There are actions out in the world that may look and feel like compassion but are not really compassion but codependence. How can we then tell if an action is compassionate or codependent? Here is a simple rule of thumb: If something frees us and expands our world and teaches us the vastness of love, then it is compassion. If something keeps us tied up in knots and limits our world and creates a lot of drama in our lives-- that we feel we are constantly on an emotional roller coaster-- then it is codependence. When we say we are being kind to others, we are offering support and guidance in some way, we have to be honest and assess whether we are truly helping another person or just making a desperate attempt to catch someone's attention and hold on to this person by feeling needed.
Codependence is not compassion. Codependence is just another knot we tie that keeps us bound. Codependence comes from a deep-seated false belief that we are not good enough and therefore we have to prove how kind and helpful we are to win over someone's affection. Codependence comes from our need to be validated, and at its root it is more about us fearing abandonment and less about truly being concerned with the welfare of another person.
Codependent people want to feel like heroes or martyrs, and they expect a payback, a return of some sorts for the suffering and hardships they put up with. Codependent people do not necessarily understand that they are volunteering to be victims, to be pushed around and taken advantage of, because they do not realize it is an act of self-respect to walk away. Codependent people end up enabling the destructive habits and patterns of another person, catching them when they fall, never giving the other person the chance to learn how to grow. Compassionate people act from the sincerest of intentions, even if it means the action is no action, even if it means that no action would result in the person suffering the negative consequences of his or her own doing. Codependence is not compassion. Enabling is not compassion. Staying in an emotionally draining situation is not compassion.
How do we then move from codependence to compassion? If we do not know how to take care of ourselves, our attempts to take care of others will be futile, because we will be needy and desperate and seeking the approval that will never be available because we seek it from those incapable of giving it to us. If we do not love ourselves, we would spend our time and energy trying to win the love of another and neglecting our needs in the process.
To move away from codependence, we have to first love ourselves and take care of ourselves. We have to believe that we are enough, and that how others treat us is not a reflection of our worth but a reflection of where they are at in their own lives. We have to leave situations that make us feel that we are "less than". We have to allow our self-love to be bigger than our fear of being alone in the world or the fear of what others may think or the fear of being abandoned by that person we feel we so desperately need in our lives. We have to see that our happiness is not dependent on someone else; it lies deep within us. Other people can not make us happy. But we can make ourselves happy. We can move away from codependence and into compassion by treating ourselves in the same way that we would treat someone we love-- with care, with nurturing, with protection, with kindness, and with forgiveness.
Until we are free from the knot of codependence, we will be caught up in the cycle of choosing unavailable people, staying in high-strung situations, beating ourselves up for being not good enough. When we are free from our codependent tendencies, we will start to feel that our well-being is more important than any perceived excitement that is temporary. Begging for breadcrumbs of affection will start to lose its appeal. Our healing will become a priority. Our peace of mind will take precedence over anything else. Only when we are healed and whole can we then be truly compassionate, because it is only those who know love that can give love.