Co-dependence is defined in many ways. A common definition is being overly focused on other people in a way that inhibits the quality of your life and your relationships (sound familiar, over-eaters?). Another way to think of codependency is People Pleasing: Saying yes to others without consideration of your own wants and needs.
The concept originated when mental health workers observed the partners of alcoholics and the ways in which they sacrificed their own health, happiness, and well-being because of someone else’s disease.
What’s the four patterns of co-dependency? They are denial, low self-esteem, compliance, and control. Truthfully, we all have a bit of “codependency” patterns in some way or another. However, I’m going to explain how each of these patterns relate to overeating.
People Pleasing – Denial Patterns:
- I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
- I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel.
- I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well being of others.
When you are disconnected from your feelings for too long, any feeling starts to be intolerable. Since food numbs feelings, a pattern of denial can contribute to overeating by insuring that you’ll be distanced from your true feelings. Food stops you from feeling and keeps you in a denial pattern.
People Pleasing – Low Self Esteem Patterns:
- I have difficulty making decisions.
- I judge everything I think, say or do harshly, as never “good enough.”
- I am embarrassed to receive recognition and praise or gifts.
- I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.
- I value others’ approval of my thinking, feelings and behavior over my own.
- I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person.
When your true needs are not being met, food can feel like a quick-fix way to fill yourself up. Overeating in this way defers having to develop the skills to treat yourself as worthy and lovable, and to trust that you can ask for what you want. In this case, food stops you from sticking up for yourself, and keeps you in a low self-esteem pattern.
People Pleasing – Compliance Patterns:
- I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.
- I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
- I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
- I value others’ opinions and feelings more than my own and am afraid to express differing opinions and feelings of my own.
- I put aside my own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.
- I accept sex when I want love.
Overeating is often a consolation prize for not getting the things you truly want in life. If a genie came out of a bottle offering a wish, would you pick a brownie or true love? A cookie or a fulfilling career? A piece of pizza or peace of mind? The answer is clear. Every time you choose food instead of creating a life you love, you’re confirming that you’re not important; therefore food keeps a compliance pattern going.
People Pleasing – Control Patterns:
- I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
- I attempt to convince others of what they “should” think and how they “truly” feel.
- I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
- I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.
- I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about.
- I use sex to gain approval and acceptance.
- I have to be “needed” in order to have a relationship with others.
You are worthy of love. Period. You don’t have to do anything to get love. You don’t have to make yourself indispensable. You just have to be. This simple realization can stop you from busying yourself with everyone else’s needs. And when you do, you might have the time to avoid overeating by eating well and exercising.
Here are three simple ways, then, to start breaking the people pleasing pattern and the overeating it can cause:
1. Use “I” statements. It can be so difficult to own our own feelings. “I feel lonely” instead of “you never spend time with me during football season.”
2. Practice making simple requests. “Can I have a kiss during the commercial break?” instead of “Be more affectionate.”
3. Do a Temperature Check. Check in with yourself. Stop to see how you’re feeling in both body, and mind. Use that temperature check to help you use “I” statements and make simple requests (or simply to get some rest when you need it).
Feelings, your feelings, are important guideposts. If you shut the door on them, whether by being overly focused on others, or by overeating, your compass gets stuck.