#3. You take on issues that aren’t your own
It’s great to be concerned about someone else’s struggles and caring about them. In fact, that is a positive and desirable trait.
However, there was a time in my life when I thought I could help out everyone. I felt great at first but eventually, I was exhausted and drained and had no idea why.
I took on everyone else’s burdens and left no time for myself. I didn’t have the energy for myself and just… lost myself completely.
The only way to be the best version of ourselves is to actually put time and effort into it. If you put even a quarter of the energy that you put into others into yourself… it would make a world of difference.
I’m admitting here and now that I have always had a big problem being codependent with people. My best friend of 35 years, Susan, is my first memory of acting that way. In high school, she was in a few of my classes, but I wanted her in every single one of them. If it didn’t happen, I just wouldn’t go to that class permanently. At one point, we had our schedules arranged so we had six out of seven classes together. It made me feel calm and content.
My therapist has a great analogy for codependency. She told me to imagine two roller-coasters crossing over each other but not touching. The codependency happens when one of them jumps the track and begins to ride on the other. Then the one track is conceivably carrying two coasters, still trying hard to be strong but carrying the weight of the other at the same time. It’s just not sustainable.
Empathy is a good — no, wonderful — trait to have. An empath can make people feel seen and understood, possibly for the first time. They are loyal and loving and always make time when you need them. They also know when it’s time to gently let you solve things on your own. They don’t jump in and try to fix everything, knowing that there is learning within the experience. They are able to set boundaries and stick to them without letting anybody bulldoze all over them.
I’m still best friends with Susan. I no longer cry when I text her and she only texts me back a “thumbs up” emoji. We are moms now as well as wives with careers. Neither of us has the time to follow each other around, but when we touch base it’s like no time has ever passed. I don’t feel like I have to smother her anymore so she won’t forget me. She fills me in about what she’s doing, and I can be content enough with that. I’m grateful to have a friend like her.
I’m riding my own roller-coaster now, wind in my hair, screaming at the top of my lungs. It feels amazing and free.