Altruistic or Codependent?


Altruistic or Codependent, what are you? Does the question seem vague or as though it is an odd choice between two options which aren’t necessarily related? Think again. It was an eye-opener for me as well. In fact, the past two years or more have been such a roller coaster ride for me, in terms of spiritual growth if you’d like to call it that. I would describe it as a process that has shaken a lot of my core concepts making the “musingswhileunlearning” blog title a prophecy of sorts!

Altruism is when you have selfless concern for another’s well-being. Your act of kindness, be it to a stranger or someone you know rises out of the pureness of your generous heart with no vested interest, even remotely. This was a term taught to me when I was in grade seven, by my father. He believed and still does in opening his heart out to anyone that might need it with no agenda underlying it. Being naturally inclined to be of service, this piece of wisdom has stayed with me since, allowing me to open my heart out to others and help them with no thought of my own needs. What could be more noble than this, you’d ask! I did too. Daddy had learnt it from his parents and he passed it forward. And yet, neither was he nor was I ever told of the fine line that existed between altruism and codependency! Fortunately for him, the authoritarian personality he exudes keeps quite a few people at bay and so he never needed to weigh anything beyond the fine line. It was all good. He was always working hard and completely charged up when he was putting his energy to good use- for the larger good!

I thought I was doing the same. I always did open my heart out as well. Nothing would make me feel happier than helping people and watching a smile spread on their faces even if we would never meet again or cross paths again. Naturally, if I opened out my heart for strangers, I’d go out of my way with the people I knew even remotely, leave alone the ones I love. I did just that! So, what’s wrong? Here comes the catch! After a certain point of time, slowly and steadily, without realizing I had begun over-giving in my relationships- be it really, really close ones, very close ones, close ones, not so close ones…So, what is the problem? Aren’t those people happy? Sure, they are. The problem is that in almost every relationship after a point, I’d find myself frustrated because it wasn’t altruistic anymore. I wanted something in return from the people I loved and invested my time in. I wanted their attention, their time, their love…depending on the type of relationship. I wanted to see the effort in return. That’s fair, you’d say. There should be an equal give and take in relationships. I agree. Is it that way though?

When you over-give, you condition the other person to be accepting of all that you offer but they never claimed to spread themselves too thin for you as well. They gave you what they were willing to give you at that time which was far lesser than what you gave them. Aren’t they wrong? NO! They aren’t! And this was what I found out a few months ago!! Do you realize what a shock that was?! It sent me right back to another round of inner child healing!

When we go out of our way to help at the cost of our comfort, we are giving our quota of self-love away. We may have seen lop-sided relationships in our lives, in movies, in books where one sacrifices so much for another and it’s all glorified. These are wrong patterns and should be recognized as such. Altruism has been misunderstood. Altruism comes from a place of empowerment, when you are full on self-love and self-worth and do not expect anything in return. These are random acts of kindness and not self-imposed drudgery in the name of “being the larger person”. Altruism comes from an open heart but when we start crossing over to codependency, we close our heart space and bring up walls without our awareness, for it is a natural reaction to protect our hearts from the disappointment we meet due to lack of reciprocity.

A simple example that comes to mind is, say, you get a call or a text message or mail and you notice it. You drop everything and call/text back, even if it is a “will get back to you, I’m busy” sort of thing. A few days later you write to someone and they see your message (what with all the blue ticks and “seen” indications) but they don’t acknowledge/reply let alone giving you a call. You are irritated till your angelic side tells you, they must be busy and you are pacified for a while till you find they are online or posting and chatting with someone else while showing no signs of response to your message. Anger? Sorrow? Disappointment? Why?? Did they ask you to drop everything to reply? No. You did that of your own accord. You decided to put their needs before yours. That is then your problem, not theirs. When we decide to diminish our worth, mostly not even being aware of it, we tend to feel entitled to the same from others. They might have other issues but they are okay with their sense of worth and do things when they feel called to. It isn’t personal and it isn’t aimed at you but you are sad because you never learnt boundaries!! You might even lash out and get more flustered when you don’t get an apology!! This happens more in “love” relationships because you bend backwards a little more! This leads us to the topic of codependency!

Codependent behavior is a sad pattern which all of us have and many live and die, over many lifetimes without realizing it. When our self-worth is low, we measure our worth through the eyes of others. Every Facebook/Instagram post that is craving for likes is a perfect example of this need of external validation since we don’t feel or recognize this worth in ourselves. The idea that we need to do/achieve or be something in order to be worthy is a misnomer that has eaten our Universe; the cause of many suicides and many addictions. I am not going there right now! This low self -worth makes us do that “extra” bit so that others praise us but more importantly “depend’ on us! We are kind and accepting of bad behaviour and narcissistic relationships, just so that we can keep those people hooked on to us, so that we feel worthy. In fact, we attract such people into our lives. Isn’t that shocking and sad? I heard Dr. Christina Lopes, the heart alchemist, talk about it in one of her YouTube videos and I was so distressed. I felt I was living a lie the whole while, perhaps my whole life!

In time, I delved deep into all my relationships and the patterns that existed and I realized that it was true to a large extent. While my generous heart was genuinely altruistic in the charity work I did, I was definitely codependent in my relationships. When I put other people’s needs before mine, I am not being altruistic. Unless I loved myself enough, I am incapable of loving anyone else unconditionally. This has been such a liberating and invaluable piece of information; of learning; of unlearning and relearning that I have found within me (after a lot many lows and dark moments) a reservoir of love and forgiveness for myself and understanding for all those people I misjudged due to my inadequate knowledge and realizing that they themselves would have lots to learn and heal.

If you are still with me dear reader, do love yourself enough and more, that you don’t need anyone to fulfill your basic needs of self-worth and self-acceptance; that all the validation that you ever need comes only from within. It is okay (not okay, MANDATORY) to love yourself more than you love your parents, your spouse, your children, your pet, your work, your “Mr. Darcy/ dream lover”. When you are adept at self-love (and it’s an ongoing process for as long as you live), you will naturally release codependent behaviour and be altruistic. Let’s open our hearts, be bathed in the love for self and be ready for fulfilling and abundant relationships hereafter!






  1. That's deep... first to understand the meaning of the two words, then the difference. Very clearly and simply explained. Time to ponder...

    1. It is! Most of us never even see it for what it is! Better late, than never :)

  2. Quite introspective, for sure. Somehow, for the first time ever I feel a tinge of difference of opinion. I believe, self-love and self-worth are two different things. I feel worthy enough but self-love is synonymous to being selfish in my heart. I don't know. Maybe, I am falling short in spiritual awakening. Maybe someday, I will align with your views on this. Keep writing dear friend, your blogs are food for thought.

    1. I know exactly where you are coming from Anvita. I have been taught the same thing. Self Love is being selfish and that is what you should aim at never being!! Self Love or "Selfishness" is not about walking over another person to get what you want. It is just making yourself a priority before anyone else. Just like you are supposed to use the oxygen mask on yourself in case of an emergency in air, before helping anyone else including your kid. The basic premise being, you cannot love unconditionally till you learn to love yourself and believe you are just as worthy of your love as are those around you whom you share your love with!
      Thank you Dear Dear friend :)


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