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Getting Personally Secure: Moving Past Fear of Abandonment & Codependent Behaviour

Life changes dramatically when you fully take on the job you already have of being responsible for you. Many of the people I hear from both here on my courses and through Baggage Reclaim are like ‘old Nat’. They’re looking for someone else to step in and be responsible for their happiness, their worth and even their mistakes. They’re basically thinking and acting in some respects as if they are still the child they were back then or as if the world is exactly the same or as if the world itself is a massive replica of their family dynamic. It’s as if their childhoods are assumed to have been dress rehearsals for ‘how things are’ and that there is no other way to be other than the way that was decided, assumed, or even imposed upon them.

There’s a lot of looking for people to essentially be a parent. Before I began addressing my emotional baggage and looking after me, I behaved as if I needed to make sure I didn’t scare away daddy and as if I was in trouble with mummy or dealing with criticism from her. I felt like a frustrated child in an adult’s body at times. I was in adult relationships, but I was making my life about getting love, approval and validation that I didn’t get in childhood.

Being personally secure means being secure in who you are, meeting your pertinent emotional, physical, spiritual and mental needs, and doing so in an unconditional fashion. You don’t keep chopping and changing how decently you treat you based on whether you’ve made a mistake, or whether you’re in a relationship or whatever. You practise self-compassion, empathy, and balanced ownership of blame instead of taking on other people’s feelings and behaviour.

Being personally secure is about owning your own.

It is pivotal that you recognise something fundamental about adulthood: the only person who can truly abandon you in the sense that a child experiences abandonment, is you. That’s abandonment in the sense of not having the ability to take care of you and having a basic human right to be parented. You do have the ability to take care of you even if you have to learn it as a new habit. Your time to be parented in the sense that you’ve been looking for, was when you were a child.

Ironically, people who have abandonment issues are the chief abandoners in their own lives.

It’s harrowing to experience abandonment as a child especially because you don’t get to be the child you imagine every other kid gets to be. You’ve had to think about or do things that children in other circumstances don’t have to and maybe don’t face until adulthood. So yeah, adulthood can feel exhausting at times because it feels like you’ve spent your whole life or most of it already taking responsibility for so much stuff, that you want to have a break. You want somebody to come along and take the weight off you.

  • You want somebody to love that child within you that so desperately wants to be acknowledged, to be taken care of, to be loved like you’re the most precious thing in the world.
  • You want somebody else to feel the heat of ‘mistakes’ and ‘failure’.
  • You want somebody to give you the chance to make things right even though the things that you are trying to make things right about are not and were not ever supposed to be your responsibility in the first place.

When you’re personally secure, you will not dream of throwing your life down the pan to pursue a fantasy never mind do it; you will choose a relationship that allows you to be you and to continue to live your own life. You certainly won’t use relationships as a way to escape your own identity and your life.

When you’re personally secure, you feel hurt, upset, frustrated and angry when you experience disappointment but what you don’t do is think that you’ve ceased to exist or that you’ve ceased to have any value due to that disappointment.

When you’re personally secure, you recognise that yeah, you’re human and that no doubt you’ve made some mistakes both big and small, but that you are not and were not ever to blame for the inadequacies of one or both of your parents. You deserved a childhood, you deserved to be nurtured, cared for, respected, and if this did not happen, that is a failing of your parents and caregivers, not you.

Each time you make other people responsible for meeting all or most of your needs, desires, and expectations and/or you attempt to make yourself accountable for meeting all or most of another person’s needs, desires, and expectations even if it means compromising you, you are engaging in codependent behaviour. (Or co-dependent behaviour if you’re American).

Codependency is excessive emotional reliance on another person. Incidentally, this isn't the same as when shady people accuse you of being "needy" for not being willing to accept crumbs.

Codependency is excessive emotional reliance on another person. Incidentally, this isn’t the same as when shady people accuse you of being “needy” for not being willing to accept crumbs.

