In almost all my relationships, I have always given up my desires if it meant I could contribute to other’s happiness and comfort – proving to other’s they were “lovable” regardless of their issues. In the last few years, I’ve found myself surrounded by people with serious mental health issues and substance abuse issues who I felt needed constant “rescuing”. With these few people to save over and over again, I realized I had no time to build new healthy relationships or do things for myself. I was exhausted.
I had been told consistently by others that I rarely do anything kind for myself, take time to do what I want and repeatedly allowed others to take advantage of me. If I did relax it was because I was forced to out of exhaustion, depression or used alcohol other substances to clear my mind of the longest never ending do-list and empathy I felt so strongly for those around me. Perfectionism, fear and the need to control lead my every decision. My therapist diagnosed me as a codependent.
After reading a codependent book, blogs, taking tests, and listening to podcasts – she was absolutely right. I checked off about 90% of the traits that codependents have. I never took time to love myself or really listen to my own feelings and what they were telling me. I was so concerned about rescuing others because I didn’t want them to feel the lack of love I had felt. I allowed every boundary a normal person might make to be crossed. I had no idea how to love myself and wanted desperately to change this.
STEPS I’m now taking to finally love myself
#1 Become Aware: The very first thing I did was become aware that I was doing this! Some of my friends recently have said, “you allow people to manipulate you”, “you don’t make time for yourself”, “you care more about pleasing other’s than what you want”, etc. My initial defensive reaction was, well I’m a loving person and that’s a good thing. Only to realize if I can’t take time to love myself, I can’t grow into the full potential of loving others. I end up exhausted, burnt out, bitter, and damage the healthy relationships I have to rescue the unhealthy ones.
Set Boundaries: I now make lists of boundaries and sometimes share them with those who I have allowed to cross them. I think about the repeated topics I’ve allowed to be discussed that make me uncomfortable or create drama – and simply say, “it’s not something I’m comfortable talking about”. As I’m easily swayed, I find it helpful to write out the names of people and the boundaries I let them cross in my journal to make sure I remember where I stand.
Follow my Intuition & Stand my Ground: If I feel off about something or someone, I’m practicing listening to my gut. Almost every negative situation I can think of being in – I saw or felt coming. I am responsible for WHO and WHAT I allow to enter my life. Not always, but typically, I can feel within a few minutes of meeting someone how the relationship is going to go. Especially with men. If you are dating, I would strongly urge you to follow your intuition in dating – it has consistently been right for me. Over and over, I have found myself feeling like someone was just not the right fit, sometimes with no rational. Even, after expressing this to them I ALLOWED them to talk me into continuing the relationship (or worse move in!) instead of following my intuition. Needless to say, these relationship ended almost exactly as predicted. We have an amazing guide inside of us, you can call it God, Holy Spirit, Energy, Subconscious, Universe, whatever – it’s their and it’s always been spot on for me. To tap into that I find journaling and meditation helps. What I find does NOT help, is poling all my friends, family and even acquaintances for their opinions, which has only muddied the water of my mind when I already knew the answer.
Remove Certain People: I have been removing people from my life who I intuitively knew were negative or otherwise felt “off”, crossed boundaries or disrespected me. There’s definitely a space for mistakes – I’m certainly not perfect. However, it’s the people I knew from the start intuitively that were not in my highest interest to surround myself with or I watched disrespect me or others over and over, that I’ve been focused on removing or redefining the boundaries of our relationship. My mom has always said, take your time with relationships – diving in quickly can prove to get yourself all wrapped up in someone who is not who you thought they were. You can still love and forgive people, but that doesn’t mean you have to continue a relationship – even if they’re family. For the first time ever, I’m making room for healthy relationships.
Do things I enjoy: I’m finally doing healthy things for myself like buying pretty flowers! Making food I want for dinner or even just making time to eat! Some days I wouldn’t eat until 6pm or later. That sounds SO insane as I write this, but it’s still a struggle to do this for myself some days! I’m attending social outings I think are fun. I’m building new, healthy friendships. I’m doing creative projects I enjoy but had been putting off. I have more time to keep my house in order. I even take relaxing baths now! All of these things build confidence and attract non-needy confident people.
Stop Rescuing: I’m always out to rescue someone. Last month, I found myself telling 2 complete strangers that I’d watch their kids if they need help. Although that sounds “kind”, that’s honestly a little over the top! I don’t even know those people. I want so desperately for the rest of the world to never feel the struggles that I’ve felt, I over-exert myself to the degree that I stay trapped in a cycle of giving to others but never to myself.
