Life in Japan | Learning to be real and letting go of codependency

Kasama, Ibaraki. It’s another grey day, the kind of day I find ideal for self-reflection. I have travelled to another city to see the local chrysanthemum festival. It’s not a long journey, about an hour and a half from start to finish…a little less if you count the mad dash I made to catch the bus to the train station.

After four and half years of living Japan, I have begun truly exploring my world. Sure, I visited Tokyo and Kyoto, got close to Mt. Fuji and visited some famous shrines. However, I was never really invested in visiting those places.

I was simply following along with the desires of others. This has been one of my biggest challenges in life: unlearning my codependency.

I was raised to be self-sacrificing, trained to be self-effacing, and taught that I was unworthy of unconditional love. With poor attachment and thus even poorer boundaries, I tried to navigate life through pleasing others in a bid to find acceptance, a place of belonging.

Some young version of self had been desperate for someplace to call home and for someone to call family. Some of you may be familiar with this feeling.

My navigation has led to a thoroughly interesting life that has provided (and continues to provide) me with opportunities for self-development. If living in Italy taught me about the importance of connecting with others, then living in Japan is teaching me about the importance of putting forth my authentic self.

In a culture that values the public face (建前), I have decided I no longer need my masks…because I am who I am. There is a beauty to being exactly who I am at all times. I laugh, cry, feel frustration and anxiety…sometimes all at the same time!

Expressing my true self, my “true sound” (本音), is my daily flow now. I am listening carefully to myself for the first time. I am giving myself the attention that I gave so freely to others in the past.

I feel zero shame or guilt for having been codependent. Codependency was my tool for surviving life. Certainly, I am glad that moving forward I don’t have a use for it.

I am a highly sensitive and empathic person who has spent enough years trying to conform to expectations of others, regardless of those expectations. It isn’t and wasn’t healthy.

Understanding how and why codependency serves a purpose in your life is key to making the changes necessary to shift your life from one of merely surviving to one of meaningful thriving.

Letting go of codependency doesn’t mean that you stop caring about others. It means that you have started:

  • caring about yourself
  • listening to your needs
  • honouring your feelings
  • clearing internal and external sources of toxicity (psychological and physical)
  • learning about yourself
  • focusing on fully crafting your own life, and
  • putting yourself first.

This list could be longer. However, I think you get the point. Overcoming codependency means acknowledging yourself as a being worthy of good things/experiences…and that you can give yourself those things/experiences.

Umbrellas, Kasama Inari Shrine

Codependents are like chameleons, changing their outer expression of self to adapt to their environment, hoping that they will not become prey for predators. If I change, blend in just enough, then all will be well. It won’t. You will only lose yourself in the process.

Did you know that chameleons in their natural states are lovely shades of brown or green?

Letting go may not be easy. However, it is worthwhile. Seeing yourself for who you are, understanding what drives you, and loving yourself for all that you are and are not is the reward for choosing the process.

Be you, whoever that may be. Let others be themselves. Create strong boundaries and never lose sight of yourself.

Many thanks to those who have helped me to arrive at this point in my development. It’s been quite the journey to loving myself as I am. I will continue to create my path and share my process.

Now, it’s time to return home.

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