YouShouldYouShould: The Story Behind the Story AND Painting Number ONE!

(To read Codependency Symptoms, skip/scroll down to the bottom of the page)

Painting number ONE!!

(I'm starting from the middle of the book so by the time I paint the beginning and ending, they will look their best!)

The glorious moment of first-born assertion!!!  You go, Hippo!
Acrylic on Canvas


Why did I write "You Should You Should?"

(Ginny takes a deep breath...)

INTRO:  You Should You Should is about a passive, people-pleasing hippopotamus who is approached by different animal characters who tell him what he should do, none of which are things he actually wants to do but does anyway.  He eventually learns that through being assertive, the animals love and appreciate him for just being himself.

(Newcomers can read "You Should You Should" here)

Many have asked how the story "You Should You Should" has come about.  Those who know me even a little bit cocked their head with a smile and said, "Ginny... is this a story about you?"  (You smarties!)  Some who suffer from codependency and anxiety have read this story saying, "Yep!  I know this feeling exactly."  I'm going to take a moment to finally explain the story behind the story.

Well, it all started when...  (go ahead, picture me on one of those couches)

I was in the midst of anxiety, depression, counseling, support groups, and studying self-help literature about something called "Codependency."  As I became a Senior in the Illustration Program here, it was time to think about my Senior Project - we all have to do one of those in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program to graduate.  I decided I'd like to write and illustrate a children's book!  Duh.  ;)  But first I needed a story idea.  Learning and working hard to become a person who does NOT eat sleep and breathe for the purpose of pleasing other people was my main focus at the time, and I happened to also be thinking about how I rarely live by choices, I live by the demands of shoulds.  I was thinking about how I use to do anything just so people would like me, even painful and uncomfortable things, all with a smile.  I thought about how learning this lesson of giving merit to my own wants and feelings as a child might have saved me a lot of grief.  As I came to understand more, I also thought it might be cool to possibly write a series of children's stories teaching concepts and skills that I'm just barely learning now and wish I'd learned years ago. Hence my first story about an awkward passive hippo who learns to say no, to be assertive, to value his wants as well as the choice to simply be himself.  :)

So.  Codependency.  This term is complex and difficult to explain, and I'm still making sense of it in my own mind, but I'll be briefly discussing this more in future posts.  It can exist between spouses, parent-child, friends, roommates, etc.  We'll start with a list of characteristics for today. (Mental Health America) gives us this short list of symptoms:

A Few Characteristics of Codependent People

  • An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
    • ("You're too emotionally stable so I can't love you.  You don't need me to fix you.")
  • A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
    • ("I'll buy.  I drive.  I'll clean up.  I'll write you a million love notes.  I'll give you a hundred back rubs.")
  • A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
    • ("I'll spend all my money on you, skip class for you, take work off for you, text you all the time, and sleep 2 hours a night since you cry and tell me your problems, it if it means you'll be my best friend")
  • An extreme need for approval
    • ("I rearranged the furniture... are you SURE you like it?  Are you sure it's okay I came along on that trip last weekend?  Is this shirt alright?  Oh, ...should I not have laughed at that joke?  Because you didn't...")
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
    •  ("I don't really want to do that... wait but unless you want to actually never mind I love that idea let's do that because I'm not that important, just kidding, I'm sorry I mentioned it!"  "I'm sorry-...  Oh sorry-...  Sorry...")
  • A compelling need to control others  
    • ("What are you doing tonight?  I'll give you a ride.  Have you eaten?  What's wrong?  Do you need money?  Sit down and let me make your life better and make you happy, so that I can be happy.")
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others  
    • ("You said it's fine and you still love me... but I don't believe you."  "I'm going to stay miserable because I can't trust myself to get my needs met.")
  • Fear of being abandoned or alone  
    • ("Why didn't you say goodbye before you left?  Why didn't you call?  Why didn't you like what I cooked for you?  Do you not like me anymore?  Are you going to leave me?  Forget it.  I'm leaving you before you can leave me!")
  • Difficulty identifying feelings  
    • ("I'm fine ... I'm always fine ... I'm always happy ... unless you're not fine then I won't be fine until you're fine again ... gee I wonder when the last time I cried was besides the times I saw you cry)
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with intimacy/boundaries  
    • ("Yes you can come over.  Yes you can use my stuff.  Yes you can be in my personal bubble.  Yes you can take advantage of me because I can't say no.  And I'm fine."
  • Chronic anger  
    • (depending on which stage we're in - anger took me a while in therapy to feel but once I learned to accept emotions and feel, I was ALWAYS angry)
  • Lying/dishonesty 
    • ("Yeah, I like this movie" ... "I'd love to babysit your cat" ... "No,"-smile-"I don't mind that you're bailing on me for the 50th time, it's fine.")
  • Poor communications
  • Difficulty making decisions 
    • ("I don't know"  "I don't care"  "What do you think?")
  • And I'll include from other places I've read... Codependents are known to "should" on themselves. 
    • "I should always be happy.  I should make everyone else happy.  I should do what people tell me to do.  I should be perfect.  I should I should I should..."  Oy!  No wonder I have anxiety.
Now, to put simply, CODEPENDENT means believing "I'm dependent on you being dependent on me."  AKA:  "We love each other because we need each other" instead of "We need each other because we love each other."  Aka:  "I need you to need me."  Yes, codependency is considered an actual behavioral addiction, and as a result we lose contact with ourselves, our feelings, our needs, and feel awful shame if we try.  

