“A no uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a yes merely uttered to please, or what is worse to avoid trouble…” - Mahatma Gandhi
“When the codependent is drowning, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes.” - Author unknown
Codependency is a big and often overlooked issue in the Pagan and Wiccan community merely because we have a tendency towards cultivating empathy and compassion. Since this term has become a catch all phrase to include chaos feeders, psychic vampires, and drama queens I wanted to write an article to shed some light on exactly what this is and why it is so prevalent within our community and what we can do to alleviate it.
First, let me say that as someone who has been in a codependent situation, this is not an easy thing to overcome. It took me many years of counseling and many more years of empowering myself before I would even consider doing any kind of volunteer work with victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Many women who are in violently abusive relationships suffer from codependency which is why it is so difficult to leave their abuser.
Within our spiritual circles, we should feel safe and comfortable. First and foremost we should feel welcomed and our circles should be a place of serenity and solace. Many of us are empathic, meaning we are easily affected by the energy and emotions of others. Empaths are especially vulnerable to being the victim of co-dependent participants. Even those who would not really consider ourselves empathic are at best sensitive to energy and the energies of others. Our community is one that welcomes the broken and encourages the love of the Goddess and the bonds of Family to heal broken hearts and spirits. Deciding when to cut a person loose for the good of the coven or when to refuse entry into our circles is as important as the foundation of compassion. Our covens are only as strong as the foundations of our circles. Whether the circle is within an actual physical space or within a natural setting, it is a sacred space. One person can disrupt the flow of energy and do as much damage as many. As open as we are we must have boundaries not only for the health of our covens but also for the health of our community in general. In the eyes of the codependent, no personal issue is ever really personal. It very quickly becomes public and then community with people who are not involved taking sides as the stories get worse and more grandiose.
Eat, drink, dance, make magick and merriment to your heart's content but always be aware that what we bring into our circles will also be sent outward into the community from our circles and if we take in contamination it will leave as contamination. Take care in the alliances that we make today for they will certainly determine our tomorrow.
In a nutshell, codependency is the addiction to relationships and dependency. It is a condition that usually arises from dysfunctional backgrounds, a background lacking in boundaries and responsibilities, and/or a background filled with abusive or addictive situations. It is both the relinquishing of control and the preoccupation of gaining control over other people through manipulation, dishonesty, and creating situations that illicit immediate and long term care. For this reason, it is important that we be able to identify this behavior. Symptoms of Codependency
- Before I can get into the details, I want to go over some basic symptoms. Codependent people are not bad people, they just need help and it is more help than any one person can give them unless they are a psychologist. There is only so much that we as individuals can do to help another person so it is important to know what to look for if you suspect that someone in your circles has a codependency issue.
- The inability to know what normal is. In this community normal could mean any number of things, however to the codependent person normal takes on an entirely different definition. Normalcy has huge variants for us, however most would generally accept that routine violence, emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse are not within our accepted range of normal. These are simply not acceptable behaviors for anyone, unless you are codependent. In this case, someone may view these behaviors as being within the range of ordinary. They have a very twisted outlook on relationships so that they actively seek out people and situations that are not good for them. This affects everyone around them in the long run.
- Inability to complete a project. The inability to finish what they start is reflective of their feelings involving personal responsibility. This will reflect in all facets of their lives including family and work in which they expect that someone else will step in and handle their load for them.
- Inability or difficulty in relaxing and having fun. These people will always find something to complain about when everyone else is having a good time and will often bring their personal issues into an otherwise pleasant conversation or environment as a means of drawing attention to themselves and their misery. If there is not a current situation involved they will create one to keep all eyes on them. The more sympathy they can get, the more attention they receive the more control they will have over the evening.
- Judging self or others harshly. The codependent person will take their misgivings and place them on someone else often creating a cycle of abuse as one person gives the abuse and one receives it. This allows them to throw pity parties indiscriminately, verbally abuse someone else, and displacement of inner turmoil, pent up emotions, and personal responsibility and ownership onto someone else.
- Low self esteem and displacement. People who have low self esteem look for validation from other sources. The codependent person looks for self esteem from another source but then blames the source for their lack of self esteem. In our community this manifests in two ways. It can come across as the woman who is hard as nails on the outside but has many issues and seems lost and vulnerable on the inside. Or, it can come across as the insipid whiner that is constantly lost in a world of their own creation and whines about the situations they have created within that world. They are the constant victims and no part of their life is without some sort of drama. No matter how much you try to help either type, they will find some excuse why it will not work and then blame you for not trying to fix their problems hard enough.
