When we think of the word codependent, we probably jump up and immediately say, “No, that’s not me.”
No one wants to be codependent.
It seems so…weak. So frail. So…dependent.
But here’s the thing: A lot of people are codependent.
And while it may seem like some big, scary thing—it doesn’t have to be.
Being codependent doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of being alone. It doesn’t mean that you’re a weak person. Sometimes, all you need is a few steps to stop being codependent.
You or your partner might be dealing with codependency issues, and the sooner this is recognized and acknowledged, the sooner you can begin working on it.
Whether you’re sick of relying on someone or you want to get out of a draining relationship or friendship, I’ll go over everything from what codependency is to how to stop it completely.
What is codependency?
For those unfamiliar with the concept of codependency — or are just now realizing that they may be in codependent relationships themselves — your first question may be, “Why does it matter, why is it a big deal?”
You might think that codependent simply means that a person relies on their partner to help them get through the tough times, using them for emotional or mental support.
The original definition of codependent described a person being involved with another person with an addiction, which is why some people think that codependency isn’t a big deal.
After all, a person dealing with addiction can be properly cared for when living with a close friend or romantic partner.
But modern definitions of codependency describe a relationship in which one person has an extreme preoccupation and emotional, physical, and social dependence on another person.
While codependency can still apply to families and partnerships dealing with substance abuse and other addiction problems, the term now also includes individuals who lose the ability to be independent, as they forget how to take care of themselves and lose focus of their own identity in their overdependence with another person.
What causes codependency?
There were probably problems that happened in your family and you believed that you were the root of the problem. Even though that’s not true, it certainly feels true to a child.
And even if you think that nothing was wrong in your childhood, something small could’ve still affected you. We carry our childhood into our adulthood—oftentimes, we don’t even realize it. Some of your childhood factors that led to codependency could have been:
- A chaotic and unpredictable household
- Unsupportive parents and siblings
- Scary or abusive
- Manipulative behavior
- Too harsh punishments
- Shaming a child
- Denying that there are any problems
- Refusing any outside help
- Many secrets
- Very judgmental
- Expected everything to be perfect
So, when these things happen in our childhood, we may end up showing codependent behavior.
What is codependent behavior?
If you had any of the above signs in your home, there are a few different things that can happen. You usually take on some form of codependency. Some common forms of codependent behavior are:
- Being a caretaker: You saw neglect happening, so you took on the role of being a caretaker for someone else. This could’ve been an addicted parent, younger siblings, or neglectful parents.
- Always pleasing others: To try and keep the peace in your home, you may have become a people-pleaser. You always wanted people to be happy so that there wouldn’t be any fighting.
- Saying no to everything: You need strict boundaries because where you grew up, they were rigid and strict. So, you find yourself saying no to everything and setting unrealistic boundaries.
- Saying yes to everything: On the flip side, you didn’t have boundaries. So, you say yes to everything and have a hard time standing up for yourself.
- You struggle with fear: Maybe your childhood was scary. If so, you now feel intense fear over things that you shouldn’t. You may be anxious, have insomnia or nightmares, and you’re afraid of being alone.
- Trust issues: You were let down a lot, so now, you can’t trust anyone. You think that anyone in your life who cares is faking it and can’t be trusted.
- Problems with control: Some forms of codependency may be extremely controlling. It may be that you felt your life was out of control, so now, you control the only thing that you can.
- Taking on too much: You may also feel like you need to have a lot of responsibility to feel valued and worthy.
- You don’t like help: You may think that you can do everything by yourself. Since you can’t trust anyone, everything needs to be done alone.
What are the signs of a codependent person?
Not everyone will show the same signs of codependency. And some people may only have a few signs and still be codependent. Some of the most common signs of codependency are:
- Find it hard to make decisions
- Have a hard time pinpointing your feelings and emotions
- Communication in relationships is often difficult
- Value others’ approval rather than your own
- Poor self esteem
- Don’t trust others
- Don’t trust yourself
- Fear of abandonment
- Need for approval
- Depend on relationships
- Feel responsible for others’ actions
- Have a hard time setting boundaries
- Reactive to everything around you
- Want to feel needed
- High stress levels
- Intimacy problems
Am I codependent?
If any of the above signs made you feel uncomfortable, there’s a good chance that you’re codependent. Most people are slightly codependent on their relationships—we all depend on the people around us.
The difference is that people who are truly codependent are overly dependent on their relationships. It goes above and beyond what others would do or say about their own relationships.
And on top of that, it causes personal problems. If you’re codependent, you usually have poorer self-esteem and feel like you have to prove yourself to the people around you.
