What Can I Do?

Last year I saw a therapist for a couple of months. It was the first time I had seen one since I was in high school, outside of marriage counseling. After the first session, in which I droned on about both of my marriages and other personal relationship issues, he concluded that I was codependent. I remember thinking it was quite early to be tossing around labels like that. I mean, we had only talked for an hour. He told me to go buy a book for codependents entitled Codependent No More and to read it.

Great. I have homework after my very first session.

It took awhile to find the book, but I eventually did. When I began reading I realized that my counselor had been right. Even though the book is targeted towards people who deal with alcoholics, I saw a lot of myself in the personal stories shared in that book.

Per Wikipedia (which is accurate in every which way)

Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. People with a predisposition to be a codependent enabler often find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante. These helper types are often dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs.[1] Codependency often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.[2]Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships.[2] Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns.”

I have, in the past, been guilty of codependency in my marriages and in certain friendships. I would often wade into the personal lives of others on a mission (from God) to solve their problems without regard to the fact they didn’t want my help. I unwittingly enabled my first wife’s suicidal behavior for years. I enabled my second wife’s borderline narcissism by accepting 100% of the blame for her unhappiness. There are countless friendships where I’ve let friends run over me to make things easier for them. There are also other friendships where I barreled through boundaries to “help” with issues I couldn’t fix. I often put the needs of others before the needs of my own.

Thanks, mom.

I caught myself in the act last year, and made a promise to myself that I would work on fixing this issue. Well, it’s a year later, and I don’t know if I’d ever declare it fixed, but I am confident in saying I’ve made significant progress. I’ve noticed my progress over the last few weeks. When friends confide in me I don’t immediately jump in and try to take control of their problems in a misguided attempt to fix them. I simply apologize for their unfortunate circumstances and ask, “What can I do?”

If they tell me nothing, I drop it. If they tell me they need me just to listen, I open my ears. If they actually ask me to do something for them (which hasn’t happened yet) I’ll do it. Within reason, of course. To be clear, I love helping people. It makes me feel good. But I’m no longer doing so unless I know the help is wanted.

canthelpYou see, I’ve learned a difficult lesson over this past year of heartbreak, betrayal, and general asshattery: you can’t help those who don’t want help.

You just can’t. What’s more, trying to help people who don’t want your help will piss them off and push them away. Frankly, if someone is engaged in self-destructive behavior there’s really nothing you can do for them if they don’t see their behavior as being such. It sounds cold, but probably the best thing you can do for someone sucked into a spiraling loop of self-destructive behavior is to walk away. Let them know why, but walk away. Tell them you can’t watch them destroy themselves. If keeping you in their life is important to them they might finally gaze inward and see the same self-destructive tendencies you see.

For instance, over the course of the last year many, many people voiced their concerns about my drinking habits. I ignored those concerns and told people I was fine. It was only a couple of times a week and never when the kids were around, or so I said. It wasn’t until I saw it had become an issue that things began to change.

I’m proud of the progress I’ve made, and I’m not proud of myself very often. I can actually look back at certain times in the past year and see where I’ve grown. Unfortunately, a lot of that growth came at the expense of friendships. Such is life, I guess, but in order for my mental health to be strong I have to avoid unhealthy relationships.

I’m (always) a work in progress, but at least I’m making progress.

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About Twindaddy (332 Articles)
Sometimes funny. Sometimes serious. Always genuine.

60 Comments on What Can I Do?

  1. agree with most of the part except about helping people close to us…sometimes though they say no, they might need our help and are not asking because of pride or some such reason…

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    • If someone doesn’t want you help, I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter why. They won’t accept your help until they’re ready. You can’t force it on them.

      Of course, that’s all based on my experiences.

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      • mmm..off course we can’t force people to accept…but only a cursory question seems too formal..

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        • Each situation is different, obviously, depending on the circumstances and people involved. But the overriding thing I’ve found is that people will not accept your help until they are ready to help themselves. It sucks and can be heartbreaking, but there’s not much we can do if someone refuses to see the dire circumstances they are in.

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          • I am a bit confused here. Codependent relation can only exist if one is helper and the other needs that help/rescue/support…right? So when someone refuses your help, how can it be codependency..?

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          • The rescue-ee doesn’t really think they need help. They also take advantage of the helper. Depend on them to get them out of situations they have created, while refusing to actually address what’s wrong with them.

            The help I’m referring to is the help to actually resolve the problem at hand. For instance, an alcoholic would accept the help in covering up the symptoms of their disease, but not the help in actually addressing their alcoholism.

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  2. Yay for progress !!!

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  3. Be proud of yourself, TD. Also, I agree/concur with you in your comment above – because sometimes your codependent partner will tell you they don’t need help simply to egg you into asking, digging and begging them to tell you what’s wrong. Later, you’re wallowing in a drama pit and being told you suck because you’re doing it wrong… uhm, or so I’m told.

