When I was younger, I thought phrases like “I can’t live without you,” “You are my world,” and “You give me purpose” were romantic. Codependency was the central ingredient to what I thought was the most beautiful love story. Forbidden Love. Us Against The World. Your Ride or Die. These were all the chapter titles of my future romantic memoir. As an empathic enabler who has historically minimized my own pain and amplified that of others, I was able to feel love and worthiness through someone else’s unhealthy dependence on me. I reached the zenith of this toxicity when I got into relationships with unstable people who claimed to experience suicidal thoughts and threatened to kill themselves if I ended the relationship. The fact that I have had this experience more than once became a signal that I needed to reevaluate my concept of love. I am still figuring it out but that is what I have gathered so far:
I Want You, But I Do Not Need You
When I started cultivating my own personal power inside of a toxic, codependent relationship, I realized the difference between my needs and wants. What I am learning about codependency is that toxic behaviors often stem from our unmet needs from childhood — needing something from a parental figure that we never received. This neediness from childhood and the behaviors developed to get those needs met transfer to how we relate as adults.
Getting diagnosed with bipolar at age 18, the same year I was supposed to be emancipated as an adult and my own autonomous person, really threw a wrench in my ability to meet my own needs and feel self-sufficient. It took a decade of recovery to finally be in the place I am today — 28, stable, functioning, in a PhD program, financially independent, parenting a toddler, and living my best life. As a result, I am finally seeing that what I thought were needs inside of a romantic partnership are actually wants. I realized I was not a victim and that I have choices. I can let go of toxic relationships that are not actually meeting needs because I can meet my own.
Aware that not everyone may be at the place I am in my healing journey, I want to emphasize that you do not have to be financially independent or fully stable on your mental health regimen etc. to have this mindset. Needs can be met in multiple ways. With enough creativity and community support, we can find ways to have our needs met so that we can confidently know that we do not need to use our toxic relationship as an avenue to try to get our needs met. This is easier said than done, but what I am realizing from my own journey of healing from domestic violence is that this is not about our material or environment circumstances, but rather about our mentality and how resistant we become against other people’s manipulation.
You Can Live Without Me
“If I die tonight, you will go on,” I found myself telling a partner who professed his love for me by asserting that I am what sustains him. With my newfound awareness about our codependent tendencies, I could no longer accept the I-can’t-live-without-you narrative. Like Celine Dion said, “my heart will go on” and so will yours! The idea that we cannot live without someone is so dangerous because of the toxic behaviors that it breeds, the worst of which is manipulating someone into staying in the relationship by threatening suicide.
Part of healing from codependency is learning what we are responsible for and what we are not. It was a jarring realization for me that I am not responsible for another grown person’s life. I am not responsible for other people’s choices, no matter how close to them I am. I am not even responsible for having hope for the trajectory of their life, they are responsible for having hope for their own life circumstances!
As I continue to learn and grow in taking responsibility for what is truly mine, I feel hopeful for the future of all my relationships. I feel hopeful that I will be a stable, reliable presence in my daughter’s life so she will learn healthy ways to get her needs met. I feel hopeful that I will unlearn my enabling behaviors and that I will attract less people who are able to manipulate me with their feelings of distress. Although I’m in the thick of things learning how to navigate murky waters, I feel hopeful that I’m moving in the right direction.
Image Description: A black-and-white portrait of a woman holding up her arm to cover her face. On the palm of her hand is a sticker in the shape of an X.