You can also be excessively emotionally reliant on external sources – addictions. They’re all forms of avoiding personal responsibility.

A huge sign of codependency issues is being reliant on being directed by another party or even ‘everyone’. You’ll know because you’ll find you being controlled by others or assuming that they have power over you because you assume a lesser position. When I’ve referred to being in a child-to-parent dynamic, this is an example of relinquishing control. You assume and decide that others have power due to how you conduct yourself anyway and you give them all of this authority while taking a lesser position. Of course, if you take the lesser role, the other party will take or look like they’re in a higher role, plus if you take the lesser ‘child-like’ role, you will act like a child also.

This means that if you do the work suggested in the inner child classes, you will fast become more personally secure. Take it from someone who really only became an adult about 13 years ago.

People pleasing is also a form of codependent behaviour because you prioritise the needs of others over your own as a means of gaining worth through validation, approval, and yes, ‘debt collecting’, because you expect your own needs to be met and even to be spared from things like conflict and criticism. It’s how you can end up with very dominant people or people who basically play Florence to you. People pleasing also includes you ‘Florenc-ing’ people, which is when you try to fix/heal/help/change others to meet your own needs and also to avoid your own responsibilities. This is classic codependent behaviour.

If you’re reenacting your childhood, this is codependent behaviour. From the moment that you have needs, expectations and desires that you want to have met by others that you either need actually to be doing for you whether they’re [the person/people in question] there or not, or that are more appropriate for a parent or caregiver, you’ve got problems.

When you’re codependent, of course you’re going to be afraid of abandonment, because if this person is no longer around, that source of ‘supply’ is gone. It’s why you may get panicked over conflict and criticism – fear that if you assert yourself, you’ll pay the price with them leaving, so it seems better to suppress your opinion and needs.

Healthy relationships have interdependence, which is mutual healthy dependence. It’s mutually fulfilling with love, care, trust, and respect.

One person isn’t dependent on the other while the other party has little or no stake. Each party is personally responsible for themselves and also recognises that they each have to step up to the relationship. The relationship is the culmination of the two, not one person’s source of oxygen and worth.

The relationship is mutual. There is no passenger and driver; it’s copiloted.

When you rely on external esteem for your self-esteem and also rely on external solutions to solve your internal issues, it’s impossible to be secure.

When you rely on external esteem for your self-esteem and also rely on external solutions to solve your internal issues, it's impossible to be secure.

  • You have to keep tapping up the source for more supply. If the supply is having an off day/week/month, you’ll be panicked about your own identity.
  • You make their behaviour about you.
  • You don’t know where they begin and you end. There’s excessive use of ‘we’ and what you think, feel, and do becomes about what they think, feel, and do, and vice versa.

Absorbing the blame for other people's behaviour is codependent behaviour. If you were truly owning your own and willing to retain your identity based on you, you wouldn't be judging you on a perspective gained from blaming you for the actions of others.

Everything that you’ve been working on is really about changing your mentality and actions, and this will help to distinguish between your childhood and adulthood so that you can get on with evolving into your true identity and making your way through the journey of life.

If you do the self-awareness work, so:

setting and sticking to boundaries
working out your values
gaining clarity about your needs
looking at your short-, medium- and long-term goals
processing your anger
getting acquainted with your feelings
cutting the people pleasing
practising saying NO
and only owning your own behaviour and feelings, not those of others

you will no longer be excessively emotionally reliant on others. You will become personally secure.

By addressing all of these areas and getting acquainted with taking personal responsibility, you also learn how to self-soothe in a healthy manner and to get into relationships and situations for the right reasons. You learn how to self-manage.

If you are trying to meet needs, expectations and wishes that centre around your self-esteem and self-worth by getting into a relationship or some other external solution such as sex, alcohol, drugs or even attention and validation, you will create insecurity in your life.

