A few months ago I got a burst of courage to add some more depth to my blog, by making it more than a place where people can learn about art and illustrating a book, but ALSO a place to talk about the purpose of my story You Should, You Should, which included codependency and other mental health awareness, since that's what inspired me to write this story (see links under "therapy posts" in the margin to the right). I was learning things that blew my mind and helped me SO much. I wondered who else in the world like me could benefit if I were to share a bit here and there. I was pretty excited about it, and felt good about the response I was getting from the first few posts, but then I got one response in particular from someone close to me that scared me away from the topic for a while.
Well... I don't know if this is because of the mood I've been in this weekend or what, but I'm feeling the need to push myself out of the comfort zone again! I've learned that when I'm feeling isolated and ashamed, that pushing myself to new boundaries seems to help. Conquer the fear. Kill the shame.
Recently I've discovered and studied something called "Dependent Personality Disorder" and brought it up with my therapist, quite worried this would be my diagnosis. He confidently assured me I did not have the disorder. Phew! He said, "You have the tendencies, but not the disorder. The difference between you and someone with the disorder is that you are aware, and uncomfortable in these frames of thinking and behaving, and you know it's not right. You're not happy this way and making huge progress to change. Someone in the disorder would be completely blind to it, and denying that they even have a problem, because in their mind that's completely normal." He opened the manual and read the list of symptoms, all of which I'd already studied, and we discussed them. Possibly a few years ago, had I talked to a therapist, they probably could have told me I had the disorder. Thank goodness I can see it now! You're welcome to google it if you're interested, but I want to show you something he showed me a few months ago.
There are three types of relationships:
(well at least three that we discussed that day)
He drew the following on the board to demonstrate what each looks like. The "1" represents someone who is healthy. The "1/2" represents someone who is broken and needs someone else to feel whole.
1/2 + 1 = 1 1/2 ....or in other words....
me + them =
O (doesn't work)
Based on neediness
In this situation, the broken person needs and clings to a healthy person in order to feel whole and will do everything they can to make the healthy person stay and be what they need. The only healthy option for the healthy person in this situation is to get out of the relationship. If they don't, there is a chance that the broken person will suck them dry like a leach, and drag them down and make them become also another 1/2. Which then changes the dynamic to codependent...
1/2 + 1/2 = 1
me + them = I
Based on neediness
Two broken people need each other to need each other in order to feel whole. These are the ones who say they can't live without the other, they are my other half, we do everything together, we can't exist or live or function without each other.... etc. My therapist used his hands and arms to act as leaches as he said, "They are basically like two leeches who suck each other dry," his hands started eating each other at the wrist and moved up the arms, "until they've eventually both exhausted each other and have nothing left to give each other, then break apart and look for new broken 'hosts' to attach to." His snake hands separated and seemed to be searching the room. This is also a dangerous relationship... two broken people can make things messy if things get too dramatic, or if alcohol or drugs creep in. This is why we see some miserable abusive relationships last as long as they do. Because in a lot of codependent mind frames, they can't survive without the other. See my post on very specific codep symptoms here.
1 + 1 = 2
me + them = us
Based on choice/agency/respect
Two whole people come together by choice. They both have their own lives, interests, goals, friends, and feel good about themselves individually, allowing them to love each other simply because they love each other. They then make room for and accommodate one another because they choose to. They develop a need for each other because they love each other. Instead of the other relationships who love each other because they need each other.
(Why no "independent?" Because people do need people, and "independence" doesn't include needs at all.)
Then he said, "So how do we know what kind of relationship we're in? Well, we can tell by their symptoms." He wrote on the board a list which included:
Symptoms of Codependent/Dependent Relationships:
- Artifical Rules (e.g. You must talk to me every night before bed... You must always sit by me... etc)
- Silent treatments
- Guessing games/Pouting
Soooooo.... what does this have to do with children's books and Hippos? Often times children feel broken, unsure of themselves, and play out all these same scenarios trying to feel good. With their friends, with their parents, with their siblings. Here's the thing... we can't teach kids what we can't do for ourselves. If we aren't "whole" then we're probably not taking care of ourselves. We're trying to make someone else what we need them to be, in order for us to feel better. But that is never, never going to work. It's an endless road of countless difficult relationships and misery. But the REAL KEY is to not only work on keeping our relationships with others healthy and killing the unhealthy symptoms, the real key is to work on our relationship with ourselves.
So, I've written a story of a large awkward Hippo who learns to stop depending on pleasing other people in order to feel loved and accepted. He finally learns to take a stand and just be who he is, without apology. To his surprise, his friends aren't disappointed at all. More than that, they enjoy him more for being himself. What matters most to Hippo though, is that he let go of needing and depending and clinging to their acceptance. Had they not liked what he had to offer, he would have been fine! Which is awesome! He learned to validate himself, and that's what matters.