How to Break Free From Codependency and Self Love Deficit Disorder

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Codependency is a behavioral condition that comes from being raised in a dysfunctional family.

This dysfunctionality stays with them, and they end up forming codependent habits in their relationships as adults.

If you feel like you’re codependent, or someone you know is, this is the article for you.

Because not only will we look at how to get out of codependency, I’ll also be sharing with you the theory of Self Love Deficit Disorder – a whole different outlook on how codependency works.

Read on to find out more about how you can overcome codependency and work your way to creating healthy, fulfilling relationships.

What is codependency?

Someone who is codependent suffers from a behavioral condition that usually comes from being raised in a dysfunctional family.

The term originally came from people who were partners or family members of alcoholics. During therapy for alcohol or drug abuse, therapists found that not only the abuser needn’t treatment, but the whole family also did.

In other words, the family or spouse became dependent on their relationship with the abuser, and put their needs before their own.

Now, the term is used much more broadly and can include people from all types of dysfunctional families.

In particular, families where one or both parents are narcissists.

Narcissistic parents are extremely tough to deal with, let alone be raised by. They’re not empathetic (which is something a child needs from very early on in life) and they can be completely self-absorbed.

Being raised in a home-like this can have long-lasting effects on a child. One of those is often codependency because the child learns that they’ll only be loved or rewarded if they’re pandering to their parent’s needs or by being invisible and out of sight.

They start to lose their sense of self, and this carries on well into adulthood.

Signs of codependency

At this point, you might be wondering whether you’re codependent or whether someone you know is.

The signs are quite clear once you know what to look for, and although they can vary, you might find that more people than you realized suffer from codependency.

Here are some of the most common signs:

  • You put your relationships or others before yourself
  • You find it hard to put boundaries in place
  • Communication about how you feel is difficult
  • You try to ‘fix’ things for other people, even if they don’t want your help
  • You struggle to understand your feelings
  • You feel strongly attached to others, even pinning your happiness or sadness on them
  • You tend to be a people pleaser – saying no is tough
  • You try to take control of situations or people

People with codependency don’t often realize that they have this condition. In many cases, they might have blocked out the traumas from their childhood, which can make it even harder to understand where this dependent behavior comes from.

Where does the Self Love Deficit Disorder come into it?

Whilst most people are familiar with ‘codependency’, they might not have heard of Self-Love Deficit Disorder.

Coined by psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg, Self Love Deficit Disorder is a completely different way of seeing codependency.

As the word ‘codependency’ hit the mainstream world and more people started identifying as codependent, the way we perceive the condition has changed.

Instead of seeing codependency for what it is, a behavior condition, it’s associated with being needy, weak, and emotionally fragile.

It’s pretty harsh, right?

No one wants to come forward as being codependent if they’re going to be stigmatized like that, and that’s the exact thing that Self Love Deficit Disorder aims to help with.

Rosenberg wanted to remove this negative and incorrect image, so he redefined the term codependency into the Self Love Deficit Disorder.

Rather than codependency being something that can be cured, Rosenberg believes that codependency is just one symptom of a bigger problem – Self Love Deficit Disorder.

Self Love Deficit Disorder is made up of 5 stages (also known as the Self Love Deficit Disorder Pyramid):

1) Attachment Trauma

During this first state, narcissistic parents create trauma by being judgemental or conditional with their love and attention. The child grows up feeling unworthy.

2) Core Shame

The child begins to form a distorted sense of ‘self’. Conditioned by their parents’ behavior, they start to feel like they’re only worthy when they’re pleasing others or when they’re invisible.

3) Pathological Loneliness

This stage is one of the most painful – loneliness. By this point, the person will feel extremely lonely and unworthy.

4) Self Love Deficit Disorder Addiction

Rosenberg classes this as the ‘self-medication’ part, where the victim starts to alleviate their loneliness through their attraction to narcissists. They also balance out the loneliness by intentionally staying in unhealthy relationships.

5) Self Love Deficit Disorder

By this stage, the victim is a compulsive carer for everyone else, even to the point of being controlling in attempts to make others love them.

The Self Love Deficit Disorder Pyramid covers all areas of how being neglected or traumatized by a parent can affect you as a child and it becomes easy to see why it lasts into adulthood.

The steps happen gradually, and as a child, you wouldn’t have realized that you went through these stages.

No one does, and that’s the sad thing about codependency and Self Love Deficit Disorder.