If you’re doing the equivalent of using a hammer when you need a drill by dealing with, for example, boredom, loneliness, tiredness, stress, by, for instance, calling up an ex, this is not a healthy way to soothe.

Getting to know who you are, what you like, doing things to fill up your life and to educate and grow you will knock out boredom and loneliness. If you’re tired, get some sleep and/or take a holistic view of your life to identify reasons why you may not be sleeping. What you eat, whether you wind down, health issues, stress and worry all contribute to the quality of your sleep. If you’re stressed, identify ways to relax and also look at problem-solving and how you’re dealing with stress in the first place. I highly recommend that you check out Headspace and Buddhify – resources and apps packed with bite-size tips and audios on mindfulness and meditation.

By taking on personal responsibility for you, it also means that you stop losing and in fact giving up your power because you stop trying to control the uncontrollable.

Just in case you think I have no idea what I’m talking about: my mother was abandoned by her mother at 6 months old and experienced repeated abandonment, abuse and neglect. While most of you will be familiar with the fact that a lot of my abandonment issues were about my father, him and my mother breaking up and his repeated abandonment of me, I also experienced abandonment by my mother, which is probably a whole other story in itself. A lightbulb went on several years ago when my mother admitted that she had focused on my brother because I was so adored by my father and his family that I didn’t ‘need’ her. The distance started in the first month I was born apparently, and when my brother came along at 18 months, it was cemented. Of course, it might not have been quite as bad if my father and his family had actually been around in my life!

Here are some final tips:

1. Identify your cues and triggers for dependent behaviour. What brings out your fear of abandonment? (The classes on childhood and negative associations along with the investigations are useful here). What do others say or do that brings out your dependent behaviour? How do you feel when you start acting this way? What are you thinking? What is your dependent behaviour? Recognising these helps you to understand your pitfalls and to come up with healthier responses. Also, evaluate what people depend on you for as these can be pitfalls for needing to feel needed. You’re not a bank, unpaid hooker, armchair psychologist, ego stroker, or general gofer!

2. Always remember that you are still a good, valuable, worthwhile person if you are not being depended on or are not depending excessively on another. Your identity doesn’t have to be about needing to be needed or about being under someone’s guidance.

There’s always somebody that needs you – YOU. You need to be of value to you.

3. Address your perspective and your feelings with Unsent Letters, a Feelings Diary, support groups, therapy, and anything you can do to help raise your self-esteem and your emotional health out of a childhood zone.

4. Don’t allow yourself to be relied upon for the inappropriate meeting of someone else’s needs especially because it comes at your expense. It will feel ‘bad’ initially when you stop allowing yourself to meet their needs but it is better for you and them in the long run.

5. If you keep meddling in the order of life and putting your ego into the centre of things, the people for whom you keep taking the blame for all of their behaviour while eroding your own self-esteem don’t get to experience consequences. They get no sense of their own behaviour, not least because with all of your people pleasing, they judge their own actions on the mask of yours. How does a person know if they are making good or bad decisions or even whether their own actions are with or without integrity if people like you keep on rewarding their behaviour or taking the blame for it?

If you feel as if you’re losing but you’re still there, you’re dependent on something.

6. If you feel like you’re confused about or don’t know who you are around a person or in a relationship, this is a red flag. You need time out, and you need to step back and get back to you.

7. Good fences make good neighbours, and good boundaries make good relationships both with yourself and others. Recognising your own limits and respecting them means that you respect those of others. If you’re not respecting your own boundaries, you’re not respecting those of others because if you were, you would not expect another person to be responsible for meeting your self-esteem and self-worth needs. You wouldn’t feel ‘owed’ due to accepting shady behaviour or suppressing your own needs. Don’t fear boundaries; embrace them. Let them do the work, respect the feedback and act.

