It can be really difficult to ask for what you need. Or rather, I should say, it can feel really difficult to ask for what you need. The actual asking isn’t, in the grand scheme of things, rocket science, but our minds can trip us up and have us believe otherwise.

I come from a long line of codependents who aren’t good at expressing their needs. But nonetheless, if you failed to meet those unspoken needs, you could be sure of punishment in some form or another. It was like being trapped in the non-whimsical version of Wonderland where up is down and down is up. Except for when it’s not. Confused yet?

Growing up, I watched most of the women in my family care taking for other people. Most of this energy was focused on the significant man in their life, but it certainly carried over to just about everyone, including neighbors, coworkers, and friends. What I took away from this was that other people did not have to take responsibility for themselves, because it was my job to take care of them. And while I wasn’t allowed to express my own needs, I sure as hell could resent the world for “placing” this burden on me.

Along with this false sense of responsibility came a false sense of control. If you regularly find yourself thinking, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!” with an air of resentment and superiority…well, you may have a touch (or a bushel) of codependent traits. Step on into the Club House.

While this control can give you the illusion of power and safety, it’s a house of cards. Everything is dependent on what other people do, say, and think, and one wrong look or word can cause the whole thing to come crashing down, leaving you feeling insecure and panicked. Because the truth is, unless you’re dealing with an infant (and I mean an actual baby, not an adult acting like they’re still in diapers), you can never control another human being. It’s impossible. Stop trying.

We can construct all of these elaborate systems in our heads that “prove” how much control we have over another person, but it’s just that: in our heads. True power comes from having mastery and healthy control over ourselves. No one else.

If your internal state is a mess, it’s much “easier” to focus on other people’s problems. If you seem to be drawn to drama like gum to hair, you might be using the constant crises to distract yourself from what’s going on in yourself. And if you surround yourself with people who always “need” help, it’s easy to feel superior, because, on the surface, it looks like you have it all together in comparison to those walking train wrecks.

For me, the end result of all of this dysfunction was a feeling of isolation, resentment, and exhaustion. This started to manifest in my body in myriad ways: migraines, an incredibly tight jaw and shoulders, lower back weakness, etc. My body was becoming encased in rigid layers of control, and my back was, quite literally, feeling the burden of all this excess baggage that I was dragging around.

If any of this resonates with you, there are plenty of resources available, because there are a lot of us codependents out there! Books like Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Caring For Yourself can be a great way to gain understanding of your own thought and behavioral patterns and learn tools to create healthier habits. There are Codependents Anonymous groups in many areas, and talking with a qualified therapist can also work wonders.

If you take anything away from this post, know that as much as it may feel as if there is no other way to live (“if I stop taking responsibility for this stuff, everything will fall apart!”) or that you’d rather die than relinquish this control (I know the feeling well), you do have choices. They may be hard to see right now, but there are an infinite number of options waiting for you. The more clouded mental layers you peel away, the more options you will see, and choice by choice you can create a new way of life free from the chains of codependency.

It all starts with one step.

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