Do any of the following statements ring true for you?
- My feelings of self-worth are dependent on what you and other people think of me.
- I focus on solving your problems, protecting you from the consequences of your actions, or “fixing” you, to the point of neglecting my own needs.
- My self-esteem is based on my ability to “fix” you.
- I abandon my personal values and interests and conform with your values and interests.
- I know how you feel and what you want, but I’m not clear on how I feel and what I want.
- My words and actions are chosen in attempts to avoid your anger or rejection.
If so, you may be struggling with codependency, defined as becoming so preoccupied with someone else that you cease to take adequate care of yourself. This is not love – this is looking to an outside source to grant you happiness and a sense of purpose, much in the way that alcoholics or chemically dependent people use substances to numb their feelings and escape life. Although codependents may appear to be kind, gentle, and giving, these qualities can mask a wish to manipulate and control others in order to feel better about themselves. So in a sense codependency is a form of addiction.
The answer isn’t to shy away from relationships, as this would be akin to someone with a compulsive eating problem choosing not to eat. We need close and healthy relationships with other people in order to survive and flourish, just like we need nutritious sources of food.
Genuinely intimate relationships, in which you deeply love, encourage, and connect with one another while remaining true to your personal values and truths, are among the most fulfilling aspects of life and can help us remember (rather than forget) who we are. To quote Albert Schweitzer, “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” In healthy relationships, we stoke one another’s fires, so to speak, rather than snuffing out anyone’s flame.
To develop the capacity for healthy love, both for oneself and (therefore) others, it can be helpful to become involved in either Codependents Anonymous (CODA), Al-Anon, or one’s personal therapy (or both). Recovering (or discovering) a sense of who you really are, which has been obscured by your obsession with pleasing or controlling others, is not for the faint of heart and does not happen overnight. However, the rewards are boundless.
So, no, it’s not possible to love someone too much… as long as your love comes from a place of emotional maturity. The more mature you are, the more deeply and authentically you can both love and be loved.
The following checklist to evaluate emotional and spiritual maturity is often read aloud at Al-Anon meetings (originally developed for family members of alcoholics and addicts) and can be a helpful list for anyone seeking to truly grow up.
A Checklist for Evaluating Maturity
The difficulties of coping with alcoholism in another are much more effectively met when we ourselves reflect attitudes of mature adults.
A mature adult is one who:
- Does not automatically resent criticism, realizing that it may contain a suggestion for self-improvement.
- Knows that self-pity is futile and childish–a way of placing the blame for disappointments on others.
- Does not readily experience a loss of temper or “fly off the handle” about trifles.
- Keeps calm in emergencies and deals with them in a logical, reasonable fashion.
- Accepts responsibility without blaming others when things go wrong.
- Accepts reasonable delays without impatience, realizing that some adjustment for the convenience of others is necessary.
- Is a good loser, accepting defeat and disappointment without complaint or ill temper.
- Does not worry unduly about things that can’t be changed.
- Doesn’t boast or “show off” when praised or complimented, accepts it with grace, appreciation and without false modesty.
- Applauds others’ achievements with sincere goodwill.
- Rejoices in the good fortune and success of others, having outgrown petty jealousy and envy.
- Listens courteously to the opinions of others even when they hold opposing views; does not enter into hostile argument.
- Doesn’t find fault with “every little thing” or criticize people who do things differently.
- Makes reasonable plans and tries to carry them out in orderly fashion; does not do things on the spur of the moment without due consideration.
- Shows spiritual maturity by–
- accepting the existence of a Higher Power and recognizing the importance of this Power in life.
- realizing each person is part of mankind as a whole and has much to give; that each of us has an obligation to share with others the gifts that have been bestowed upon us.
- obeying the spirit of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
[From Al-Anon Booklet “Alcoholism, The Family Disease”]
Emotional maturity doesn’t mean that we’re perfect and always exemplify all of the characteristics on the above list. So, no worries if you have immature moments (we all do).