The term codependent is traditionally used to describe the loved ones of someone suffering from addiction. However, psychology studies show that codependence is often considered to be an addiction in and of itself.
Codependence can be described as a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors acquired by a person in an atmosphere of great emotional stress brought about by a family member’s drinking or other addictions, sexual or physical abuse, or chronic illness.
In other words, codependency is more than being comforted by your loved one’s presence and wanting to help them – think of it as support that’s so extreme that it becomes unhealthy. If you suspect you are in a codependent relationship, here are a few tips to help get you moving forward.
Are you in a Codependent Relationship?
Your first step to addressing this problem is identifying whether you are in one. Relationship codependency is a dysfunctional pattern of behavior. A codependent person often takes on the role of “rescuer” in a relationship with someone who is ill, impaired, or afflicted in some direct way.
If you or your partner is constantly trying to help, change, fix, or rescue; or you derive self-esteem and purpose through helping your partner, then there’s a big chance that you are in a codependent relationship.
In doing so, you become attached to your partner who has a problem of some sort and needs to be taken care of. However, through your focus on helping your partner, you create an unbalanced relationship that does not meet your own needs.
Core features of codependency:
Codependents are the best caregivers. You’re empathetic and you feel things deeply; you don’t like to see others suffer, so you want to help. You give until you’re exhausted. The codependent’s self-worth and identity are rooted in taking care of others.
Denial and Avoidance
The codependent denies their own feelings and needs. You minimize problems and try to avoid conflicts. You avoid confronting problems by staying distracted, distracted, and numb. You also deny your own needs and feelings.
Resentment builds when your needs are not met, you don’t have a voice, and you are disrespected. Hurt and fear can also turn into anger. While growing up you probably learned that anger is a scary emotion and/or that you are not allowed to express your anger.
Your anger may show up as depression, crying, or physical health problems. Your anger gets repressed because it’s not safe to express it directly. You may act passive-aggressively or eventually lashing out.
Some codependents try to control other people’s feelings and actions. You try to control the outcome and avoid problems from occurring. Of course, this is impossible since no one can control you. You feel like others are trying to manipulate you.
Enabling or Rescuing
By helping others, you are doing something they can’t do for themselves. When you enable, you are doing it more for them than they can/should do for themselves. You’re stopping them from coping with their physical (or mental) problems.
Lack of boundaries
In codependency, boundaries are too weak. You feel responsible for how other people feel and want to make them feel better. You allow people to disrespect you and don’t communicate assertively. Things feel out of your control.
Tips for Overcoming Codependency
Below are some points to consider if you suspect you may be involved in a codependent relationship.
Learn what a healthy relationship looks like.
Not all unhealthy relationships are codependent, but all codependent relationships are generally unhealthy. However, this doesn’t mean codependent relationships are hopeless. It’s just going to take some work to get things back on track.
One of the first steps in doing so is simply learning what a healthy, non-codependent relationship looks like:
- A partnership that trusts itself and each other
- Both partners share a sense of their own self-worth
- Compromise is possible between partners
Separate codependence from showing support
Supportive and codependent behaviors can sometimes be blurred. After all, we all want to help our partners out, especially if they’re going through a tough time.
Identify patterns in your life.
After you’ve figured out what codependent behavior looks like, take a step back and try to recognize any recurring patterns in your current and past relationships.
However, it’s hard to break a pattern before you notice it. A pattern that you repeat in your relationships and learn from your parents will usually repeat itself again and again until you find a way to end it. Therefore, you have to figure out if you tend to gravitate toward people who require a lot of help or if you have difficulty asking for your partner’s help.
Set boundaries for yourself
Boundaries are limits you set around things you don’t feel comfortable with, especially if you are dealing with long-held codependency. Setting and maintaining them can be difficult. Perhaps you have become so used to making others comfortable that you lack the ability to set and honor your own boundaries.
Here are some tips that might help:
- Try to empathize, but don’t try to solve the problem unless you are involved with it yourself.
- You should practice polite refusals.
- Before helping, ask yourself why you are doing it; do you want to or do you feel you have to; and will you still have the energy to meet your own needs.
Identify your own needs
Codependent behaviors are often a result of childhood development. You may have not thought about your needs for a long time.
Think about what you want from life, regardless of what anyone else desires. Also, try new activities that can help fight codependency. Try things you like if you are not sure what you enjoy.
Take responsibility for your actions
Trying to control someone else’s actions generally doesn’t work out. However, if you feel validated by supporting and caring for your partner, failing in this can make you feel fairly miserable.
You might feel frustrated because your efforts to help them have not made a difference. This might make you feel worthless or drive you even more determined to try even harder and begin the cycle again.
The best way to stop this pattern is by calming down and remembering that you can only control yourself, that you have a responsibility to deal with your reactions and behaviors. Anyone else’s behavior is not your responsibility.
Practice valuing yourself
If you have low self-esteem because of codependency, you might have difficulty developing a sense of self-worth independent of your relationships with others.
Nevertheless, increased self-worth can boost your self-esteem, confidence, and happiness. You will be able to express your needs and set boundaries, both of which are key to overcoming codependency.
Note that learning to value oneself takes time. Here are some tips that will guide you in the right direction:
- Make sure people you spend time with treat you well.
- Do things you enjoy.
- Take care of your health by eating regularly and getting enough sleep each night.
- Let go of negative self-talk.
Learn to offer healthy support
While it’s okay to want to help your partner, there are ways to do so without sacrificing your own needs. Healthy support might involve:
- talking about problems to get new perspectives
- listening to your partner’s troubles or worries
- instead of proposing solutions for your partner, you should discuss possible solutions with them.
- offering suggestions or advice when they ask, and then stepping back to let them make their own decisions.
- offering compassion and acceptance
Remember that you can love your partner by spending time with them and being there for them without trying to manage their behavior. Sometimes, codependency can be hard to overcome on your own.
If you’re working to overcome codependency, it may be worthwhile to look into a psychologist who has experience working with recovery from this complicated issue. Psychologists can help you:
- identify and take steps to address patterns of codependent behavior
- work on increasing self-esteem
- explore what you want from life
- reframe and challenge negative thought patterns
Feel free to book in a time to speak to a psychologist to talk about these strategies to overcome relationship codependency or to talk about personal issues that may be impacting your relationship. You can book in a time to speak to a psychologist, call us on (02) 6262 6157 or book an appointment online.