8. When you bust your own boundaries, the beneficiary experiences little or no negative consequences, but you do. Your whole life will unravel if you don’t allow boundaries to take effect because no limits equals abandonment. It’s like letting people throw rocks at your windows, rips down your fences, damage your structure and basically try and turn you derelict. Lack of boundaries says “I don’t give a f*ck”. Is that really what you want to communicate? Nobody treats a neglected property very well, including the owner who has ignored it in the first place. While you cannot keep watch over or control the other person’s behaviour in the sense of changing who they are, you expressing, meaning, sticking to and showing no sends that person in a direction that communicates that they are not entitled to your compliance.

9. Don’t compromise your identity. Don’t compromise your values. The moment that you pretend to be somebody that you’re not, the moment that you sign on to someone else’s values, is the moment that your security begins to tumble like a house of cards.

10. No pedestals. Either be equal or get the hell out.

11. Don’t treat or talk about the other party as if you are the same. You are unique. We each have different needs, expectations and wishes. The fact that we are each different is a good thing. Retain your individuality. Don’t try to make people the same as you, don’t try to be the same as others, and respect the differences even when those differences might spell a parting of the ways.

12. Is there an area of your life where you feel out of control? You will find that when you try to control one area of your life excessively, it’s because you’re out of control of or afraid of controlling another aspect. Get in control of you – back to meeting your own needs, wishes and expectations by living your life in line with your own boundaries, values and short, medium and long-term plans.

13. No Fast-Forwarding or Future Faking. If you allow yourself to be swept up very quickly in what basically amounts to the hot air of others, it shows a willingness to offload your life.

14. Whatever you expect others to do for you, you must be doing for you first and consistently.

15. Steer clear of bullshit. I don’t have that feeling of being reliant on my husband for security in me because we don’t bullshit each other. We have open, honest, and respectful communication. I don’t accuse him of wanting to run off on me if we have a disagreement and I don’t hold back how I feel for fear of him leaving me. Truth be told, if having an opinion, needs, wishes, expectations and basically your own identity is a reason for a person to go, they best be leaving on the next train to LaLa Land. The more bullshit you have in your relationships romantic or otherwise, the more dependent you are on that person because you have to keep the lies alive or the illusions will crumble, and that’s a pretty insecure existence; that’s a fantasy relationship. Get a handle on c-situations (conflict and criticism) and deal with your assertiveness because if you are engaging in people-pleasing behaviour, you lose your grip on reality and the truth.

16. If you genuinely love, respect, and care about another person, you will call them on their bullshit behaviour instead of allowing a status quo to continue where there is this expectation that things should just trundle along as they are. If you’re afraid to encourage them to ‘separate’ from you, this is unhealthy because it’s like your fear of abandonment is based on you feeling secure by ‘profiting’ from their lack of healthiness. Some of the hardest relationships to walk away from are those where you really do love and care about a person but you recognise that because you feel this way, staying is wrong. When you truly feel this way, you want this person to sort themselves out…even if you don’t end up being the beneficiary. When it’s unhealthy and codependent, you don’t want to leave because you’re thinking “You owe me!”, “I invested in you!” If that’s how you honestly feel, you were really investing in yourself, staying around to get a payoff and potentially engaging in unhealthy behaviour with a view of creating more ties to a ‘debt’. That’s just so unhealthy.

17. Continue to have a life. If you make new friends, you don’t need to sack off your old friends or give up anything that you think doesn’t fit. If you start a relationship, keep your hobbies, see your friends, see your family.

18. If you’re around somebody who discourages you from being you or doing things to help you evolve or, you discourage this in another, this is unhealthy. If this person wanting to try new things or to experience personal growth terrifies you, that’s a sign that you need to work on your own growth and have been gaining security from trying to control them.

19. If you wouldn’t help somebody if you didn’t think that you could gain out of it in some way, don’t do it. This removes the debt buildup and promotes authentic giving.

