Codependency is a term that gets tossed around a lot but few seem to know what it really means. Even those who suffer from it can be completely unaware it’s operating in their lives.

Briefly defined, it is the loss of self, while caring for others.

These are the selfless members of families and society who have a tendency to give until they give out and though they appear to be able to do anything, they can’t do everything. This is particularly true when experiencing grief. A codependent is often the one who is doing all the doing for the funeral and it can become their undoing after the sad event is over. They are calling to notify everyone, contacting the funeral home and organizing catering, but all the while they are not catering to their needs to be comforted.

It is in the “doing” they lose sight of their feelings and it is a form of self-avoidance. It is too painful to feel loss and staying busy sustains the codependent in the short term but avoidance creates “a void” in the long term due to not properly processing grief in real time.

Many of them have also been the most likely to take on the lion’s share of caregiving for their family members in need. It appears to be a thankless job but the codependent’s identity may be based on how good they feel being “selfless”. However, they are becoming less of themselves in order to be the family fixer, champion or perfectionist.

Some codependents can seem like the most independent people as they take charge and do what needs to be done. They may receive accolades or compliments and often humbly say, “I’m just doing the right thing.” Though this is true, they are also receiving a place in the family or friendship dynamic that is unhealthy because they are subconsciously driven by a need to be needed and a fear of being abandoned or not feeling “good enough” to be loved. They do more than enough to feel good enough but it seems like it’s never enough. They like the way it feels to fix things and to “be there” for everyone but seldom is anyone there for them, particularly when they are in the throes of overwhelming grief.

It’s quietly lonely for a codependent, and though they may seem like they have it all together outwardly, inwardly they may be falling apart with sadness, loneliness or resentment. When you put grief on the top of that pile of toxic emotions, physical manifestations of illness may occur. Chronic fatigue, inflammation and immune deficiencies may result from running on the fumes of exhaustion.

The cry of a codependent in burnout is often, “I can’t take anymore!” What they really mean is, “I can’t give anymore”. If you or someone you know is going through grief as a codependent, it’s important for you to know 3 things.

  1. It’s okay not to be okay.
  2. It’s okay to ask for help.
  3. It’s okay to stop doing all the doing and take a restorative break.

I would know, I was a former codependent. It was the death of the last family member on my father’s side that changed me and gave me a wake-up call. As the last surviving “Joye” on this branch of the family tree, I wanted to learn how to get my joy back. It wasn’t easy and it required asking for help which codependents seldom find pleasant, and this is minimizing how difficult it is to ask for help. Minimizing pain is another symptom of codependency. These are the people, like me, who say “I’m fine” when they are not. Well, that was formerly me, but not now.

Take time to receive help while you are giving it and don’t be ashamed, feel guilty or be afraid to ask for it. You help others and others want to help you. Grief groups, professionals and OpentoHope.com resources are good places to begin living your life again after you suffer a loss. Allow yourself to be yourself when grieving. Being authentic when your heart is breaking can seem impossible for a codependent but it’s necessary to be honest with other people, and more importantly, with yourself.

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Mary Joye

For the past ten years I have been a private practice Licensed Mental Health Counselor. I'm a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional and a Florida Supreme Court Family Mediator. Grief resilience and trauma resolution is a large part of my practice. I was raised on the beach in Florida. My father was a psychiatrist and I worked in his office in my youth. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps. Instead, I chose to become a theatrical design major instead and graduated from the University of Florida in 1979. My first job out of college, KISS employed me as a make-up and wardrobe assistant for three years. It was quite an experience and a good background to study communications. Later in Nashville, I began songwriting, acting and performing professionally and am a member of BMI, ASCAP and a former member of the Country Music Association, Screen Actors Guild and The American Federation of Musicians. That career grew into a 20-year music ministry. I also wrote ad copy for XM radio, Texaco, The Filmhouse and currently write for two publications in Winter Haven, Florida, where I returned to take care of my ill and now deceased parents. I earned an MA in Counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2000. (Photo by Daniel DeCastro)

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