Did you read a book called The Giving Tree when you were a kid? It essentially teaches us that we should empty ourselves out to others and then apologize when there’s nothing left to give. The Giving Tree literally gave parts of its body to a selfish, narcissistic human. The underlying theme of the book could arguably be about codependency. The human depended on the Giving Tree and the Giving Tree depended on the human for validation. Through dating, I recently became aware of my codependent tendencies – like the Giving Tree, I often give more of myself than the person that I’m engaged with is willing or able to give back. I would like to have harmonious interactions with people that can meet me in the middle. I have to keep checking my self when I encounter people that are dismissive and people that have not faced similar challenges and can not empathize with how valid my anxieties are around sacristy of resources; these are not be people that I can depend on. It is a struggle to maintain healthy relationships if others who do not understand that giving back is just as implicit as receiving.
Often men who have been emotionally neglected and abused as children by dominating mothers bond with assertive women, only to have their childhood feelings of being engulfed surface. While they could not ‘smash their mommy’ and still receive love, they find that they can engage in intimate violence with partners who respond to their acting out by trying harder to connect with them emotionally, hoping that the love offered in the present will heal the wounds of the past. If only one party in the relationship is working to create love, to create the space of emotional connection, the dominator model remains in place and the relationship just becomes a site for continuous power struggle.
– bell hooks
Perhaps sharing my personal truths and anxieties about my codependent tendencies can liberate others from the stress they might be carrying as well. My reason for meditating on why I’m so eager to give is not to eliminate dependence, but to find balance, and to be able to have healthier interactions and still feel whole. I don’t want to completely bastardize dependency. Sometimes our flaws are just our strengths working on overtime, so my tendency to give so much of my self could be seen as a positive trait because it has lead me to work harder and accomplish many great things in my life. The only problem for me is the motivating factor. The people that I become codependent on for validation have become suppositories for the feelings of love and care that I want to place inside myself. I need to gain more inner resourcefulness and reserve and know when to stop overworking to prove my value.
Nigga, we just want the credit where it’s due
I’m a worry ’bout me, give a fuck about you
Nigga, just as a reminder to myself
I wear every single chain, even when I’m in the house
– Drake in Started from the Bottom
Codependency is often apart of a subconscious process caused by factors outside of our immediate awareness that contribute to our suffering. 96 percent of Americans suffer from some degree of codependency because we live in a capitalist society: the self help industry made over 11 billion dollars from motivational books and speeches in 2008, which failed to help over 40 million people suffering from anxiety. Americans are interdependent. To look at the people on the other side of the coin, I can try to understand how takers are also victims with trauma they are working through, and this is just as much about them. What’s interesting is that the takers and givers become paradoxically subordinate to the each other and can’t operate without each other – we need each other to understand what’s lacking in our lives.
I have a sense of altruism and I’m not programmed to focus on optimizing the functioning of just my own personal life. There was plaque that hung in my childhood home that said “If momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy”. When I review my life and the series of decisions that I’ve made that lead me to how I feel in this moment, my codependency stems from rarely being allowed to question authority because the default answer to my inquiries was too often “because I said so” and the safest thing was just to do what I was told. I rarely got to explore the full scope of information to understand if the requests were reasonable because I was a child that obeyed to survive. The blueprint for my codependency started before my great grandparents were even born: African Americans have unique trauma that was experienced during slavery and these vibrational imprints are currently flowing through generations and are ingrained in our DNA and learned behaviors. African Americans often believe that we have to work harder to be valuable, we are receiving an European education that’s missing information about great empires in Africa, and exposure to Christianity puts forth the idea that praying to a God will solve everything. These are ingredients for being passive and submissive and dependent on forces outside of ourselves.
Attachment types and depending on others may be apart of the pallet of useful human emotions, however my goal is grow beyond cyclical patterns that are disempowering. Now as an adult I am striving to plant seeds into disproportionate power dynamics by taking on roles that will force me to self advocate, but this desire that I have to gain validation works on overtime and sometimes I need to enter into hermit mode to avoid overextending and self martyring to an ecology that isn’t able to sustain a mutual support system. The walls of self preservation that I built sometimes feels like it’s imprisoning me in a physiological structure. When it’s protecting me, I like it, however I don’t want to feel trapped nor do I want to have this precedent expectation that I should focus on the needs of others in order to feel seen, heard and cared for.
My codependency issues can make harder for me to connect with others. I often feel self conscious because a gesture as small as offering me an apple becomes overly significant for me. I take it for more than it was meant to be and I’m often met with disapproval and disappointment when I begin to believe that this external person can become a motivating force to fulfill a sense of security, comfort and support that I want to invest into myself. I tend to be accommodating because I believed that the best way to gain love, affection and approval is to be loving and I project what I believe love is.
What triggers perfectionism, anxiety, and the subsequent codependent behavior in me is a sense of uncertainty. Some of the most basic routines that I’ve put in place are to always work with a contract in my profession so that expectations are outlined, and to only allow others to text or email me because I need boundaries when it comes to how accessible I am and because I don’t really want to pause whatever I’d doing to answer unscheduled phone calls. I’m constantly faced with an existential fear that I could invite people in my life that have no problem draining my energy because I naturally feel inclined to let them. I both enjoy and I hate testing my generosity threshold.
Allowing people inside your life is a beautiful thing. Letting go of people who drain your spirit is another beautiful thing you can do for your life. The key to being happy is knowing you have the power to choose what to accept and what to let go.
– Dodinsky in the Garden of Happiness