Often when people talk about how loving their parents were, how loving their spouse is or how loving they are, they cite two things: caretaking and sacrifice. While these two traits are usually thought of as positive, they can be used in a negative context.
A codependent is someone who constantly gives and sacrifices for others. They are people-pleasers who suffer from low self-worth, have weak boundaries and are often not true to who they really are in order to preserve relationships. Such people often get into relationships with narcissistic people who constantly take.
Probably the best definition of codependency I’ve ever heard was from Noel Bell who wrote, “The greatest hallmark of codependence is that someone else decides how you feel about yourself.”
I was floored reading that because it reflected exactly how I lived.
Of course, not all codependents are the same. For example, some have better self-worth than others. However, they all suffer from a low level of self-worth that causes them to abandon their own needs for others’ needs.
“Codependents confuse caretaking and sacrifice with loyalty and love.” — Ross Rosenberg
The quote above highlights the issue for the codependent. They cannot see that caretaking and sacrifice, as they use it, is not love. At all. When they are giving and giving, it isn’t completely selfless. They are trying to get something out of it.
Caretaking to a codependent is: “Oh, you poor thing. Let me make you into something ‘better’, and by ‘better’ I mean whatever it is I value.” One’s self-expression is only deemed as okay if it doesn’t bother the codependent.
Sacrifice to a codependent is: “Look at what I do for you! And this is how you repay me?” The codependent will do things for people and try to use it as a token to redeem love. Some would call that conditional love. I call it business. I don’t really see how that’s love any more than it is emotional prostitution.
This is largely how I was loved growing up. It is how I learned to love. Unfortunately, people have been at the receiving end of my own emotional prostitution. But as they say, awareness is the first step to recovery.
So what are loyalty and love? Loyalty is, “I’m here.” Love is, “You are your own person. Go and be it.”
With this in mind, there is no room for caretaking and sacrifice as the codependent uses them. Your romantic partner isn’t a child. You can offer support, but it is not your responsibility to bend over backwards for them, especially in order to receive love from them.
Furthermore, if you think this person needs your help, that would imply that they aren’t the best fit for you, wouldn’t it? In that case, let them go and live their life.
The deeper solution to curb codependent tendencies is to improve one’s self-esteem, to see that one is worthwhile and worthy of love as is. It doesn’t have to be purchased from someone if you give it to yourself.
When you do that, you will stop looking for others to tell you how to feel about yourself and you won’t chase love anymore. You will not tolerate any and every kind of treatment, so your boundaries get reinforced. You will know that each individual is responsible for their own emotional wellbeing and not aim to make others happy. You will never feel disappointed in your decision to love others because you genuinely value them and require nothing in return.