You Are Full Of Your ‘Self’    

I have never heard my mother use the word ‘codependent’.  I’m sure she knows it but it doesn’t resonate because she isn’t trying to figure out who she is, how to be herself, how to regard herself as valuable or how to separate herself from the enmeshment of using others as a mirror of her worth.  She simply is herself—and happily so.

I  wonder what that’s like.

But when I ask her she hops away down a rabbit trail, telling me she likes being well thought of and, apropos of nothing, that she enjoys a good joke.  Then she repeats one she learned from the old corn cobs in her AA meeting that includes an F bomb.

“You didn’t think I knew how to say that word, did you?”

“No mom, I know you know that word, I just don’t quite believe your commitment when you use it.”

But back to the ever dimming topic:

“Why do you think you have strong self regard?”

She tells me of being allowed to join the church when she was 8 because the pastor decided after interviewing her that though she was young, she understood the commitment and seriousness of it.  She was asked to sing a hymn in her confirmation service and chose one called: Hold My Hand Dear Lord.  She gets tearful telling me that she knows through all the ups and downs, poor judgment and foolish decisions, He has never withdrawn that loving hand.

I know that faith is the defining substance of Burney’s life and has everything to do with the way that she views herself and others but I also know plenty of codependents with a lot of faith.   I think perhaps the reason for my mother’s evasiveness is that she doesn’t really have an answer.  She has self-esteem and the ability to draw the line.  End of story.   But just to be sure, I ask one more time.

She answers:

“I have always known that I was loved and approved of.”

She says her mother used to send her out the door with the gentle admonition:

“Remember, you have a loving family and you represent them.”

Burney took her mother’s charge to heart but I wonder if it wasn’t that implicit understanding of approval, even more than the love, that shaped her esteem.  How many of us have carried that awareness of pleasure in the fact of us, across the family threshold and out into the world?

Ironically, having a healthy self regard doesn’t always mean one can pass it on.  Because as much as I know my mother’s great love for me, I did not leave home with a sense of her approval.  And though I don’t necessarily view myself as co-dependent, I’ve certainly been on the hunt for that approval along with applause and an occasional parade—ever since.

That’s the problem, when this confidence comes from ‘out there’ it will be temporary at best.   One misstep, one slight or frown and the whole structure goes down.  Fortunately I’m sitting on a good foundation and that is the source of my wellbeing.  Or as Saint Patrick described it:

“Christ be with me, Christ within me

Christ behind me, Christ before me

Christ beside me, Christ to win me

Christ to comfort and restore me

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger

Christ beneath me, Christ above me

Christ in mouths of friend and stranger

Christ in hearts of all who love me.”

I am hemmed in by the love and favor of Jesus who transforms my shame, one shitty little self inflicted barb at a time, into gladness and peace.   And He too says to me as I head out the door:

“Remember, you have a loving family and you represent them.”

I carry that admonition to spread the love and approval all around along with a tiny fantasy that one day someone will comment on my healthy self-esteem and press me to tell them how I got it.

And I will say:

“Well, I’ve always enjoyed a good joke.”



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