Story of Healing From Childhood Neglect

Thanks to an anonymous audience member for allowing us to share his personal story and the wisdom he’s gaining…

“Trying to be better than you were yesterday is more mature than trying to be better than another person is today.”

My Codependent Upbringing

My father was a pastor of a big church. He was also an alcoholic, later replacing his alcoholism with workaholism, and eventually he was in charge of AA meetings and the church’s counseling department. Through his work, I became aware that many families out there are dysfunctional. Ironically though, I never really thought about how dysfunctional my own family was, and how unhealthy some of our habits and behaviors actually were. I’m only now realizing what dysfunctions I have, as I’m now married and starting my own family.

One behavior I picked up at a young age was the act of putting others’ needs first, and this is what started my struggles with codependency. I was incapable of speaking up for myself or even expressing my own needs or issues, and I allowed myself to be treated poorly. For example, let’s say a family member did something that offended me. I wouldn’t express the hurt if it was a major holiday or if there were other people around. I would wait until the other person and I happened to alone, then depending on the mood of the other person I might confront them. If the other person was having a bad day or was not feeling well, I would choose not to express my feelings, but instead I would bury them deeper into the hurt and pain of what they did. This would eventually turn into resentment, anger, and bitterness. This was a hard habit to break, and it’s something I still struggle with from time to time.

Often times growing up, I would see my mother do this with people, especially with my father. He was absent a lot and I think that was really hard on my mom. I think my dad was searching for his identity, or maybe a clean slate. He’d work really long hours, sometimes twelve hours or more per day, then he’d come home and fall asleep.

Both my parents had been going to support groups while I grew up, but only recently I started to understand how helpful support groups can be. My parents struggled badly with boundaries, sometimes being way too rigid with control, and other times so loose that they’d get tired of it.

Ultimately, we as a family didn’t get enough time together. By the age of fourteen and onwards I hated my family, especially my father. Now, I don’t believe this was just normal “teenage hormones”; although my parents would encourage us to speak our feelings out, they wouldn’t really make time for it or listen to us. I didn’t really feel connected much with my family, I didn’t really feel noticed or important, so out of that I took up this identity like I was more of a sidekick character in my own story of life. I made my identity in supporting my mom while dad was away, but I never really liked that role. I felt like I was being used but never knew why. Codependency intertwined with a lot of thoughts, feelings and habits I picked up as a kid, teenager and adult. I had a long-term longing to be important and valued, and got short term satisfaction from being a “helper” when dad wasn’t around. I would have to comfort my mother (half out of empathy and half because I felt like that was my role, especially after her brother died). She went through a period of depression and didn’t really want to do anything. At times when she needed dad to give affirmation or a hug, or even help out around the house, it became my job while my father would sleep.

I needed a mom and a father; someone to at least check up on me and talk to me. But instead I would have to guess and adapt to the mood of my parents. I got pretty good at anticipating my parents’ needs, keeping things together and falling through the cracks when I needed to.

My Experience with Al-Anon

I went to Ala-teen in my preteens. Growing up I didn’t fully give myself to the program, as I didn’t really understand it at that age. It was just nice to be with other kids that could relate to me instead of judging me. So for a few years it was a nice safe place to connect and really talk about things that we felt like we couldn’t talk about with our families. I strongly recommend support groups, especially because you do not have to defend, save or be responsible for anyone but yourself, and that’s liberating. When people expect you to care for them, often that care is one-sided or “you take care of me, and in return I’ll give you purpose and make you feel useful”. This is a lie that can be very damaging to you and your future relationships. We were not made to carry everything or drop everything instantly just for short-lived ego stroke or purpose. Our value, identity and character does not come from other people, and cannot be given or taken by anyone else.

Recovering from Codependency

At a certain point I realized I needed to change. I had spent so long resenting and being angry at people that my physical body would hurt when I felt this way.

It’s take a toll on your body when you push your feelings down instead of talking them out or voicing them. It’s like holding your arm out straight with a full glass of water in your hand; a person can only take so much before they’ve had enough. I’ve gotten a lot better at saying how I feel during conflicts, and processing those feelings. I can see my responsibilities and the consequences of my own actions, and not be swallowed by the other persons’ feelings, thoughts or opinions. Trying to mature and seeing where I can grow helps me understand my issues and the thoughts and behaviors I need to alter. I still work on expressing myself and not indulging my codependent patterns; it can still be hard for me. In life you can be surrounded by purpose, but miss that purpose entirely because of trying to get it from the wrong place.

What I’ve Learned About the Nature of Codependency

One of my lowest points of codependency involved trying to be perfect for my wife. I tried hard not to cause conflict because she already has a stressful job, and I wanted her life at home to be peaceful.

There have been many times where I’ve failed at setting boundaries and expressing myself or saying “no”. You have to take each day, one at a time. Trying to change habits and behaviors is not easy, especially while others around you are not necessarily changing theirs too. You can only change yourself. Even after you successfully express your feelings, the other person may or may not even care. At the end of the day, you are simply not in charge of other people or responsible for what happens to them. You have to let that go.

The more we try and control, the more other people will either shut us out or shut us down. Codependency can be a selfish thing because it focuses on us and how we are ultimately trying to protect ourselves. We can never truly know a persons’ needs until they speak up or we ask questions. I don’t know about you, but I’ve made many mistakes thinking my wife or family will be better if we all do it “this way” – my way. It will crash and burn almost every time. Each day we get a new chance to become a better version of ourselves, and that should become our benchmark. Trying to be better than you were yesterday is more mature than trying to be better than another person is today. We are, after all, as healthy as we want to be, and it’s up to us to see what the reality of unmet needs are for ourselves.


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