“Codependency* has no respect for age, color, social standing, or sex.”
Anne Wilson Schaef
We had just finished a terrific sushi dinner in New York City. We were enjoying a double date with D and his wife who lived in New Jersey. D had helped us find a babysitter, so we could enjoy driving his little hot rod and a night in the city.
The saké was good enough that D asked his wife to take the wheel home. He had keenly spotted a cop nearby. The police officer strolled toward us as we walked to our car.
We were high on the fun of a city meal, resplendent in smart casual clothes, good food when the officer inquired about our evening. We could all tell he assumed we were urban, young professionals. Important people. Living it up in the Big Apple.
I suppose we could have easily given that impression. But before stepping into the sleek silver car D’s wife laughed and said,
“Oh no, I’m just a New Jersey housewife.”
Her casual humility stuck with me, even eight years later. She was completely grounded, then and now, in her normal status.**
She still doesn’t put on airs. She owns her normal plot of earth, small though it may seem to others.
Under pressure, she held to the normality of her life.
Two years ago, I wrote in my journal about “the cult of specialness.” I included a list of ways I had held to being better, unique, chosen, a stand-out.
I put a connection together then that still ripples out into healing.
Specialness is linked to the widest mental infection in our world today: codependency*. And since codependency is both misdiagnosed and misunderstood, since codependency is a disease that our current culture encourages, coddles, even overtly praises, it’s imperative to speak out about the problem.
Over the years, I have held onto characteristics that helped me feel special simply because I couldn’t stand the possibility that I could be overlooked. The reasons behind this are varied and private.
Still, specialness wasn’t just my special problem. Many people hold onto specialness as a way to cope, to convince themselves they will never be abandoned, to refuse to face grief, to keep going in a dark world, to stay relevant, central, known. But, specialness is a false god, a Turkish Delight, an addiction that creates more dependency than healing.
Once you’re special because of x, you must keep up x, or risk abandonment.
Nothing so satisfies a codependent as to hear “I’ve never been able to talk to anyone like I can talk to you.” I nearly married the wrong guy because he said that to me. If you’re convinced you’re actually better or more special than most the people you meet, you are easy prey.
Narcissists are hungry to find “special” people. Narcs know they are superstars at putting people on temporary pedestals.
- “You smell like Catalina Island.”
- “I want to make you the most important person in my life.”
- “Vote for me and change the world.”
Narcs are drawn to codependents, people who need to be special more than they want normal human love. Narcs know codependents will put up with a shell of a person, just for that pedestal. That’s why I believe there’s more evidence that President Obama is a narcissist than President Trump. Obama made people feel incredibly special for choosing him. Trump just leaves you wondering if you’ll still have your job when you’re through.
Narcs don’t leave you wondering. Narcs make you feel like a million bucks, then they disappear. The charm-disappearing act is their speciality.
And if we want to be special, narcs will flock to us like fruit flies to ripe bananas. It’s impossible to keep them away. There is only one cure. And like most real cures it’s painful and it’s long. But it works.
Recognize and accept your normal status. Learn to walk as a normal woman, a normal man. A member of the human race. Not raised above or stooping below. Just like D’s wife, hold the normal plot you’re given.
I’m just a homeschooling mom who paints and writes. I’m gifted in painting, but I cannot fix a broken dock. I have great hair but so do millions of others. I’m strong at intuition and reading people, but quick to be prideful and judgmental. I’m organized, but not humble. I have big dreams, but we’re renting homes right now, trying to find our long term place. Nice to meet you.
And friends may say “No, you’re more.”
And I say, “Sure, I’m more to you, to God, because you love me.”
And suddenly we see how being loved (without being central to anything) is actually better than being special. Being seen as myself without standing on the pedestal is the true salve that heals us.
And so, over the years, I shed the special costumes, and the targets slip off with them. The fruit flies go somewhere else. I no longer need someone to place me higher than I ought to be. And so I no longer need the narcs, the charmers, the addicts. And they cannot find me so easily.
This means I have a chance at real friendship, where we stand at the same level, looking at the same thing, delighted at the calm goodness in our lives. Which really is tremendous and special.
Friendship is special, because God gave it to me, not because I’m the only one who has it.
Want more ways to heal from codependency? That’s what this September will be about. Forward this to a friend, share in the comments. Let’s not stay in silence or loneliness about this epidemic.
*Co-dependency is a disease within the addictive process. Co-dependents need to fuse with someone else’s needs to validate their own. In clinical terms they’re “externally referent.” Codependents, like all addicts, are characterized by many signs: dishonesty (denial, projection, delusion), not dealing with feelings, control, confusion, perfectionism, fear, rigidity, judgmentalism, depression, inferiority/grandiosity, self-centeredness, external referencing, etc. As a term, “co-dependent” was coined to describe the enabling partner in an alcoholic relationship. The alcoholic is dependent on his substance, but the co-dependent is also addicted, not to alcohol but to the place they play in the addiction. Codependency is actually present before alcoholism and when untreated, alcoholism is the result. For a codependent, one fudged truth about who they really are is like a first drink for an alcoholic. Even while alcoholics find treatment, their codependent partners are often overlooked and even shamed for finding sobriety. Codependency has diseased most our relationships, in the family, the church, in education and politics. And our culture is invested in keeping people away from healing. For a short, smart book on the topic see Co-Dependence: Misunderstood-Mistreated by Anne Wilson Schaef.
** I know, I know, compared to the rest of the world she’s privileged. But that is not the point of this story. The point is, compared to the way she was perceived, she chose to self-identify as more humble.