Are you Co-dependent?

by Kathy Mann

In my corporate life I spent a lot of time mentoring graduates and I can tell you that it was the best part of my experience. Better than the projects that saved the bank millions. I felt appreciated and I knew that I was making a difference. The relationships were mutually beneficial even though the graduates thought that only they were getting something out of it. They were enthusiastic, grateful and eager to learn. I found working with them enormously rewarding.

The example I used above is a healthy relationship, with give and take and both parties benefiting. However, there are relationships that are not so healthy. I’ve written previously about the importance boundaries in order to keep relationships healthy. An unhealthy relationship could also be a co-dependent one.

According to Wikipedia, “Co-dependent 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. Among the core characteristics of co-dependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and identity.”

I tend to be the reliable one. I tend to be the person who always attends or hosts the important family functions even though I’m struggling with my health and looking after two small children. I wonder if people appreciate how difficult it is to be the strong one all the time. It can be exhausting – an unnecessary drain on my already low energy reserves.

Being strong and being capable means that you can attract people into your life who need help and support. They might appear competent to others but around you they are needy in terms of the reassurance and acknowledgement they require on a regular basis. Of course it’s nice to be needed and I enjoy encouraging people and giving them opportunities for growth. But I don’t enjoy it when people rely on me for their future happiness. It actually makes me quite angry that someone would put that on me.

What kind of friend would I be if I placed my hopes and dreams in the hands of another? I think that’s unfair. I would never burden anyone with my wellbeing psychologically, emotionally, physically or career wise. There are many who feel that it is their manager’s responsibility to nurture their career. Why would you put your future in the hands of another? What guarantee do you have that they know what you want, and will spend their time and energy on getting it right? Surely, people are too busy spending their time and energy on their own happiness pursuit?

The trouble with running a business and being the ‘boss’ is that people think it’s up to you to sort out their career path. They assume that you’ll always be there for them to lean on and to reassure them that they’re fantastic. No. My health has collapsed from a number of factors but one of those is being under the burden of obligation to others for too long.

I now realize that I’m fully entitled to shake off those hanging onto my coat tails and to insist that the relationship changes or ends. I’ve got enough to carry around with caring for a family, getting my health right and finding a new career path. I certainly can’t be propping up other people if I want to get well.

You are responsible for your career. A good manager will keep an eye out for opportunities and help you grow in order to equip you for future roles. But they are not accountable – YOU are! Take action to make your life better instead of lamenting your troubles when people don’t deliver your happiness. Am I the only one who appreciates how ridiculous that sounds?

Kathy Mann is an author and speaker with a special interest in stress management. She is passionate about guiding people towards their best lives possible in harnessing their strengths and innate talents. She offers a stress re-framing service, which shifts beliefs to be more constructive around stress. She does this by educating her clients about the variety of stress responses that exist and how we can benefit from them. Kathy’s books Avoiding Burnout and Harnessing Stress are available at major retailers and online at Amazon. She is a wife and mother of two beautiful daughters and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

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