codependency, grief

Codependency and Grief: What Does Codependency Have to Do With Grieving?

codependency and grief

Codependency is when we take responsibility for other people rather than for ourselves. It’s when we seek our worth from others rather than feel worthy in ourselves. Codependency happens when we think that other people’s behaviors, emotions, problems, and well-being are our responsibility and of greater concern than our own.

People struggling with codependency learned early on that catering to others and being overly focused on other peoples’ needs and opinions of them would help them create a safer and more predictable world for them to exist in.

Codependency is an epidemic in our society, but it’s rarely talked about. There are many common behaviors that are actually codependent that are not identified as such, leaving people trapped in a cycle of perceived powerlessness and unhappiness.

I didn’t realize my life was full of codependent relationships until I went to therapy. In fact, the reason I started therapy was because I wanted to help a family member with a substance abuse problem. I thought I could make this person better if I did all the right things. Needless to say, this was wildly codependent behavior—thinking I was responsible for another person’s behavior and choices.

The term codependency is often used when referring to people who are in a relationship with those struggling with addiction, but it extends far beyond that. I know many people in my life who are codependent (with and without substance abuse issues), and I myself still struggle with codependent tendencies (after all, that was how I lived my life for almost 30 years).

Codependency impacts every aspect of our lives, including our grieving process. Here’s what to know about codependency and grief.

Understanding Codependency and Grief

Being codependent means we often feel unable to do what we want because we are focused on other people’s wants and needs more than our own. Many codependent people have trouble even identifying their own wants and needs.

Some codependent people, like myself, usually know what they need and want—it’s just that we have trouble expressing it or asking others for it. This is usually because we fear what other people will think or how they’ll react when we express our needs and wants.

This can make grieving authentically difficult. When we’re codependent and grieving, we may:

  • Hide our emotions or reactions to avoid making other people uncomfortable
  • Desperately need or want support but not ask for or seek it
  • Avoid talking about our loss even though we really want to talk about it
  • Feel guilt or shame when we authentically express ourselves

Codependent grievers may not feel in control of how they express or honor their grief. They may feel unable to identify or honor their own needs or feel a lot of guilt and shame when they do.

If you’re struggling with codependency, you may feel like you don’t know who you are. You may have spent your entire life being what you’ve perceived others to need or want you to be. A lot of this is based on childhood trauma and people-pleasing, but every person is different.

In grief, this can rob us of an authentic grieving experience. We may look back on the time immediately after our loss and feel that we did not grieve our beloved the way we wanted and needed to because we were too busy taking responsibility for everyone around us.

Cultivating an Authentic Grieving Experience Through Codependency Recovery

The heart of codependency recovery is taking responsibility for ourselves and letting go of any notions that we are responsible for other people’s well-being. In grief, and often in life, we must put ourselves first because no one else will.

For me, grieving authentically has required me to unpack my codependency and trauma. And it hasn’t happened with just one loss. It has happened over time with multiple losses, with the biggest shifts happening when my sons Nadir and Fiver transitioned, as well as when my twin soul Mouse crossed over.

Why did I have to address my codependency and trauma to grieve authentically?

I Didn’t Want to Hide Anymore

I didn’t want to hide my emotions or needs anymore. I wanted to have the support I deserved to navigate these life-changing losses and my grief process in ways that felt right to me. I wanted to feel seen and heard inside my grief and life. I didn’t want to worry about making others uncomfortable or feeling responsible for them—because I knew I wasn’t.

To do that, I needed to be seen by people who felt safe. I started this in therapy and slowly started showing my authentic self out in the world. It took time to uncover who I was—and it’s still a process—underneath my people-pleasing and conformity.

I Wanted Grief to Be an Unapologetic Part of My Life

I was never going to be able to change the fact that Nadir, Fiver, and Mouse died. I wish I could go back and do so many things differently—but that’s not what happened. That was not their story. And if I couldn’t change their stories, I wanted to carry them with me in a way that I could honor their continued presence in my life.

In other words, I wanted my relationship with them, my grief, to be an unapologetic part of my life. To do that, I had to stop being what I perceived others to want or need me to be and start being who I was. I had to be what I always was, deep down—their mom. A person worthy of their love. A person who was changed by their lives and deaths.

I also had to reckon with the guilt and shame I felt—even if it was a tiny amount—when I authentically expressed myself to others. “Yes, I am still living with grief. Here is what I need. I will not apologize for it. Thank you for supporting me.”

I Wanted to Honor My Loved Ones—and By Doing So, Myself

I didn’t feel that I could honor my loved ones or myself if I continued to be codependent in my life and grief.

To be truly loved, I felt that I had to be truly seen. My fur babies had truly seen me and loved me unconditionally. If I continued to deny and abandon myself for a false sense of safety—how was that honoring the mother and human they shared their lives with?

I craved a better way to journey with grief. For me, it was the only way.

So, I worked to unpack my trauma. I worked to see my worth. I read a ton of self-help books. I found my inner child buried and sad and worked to earn her trust and love her fiercely. I set boundaries. I went to therapy and did the work of recognizing that my inner voice and core beliefs were not and never were mine—they were a compilation of my parents, teachers, and other criticizing adults from my childhood that continued to rule my life.

I saw my entire life for what it was—conditioning and survival strategies that had kept me safe as a child but kept me hindered and unhappy as an adult.

And that is when my freedom began. It wasn’t an easy path. It continues to be challenging. But it feels authentic to me. It feels right. It’s the way I want to walk with grief and honor myself and my loved ones.

I love honoring the mother and human my kids were proud to know and love—and I’m proud to say I know and love her, too.

How Has Codependency Impacted Your Grieving Process?

If you are struggling with codependency and grief, you are absolutely not alone. Codependency can make life and grief even more challenging. Although codependency recovery isn’t easy, it’s incredibly freeing to take responsibility for yourself and create the life you crave as you walk with grief. What role has codependency played in your grief process? Share your experience in the comments!

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