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Language and Codependency: Changing how we talk about love

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Ever watched a movie, tv show, or experienced the real-life scenario of hearing someone say these words “You complete me.”? You probably thought, “How sweet!” and aspired to have that #relationshipgoals kind of love.

While for some, this type of phrase is more of a term of endearment and nothing more, for others, it may be truly something they feel in the pit of their stomach and it for these folks that it is problematic. The idea of someone “completing us” can be linked to codependency for a number of reasons which we’ll get into shortly.

First off, I want to be clear in explaining that the point of this article is to bring awareness to the relationship between language and perception as it relates to codependent relationships or those who are at high risk for connecting through this dynamic. In looking at this issue, it is my hope those experiencing these types of relationships can gain some insight and feel more empowered in their lives and the future of their relationship with themselves and others.

Let’s start with the language, shall we? Phrases like “You complete me” or “my better half” or “I couldn’t live without them” are not bad in and of themselves but rather it’s the whole-hearted belief that is a window into something deeper. The constant use and attachment to phrases like these perpetuate unhealthy subconscious viewpoints from our own lived experiences that may be harmful (i.e codependent relationships).

What is Codependency? Codependency is a particularly challenging relationship dynamic which often involves low self-esteem, poor boundaries, overcompensation, feeling trapped, and constant need for validation. The foundations for this tend to be established early on in childhood and related to attachment and bonding. One of the most common ways codependency manifests is through being parentified; in other words, parenting the parent (or sibling) in some way shape or form. An example might be “helping” by assuming adult roles of providing, doing domestic work, emotionally comforting others that happens due to adverse situations but can often be seen with a parent suffering from depression, substance use, etc. These experiences can be disempowering emotionally and psychologically.

For many, codependency is often not within their self-awareness because it has such deep roots in us. It is only usually through repeated relational hardships, trauma, and feedback from loved ones that this may come into to forefront and questioning begin. Below are a few ways we talk to ourselves or experience love and relationships that might indicate some codependent characteristics.

To start, you might commonly use phrases or think to yourself that the other person “completes me.” This can be problematic because it may insinuate that that there’s a part of you that is missing (i.e. a void). The subconscious messaging is that you (the person saying the phrase) are something that needs to be completed. If I subconsciously believe a piece of me is missing, I would on some level experience inadequacy for my incompleteness. This inadequacy can build fear and anxiety around my self-concept which might promote negative internalized limiting beliefs such as “I am not good enough as I am.”

When we carry these types of internalized beliefs, we can have a distorted understanding and experience of love and partnership. So instead of focusing our energy into finding someone who is a good and healthy partner for us on an equal or fairly equal level, we seek a partner to fill that void out of fear, maybe someone we feel is “better than” us or needs us in some way. However, this is really a form of attachment and not love. When we seek attachment, this can lead to ending up with someone simply for the sake of being with a partner. In turn, we may be more likely to end up in a toxic, codependent, or abusive relationship. We will give and give until we break. That might mean covering up for the other person, excusing their behavior, not voicing our own wants and needs, etc. Sound familiar?

If this sounds like you, please know that you’re not alone. It’s also important to know that this won’t be an easy road. As I’ve said, codependency has its roots in our earlier development. Regardless of this though, there is hope! There are some things you can do to start doing today to help. Heck, even reading this article is something so give yourself credit for having the courage to even consider this possibility and taking the first step in doing your research.

Here are 5 things you can start doing today to begin shifting out of codependency:

1) First, it’s important to become aware of the language you and others around you use when it comes to love and relationships. Do you use language that is empowering or disempowering to yourself? Do you see yourself as equal to your mate or potential mates?

2) Begin practicing using language that is more mindful and promotes the concept that you are complete with or without a relationship. So instead of saying “my better half” practice phrases that acknowledge a level of respect for your own positive qualities.

3) Know yourself well and where your areas for improvement or healing (i.e. the inadequacies and trauma) might be. If you don’t already know, I highly encourage you to explore this for yourself, possibly in therapy.

4) Explore how you actively working to grow in the areas you have identified. Simply knowing may not break the cycle. It’s doing that really makes the difference. Reading articles, books, watching educational videos, joining a peer group, and again therapy, can all be great supports.

5) Know that you are a resilient human being and can overcome anything you set your mind to. Our past does NOT determine our future.

When we become aware of the language we use, we understand our perception and its impact. This puts us in a more empowered position. Knowing, loving and healing ourselves means feeling more at peace, confident, and better able to advocate for our wants and needs in a relationship. This means we’re better able to set boundaries and walk away from incompatible or even unhealthy situations. *Codependency is a complex and often deep-rooted issue. Working with a professional trained in addressing trauma, particularly childhood trauma can make a tremendous impact in the healing process.

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