The victim is the one who takes on shame, guilt, and the burden of others, simply because that’s all they were taught to do as children if they wanted to receive attention or love.

As they grow older, they’re more likely to enter into relationships with narcissists, because they can keep repeating the familiar relationship that they had with their parents.


Because it feels comfortable.

It’s not a healthy relationship, but for the codependent or someone suffering from Self Love Deficit Disorder, it feels ‘right’.

It’s usually all they’ve ever known.

So, can codependency be cured?

Most experts in the field of codependency agree that codependency can be cured, but the journey is long and tough.

As you can probably imagine, being conditioned into feeling a certain way since childhood is no easy cage to break out of.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

In fact, with willpower, good support around you, and a can-do attitude, overcoming codependency can happen, but it all depends on you.

Here are some ways to pull yourself out of a codependent cycle:

1) Accept your codependency

Before any healing can start to happen, you need to accept your codependency condition.

As Darlene Lancer explains on PsychCentral:

“People come to therapy to change themselves, not realizing that the work is about accepting themselves. Ironically, before you can change, you have to accept the situation.”

You can’t begin to work through your traumas, habits, or emotions until you stop being in denial about your situation.

It’s not always easy to admit, but it’s something that should never be seen as shameful.

Just as Rosenberg proposes with his term Self Love Deficit Disorder, the stigma around codependency needs to change.

And the quicker you learn to accept it, the sooner you can begin to heal.

2) Work out your codependent traits

Even if you’ve been oblivious about your codependency up until now, you will have still picked up on things ‘going wrong’ in your relationships.

Start by being honest with yourself.

Do you have any patterns of behavior? Maybe you always react a certain way when your partner wants to do something alone? Do you often put everyone else’s needs above your own?

Humans have a habit of repeating behaviors, so chances are you’ll start to see patterns emerging, and from there you can work out what type of codependency traits you have, and what triggers them.

3) Dig deep into your past

Your codependency came from somewhere; you weren’t born with it.

As explained on MyOnlineTherapy:

“Codependency can often be traced back to childhood, to the relationships we had with our parents (or primary caretakers). It usually happens when we have parents who were either overly protective or under protective.”

As difficult as it might be, you’re going to have to delve deep and try to remember how you and your family functioned.

Try to think back over how your parents treated you, or if any other family or friends had an influential role in your life.

In many cases, we can’t see narcissistic behavior until we’re out of the situation and look back with more knowledge and experience.

It could be the case that one of your parents had narcissistic tendencies, and that had a deep impact on how you viewed yourself as a child.

4) Give yourself plenty of self-care and self-love

You can’t go back and heal the child who was raised to be codependent, but you can start to heal your adult self.

Start to explore your body, your mind, and your emotions. Find out what you love to do, acknowledge the things that make you feel bad.

Listen to your thoughts and focus solely on yourself. Let go of what’s happening to everyone around you.

Until you can fully understand yourself and be more in tune with your body, you won’t be able to have healthy relationships with others.

Building the relationship you have with yourself will be tough and at times exhausting, but it’s essential to work on it before entering into relationships with other people.

5) Learn to say no

After a lifetime of saying yes, it’s going to be tricky to start rejecting people.

But if you want to truly overcome codependency, you’ll need to learn the two-letter word and learn it well.

Saying no shouldn’t be a cause for conflict. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about your partner or family.

What it means is that you’re unable to help them at that moment in time. It means you’re putting yourself first and doing what’s best for your emotional and mental health.

Boundaries are your way of having self-respect. You’re listening to your body’s needs, to what it feels comfortable and uncomfortable with.

As Jane Collingwood writes for PsychCentral:

“Once you have established strong, clear boundaries, people will give you more respect. This means you can be yourself to a greater extent, asking for what you really want and need without fear of judgment.”

By putting these boundaries in place, you’re letting other people know that you value yourself and that you won’t allow others to mistreat you or take advantage of you.

6) Surround yourself with love and support

Though the journey is difficult, having good friends and loving family around can make it so much easier.

There are going to be times where you start to slip back into old habits or question whether you’re making the right choices.

Your supporters will be there to cheer you on, pick you up when you falter, and hold your hand as you try to make drastic changes to your mindset.

Even if it’s a therapist, having someone objective and caring can make such a difference when overcoming codependency.

7) Remove yourself from narcissistic relationships

With the previous point in mind, as well as surrounding yourself with supportive people, you need to remove any toxic people from your life.

Starting with narcissists. Codependents are drawn to them, and there’s a good chance you may have come across one or two in your lifetime.

