Codependency: Giving 'Til It Hurts
Frederick A. Levy LCSW
Glenda gave until it hurt, and her suffering never stopped.
Friends and family could always count on her in a crisis, but
Glenda rarely felt that she counted with anyone when she needed
support. She knew she couldn't take many more demands from her
loved ones, but couldn't imagine how they would function without
her help. Glenda felt used, abused, and confused. She wondered
when it would ever be her turn, but at the same time would feel
selfish for even asking. She sat alone in her tear stained silence,
trying to figure a way out. Her family had raised her to believe
that love never gives up, but nobody had ever told her what to
do when the giver gives out.
If you are an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA), you may not
know where the giving stops and the hurting begins. The message
your family gave you about loving may not have included sufficient
ways of loving yourself. In short, you may have been raised to
be codependent, which is the process of losing yourself in another
person's problems. Glenda, like many ACoAs, had already spent
years losing her life by inches.
Glenda had struggled to survive her alcoholic family. She had
spent her entire childhood helping her mother fix her alcoholic
dad's disasters. With crises coming every day, she had learned
that becoming a separate person was selfish; focusing away from
the family's pain unthinkable. Caretaking loved ones became a
substitute for taking care of herself. It seemed that loving
others meant losing the right to her own desires, feelings, and
In order for Glenda's family to contain her dad's destructiveness,
they had always attempted to control his drinking and behavior.
As a result, Glenda had learned to be a master manipulator. In
time, she married a man much like her father who required someone
to manage his life. The Adult Child had married into a career;
always standing vigil over her perpetual child to insure, one
way or another, that he stay out of trouble.
Such a job has no vacation and less time off. Anger follows hurt,
resentment succeeds rage, and total emotional exhaustion results
in burnout. Even the idea of fun seems infuriating. Sometimes
when Glenda met someone whose life was working, she would feel
self-righteously indignant, resenting others who had it easier.
Certainly, nobody appreciated what she was going through; secretly,
she even felt a bit morally superior to those lessor souls who,
she assumed, were less devoted to their families than she.
To make matters worse, Glenda also had a full time job, the kind
that demanded long hours, low pay, and high energy from the time
she walked through the door until she dragged herself home. Her
supervisors felt she was a near model worker. Not only was she
magnificent in her job, but she always seemed to find time to
help others, answer questions, fill in, even cover for co-workers
when it appeared necessary. Yet, she felt like a fraud, always
the new kid on the block, craving acceptance and needing to prove
Glenda was becoming bitter. She was loyally following the plan
her family had provided her to feel worth, yet heaven didn't
seem to be getting any closer. In short, Glenda was rapidly on
the road to becoming a martyr.
Fortunately, Glenda discovered that this highway has alternate
routes. Recognizing her own needs was her first recovery signpost.
She stopped believing that the "golden rule" meant
being better to her neighbor than herself.
The second was realizing that having limits is a universal human
need, not failing. She discovered that "saying no"
could be a life preserving act of love, both for herself and
those whom she valued. She could rest, while others learned responsibility.
Mostly, she relished the freedom that came with knowing that
asking for help was not weakness, but a powerful connection to
the kind of caring that now she felt she deserved. Her healing
had begun with hearing an inner voice, which softly whispered
that she was not alone.
Copyright Fred Levy, LCSW all rights reserved