Codependency can feel like you're holding everyone you know in your head all the time, and every time you dare to take an independent action, you run through everyone you know, and think about what they would think of you if you did that action. Invariably, what you think they'd think about you is negative, and you use this imagined response as an excuse to not do something, and to remain cowering in the shadows.

Every time you do this, you give up your power. This is a pattern of codependency.

At the same time, we don't know what to do. We second-guess every decision we make. We also don't know what we want, and we don't know what we like.

We find it hard to finish things, and find the novelty, cleanliness and perfection of new projects alluring and exciting. And this is what we're used to as people with codependency: excitement. Our families had lots of excitement, and as a result we felt - and feel to this day - tension, all the time.

Unfinished projects and lists of ideas also make us feel good because they're something we can hold onto. This plays off of our insecurity and low self-esteem.

Many times, it takes us many years to realize that our parents were alcoholics, and it can take a while for us to actually believe it to the core.

We also have to believe we're better - more capable, more correct, more funny, more something - than everyone else. "If only we really applied ourselves, we could be saviors to the world."

And yes, we end up in horrible relationships, and yet we're frightened to death to not be in them -- and the fear is, many times, directly proportional to the terribleness of a given relationship. This is one of the cruel ironies of codependency.

These are some issues we deal with:

  • procrastination
  • perfectionism
  • not finishing things
  • finding it hard to figure out how and why to finish things
  • not finishing things because we don't think we're "done yet" -- really, that "good enough" isn't really "good enough," and we'll be judged harshly as a result
  • being afraid that other people will be angry with us, and possibly get violent with us
  • knowing what we want and need
  • knowing what are good things to have in relationships
  • feeling like we need people -- especially the bad people in our lives (hint: we actually don't need anyone, and good people don't need to be "tended" to: they'll like you for who you are)
  • how to find and meet good people and good partners
  • being able to have a different opinion than someone else (especially partners, friends, and people we perceive as strong or threatening)

It's important that the literature of our betterment and healing be uniformily positive, uplifting, reassuring, and empowering -- because we can fold so easily (just from our own passing, imagined thoughts!), and because we lived under tyrants, anything that comes off as dogmatic, holier-than-thou, or autocratic will trigger our old responses, and can be a waste of our time.

Instead, consider the following books, for the following traits (if they apply to you). I believe they all address codependency from different angles, and are all able to help us heal and become strong.

  • for procrastination: The Now Habit by Neil Fiore and Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It by Burka and Yuen (the latter is the first book that finally led me to consider parental alcoholism as a factor in my life and upbringing.)
  • for codependency in general: Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.
  • for perfectionism: Overcoming Perfectionism by Ann W. Smith. (Note: I haven't read this yet, but it looks great and I'm planning on reading it.)