*Warning: This may get a bit trigger-y for anyone who's dealt with abusive relationships.
I still have a lot to process in the wake of my breakup with an emotionally manipulative ex. I’ve gotten to the stage where I’ve started to think more about myself and my role in the relationship, and I started to wonder if I am one of the legendary, so-called codependents.
My beer-facilitated Googling seems to indicate that this may be the case. For some background, I was constantly ostracized, teased, and bullied by my peers through my childhood and adolescence. I was criticized my entire early life by everyone – my mother, my extended family, and even the few close friends I managed to make. This took a huge toll on my perfectionist psyche, and I really internalized the heavily critical messages I was receiving. I cried and prayed every night that God would make me “good” on the inside and out.
I never wanted anyone to feel the way I felt. So I went out of my way to befriend those who were ostracized, to help those who were downtrodden or just plain sad. I played counselor when my friends were upset, doing everything I could to cheer them up and make sure they were emotionally taken care of – but battled my own bouts with severe depression alone, even when others expressed concern about my well-being. I played matchmaker and love advisor, though I (perhaps not so) secretly believed that no one would ever truly love me. I desperately craved intimacy, both platonic and romantic, but compulsively, inexplicably, built emotional walls that never let me expose myself or be vulnerable. That led to an awful cycle of pouring myself into other people, and getting very little in return. But I just couldn't understand why, so I believed it was because I was destined to be alone and miserable.
If I had seen this pattern, perhaps I could have accurately predicted the trajectory of my most recent relationship. He was jobless, so I spent countless hours finding job listings, editing his resume, and giving him interview tips. He lost his place to stay; I tried to draw a boundary for the sake of my relationship with my roommates of three nights per week at my place, but I found it constantly being pushed past my comfort level to four, five, and sometimes six nights, by “emergencies.” I was struggling financially, but I often found myself reaching into my wallet to pay for his transportation, to buy him food, and to go on dates/trips – only to find by the end of the month that I had no money to buy anything (including food) for myself. I sat through those lunchtime hunger pangs because we were in it “together” and because he’d find a job soon and “things would get better.”
When he began flat out lying to me and stealing from me, he encouraged my rationalization that I needed to “help him.” Though he helped reinforce it, I really believed that these things were happening because I wasn't doing enough. After the breakup, I believed that my self-blame was a result of his emotional manipulation. But maybe... just maybe this is my own doing. Maybe my desire to “help” him was really just my desire to achieve that validation I spent my childhood praying for – the proof that I was finally “good.” And when he told me that he was working to become a better person because he loved me, I desired that even further because once I helped him be better, I would finally be good - and therefore finally deserving of love.
I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that maybe I did tolerate mistreatment to an unacceptable level because of my own unfulfilled emotional needs. So maybe I should accept that I am, in fact, a codependent. But is that victim-blaming - and therefore further playing into his manipulation - or reclamation of my own agency in this confusing and emotionally fraught encounter?