- Difficulty or complete inability to sustain healthy relationships. The codependent person will look for relationships that will feed their need for attention but their addiction to drama and negative reinforcement will force them to abandon relationships once they no longer feed their need. If they are involved with someone who beats them, they may return no matter how many times they are hospitalized, because it feeds their need for negative reinforcement. A relationship that does not feed their desire for chaos is not worthy of their attention and therefore not viable to them. Because of their lack of self esteem they do not feel as if they are entitled to be treated well so they will go through many bad relationships, often starting one as another one is barely cold.
- The belief that others cause or are otherwise responsible for their emotional status. This goes back to the sense of displacement and the feeling of entitlement to place the blame on other people. It is caused by a complete lack of personal responsibility and ownership. It is much easier to blame someone else for feeling depressed than to admit the truth behind the depression.
- Overacting to or the complete inability to adapt to change. This can manifest as paralyzing fear, multiple explanations for not seeking help, panic attacks, or the complete inability to accept change as a natural part of the growth process. In order to change we must realize that something is not working for us so that we can move on to something better. The codependent will hang on to a situation even as it is stagnates their mind, body, and spirit merely because it is familiar and easier than establishing something new. This is why no matter how hard we try to help someone, if they truly do not believe they are on a path of self destruction, nothing that we do will reach them. They must first accept their situation, own it, and then resolve to move forward in a positive manner. As such, even the most minor changes will overwhelm them because it reaches into their psyche’s and pulls out something that they are still clinging to, which is the blanket of familiarity.
- The inability to see an alternative to any situation. In this section I am also going to include the phrase any alternative to any situation that pulls the attention away from them thus causing them to behave erratically and impulsively to any given situation. For instance, a friend takes a trip out of town for several weeks. The codependent room mate goes on an extensive shopping spree as a result, ending in several thousands of dollars in debt but finds a way to blame the first party. Displacement places a huge role in the codependent’s life because they have to have someone else to blame. If the person is around they are to blame, if they are not around they are to blame, when they leave they are still to blame. It’s truly a no win situation. In addition they simply can not see a positive outcome or alternative to any situation and will normally have a trail of excuses a mile long and will go to great lengths to validate those excuses. For instance, a woman that is being abused at home may offer the excuse of being unable to support her even though she is working. When presented with the option of leaving and supporting herself, she will find a way to get fired in order to validate her excuse to stay within the relationship.
- Someone who is constantly seeking outside approval yet remains addicted to low self esteem. This transcends modesty and humility and goes through the entire melodrama of I can’t do anything right, even when they are constantly receiving praise for their work. They will seek it from any outside source; even those that they know are not good for them because they need constant validation as individuals.
- Confusion and sense of inadequacy. Even though they may know how to accomplish a task they will seem confused and at odds with how to go about getting things done. This is not caused by an inability to get something done, but the inability to get something accomplished without drawing attention to self.
- Alternating between being responsible and irresponsible. These go into extremes. Extremes within any given situation are not good for us. Like being responsible to the extent that it becomes an obsession that causes chaos. This can manifest as taking on the responsibilities of other people and then becoming aggravated at having the responsibility. For instance, taking on the responsibility of making sure your roommate gets to and from work on time but being resentful of having to do it. Likewise the total lack of responsibility can manifest as making other people feel obligated to take up our responsibilities ( I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t make it to work, I’ll never be able to make it without X amount of dollars), and so forth.
- Complete lack of personal power or ability to make personal decisions. When we place the choices of our lives in the hands of other people we remove our sense of responsibility and then have someone to totally blame for the situations we find ourselves in. The complete inability to make even the most mundane of decisions speaks to the extent of lack of self esteem and sense of responsibility. There are two people within the codependent relationship: the person that receives blame and the person who places blame.
- Repressed feelings of fear, hurt, shame, degradation, or stunted emotional growth. In many codependent people there is a history of abuse of some sort that warps their sense of interpersonal relationships. Repressing these feelings early in life manifests in the desire to reinforce our validation of self through negative behavior; at some point in their development, the codependent person has learned that if there is some drama going on they receive attention. For many, even negative attention is better than none at all.