Even if you have the most loving and understanding relationships, if you’re codependent, you’re going to be stressed out and looking for approval.
And unfortunately, it can hurt your relationships and yourself.
While no one can truly say you’re codependent without seeing someone, there are online quizzes like this one that can help you determine whether you may be codependent.
Types of codependency
Every type of codependency is going to depend on who you’re codependent with. Some of the common types of codependency are:
- Codependency with an addict
- Codependency in a romantic relationship
- Codependency with your child
- Codependency with your parent
- Codependency with your friend
- Codependency with a boss
Is codependency bad?
There are a lot of signs of codependency, but is it really bad? Is it bad to be a people-pleaser or to want to help other people?
Well, some of these things aren’t bad if you isolate them. Maybe you’re just a people-pleaser. Maybe you’re just a caretaker.
But when you’re codependent, you’re not just anything. You’re everything all at once, and it creates damaging relationships.
Those who are codependent are unable to form mutually beneficial relationships. The relationships are one-sided, hurtful and confusing, and can be emotionally abusive.
Codependency is never a good thing, and even if you try to justify it, it’s harmful.
Those who are codependent are at higher risks for other mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety. They also predispose themselves to emotionally abusive behaviors.
If your relationship is currently codependent, that doesn’t mean it has to end. It just means that you have to work through what you’re currently dealing with so that you can stop being codependent.
How to stop being codependent
So, you think that you may be codependency. Some of the signs sound a bit like you, and now you’re wondering how to stop it.
First, let me say that the relationships you have that are codependent don’t have to stop. Someone who loves you and values you as a person is going to want you to get help—without strings attached.
They’re going to help you get better instead of pulling you down.
Some codependent relationships are toxic, and they’ll always be that way. But many relationships are codependent solely because you’re bringing your past into them, and they don’t have to be that way.
When you stop being codependent, the relationships you have right now can be more fulfilled and stronger. Here are the five easy ways to stop being codependent:
1. Figure out what is codependent in your relationship
You may not have every sign of codependency. Chances are, you have a pattern. So maybe you take everything upon yourself and feel like no one notices. Maybe you go above and beyond for everyone else but yourself.
Whatever it is that you’re doing, figure it out. Look for the patterns in your relationship that are codependent behaviors. Keep a list and keep track of the things that you’re doing. This will help you realize when you do something that should stop.
You can’t stop being codependent if you don’t know how you’re being codependent. This is the first step for everyone.
Recognize your codependency. Don’t shy away from it.
2. Set up boundaries
Once you’ve realized what it is that you’re doing, stop and set boundaries. Realize that the things you are doing aren’t helping you. You’re hurting yourself.
Even though you’re helping others, it’s not helpful when you then rage about it a few weeks later. No one wants that.
Set boundaries for yourself. Accept help from others. Learn to say no. Stop doing everything for everyone around you.
3. Work through your past
Since so much of being codependent comes from your past, you’ll need to work through it. This is something most people don’t want to do. Being codependent often comes with that sense of denial.
We don’t want to be codependent, so we think by ignoring it, it’ll go away. But, that’s not true. You have to work through all the crap in your life. And sometimes, there’s stuff you don’t even remember.
The past of a codependent individual is filled with unresolved conflicts dealing with love and emotional needs, with familial issues playing the biggest part of it.
Analyze your past, and try to remember the fuzzy parts that your mind might have repressed.
This exploration can be emotionally stressful and draining, but it’s the essential first step before you can truly move forward.
When you meet to talk to a therapist, it’s a safe place where you can discuss your past. You don’t have to sugarcoat it or make it sound better than it was. And in that process, you may happen upon things you didn’t even remember.
It’s a very cathartic process, and as much as we think we might not need it, codependent people should absolutely see a therapist.
It’s the most important and one of the only ways you can stop being codependent and have a better life.
4. Overcome denial
Be frank with yourself. Admit that your problems are real, and they were carried over from your unfulfilled childhood emotional needs.
The later in life that you sum up the courage to look your denial in the face and walk past it, the longer you will have to deal with dysfunctional relationships and hurting those trying to love you.
5. Detach, disentangle
Cut away from the person you are now and the dysfunctions that make up who you are.
Detach from your pains, your problems, your anxieties and your worries, and try to imagine a “new you” without the baggage and preoccupations of the past.
Try to envision the ideal relationship you want to have, and imagine the person you need to be to create a relationship like that?
What are the parts of you that need shedding away? What are the unfulfilled needs and deep-seated thoughts chaining you to the idiosyncrasies creating this suboptimal version of yourself?