20. It is OK for you to make a mistake or to even ‘fail’ at something and likewise, it’s fine for others to do so. Stop trying to control the uncontrollable by trying to prevent people from living their lives and discovering their own lessons through trial and error. If what you are doing to or for a person is preventing them from having an honest account of themselves in their interactions with you or in general, you are not helping them or even ‘loving’ them.

21. Life is a journey with on-the-job training. If you’re not experiencing disappointment, conflict, criticism and life, you’re not learning. Hell, you’re not living. Avoiding admitting mistakes for fear that you’re going to be abandoned actually ties you to a bigger mistake while causing you to abandon yourself while hiding behind the bullshit. Where you err, you learn. If you stand up and support you, you are not being abandoned.

22. Sometimes parents who failed us as children hang around in our lives in adulthood, and it ends up looking like an opportunity for them to step up now. The problem is that you need to have an adult-to-adult relationship and if you keep trying to get your parents to make up for your childhood, it means that you’re effectively still making you out to be a child. You need to cut that dependence. They are your parent, but you now need to take over the role of parenting you.

23. Don’t overdo it. Don’t be an over-giver. You must allow others to share in the responsibility of your relationships. Stop overcompensating. Stop trying to create a tipping point. By behaving mutually, you then have the energy to take care of you instead of being sapped of your vital resources.

24. Whatever it is that you think you’re owed due to experiences and circumstances, let that idea go. Regardless of the type of childhood you had, as an adult, you, like every other adult, are personally responsible for you. It is hard and believe me I’ve had to learn this the painful way, but you’re not entitled to whatever you think it is due to what happened. It would be lovely if life worked this way but it doesn’t. My whole life I was being told about what I and others owed my mother due to her upbringing and when I found myself repeating the same behaviour, it was a wake-up call. It may feel like an injustice especially if you missed out on your childhood or have experienced traumas that no person should have to go through, but you give up on you when you have this sense of entitlement. It removes your power, drive and sustainability because why would you step up for you if you’re feeling like you’ve been X, Y, Z and people “should” do ___________? You’re waiting around for someone else to make your life happen, and that’s no way for somebody to live. Let me repeat – this doesn’t change the fact that there may be experiences that you should never have had to go through but pursuing these people or ‘vessels’ for the debt is keeping you stuck in the past and tied to thoughts and emotions that are wreaking havoc in your life.

25. Do the course activities and work out who you have unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviour with and formulate a strategy. Only you know your relationship with this person. While it’s easy to focus on what you don’t like, look at that list and turn it into what you would prefer and then what would be an alternative way to act that respects you as an individual. Identify the negative associations that may be causing you to, for instance, engage with each person like you’re dealing with a childhood bully or one of your parents. Look at each of these situations and people individually, and you will see key differences including where you’ve been making assumptions that don’t reflect the truth.

I have a much better relationship with my mother because I’m my own person instead of being dependent on her, but I also set boundaries where she doesn’t get to be excessively reliant on me, especially as I don’t want to parent her and I also don’t want to be a child. Has it been easy? No, but it hasn’t been hard either. We’ve had some clashes along the way, but the sky didn’t fall down.

Everyone asks what I did – I maintain the same boundaries with her as I do with everyone else. She thinks that she’s entitled to special treatment. She is my mother, but she is not entitled to take away my dignity even if I came out of her birth canal.

I don’t allow myself to be blamed for stuff or to soak up copious amounts of bullshit, I don’t try to fix her problems, I don’t rise to the bait of criticism, I’m honest but respectful which is different from being rude, and I have my own life and have encouraged her to have her own. I’ve set guidelines with me for people where I know that it’s all too easy to slip into old roles. For instance, with extended family, I make sure that I’m responding from an adult perspective, not curtseying as if I’m a 37-year old child. I refuse all forms of approval seeking behaviour with my parents. In fact, since I’ve stopped looking for approval from my parents or some sort of ‘making up for the past’ whether it’s with them or via relationship partners or friends, the void has closed up in me, and I feel free.

Good luck – you can do this!

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