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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Set yourself free from codependency; seek help if you need it

Codependency is difficult to define, but is generally any relationship that is mostly one-sided. It's when a person showing low self-esteem and a strong desire for approval has an unhealthy attachment to another person, and puts the needs of that person before his or her own.

Codependency affects our relationships with family, friends and coworkers. It can keep us in unhealthy, even dangerous, relationships long after we should be running the other way. It keeps us from taking care of ourselves while we insist on taking care of others, even when they don't want it.

If you find yourself saying "yes" to anyone who wants a favor and later wishing you had not, inserting yourself into other people's chaos, if you assume the role of rescuer, offering advice and help even when you are not asked and then feel resentful when your advice is refused, you might identify yourself as codependent.

Many of my codependent patterns emerged from messages received as a child. The messenger meant well, but I heard "help others," a good piece of parenting, as "solve others' problems, control the situation, because I know best."

If there was any time left in my day after running everyone else's lives, I could take care of myself. Of course, there was never any time left for me, so I cried to anyone who would listen, "Poor me," only attracting other unhealthy people like myself.

We codependents define ourselves by others' opinions of us, real or assumed. We downplay our needs, focusing on everyone else's wants and needs. Some of us turn to alcohol or drugs, or to unhealthy people who may manipulate or abuse us. Yet we go back for more of the same treatment.

Codependency is not new. It has been around ever since the first personal relationship evolved. It comes in many forms, and can result in physical or emotional illnesses if not treated.

We need to learn to set clear and healthy boundaries, let other people make their own decisions, and learn from them. We need to care for, and about, ourselves.

There is help for us. There are support groups for codependents. There is literature. We can learn to change our patterns or responses to others, placing ourselves first.

Gretchen Hagen

Richville, MN

Editor's Note: A Codependency Recovery 12-Step Group for women meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the New York Mills Library.