Stop making other’s problems my own: I get caught up in the empathy of other’s situations that I actually feel their emotions as if I am them. This can be seriously draining and leave me no emotional reserve for self, my own children, or the time/potential to build new healthy relationships. It also attracts like a magnet needy people to me. Making myself known as a person who will always take on the stress of other’s lives. All which I thought were ideal traits, only to learn that there’s a difference between nurturing and becoming someone’s caregiver. Between empathy, where you literally feel someone else’s emotions, versus compassion, where I have a more healthy love for other’s situation as apposed to making other’s problems my own. It really is healthy to say – NO.
Stand up for myself and/or don’t engage: My thoughts matter! I have a voice that deserves validation. If someone consistently pushes my opinions aside and tries to convince me they’re right and I’m wrong – that’s a RED FLAG. Certainly there’s a beautiful space for discussion, differing opinions and open-mindedness. However, my feelings are real for me and they matter. If I notice a consistency in others violating this, it’s time to move on. Or if someone comes at me with something that feels really off, I have no responsibility to agree with them, oblige them or listen to them. I no longer respond to pushy or negative texts. I am a FREE person with the right to feel as I feel without guilt.
Stop feeling guilty: Only over the last year have I been working to remove guilt. Our journeys are uniquely our own, no one has the right to judge you – and if you’re like me – you’ve done plenty of being hard on yourself! For me this guilt thing is finally getting easier and with a healthy balance. On my journey, I swung all the way from one side (believing I’m guilty and full of sin) to the other side (I’m free to do whatever I please – feeling there’s no wrong or right). I acknowledge I have made mistakes, I have done things that caused other’s hurt and I have learned and made amends. I then released myself from the mistake and guilt, seeing it as growth. While for me there’s still no stringent black and white (who am I to judge another’s path?), there’s definitely a balance in taking responsibility, being kind, respectful and aware of others.
Stop obsessing: Whether it’s a book, religion, person, idea or whatever – I tend to obsess over whatever is making me feel good externally. I’ll get all wrapped up in other’s lives, taking everything so serious – even when it’s not my own problem! Or I’ll obsess getting male attention because it feeds my ego – even if I don’t like the guy. I found that most things I thought were the greatest, were mostly a distraction from the deeper issue going on – my need to feel love and worthy. This need is so real, but it can never be met externally by any book, religion or relationship.
Go Inward: So much of my recent time is spent going inward and not relying on others, things or ideas to comfort me. Instead I practice comforting myself by a variety of things I enjoy like journaling, meditating, nature, creativity and reading. I’ve written myself love letters, sought therapy, intentionally practiced being alone, day dreamed about what I want my life to look like, stopped asking for everyone else’s input, stood up for my opinions, practiced not seeking attention externally, abstained from alcohol/over eating or anything I recognized as a distraction (especially in difficult times). Instead choosing to face the problem and pain, allowing myself to FEEL for once with crying or even anger. Instead of denying the feelings, I accepted them as they are in the moment – knowing they are temporary. I make lists of things I’m grateful for, read affirmations and just be!
Find the Balance: It’s not all or nothing – life is ever changing and there’s no set rule book. I can enjoy a glass or two of wine without drinking the whole bottle OR not drink at all. I can have a lazy day OR work really hard for 10 hours strait. I can enjoy a book without believing every paragraph as truth. I can help a friend with a problem OR say no if I’m busy that day. I can be open to new points of view and acknowledge my opinion as valid also.
I’ve realized that after moving in this new self-loving direction, inevitably, certain people are NOT happy with me. They wonder why I don’t drop everything for them anymore. Why all the sudden stand firm in my opinions and draw boundaries. Why they can’t just talk about or treat me way they’re use to. Some people even stop connecting with me because I’m not behaving the way they expect – which honestly is an opportunity for gratitude as this opens up more time for myself and new healthy relationships.
I realized, I’m not doing others any favors by enabling them to rely on me to fix their life and problems. In fact, no matter how hard it may be for them, I’m empowering them to face their own problems and learn more on their own journey than I could if I continued to step in and “save” them. And for once in my life – I’m loving me! I’m discovering who I am and what I want my life to look like.
I write this article with the hope that it brings awareness to others that they’re not alone and they’re not broken. I believe, almost all issues we deal with are natural defense mechanisms to protect ourself in some way (typically tied to childhood experiences) and show up in repeated relationship cycles. If you have a similar story and want to share – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re not alone! You’re worthy! You’re love!
Some helpful resources:
GREAT YOUTUBE VIDEOS ON CODEPENDANCY:
GREAT BOOK ON CODEPENDANCY:
GREAT BOOK ON RELATIONSHIPS AND HOW WE’RE WORKING OUT CHILDHOOD ISSUES THROUGH THEM:
SPIRITUAL BOOK ON ATTRACTING WHAT YOU WANT, MEDITATIONS, AND HOW TO CREATE THE LIFE YOU WANT: