I am a recovering co-dependent. I’ve been recovering for years but just didn’t know it until the last year or so. Often codependency is used to refer to people in destructive relationships with addicted people. That wasn’t my scenario so I didn’t make the connection until I heard it described another way.
Last fall I was at Donald Miller’s Storyline conference in Chicago. One of the breakout sessions I went to was called “Codependency: Where it comes from, how it’s harmful and how we can change it” led by Bill and Laurie Lokey from OnSite Workshops in Nashville TN. As they talked tears fell because they were defining everything I had struggled with my entire life.
They said, “a codependent doesn’t have a sense of self—a defined ‘me’” because they have spent most of their life defining themselves by the state of those around them. Basically they showed me how I had spent my life taking too much responsibility for the happiness and well-being of everyone around me.
I am one of the least fun people you will ever meet. I love to work, organize, read and think. Last fall I drove through MSU’s campus on a game day and watched all the tailgating festivities taking place as I passed. Where most people would find the atmosphere fun and exciting, I felt anxiety and had the overwhelming desire to get out of there as fast as I could. Large crowds and chaos are not my preferred environment!
In the course of my life I’ve spent more years hating this about myself than I’ve spent accepting it. I’ve spent a lot of time wishing and trying to be different. What I’ve come to learn is that I rendered myself much less effective at filling the role I was created for because I used so much energy trying to play a different one.
The last self-esteem killer we talked about was unrealistic expectations and perfectionism—an assassin that can steal a ton of our peace in life if we let it. One of the contributing factors to the strength of that killer is this one—The Comparison Game. This assassin seems to get its power from our strong radar for noticing everything other people are good at that we are not.
“Do the best you know how to do and when you know better do better.” –Maya Angelou
Breath…breath…close eyes…exhale…hold off the panic…ignore the buried alive feeling threatening to overtake you…
Recognize the feeling that comes when you focus too long on all the things you SHOULD be doing—or doing better? The anxiety produced by trying to keep all the plates of expectation spinning?
I do. I know the frantic panic that ensues when I feel like a total failure. I also know how I fight it, or at least how I fought it most often in the past. By trying harder, or working harder to ‘look’ like I had it all together. I’d spin and spin and spin the plates trying to hold off the mess as long as possible.
Are your insides as uncomfortably churning as mine are at the moment? Can you relate to the heavy pressure, like a boulder being set on your chest, that striving to keep the plates spinning causes?
Eventually gravity wins and all the plates come crashing to the ground around us and with them our confidence shatters as well. As long as we had all of life handled, all the plates spinning, we felt confident our abilities and value…but then they fall. The unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves for how many plates we can keep spinning is where we find our first self-esteem assassin, also known as perfectionism.
Somehow we know logically that we can’t possibly do all the ‘good’ things there are for us to do…but we keep trying. We keeping adding one more plate, one more expectation, and that is when the killer finds us.