If you’ve jumped from one relationship to another for as long as you can remember, or if you feel complete only when you’re in a relationship – even when those relationships tend to be with the same type of negative partners over and over again – you’re more than likely struggling with codependency or love addiction.
Believe me, I know… I’ve struggled with both love addiction and codependency for years and am recovering from both.
As codependents, we typically perceive our own identities, our value, and our meaning in the world in terms of our relationships. And, while those relationships often revolve around our partners or family members, they can also be our relationships with work, substances, sex, or anything else we can objectify and feel we have some control over.
Of course, the truth of the matter is we don’t really have control over any of these things… no matter how much we may feel we do.
The only thing we can every really control is ourselves.
It’s our need to control something external from ourselves that leads to our anxiety about being alone.
But, being alone isn’t really the problem… It’s the feeling of loneliness we harbor deep inside that underlies our fears.
Unfortunately, as codependents, it’s far more likely that we learned from an early age to sacrifice our own wants and needs to keep others happy, to always be the “giver” in relationships, or to learn ways to try and escape the pain we felt inside than we did to respect, appreciate, and exercise any control over our own emotional responses. We certainly didn’t learn how to be in healthy give-and-take, win-win relationships or practice self-care!
This is where our loneliness comes from… We never learned to appreciate and enjoy ourselves and our own company. Our value was always determined in relationship to someone else.
Accordingly, no matter how well any of our relationships seem to start, we almost always end up feeling emotionally drained, unsatisfied and ultimately broken.
Yet, we either stay in those relationships, or go out and find other relationships just like them, because we’re incredibly afraid – even terrified – of being alone. What we often don’t realize is how lonely we feel even when we’re in a relationship!
This loneliness is the driving force that leads us to always seek out relationships with people or things. We’ll do almost anything not to feel the discomfort of being alone…
But again, being alone isn’t the problem… It’s our feeling of loneliness that’s the issue. And, since we bring this loneliness with us into all of our relationships, how can those relationships be anything but unhealthy?!?
Our loneliness doesn’t go away when we’re with others. We simply use our relationships to disguise our feelings of loneliness by feeling like we have something external over which we can exercise some control.
And, if we feel this lonely when we’re in a relationship, than actually being alone has got to be ten, or a hundred, or a thousand times worse. Right?
But, we have to learn to be alone before we’ll ever move beyond our feelings of loneliness.
Moving Beyond Loneliness
In order to overcome your fears of being alone and your loneliness, the first thing you have to do is acknowledge these issues. Simply be honest with yourself about your struggles and how you feel.
The next step is to recognize you need to make a change and your need help to do so.
As with any addiction, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever recover from love addiction or codependency if you don’t reach out for help. Without help, you’ll more than likely slip back into the same old relationship patterns – not because they’re comfortable, per se, but because they’re familiar.
What’s the saying? “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
Of course, what this expression really means is that you’d prefer to be in a relationship with a person you already know, even though you don’t like him or her, than with a person you don’t know.
Unfortunately, we usually don’t turn this expression around and apply it to our relationships with ourselves. But it is applicable!
All too often, people don’t do the work necessary to try and change themselves simply because they prefer the familiarity of their relationship with the self they already know, even though they don’t really like themselves, than with a self they don’t yet know.
I get it. Change can be frightening. And it’s not easy.
But, let me tell you… Once you get help and start to learn to appreciate and love yourself, there are a lot of truly wonderful people out there that ARE worth knowing… The first of which is YOU!
And you need to TRULY know, appreciate, and love yourself FIRST.
So, get the help you need… Create the change you desire… You deserve it!
- Get Professional Help – Find and hire a counselor, psychotherapist, or recovery coach who specializes in codependency or love addiction. These are specially trained professionals who can help you understand why you subconsciously seek out certain character traits and behaviors in your partners, develop recovery strategies and coping mechanisms to alleviate the anxiety and stress you feel about being alone, and help you improve your self-esteem and sense of worth so you can truly learn to appreciate and love you.
- Develop a Social Circle – Whether you attend a group such as Codependents Anonymous, join a tribe of likeminded people such as that offered here at Wake Up Recovery, or build a network of supportive friends that understand the struggles you’re going through, you need to surround yourself with people who will be there and support you so that you’re not alone as you address your feelings and fears of isolation and loneliness.
- Learn to Set Boundaries – I talk a lot about needing to set healthy boundaries, because it’s something with which love addicts and codependents constantly struggle. We often find it extremely difficult to say, “No.” Accordingly, we often find ourselves sidelining our own feelings and giving away our energy and even our sense of self to help others. Learning to set healthy boundaries doesn’t mean always saying, “No.” However, it does mean truly meaning yes when you say, “Yes!” and that’s something vital when it comes to improving your sense of self-respect, self-esteem, and self-worth.
- Do Something New – It may seem trite, but even simple things like taking a class, joining a group, learning about something new, getting out more and enjoying nature, or getting some exercise can all help you feel less lonely, as well as bring more balance and joy to your life.
Of course, all of these things are steps along the path of learning how to feel and be more comfortable with yourself, to be more autonomous, and to appreciate and love you, no matter what relationship you’re in or whether you’re in any relationship at all.
In the end, only one relationship truly matters, and that’s our relationship with our selves!
If you feel incomplete… if you’re looking for someone or something to “fix” you or make you feel complete… You’re going to attract people to you who are struggling with the same issues.
Only once you’re a whole person on your own can you enter into a relationship with someone else who’s also whole.
Only once you learn to appreciate and love being with yourself, can you then start to have a healthy, loving relationship with someone else.
Again, for better or worse, the relationship you have with yourself is at the core of every other relationship you have.
So, whether you’re currently in a relationship with someone else or alone this Valentine’s Day, take some time to reflect on the fact that being alone is perfectly normal. We all find ourselves alone from time to time. Being alone isn’t the problem. It’s feeling lonely that’s the problem. Then take some time today, tomorrow, and each day after that and start learning to enjoy being in your own company and be your own best friend. I guarantee it’s the best gift you’ll ever be able to give yourself.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
How comfortable do you feel when you’re alone? Do you enjoy time by yourself, or is the thought of being alone something you shy away from? Have you ever felt lonely even when you’re in a relationship? Have you learned to overcome your feelings of loneliness and, if so, how? Be sure to share your thoughts and questions using the comment section below so we can all learn from and help each other…