- Isolation from people, resentment of authority figures. At times the codependent person may isolate themselves in order to get attention. They may wait and see how many people will contact them to see what’s wrong or develop a phobia of people and social events. As much as the codependent may seem to be able to throw their personal power to the four winds, they are very much in control as their seemingly helpless stature is only posturing for the manipulation that is actually taking place. Someone who is truly in charge is a threat to them and thus target for their hostility. Often it is very difficult to get a codependent person to attend counseling because in doing so they will have to relinquish total control of the situation.
- Hypersensitivity to criticism and the inability to see self truths. Trying to explain to someone that they are behaving in a negative fashion or that they are on a path of self destruction when they are unable to see their own behavior, acknowledge it, or own it is like telling a whale they used to have legs and expecting it to walk on the beach. They will often become belligerent, make many excuses for their behavior, burst into torrents of weeping, and create exaggerated circumstances to avert one’s attention away from their behavior, or blame someone else for it. I wouldn't have behaved like this if such and such had not done that. If you hadn't made me feel that way I wouldn't have responded like this and so forth.
- An addiction to excitement, drama, or chaos. People that are constantly in the midst of people that are always causing issues in the community, surrounded by personal dramas, or swirling in the midst of chaos have a strong desire to always be surrounded by some kind of negative excitement. Many times, they will start the drama then step back and allow other people to continue it and take the blame for their handiwork. The more people they can fire up or tensions they can fuel the better to feed their addictions. This is merely another way of reinforcing negative self image. Seeking pity and emotional responses within the turmoil is a common and recurrent theme with chaos addicts. Codependents rarely have only one victim.
- Abandonment issues and the dependency on others for self validation. It would stand to reason that people that are so dependent on others for their self worth would also have issues with abandonment. Many times any sort of hint of abandonment will send them into irrational behavior, panic attacks, rushed relationships, promiscuity, grazing, self debasing behavior (substance abuse, bingeing, cutting, the return to physically or emotionally abusive situations, starvation, creating situations that obligate someone else to take care of them). On an opposite extreme, the codependent person may avoid serious relationships altogether in order to avoid future abandonment.
- Inability to tell the difference between love and pity. We are all concerned about our loved ones but there is a difference between showing pity and showing love. This type of person perceives the attention received as a result of a pity party as being given out of love and as a result will continually create situations to elicit that response.
- Being drawn to people with victim mentalities. Remember that codependency is about the simultaneous relinquishing of personal control and also the ability to maintain control over others through manipulation. There is no give and take there is only take. A person who seeks other codependent people in which to be in a relationship with will seek out those people who already perceive themselves as being victims. They will also seek out people that have been in abusive situations to help or fix because they are the easiest to control and manipulate.
- The desire for control; the need to always have to be center stage, in complete control of everything, and the need for other people to work their lives around them so that this control is maintained.
- Lies, even over the simplest thing. I’m sorry I’m late. I got stuck at the light and while I was there the lady in the car next to me went into labor and being a being of infinite light I felt compelled to get out of the car and deliver the babe and in the process saved a dog that was crossing the street and rescued a cat from a burning house across the road. You get my drift. For these people telling the truth over something completely trivial is impossible. Every aspect of their lives has to have some element of drama to feed their hunger for self validation.
The desire to live our lives unencumbered by judgmental views and clique mindsets often make it difficult to just say no. It's uncomfortable to not have to tell someone they can no longer come to your circles or be involved in your coven. It is uncomfortable yes, but is it really worth making the rest of the coven uncomfortable also?
Why Boundaries Are Important
“NO!” Say this with me with great emphasis and command…”NO!!” Fun isn’t it? Sometimes it’s really hard to say but it’s necessary for us to have healthy boundaries. In my personal experience as a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister, and coven Mother, I have to know when to say no. The same goes for my spiritual life, my job, my community obligations, everything must have boundaries in order for them to function properly and reduce the amount of chaos in my life. The same is true of anyone’s life. If we take on more than we can process at a given time we become overburdened and other things are knocked out of priority. Everything must have its time and place. The same consideration must be given to coven mates. When you take on the responsibility of creating a coven you also take on the responsibility of keeping it safe, ethical, and healthy for the people attending your circles and for your coven Family.
