Freedom From Codependency with Melody Beattie

“The key to codependency is the victim story. Somewhere underneath everything, there is a victim story and we’re just simply writing the next page or the next chapter of it every time we interact with someone.”

Episode 05

We’re back with some more therapeutic goodness as we approach the tail end of our therapy series with another fire episode! Awareness around mental health, trauma, dysfunctional family systems and more has been coming into the national awareness on a bigger level over the last 10 years. But back in 1986, the concept of codependency was really new. And unless you were deep into studying sociology or psychology or seeing a therapist yourself back then (also something that wasn’t as widely accepted), Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More, gave words to the masses who never had a way to describe these types of relationships in their lives. Codependency can worm its way into our lives—the definition being; those imbalanced relationships in our lives where one person enables another person’s self-destructive behavior (like addiction, immaturity, or even irresponsibility). It’s a bit insidious for those who don’t know what it looks like, and for so many, Melody’s book was a resource to help free themselves from something they may not have even recognized in their own lives. 35 years later, it’s still shining a light on those situations. Melody comes in with a scalpel to cut away to this very precise way of behaving and relating to another that is cloaked in good intentions and self-righteousness but is actually ruining our relationships. And fun fact, we were the very first podcast Melody has ever been on! Last year, she celebrated a new edition of her book honoring 35 years of its impact. Melody and Jen walk through how to recognize what codependency is and how it might be a part of your life and your relationships—which are the first important steps toward making an enormous change for the better. 

Episode Transcript

Hey everybody. Jen Hatmaker here. Your host of The For The Love Podcast.

All right. Before I begin I have to tell you that I know what one of your superpowers is. Are you ready? You know exactly what everyone around you should be doing. Tell me I’m wrong. You know exactly what your kids, your partner, your parents and friends, heck, even the people responsible for US foreign policy, you know what they need to be doing to live their best lives. And it’s not your fault. You’ve been this way as long as you can remember because you can see things that other people can’t, right? We’re like that kid on The Sixth Sense. You can see when people are about to do dumb things that will cause a domino effect of other dumb things and you know exactly what they need to do to not do those dumb things, right?

Like your kid, for example. Your kid left their homework folder at school again. Now they can’t get a zero on that assignment. Hell no. You’re not going to let that happen. What kind of mom are you? A caring one, that’s who. You care. So you are going to turn your car right back around. You’re going to march that kid back into the school and get his or her folder. Even if he’s late for practice and you have to put dinner on late again or skip it altogether again. You know why? You’re a good mom. Also, your partner’s good at their job, but you just know they could be doing better. You just know it. They could show a little more initiative. They could reach out to new clients. They could hit their sales quota and finally, finally get that raise that they have deserved for years. You know it. You see it.

So you tell them, of course. You send them Forbes articles with listicle tips. You ask the little questions while they’re watching the game. God, another game. Why God? Why another game? To see if they have any plans to better themselves. But you know what? They don’t. They just  don’t. And you smolder on the couch with your Kindle for the rest of the night and yet, it’s not your job to exercise that incredible superpower of yours. Turns out it’s not your job to solve every single problem that you see both happening and impending. I promise you it’s not.

How does it make you feel when I say that? I mean, what good are you if you’re not helping the people that you love? Maybe it’s not that we are helping as much as we are controlling. Maybe you and I are just a tiny little bit codependent. God, you don’t even know you’re doing it either. For sure didn’t. I mean, for years I just thought I was being a good wife, a good mom, a good leader. I cared. Isn’t that what you do when you care? Don’t you try to push people to be their best selves? Don’t you help them become the best people they can be? Don’t you help them avoid failure and suffering if you can see it coming?

Okay. Let me be honest with you as an Enneagram three. I know that feeling so well. The one that tells you that you can help everyone be their best. But here’s the thing. I spent so much of my life doing that. Not so much because I wanted them to be the best, but because I wanted to be the best. That’s a fact. It gets weird in our head sometimes. I get it. I see you. I love you. But man, this is our struggle, right? 

