Growing up, I was always a bit of a people pleaser. I was the girl who was “too nice” and many times that got taken advantage of.
I wanted everyone to be happy, to be liked, to keep the peace and to avoid any sign of conflict; many times at the cost of my own peace, personal values and self-respect.
I would so easily enmesh into those around me that I often doubted my own thoughts, constantly looked outward to everyone else for assurance and lost touch with myself and the gifts God gave me in the process. I didn’t trust myself, because I spent so much time conforming to those around me, that I didn’t know myself.
This is the epitome of codependency. And I had it bad.
Let me tell you, I’ve attended the codependency Celebrate Recovery groups (twice), I’ve read the books and at one point I even journaled about every meaningful relationship I had to find the patterns and research my own tendencies.
It may seem like a bit much but this is just what I do.
And you may be reading this right now and thinking, this is exactly me. This is who I’ve been.
Some of us were conditioned this way because we were subject to highly toxic and/or abusive environments in our youth where we were forced to stuff our own feelings and neglect our own emotional process to keep the peace or caretake. Some were raised in a household where dysfunctions were swept under the rug and just not talked about which never fostered a language around our emotions, so there was no normality with knowing how to process them.
We learned to grin and bear it, to take on, take on, take on, and adjust to the trauma at our own expense. We were taught that our emotional process didn’t matter as much as the actions of those around us.
So you can see why, when you’re codependent it becomes a case of lacking healthy boundaries. You’re missing the discernment between what parts you’re responsible for and what belongs to another person. You’ve numbed that emotional feedback system for so long that its signals are hard to read. And I believe emotional boundaries are the hardest to discern because in the moment it happens so quickly, that if you don’t pause to process it, you’ll miss it.
Let me explain.
It’s easier to create boundaries around peoples choices, such as, if they keep treating me this way then I’m going to create distance.
They’re behavioral. They’re outward, so you can see them.
But emotions are slick, because they’re automatic and implicit.
We live in a very reactive society in an age of social media where we pick up an overwhelming amount of content quicker than the time to process it. But it’s not just social media. It could be family. It could be friends. It could be coworkers.
It could be the person who responds to you with a projection of their own fears; in which you now take on their same fears and find yourself in an anxious state about something that didn’t worry you before.
It could be the person who always has something negative to say about someone or something and leads you to feel the same way, putting you in a negative state, even though you have no personal reason to. Misery loves company.
It could be a hot topic in the media that has transferred all of its emotional upheaval and opinions onto you, even though you have yet to do your own research and develop your own thoughts and beliefs on the matter.
Reminder: You are a separate individual with your own individual thoughts and emotions. Allow yourself the in between space for your own process.
Oh how I needed to understand that and the time it took me to apply this to my own life.
One of the most beneficial life habits I’ve learned over the past few years is practicing emotional boundaries. I finally understood that I didn’t have to own or consume every fear, opinion, stressor or negative reaction of those around me. That I could make a conscious choice, differentiating what thoughts and emotions belonged to me and which belonged to others.
I could step back and be an observer rather than an immediate partaker.
I notice this bothers them. I notice this is giving them anxiety. I notice this is a heavy issue that I need to look into more before I jump to any personal conclusion.
And guess what, the more you practice it, the more it becomes natural to your thought process.
Today I am less reactive, more grounded, more at peace and more in touch with confidently speaking and acting in accordance with who I am, what I believe and my own convictions. I can respect where others are without sabotaging myself in the process.
So how do we do this?
If you’re someone like me, who had been conditioned to suppress their emotional feedback system for so long that you lost touch with yourself, its really a matter of re-strengthening that system. And that means practicing the pause, checking in with yourself, and giving yourself permission for your own thought process before responding to or taking on a matter.
You can even give yourself a prompting of, “It’s interesting that they feel this way about this. How do I feel?”
As a practice, I recommend journaling to get back into touch with processing your own thoughts and emotions. I would always say that my journal is the non-judgmental space to reckon with the discomforts and raw details of my mind. And for some of you it may even go deeper. You may need to consider journaling what’s not good for you in a relationship or what your priorities are to not be bamboozled solely into the demands of everyone around you. Codependency tends to have roots all over our lives. So, take the time you need for your process. Consider moving through this healing process with a support group, therapist or counselor for extra help and accountability.
And remember, you no longer have to own what doesn’t belong to you.