Considering that there are various types of relationships in our lives, we must acknowledge that the flavour of our relationships can vary as well. We can enjoy the awesomeness of a healthy friendship, romance or kinship or we can suffer the pain of the codependent-narcissist variety.
Maybe you aren’t a textbook codependent or narcissist, or not in a relationship with a textbook version of these, but there are traits that are tied to these labels. As a result, an otherwise healthy, interdependent relationship looks and feels quite different from a codependent one. Here are five examples.
1. Feeling free to be the real you versus losing yourself to the other person
No one should enter a relationship to accommodate someone else. The point is to enjoy who each person is, exactly as they are. Unfortunately, as children who had to deal with the judgment and condemnation of our parents, we may have learnt that love and relationships are about accommodating others to the extent that we change who we are and drop our own values.
The codependent learns that if they want love, they have to sacrifice a part of themselves for it. They call this compromise, when in reality, it’s just them cutting their arm off so that they can get love and hold hands with another.
The healthy versus codependent relationship is about interdependence versus enmeshment. In the healthy relationship, two people are living their independent lives together. In co-dependency, two people get together to fill their voids of incompletion. They live as if they are one person and each loses their respective sense of self. They get their self-esteem and self-worth from each other because they do not have it within. Validation is always external.
2. You can depend on the other person versus getting little support in return
If you’re carrying most of the emotional lifting in the relationship, you’re in co-dependency. The selfish partner isn’t there to cater to the codependent’s needs. They are there for the codependent to cater to their needs and they have an excellent radar for scouting people who will cater to them. In contrast, codependents have a great radar for scouting people to cater to, for this is where they will find their self-worth. If someone needs them, then they are worthy of love. For the more narcissistic partner, friend or relative, they will think they are worthy of love simply because someone is giving them love.
3. Helping versus Enabling
A relationship will often see two people grow and become better versions of themselves. Such a relationship is a blessing to the people involved. On the other hand, a relationship where you see someone’s destructive tendencies and these tendencies are encouraged or not spoken about in fear of losing the other person, is going to eventually become a nightmare. The thing that one is letting slide or ignoring could be used against them one day.
Yet, there’s something more insidious at play here. If you see your partner, friend or relative doing something that you can see is going to cause problems and you do nothing about it for your own benefit, then doesn’t that indicate that you’re in this relationship more so for yourself than the other person?
4. Honesty versus Dishonesty
You’re human; therefore, you’re going to make mistakes. When in a healthy relationship, both you and your partner know this. Forgiveness is a simple matter. However, in co-dependency, one would feel lucky to be forgiven.
People lie because they think they are going to be abandoned or hurt for the mistakes they make. Codependents especially have a problem because they come off as perfect beings. They can never do any wrong and they are always forgiving. Narcissists might be the ones that are known to throw tantrums but co-dependents can too, when they eventually reach their boiling point. If the codependent is the one in the wrong, they spiral into a vat of shame, not dissimilar to the one they found themselves in when a child.
5. Healthy boundaries versus weak boundaries
One has to know what is okay and not okay for themselves. One has to know what they can tolerate and what they cannot. Furthermore, one has to communicate this to others. This is how you set boundaries. Two people in a relationship have to respect the emotional gates the other person has set. Failing to do so will have consequences.
But if you’re permissive, people will ransack the house as far as you will let them. You let people in your house because you’re lonely and you want someone to love you, even when your microwave, speakers and cash go missing every time they pop in for a visit.
You don’t want conflict and you definitely don’t want to lose the morsel of love that you think you have. But when they eventually leave you high and dry, you will feel quite resentful. Too bad you played a role in what happened by having weak boundaries. You felt bad about what was happening and said nothing because you didn’t want to lose the other person. As a result, you lost yourself (and possibly your stuff).
What is common to the five points of healthy relationships is a knowing that one is enough as is. You’re free to be who you are, flaws and all. You play your part in the relationship due to your respect and admiration of the other person and acknowledge when you’re the only one giving and take requisite actions. You want the other person to be happy and do well, with or without you. You tell the truth about how you feel and what you can tolerate.
All of these things imply an inner security of self-worth and good self-esteem. Without these things, you will always try to use external things such as relationships to feel good about yourself. It is a ploy that has yet to be successful and never will.