Kindness or Codependence?
One of my favorite childhood books was The Giving Tree. I wanted one so badly—an actual giving tree, I mean. Now, I was the only child in a family that was materially abundant, but emotionally bankrupt, so it’s no wonder I fell in love with this story.
As a quasi-adult in recovery from life in general, I sometimes hear people refer to the fabled Giving Tree as the Codependent Tree. This never fails to light a fire in my heart on the subject of kindness and giving versus codependent and unhealthy behavior. In the story, the boy and the tree have a very special relationship. The boy goes to the tree when he needs help, and the tree gives what it can to meet the boy’s needs. As the boy grows up, the tree grows old. In the end, the tree has become a stump, which is just what the boy, now an old man, needs to rest. The tree has given the boy everything it had to help him. It’s a beautiful thing.
In my life, people have often held back from acting kindly and giving themselves to others as a way of avoiding being codependent. Don’t misunderstand me. True codependence, of which I am admittedly inflicted with myself on occasion, can be a truly destructive and unhealthy behavior. Many times I have heard people say they choose not to help someone in need because they “have to take care of themselves.” Other times I have experienced friends turn away from people in the name of teaching them to be more self-reliant. I think it’s the humanness and neediness that repels them because it triggers internal feelings of need and discomfort.
So where is the line? When does kindness become codependence? When are we holding back from opening our hearts to another because their pain scared us? When are we protecting ourselves and others from unhealthy and dysfunctional dependencies?
Until I find the answer for myself, I will keep my heart open to giving and receiving kindness to the best of my ability. When I start cutting my arms off for people, I will re-evaluate.