I have started dating, but every relationship has been a train wreck. I seem to attract people with problems. I have spent most of my life case managing my ex-wife, children and a lot of strays. Any suggestions to help me break this cycle?
It sounds like you may be slightly co-dependent.
To find out, ask yourself the following questions:
Do you often end up with needy people or “project” people in your life? Do you put other people’s happiness before your own? Do you feel like it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone is happy? Do you need a lot of external validation to feel “good enough”? Do you worry about what others think of you? Do you need a relationship to feel good about yourself? Do you put up with bad behavior longer than you should?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be, at least to some degree, co-dependent. You are in good company, because a lot of people (in this state) have been socially programmed to behave this way. Many believe that sacrificing yourself for others, and putting their needs before yours, makes you righteous. They believe this behavior is “Christ-like” and loving, but it often enables bad behavior and doesn't serve anyone.
It is noble on occasion to make sacrifices (because you love someone) and do things for them. But, and this is a big BUT, if you sacrifice yourself all the time (because you need the other person’s approval, or you get a sense of worth from doing it) — you aren’t doing it for the right reasons.
You are behaving this way to get what you need (approval) not because it’s what they need.
This is a problem.
Sometimes you must tell people things they don’t want to hear because it’s the truth and they need to hear it. Sometimes the most loving behavior isn’t nice and doesn’t make others happy. Sometimes you must choose to love yourself and do what’s right for you because you are just as important as these “other people” are. You must have wisdom and balance when it comes to how much you give if you want to create healthy relationships.
You must not carry responsibility for other people’s problems and feelings. They aren’t your job. You must stop being nice if it means being a doormat. You must be confident and know who you are and not “need” someone else’s approval to validate your worth. You must be an independent, strong person who wants someone to love, but doesn’t need them to feel complete. You must recognize “neediness” and co-dependence and understand where it comes from.
Here are some important principles of human behavior:
1 — Almost all human behavior is driven by a fear of not being good enough or a fear of abandonment or loss.
2 — Most people spend their whole life trying to accomplish things, get approval, or in some other way quiet these fears.
3 — They also expect other people to fill their empty bucket, and if you are the kind of person (who feels fulfilled giving that kind of validation to others) they will find you. They are attracted to people who give too much.
4 — This giving behavior will often get taken for granted. They may also take advantage of your fear (and willingness to give too much) and walk all over you. In the end, they won’t respect you and you will feel bitter and angry because they don’t appreciate what you did for them.
Does this sound familiar?
I want you to understand that they don’t appreciate what you do because they can tell that everything you do is fear motivated and is about you. You do these nice things because you need validation. This means you are doing these things for yourself, not them. They can also, subconsciously, feel your fear about your own value and this makes them see you as weak and not respect you.
You can break this cycle by getting accurate about your value, who you are and what your responsibilities are. Here are some more principles of human behavior that may help you escape your subconscious tendency to give too much:
1 — You must get your sense of self-worth from inside yourself. You must know that your value is infinite and absolute because of the divine, irreplaceable, incomparable nature of your soul. Nothing you do, or don’t do, changes your value. Nothing anyone thinks about you can diminish you. You don’t need anyone else’s approval to know you are good enough. You must choose to see yourself this way. You must choose to see yourself as bulletproof. Your self-esteem is your job and you must see yourself accurately.
2 — You must understand that life is a classroom, not a testing center. You are here to learn and grow. You are not here to prove your value. Every experience in your life is a lesson and every person is a teacher. When you see your life this way, you will see it with less fear and drama.
3 — Everyone else is on their perfect classroom journey, too. Their choices and their experiences are creating important lessons they need to learn. If they make poor choices they need to take responsibility for those choices so they can own the lessons. You must let each person own their own life.
4 — If you (even subconsciously) feel responsible for another person (to make them happy or solve their problems) they will be more than happy to hand over responsibility for their problems to you.
That won’t serve either of you.
5 — In each situation, you must get clear about what is in your control and what your responsibilities really are. You must let other people be responsible for their own feelings, their own self-esteem, their own choices and their own problems.
You can love them, but you can’t fix them. It’s not your job.
You must work on your own self-esteem so you don’t need their approval anymore. That is your job.
You may need to work with a counselor or coach to make this happen. When you learn to escape your fears and live in clarity (seeing yourself and other people accurately), you will attract a whole different type of person.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of www.ldslifecoaching.com and www.claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.