“Is this co-dependence or compassion?”

Codependent Lizards

Co-dependence or Compassion?

 It’s not always obvious what the answer is.

The difference lies not in the act of helping itself, but in the attitudes surrounding the act.

When your desire to help mixes with a belief that someone isn’t capable without you, you enter the sticky world of co-dependence.”

~ Jitendra

This question is one of the most common in relationships of all kinds.  It’s perfectly natural to want to help those we care about.  And it’s healthy to be able to ask for help!

We do need one another to fulfill the many complex demands of living our lives.  So how can you tell what’s too much help…or too little?  I’ve seen people completely withdraw from both offering and asking for fear of “doing it again”, believing it is the act of kindness itself that is the culprit.  No wonder there’s so much confusion.

The difference between co-dependence and compassion lies in the attitude of both the giver and receiver.

Co-dependence occurs when the receiver makes another person responsible for their experience — and the giver agrees.  Both parties agree to support one person’s experience of disempowerment and the other person’s experience as the rescuer.  It may feel like compassion to one or both, but underlyingly it’s not loving to support a person’s fear or doubt about themselves.  Nor is it compassionate to reinforce disempowering behaviors and habits.

Stacey is scared to feel her emotions regarding abandonment and so she clings to her friend, Terry, every spare minute she finds her available, asking her for constant support so she’s not depressed.  Even though Terry is feeling uncomfortable not having enough personal space, she shies away from saying, “No,’ whenever Stacey asks for help.  Terry doesn’t notice that she has her own deep resistance to feeling her own loss and takes on soothing Stacey’s feelings as a substitute.

Compassion begins when you recognize and meet your own fear with loving presence.  Be there, first, for yourself.  Then you’ll have empathy rather than pity for another person (and yourself).  In love with your own experience, in contrast to fear and resistance, you’ll have a much healthier gauge for knowing what kind and how much support is enough.  This makes your help empowering rather than enabling.

QUICK TIP: Ask yourself, “How do I really feel about this situation?”  If you feel uncomfortable or confused, then you can be pretty certain you are closer to co-dependence than compassion.

Learn how to be present for your own feelings and emotions before you take on someone else.  Get help to LEARN the skill of how to be with yourself.

The awakening journey requires discernment and emotional fluidity.

Find qualified support if you don’t already have it.  I offer counseling, mentoring and training programs that specialize in this area.  Regardless of whether it’s through me or another trusted source, learn the skills necessary to be there for yourself so that you can give the support and help your heart desires.

Compassion is always healing and empowering.


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