Written by Theresa Nutt, Transformational Coach
I remember clearly the day I woke up eight years ago and realized that I had lived my life for everyone else. I was 35 years old and had everything the American Dream is all about – a house, a dog, a good job, a husband, etc. It should have been the greatest time in my life, but instead I felt like the walking dead. Along the way I had so completely given myself over to the authority and approval of others that I felt completely lost. Repeating questions with no answers kept running through my mind. Who was I? What did I really want from life? And why did I matter at all?
Looking back, I realize the pattern started when I was quite small. Being so sensitive, bright, and creative I noticed what the adults in my life wanted and I learned how to change and bend to try to make them happy. From a young age I learned to start hiding parts of who I was so that I could feel safe. I learned how to hide my sensitivity, how to dim my light so I didn’t shine too bright, how to hide my feelings of happiness, anger, sadness, and fear, how to hide when I was hungry, and how to hide the ways I experienced the world that made me different than most others in my life. This was a safety mechanism of survival for the frightened one in me. And over time that habit lead me to sacrifice the very best in me to meet the endless demands of “the others” I was trying to make happy.
As a woman in a family that grew up with unspoken messages about the man being the master, I thought that I was doing it all right. I was willing to sacrifice, struggle and go empty day after day no matter what I felt like inside. And I was praised by my parents, husband, and bosses for my willingness to be a work horse and do whatever it took. I swallowed tears, hurt and pain on a daily basis. I secretly waited for the day when someone would finally see all I was doing and applaud me or even better, reciprocate. Little did I know, I was trapped in a cycle that kept me from getting what I wanted most: love and appreciation.
I felt so empty inside, so incredibly lonely, and so full of despair. I wondered when it had all gone so wrong. How was it that the act of making others happy no longer made me happy? Why was I falling apart on the inside while everything looked right on the outside? I had done everything “they” had asked me to do and done it as well as I could. I was a corporate success, responsible in my life, and had a Master’s degree. The truth is, I was a completely buttoned up shell of the person I came into this life to be, and just didn’t know it.
The first shaky step to regain my life was to leave a job that was not serving me. And shortly after that, I left the marriage that had died years before. I cried so much that I thought I would drown in my own tears. I felt so much heartache I had no idea how to survive the pain. I found myself on my knees begging for mercy because I couldn’t remember how to walk on my own. And then I went back to where it all started.
I moved home with my parents and for the first time, my Dad really stepped up and showed up as a man for me. And in the 2 years that followed, we started to heal the relationship that had been filled with so much unspoken anger and hurt for at least 30 years. I started to see that others didn’t need to change for me to be happy. I started to forgive old hurts that were costing me my present happiness. I started to have compassion for the man who didn’t know how to love me the way I needed to be loved. And I came to peace with the fact that he likely never would.
I started working with a couple of gifted healers and counselors who helped me get back in touch with who I was and what I wanted from life. I learned that my marriage with a man who did not know how to love me and my ability to tough out an impossible situation that was emotionally devastating had cost me far more than I had ever imagined. I had let someone program my mind with thoughts that cut me down minute after minute until I had no self-esteem left. The road to recovery was long and arduous. The work took all of my energy and strength. Some days I could barely make it through the day. But, I finally had a name for the compulsion that had made me give up my life to please others; I was codependent.