In future posts ALONG with my art :) I'll discuss more about this people pleasing disease.  Such as who it affects, where it comes from, why we have it, how we behave, more symptoms, a questionnaire, how to treat it, anxiety, etc, and how children are related to all of it!  I'll only be speaking from my own learning and experience, and I do NOT claim to be a professional by any means.  Hahaha... yeah definitely not.  I'm still in recovery so... yeah.

I have a goal to write fun and playful children's books that teach skills to children and parents, skills that if are developed in childhood could save us a lot of grief and anxiety as adults.

Why children?

For one, I absolutely LOVE them; dude, kids are COOL people!  Also, my therapist explained a theory which states that the lenses through which we perceive our world develop by the time we're 6.  (I know right?)  I'm not saying ALL people who struggle with codependency or any mental illness start at age 6.  But at least, the seeds are usually planted in childhood and the behaviors are often learned from example.

You Should You Should's quote of the day:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

--The Serenity Prayer


  1. Ginny, this is amazing. I will definitely be buying your book. I just realized for the first time that I am 100% Co-dependant. I don't know how to fix it, but I'm sure glad you helped me realize it. I can't wait to read this book and your art is amazing! Love you.

    1. ShaRee!!! I love you and I'm SO glad to hear I could reach at least someone... but I'm even more glad it's you. :) I adore you ShaRee. Yeah... Learning you struggle with codependency is a VERY painful reality to accept in the beginning. But here I am a year later finally feeling like there's hope. :) I still have a long way to go. Thanks for so, so much for commenting.

  2. Great great post! Anya

  3. This is a very eye opening post, I keep looking at the examples you've shared and begin to look inside my own persona.

    I'm so happy that you are feeling more expressive and are finding the courage to share these things. You are fantastic!

    1. I know exactly what you mean, Stewart Mortimer. And thanks-it's not easy. :) You've always been very supportive and I hope you know I appreciate you!

  4. Soooooo......will the book be out for Christmas shopping????

    1. Haha, I wish! Unfortunately it will be ready by Fall 2013. The digital version for ebook should be ready for this Spring though...

  5. Ginny, I read your post on LinkedIn which led me here. What a fabulous book and a blessing to so many children (and adults) who read it. I do not have small children, but I will be buying your book for myself and will buy for anyone I can who has small children. This is a true gem (as well I suppose you are too). Thank you for this gift.

    1. Thanks Heather, that means a lot! Glad you found me:). I'm glad you see the value here as well. And it means a lot to hear you find it THAT valuable that you'd want to share it with others you know. Wow, thank you for commenting.

  6. Hi Ginny. Well done for being brave enough to talk about the story behind the story. I suspect there is at least some codependency in all of us, but that some personalities are more prone to it than others. There is much of what you have written in my own background, and I was helped through it by similar things to you: the unconditional love of friends and family, my faith, gentle teasing, accountability and honesty, and a situation I was forced to either work through or end my university studies. I have since found that anger can be used to advantage since in that moment you take control and say "no!", just like Hippo.

    Speaking of Hippo, the painting looks really good. Have you decided against watercolor in favour of acrylic, or are you planning to mix your media?

    1. Roelant you have been quite the faithful follower and I truly enjoy hearing from you. Haha, bravery... I still consider deleting this whole post every day. Thank you. Yes, I'd agree that many if not all can find these characteristics in themselves--we all want to be liked and don't want to cause contention or hurt others feelings. Which I believe is why the message of being ourselves is so wide and repeated through time, because it's so easy to forget we are important too. Then there is the extreme case that truly needs help climbing out of the hole they dug themselves into. All can benefit here I believe. Totally agree with the anger comment! Anger isn't bad. It serves it's purpose, and we get to learn to control it for good like you said. :) I have to say... Saying no feels so good when you learn to drop the shame!

      Glad you like the hippo! I talked to my advisor today and he gave me some advice of changes that will need to be made.

      I'm sticking with acrylic! For now... :) I'm actually starting another ebook right now in watercolor though... I'll be sharing it here a little bit too once it gets going!

  7. I think I have a problem.

    This is a very eye opening post.

    Infinitely glad you are my roommate.

    1. Yeah... I've noticed that you and I are pretty similar. ;) Crazy stuff huh??! Yay for learning.

      You are awesome. I mean, check out that little pic of you in the snow!!!! That's just awesome! ;)

      We can do this.


I would love to hear from you!