When we are young and we are maturing, boundaries are especially important. The boundaries of a codependent those that are enforced on others but not on the person themselves. For instance they will put extreme demands on friends for time, affection, emotional, spiritual, and financial support. The word NO is a complete sentence. When dealing with these people it is the most important word you will ever use otherwise they become some a hazard to the other aspects of your life that you don’t have time to do anything else other than take care of their issues.
We have two kinds of boundaries, unhealthy boundaries and healthy boundaries. Any time someone crosses over into an unhealthy boundary there should be a red flag. Signs of unhealthy boundaries include:
- Telling everything about yourself at one time. I mean everything. When you find out more than you ever wanted to know about someone within ten seconds of meeting them this is a definite red flag. They are not willing to take the time to build an intimate relationship, instead they are willing to put everything out there (which can be overwhelming and awkward sometimes) including every extremely intimate detail of their lives.
- Instantly falling in love with someone you just met. Not over a period of days or weeks, or months, but over a period of minutes or hours at best. Within days don’t be surprised if they haven’t moved in with you, a little but at the time of course, made demands about how and with whom you are spending your time, and may even become obsessive. This also includes falling madly in love with anyone that takes the time to listen to them or to aid them in any way.
- Having an obsessive preoccupation with someone that has aided or helped in some way. Many times they will place someone who has helped them on a larger than life pedestal are go through a lot of distress when they realize the feelings are not reciprocated.
- Being sexual for someone else, not for yourself and impulsively sexual. Making lewd or inappropriately timed sexual comments for shock value or attention. Seeking validation often manifests as promiscuity and lack of personal responsibility in regards to sexuality, so does placing the sexual needs and desires of someone else over your own, even if it violates your personal beliefs, preferences, or choice.
- Accepting touch, gifts, or sexual favors that you don’t want. There is a difference between gifting someone once in a while and showering someone with gifts out of the blue. There is also a difference between touch that is intended to be reserved for closer, deeper relationships and the tough of someone you only just met. A person who has created no boundaries or never learned to place those boundaries around their lives have none. They not only allow others to behave in this manner, but they do not hesitate to behave in this manner themselves.
- Taking as much as you can take from a person for the sheer sake of taking. Many times these people will take everything a person has to give until they find someone that will give more.
- Giving as much as they can give for the sake of giving. This is not a bad thing in itself. Giving shows love and that’s a good thing right? Yes of course; until it begins to be not only giving of yourself, but giving YOURSELF period. Eventually the act of giving becomes validating and not truly giving.
- Allowing someone to continually take from you, define you, and tell you who you are. Anything that violates your free will, your sense of self and sense of personal truth about who you are, violates your personal boundaries. The codependent person does not have these boundaries in place so they often create selves or mold themselves around the perceptions and desires of the people they attach themselves to so they have no true understanding of whom they really are. Therefore they also have no sense of personal direction and often rely on others to create that for them.
- Having constant breakdowns and/or being involved in physically, sexually, emotionally, verbally, self or chemically abusive situations. These people need constant rescue. You will often feel as if you are running behind someone with a life jacket.
Eventually many people reach this same point where they realize that nothing that they do will help someone and no amount of encouragement or suggestions of counseling will do the trick. They then have to choose between remaining friends with someone like this or removing them entirely. No one’s lack of boundaries should ever interfere with the boundaries you choose around your life. No one should have to reorganize their lives to accommodate one person’s drama. There is a distinct difference between the codependent and someone simply moving through a rough point in life.
Simply speaking, codependency is an addiction to relationships. There is a fine line between healthy caring for someone and unhealthy addiction to caring for someone. Someone who does a lot of volunteer work can tell you how difficult it is not to be affected by the things they see and hear, however there is a difference between being affected which is a normal and natural response to hearing about the tragedies of others, and being addicted to the tragedy around you.
We must always be sure that the people we are choosing to associate with are healthy for us and that we are also healthy for them. A person that suffers from codependency is not an innately bad person; they simply have never learned how to have healthy relationships and as a result view themselves as martyr or victim and attach themselves to people and situations that allow them to fulfill those roles. Through family therapy, cognitive therapy, and group therapy these people are able to evolve into healthy individuals. This can take many years and most of us simply don’t have that much time to invest in maintaining someone else’s life. When we encounter people like this we will have a decision to make, make sure that it is one that does not violate your own personal boundaries. We can urge someone who is living a life of self destruction to make life affirming choices but we can not make those choices for them. We can only make choices for ourselves and our own lives.