“There are two questions a woman must ask herself: The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’ If you ever get these questions in the wrong order you are in trouble.” — Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man
A small boy called Benji once bought a whistle from a storekeeper and ran back home to show it off to his brothers and sisters. But to his dismay, his siblings burst out laughing when he mentioned the price at which he had bought the whistle.
“Benji,” they said, “You have paid too much money for something so little!”
Benji shed many tears that day. He was so disappointed with himself for wasting his few pennies, that his new whistle no longer pleased him.
But he learned a valuable lesson from that otherwise sad incident: Don’t pay too much for too little.
Just like Benji and his whistle, sometimes we give too much to relationships that are just not worth it.
Common Signs of Codependency
You compulsively help others at your own expense.
Criticism or rejection of your help or advice depresses you.
You think you are indispensable.
You suppress your feelings and tolerate mistreatment.
Family and friends describe you as controlling.
You avoid conflict.
Causes of Codependency in a Relationship
Often, the giver-rescuer in a codependent relationship has a helping problem rooted in old childhood emotional trauma.
During my undergraduate years, I invested heavily in two friendships. Both of my friends did not have disabilities, and I took their friendship as evidence of my acceptability despite my ataxic cerebral palsy.
Sadly, over time I was overwhelmed by my friends’ dependency. I grew impatient with their neediness. My friends must have experienced feelings of defeat, shame, and rejection due to my change of attitude.
Codependency harms both the giver-rescuer and the taker-victim.
Moreover, children who are taught to avoid conflict, prioritize other people’s needs over theirs, and keep trying, are likely to become codependent adults.
Oddly, I wish that I had given up more when I was younger. I was so anxious for approval that I tolerated treatment which, I never should have.
Sometimes, quitters do win, and quitting is not always a sign of weakness. There is wisdom in picking your battles.
Most importantly, co-dependent relationships lack clear boundaries. Every relationship has three entities: you, your partner in the relationship, and the relationship itself. Your responsibility is not to change your partner, but rather to respond to the changing needs of the relationship.
No one stands alone. We all need each other. But to find the right to walk with, you must first determine where you are going.
Beth Wanjiku was born with ataxic cerebral palsy, a condition that impairs her muscular movements. She holds a Bachelor of Education degree in English and Literature from Kenyatta University and a certificate in Community-Engaged Leadership from Kansas State University. She is the project manager at Women and Realities of Disability.