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Donna Burgess' Story

I’m a typical first born… An overachieving, control freak. I have a deep seeded sense of responsibility and perfectionism, and I believed all of these traits were forces of my personality and difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. I joked about them, I tried to take the edge off them as they made my life or others difficult, but I never sought to be healed from them. I didn’t really see them as a condition or a malady. Two life altering events occurred that demanded I seek help for this “personality quirk.” The first involved our adult daughter who was diagnosed as suffering from Bipolar II and severe PTSD in early 2020. In the spring of 2021, she had a mental health incident that led to her attempting to take her own life. I flew to another state and stayed with her for three weeks. Together with my husband, the three of us determined she should leave her toxic living situation and come live with us for a time. On the heels of that move, my mother died of cancer. I was back on a plane and helping my sisters with arrangements, sorting, donating and the like. In the midst of all this, I had three different friends ask me if I was “talking to someone.” I wasn’t, but realized it was a good idea. Through a trusted friend, I found a Christian therapist and started sessions that June.

Marisa asked me why I came to see her, and I told her I needed to learn how live and interact with my adult child who has chronic physical and mental conditions. My husband and I had been empty nesters for 16 years and we had recently downsized to a smaller home. This was going to be an adjustment. The second reason I came was to figure out how to be just “the big sister” to my siblings. As the oldest, I was fearful I would be expected (by them or myself) to be the matriarch of the family. At the end of the first session, she made it clear I was codependent. I was astonished! I thought that was something found only in romantic relationships.

That night, I Googled co-dependency and sure enough, I had several characteristics such as:

Assuming responsibility for others feelings and behaviors.

Worrying about how others may respond to your feelings, opinions, and behavior.

Valuing others’ opinions and feelings more than your own.

Living with messages of not being good enough, valued, or loved.

Feels bound in relationships by performance (what I do) rather than core value and worth (who I am).

Feels conflicted by a desire to be needed and resentment for feeling obligated in serving others.

Directly or indirectly attempting to fix, manage, or control another person’s problems to help them avoid feeling bad or experiencing the consequences of their choices.

Judging everything you think, say, or do harshly, as never being “good enough.” A perfectionist at heart.

God was so gracious as I put in the work to overcome these thoughts and behaviors. Our daughter and my sisters are happy to not have me trying to control or help them live their lives, but I am happier to realize it is not my responsibility!! So many times, over the last year or so, I have breathed a sigh of relief when I realized, I don’t have to worry about or handle a situation, because it’s not my life. Instead, I lift them in prayer and let God take care of them… And me!

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