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  4. Wow. Good for you. I learned this lesson to a degree with my sister Judy who was determined to run into every brick wall she could find. I was the one who always helped her out of her jam. When she died, I learned that everybody thought they were the one who helped her out of her jam. She bamboozled us all. It was a difficult lesson.

    I’m really glad that you’re progressing. Even though I know things aren’t great for you now, whenever I can look back and see that I am not messing up in the same way, it makes me feel better.

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  5. Yes, exactly! At least you’re making progress.

    Hmm, I think I should check out that book… that description hits a little close to home. I’m with you though, I try now to just listen, give my sympathies and ask if help is needed. I find people often tell us about problems not because they are looking for a solution but to just talk about them.

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    • Yes! That’s it exactly! I used to jump all over someone’s problems for reasons I can’t fathom. Luckily, I’ve learned. Better late than never.

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  6. hizzah! love the last line. sums it up nicely. you got this.

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  7. Impressive TD. I am amazed how much you have accomplished in such a short time – large positive changes in your life. Keep up the great work!

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  8. I thought you were just really bossy and liked telling me what to do like that one time at band camp…

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  9. Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?

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  10. This is a great post, TD…and I’m pleased to hear of the progress you’ve made. You are right…it’s very difficult to help someone that won’t accept it.

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  11. I have the exact same problem, and I’m aware of it. But somehow, despite this awareness, when I am faced with a person who is self-destructing, something takes over. I just jump right back into “Fixer” mode. I an inexorably drawn toward fixing things. It’s weird. I drive a 14-year-old car, and a lot of my furniture is stuff I picked up at Goodwill and refurbished. I just…do this.

    Progress. I hope I can make progress as you have.

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  12. Hmm. I’ve noticed a change. I think. I’ve also noticed a change in myself for the better, I think. That said, I still haven’t taken your advice (though it is AT LEAST preying on my mind). But I will. Sometime. I wish I hadn’t promised now, cos I suck at promises. But there hardly seems a point while things are okay.

    Ack! So…I guess I know what you mean, kind of from both sides, really. BUT I like that you care, regardless.

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  13. Martha Kennedy // September 18, 2014 at 8:44 pm // Reply

    It’s really hard because co-dependency feels normal for us, even good. I need incredible awareness and discipline not to do it. It’s more stressful for us NOT to help than it is to walk away from someone who doesn’t want our help in the first place but uses us to foster their own self-image of being hopeless. Its a very messed up spiral. That book helped me, too.

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  14. I have that book – it’s fantastic. While I am not co-depedant per se, I certainly have some of those traits. I think the entire idea of letting go with love (so to speak) can be utilized by most, if not all, of us in different ways. As the book states, this is not just for wives of alcoholic husbands. My wife was never a co-dependant or enabler in my drinking days. The quote you used is bang on. The great thing about co-dependents is that they don’t allow the person they are enabling to suffer consequences of whatever it is they are engaged in. And so we become addicted, in a way, to the person who is acting out.

    But you know all this…I am just excited to see you on this journey. I don’t know you well enough to say that I am proud of you, but I will say it anyway.

    Cheers
    Paul

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  15. Well great post. I am very happy for the personal growth you have made, but it is sad that this was at the expense of some friendships…..

    I obviously see myself in your situations, needing very much to help people…. and letting people walk all over me….. mmmm…….but yea some people just can’t be helped as you say, they need to realize this for themselves. If because of this they think I’m an insensitive Bitch, so be it. I am already used to being judged on so many levels….. it just hurts so much more if it comes from someone you actually care about.

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  16. I don’t believe that it’s possible (or at least, for most of us) to turn our lives around immediately. Going cold turkey on stuff, not just beer or drinking, but also low self esteem and so on, is very hard. Breaking patterns takes time.
    So you are very right to be proud!

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    • Thanks, hon! Some things can be done cold turkey if you have the will power to do it. A lot of people don’t. Depends on the person and the circumstances.

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  17. I think, at times, I am both. The co dependent, and the person “sucked into a spiraling loop of self-destructive behavior.” That’s probably why some have walked away.
    Or else, they’re just an asshole. Could be that, too. Eh, who knows.
    I’m so glad you’re making progress. We’re all works in progress, you know?

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    • Not all of us are a work in progress. There are those who think they’re perfect the way they are. We should always be striving to be better people, no matter how good we are.

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      • That’s one of the reasons I miss Rara so much. She helped me to be my higher self. I know that sounds corny, but she was my mentor in that respect.

        I find myself asking, “What would Rara do?” a lot of the time. It’s usually the right answer.

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  18. What a wonderful post to read! Seriously. Codependency is tricky and pervasive. I know lots of people whose dependence on codependency is heartbreaking. I’m glad you found some clarity. I’m even more glad it came from within you and not from without; means it’ll stick better 🙂

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  19. Considering how cool & centred I am now would you believe I was horribly co-dependent & an enabler for most of my life? If a person is open-minded enough to want to improve themselves, they eventually come to the realization of how much they’re hurting themselves & others.

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  20. Progress is always good. Especially in self-awareness.

    Liked by 1 person

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