, they are choosing to! But why do they choose to do things they don’t want to do and why in the world do they honestly feel that they “have to” do it?
Codependents choose to feel responsible for other people’s emotions. They don’t want anyone around them to be unhappy or to be displeased with them, so they adjust their behavior in order to make others feel okay. Once we understand that, the equation for the “have to” is simple – I can’t say no to someone or ask them to put themselves out for me AND have them be happy about it! With this basic belief embedded into their DNA, codependents “have to” adjust their course or someone will be unhappy! Now the other person is happy, but they are not. (note: that is just exchanging someone else’s unhappiness for your own!)
That’s how the cycle starts, but why does it continue and become a way of life? Sadly, we codependents are so determined to make other people happy that it becomes a way of life. We are essentially backed into a corner and we don’t even see that we have any other option! Originally, we see two choices – 1) to sacrifice ourselves to make others happy, or 2) to take care of ourselves and let the other person feel uncomfortable. Since we are SO uncomfortable with letting someone else feel uncomfortable, option two isn’t really even an option! So we see that our only choice is to make the other person happy – at our expense.
The first step in getting out of this codependent thinking is recognizing that we DO have other options. We may not LIKE the other options, or choose to take them, but we DO have them. This realization helps us to shift the responsibility back to ourselves. WE are the ones who get to choose – always! Once we’ve taken ownership, we can start to look inside and understand why we are so compelled to take on other people’s responsibility AND to understand why we are so vehemently opposed to letting others feel discomfort!
When we finally understand what is driving our unhealthy behavior from deep inside, we can begin to change it. Start by removing the words “have to” from your vocabulary and replacing them with “choose to” and see how your attitude begins to adjust. Codependent recovery is a long and slow process, but eventually, you will learn how to let others feel their own feelings and in the process, you will gain control of your life again!