Staying in toxic relationships is going to harm your chances of self-improvement and self-love.

Your toxic other-half, for example, isn’t going to make your journey of self-improvement and self-love any easier.

On the other hand, if you have a supportive partner who truly cares for you, let them in on the journey. A loving partner will want to help you and can be a great source of comfort.

8) Seek therapy

Therapy can help you in many ways.

From working through your past traumas to understanding why you behave the way you do, they’ll have the expertise and knowledge to help you work your way out of codependency.

Therapists can also give you tools and techniques to use so that if you ever feel like you’re slipping back into old habits, you can power through and continue being independent and self-loving.

These are general tips that you can take to begin working through codependency issues. It’s important to remember that change won’t happen overnight but with time, you can break free of your codependent habits.

The Self-Love Deficit Disorder cure

So we’ve covered the general advice given for codependent people, but what about the Self Love Deficit Disorder’s view on curing codependency?

One of the main points Rosenberg insists on is that codependency isn’t what needs to be treated, it’s just one symptom of the Self Love Deficit Disorder.

He believes that it’s a symptom that needs to be addressed, alongside the other symptoms.

Once they’ve been dealt with, Self Love Deficit Disorder can be cured, and within that, so will codependency.

Here are the 5 stages to cure Self Love Deficit Disorder (also known as The Self-Love Abundance Pyramid):

1) Attachment Trauma Resolution

This is the foundation level. Healing starts with acknowledging your past and resolving wounds. It’s where you can begin to process any childhood trauma or neglect that took place.

2) Core Self-Love

This stage is about building back up a realistic image that you have of your ‘self’. You’ll begin to see your worth and accept yourself for who you are. Now is the time to start feeling good about yourself.

3) Existential Peace

Existential peace happens when you start being content with yourself, it’s the opposite of feeling extreme loneliness. You are happy with your own company, and you’ve accepted that you can be flawed and lovable at the same time.

4) Mutuality and Reciprocity in Relationships

Step four is about keeping that self-love and self-care in other relationships and have love and care shown back to you by your partner.  You need to enforce boundaries into your relationships so that you enter respectful, loving relationships.

5) Self-Love

This final step is where you’ve achieved true self-love. Now, you’re free to be as you are, feel secure about your place in the world, and go on to form healthier relationships.

The two pyramids aim to help codependents see their issues laid out in a logical, sequenced way.

And it makes sense.

If you’re codependent, would you know where to start in addressing your problems?

Most people would find it completely overwhelming, especially since many different things make up codependent behavior.

And if you’ve always been that way and consistently had unhealthy relationships, it can be hard to look introspectively and see where the problems lie.

That’s why Rosenberg decided to structure his findings in this particular way, so people could work through the different stages of Self Love Deficit Disorder and as a result, cure their codependency.

Is there codependency in your relationship?

The tricky thing with codependency, or symptoms of Self Love Deficit Disorder, is that they can be hard to spot.

You or your partner may have codependency traits but have always brushed them off as normal issues that come up in every relationship.

It’s an easy mistake to make, and one I’ve made in the past too.

Until I started understanding how codependency can affect relationships and how we often try to ignore the signs because we don’t get just how damaging it can be.

A turning point for me in understanding codependency and my role in it was when I watched this incredible free video on Love and Intimacy, created by shaman Rudá Iandê.

Drawing upon his own experiences and the life lessons he’s learned through shamanism, he’ll help you identify negative traits and habits that many of us bring to our relationships. 

With Rudá’s guidance, you’ll be able to identify these issues, move past them and cultivate healthier relationships in the future. And the most important part is that you’ll learn to love yourself again.

And without that, no real change can take place.

Here’s a link to the free video again.

So if you’re codependent and looking for a way out or your partner has codependency traits, working on these issues should be at the top of your priority list.

And, whether you take the Self Love Deficit Disorder approach or stick to focussing on codependency in itself, know that you’re not alone and that change isn’t impossible.

Everyone deserves to be in happy, healthy relationships, but to find those you have to first start with the most important relationship of all – the one you have with yourself.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

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Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.


Kiran Athar

Kiran is a freelance writer with a degree in multimedia journalism. She enjoys exploring spirituality, psychology, and love in her writing. As she continues blazing ahead on her journey of self-discovery, she hopes to help her readers do the same. She thrives on building a sense of community and bridging the gaps between people. You can reach out to Kiran on Twitter: @KiranAthar1

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