So back to my people. I used to think that if they ended up being the people I wanted them to be, the ones that I saw that they could be, wouldn’t that make us all better? But here’s the thing; it was a fantasy. And it was a fantasy making us all miserable. And it’s not that it’s all sunshine now. This is not that kind of story of course. After a lot of therapy, a lot of learning, what I see now is that there’s only so much responsibility in the room and it doesn’t make sense for one person to take it all. That doesn’t make sense. And also, no one’s asking anyone to take all the responsibilities. But what happens when we take on things that are not ours, we take up all the air in the room. Because you know why? At that point there’s only room for our thoughts and opinions. No one else’s matter because we don’t let them matter. People don’t get to take responsibility for their own problems and choices and decisions, for their own lives. Because we are too busy dictating to them what their lives should look like. What we want them to do is follow the script that we are setting out for them. Even if that is not who they are supposed to be, who they want to be.

It makes sense to us when we’re doing it because we don’t know any other way to be. But I’ll tell you this, codependency is sneaky. She says, listen, you’ve got to be on guard at all times. You’re supposed to know the answers for everyone because if you slip up even once things will be damaged beyond repair. Someone will get hurt and it’s going to be your fault. But that is not true and it was never true. 

Okay. Let’s flip it. Can you imagine what it’s like to be on the receiving end of codependency? That your only job is to live up to the expectations of someone else. And if you don’t, you’re going to crush them. You’re going to void the meaning of their life because you had the audacity to make some decisions for yourself. Decisions that honor the person you want to be, you’re meant to be, right?

The thing about codependency is it doesn’t leave room for mistakes. It doesn’t leave room for growth. It doesn’t leave room for flourishing. It only leaves room for fear. Because all we’re doing at that point is reacting against the things that make us feel afraid. And I’ll tell you what, it’s almost impossible to flourish when you’re making decisions based out of fear. When you have lived decades of your life with your brain programmed to make decisions based on codependency, it is not something you can easily entangle from your synopsis overnight. That’s a fact. 

But knowing what it is, what it looks like, how it might be a part of your life, your relationships, that’s the first step toward making an enormous change for the better. You don’t realize how much you’re carrying unfairly, unwarranted until someone helps you put that burden down. And when you take off the backpack full of responsibility for everybody else that was never yours, you will become overwhelmed by how much lighter you feel. How much easier it is to access joy all the time. You start to feel wholehearted. You start to be responsible for the one and only person that you are genuinely responsible for; and that’s yourself.

So besides my wonderful therapist, someone who’s helped me take off that pack, probably the best teacher I have encountered, the one who has led me the absolute most in this is Melody Beattie. If you’ve been around me for a minute, you have heard me absolutely rave about her book called Codependent No More. It changed my life. I don’t say that often and I don’t say it lightly. I tell her this here in a minute, but Brene Brown told me to buy that book and that it would become my bible and she was not wrong. And it made me so mad, that book. It made me so mad. I pitched it on the ground a couple times. I’m like, “How dare she? How dare she interrupt my victim story?”

But her work has mattered to me so much. Melody Beattie you guys. I mean, if you know, you know she is an absolute legend. If you’re new to her, you’ll see about this very soon. So let me just tell you very quickly before we start this incredible conversation. Melody is a gifted writer and wonderful human. 

So you guys, listen to this. Back in 1986, when absolutely nobody was talking about codependency, we didn’t even have that word, she wrote a groundbreaking book called Codependent No More. And so really for the first time she put so many people’s experiences into a readable and understandable book. And not only that, she taught us real actionable ways to both recognize codependent behavior in ourselves, why we might have chosen to behave that way all this time, and how we could choose to behave differently. It became an instant classic. It has literally sold a thrillion copies all over the world for good reason. It’s because she’s come in with a scalpel and cut away to this very precise way of behaving and relating to another that is all cloaked in good intentions and self-righteousness but is actually ruining our relationships. And she shows us a path out. 

She grabs us by our hands and she says, “There’s another way to do this.” And it has meant the world to me. 

I was so excited, so excited to record this with her. And we knew we wanted to give this to our premium listeners because she is an absolute legend. And then she shocks me by saying this one is her very first podcast she’s ever done. I’m like, well, I don’t even know how to respond to that. And I’m flattered and I’m honored and I’m so thrilled to bring this absolutely brilliant conversation with the one and only Melody Beattie.





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