Identify those issues, and every time you feel them again, do your best to recognize them and consider the situation a second time without those issues clouding your mind.
6. Learn to say no
A major issue with codependent individuals is the inability to prioritize the self — your needs and wants over the needs and wants of others.
Whereas emotionally functional people have clear boundaries, codependent individuals are afraid to put up any boundaries when dealing with other people, because they don’t want to risk upsetting anyone or causing themselves to lose their relationship.
Understand your self-worth. Learn your boundaries and establish them, and protect these boundaries when dealing with other people.
Your boundaries are an extension of who you are, and by making those around you acknowledge and respect your boundaries, you indirectly make them acknowledge and respect you.
7. Find supportive people
Like I mentioned above, the people who truly love and care about you will stick by your side. The ones that don’t probably aren’t healthy for you. Toxic relationships shouldn’t be kept in your life just because you think you’re supposed to keep them.
Remove the toxicity and find supportive people. It may be a friend, spouse, parent, or just a therapist. It doesn’t matter if you have a hundred supportive people or just one, that support person is going to be needed.
You don’t stop being codependent overnight. It’s a serious, deeply ingrained problem that is hard to get past. Support is everything.
8. Care for Yourself
Ultimately, overcoming codependency revolves around learning to care for yourself. You treat others with the caring and love that you yourself need, because you have difficulty believing that you deserve love without earning it.
Before anyone else can love you the way you need them to, you need to love yourself by establishing your value and self-worth.
And this begins with giving yourself the same compassion and care that you give those around you. Think about the things that you need for you to be happy, and protect your feelings and emotions from those who might be bringing you down. Learn to love yourself and be open with your own needs.
9. Put yourself first
You’re so used to taking care of others that you’ve forgotten about yourself. You have to put yourself first. There’s nothing better than self-love and self-care, especially when you’ve spent years thinking you don’t deserve it.
One of the best ways to stop being codependent right now is to think about yourself. Go out and do something that you love. Stop doing all the housework and watch a TV show. Take a break. Take a bath. Eat some dessert. Do something!
Thinking of others first isn’t a bad thing—but it can be exhausting when you’re codependent. Try to remember that you are important. You are worthy. And you deserve to be put first as well.
How To Heal From Codependent Relationships: 5 self-care tips
If you’ve begun your journey to overcoming codependency, you will know that it will take a lot of time of patience, and there will be many moments where you will be tempted to fall back to old habits.
Truly overcoming codependency isn’t a one-step process, and will involve a lifelong journey to reverse wounds that were inflicted long ago.
Here are some added tips on dealing with the healing journey along the way:
10. Embrace honesty
Stop doing things that feel like a waste of your energy and time, because these lead to resentments between you and your partner.
Say the truth about what you feel, what you need, and give your partner the opportunity to make you truly happy.
11. Grow thicker skin
You have spent a lifetime having very little self-worth and self-esteem, so it’s normal that you might be overly sensitive and easy to wilt at the slightest criticism or negativity.
Start learning how to continue moving through feelings and events that make you feel uncomfortable, and become a stronger version of yourself.
12. Take emotional breaks
When you need a break, you need a break. Whether it’s a break from your partner, your family, your workplace, or anywhere else. Learn how to recognize your exhaustion and reward yourself with the needed space and time to become whole again.
13. Consider counseling
Professional counseling can seem intimidating at first, especially if you aren’t ready to accept that there’s anything “really wrong” with you.
But counseling can help anyone, regardless of their issues or conditions. Having that professional space to talk to someone who will understand can improve your situation tremendously.
14. Rely on support
There are groups and organizations out there filled with individuals who are facing the same issues and problems as you.
At CODA, or Co-Dependents Anonymous, you can meet up with other codependents through a 12-step group program and share your pain and struggles with people who have gone through the same things.
Self-Care is never selfish
Breaking your personal cycle of codependency means forcing your mind from a general shift of caring for others to caring for yourself, and this requires believing in a single mantra: self-care is never selfish.
Your happiness and self-worth are just as important as your partner’s, and until both you and your partner recognize and acknowledge that, you will never truly turn away from codependency.
The most important thing to remember is that codependency is a learned behavior, not a disorder you are born with, and this means it can be unlearned.
Accept your need for major steps towards self-growth, and start discovering true sources for your self-worth.
Being codependent is hard, and many of us will continue to deny that we are codependent. That’s just one of the signs!
No matter where you are on your codependent journey, remember that being codependent isn’t beneficial for you or the other person. You need mutually beneficial relationships that make both people happy.
Though it may be hard, nothing is more freeing than working through your past to stop being codependent once and for all.
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