Breaking free from codependency can be extremely difficult for most people. Truth is, if you’re unaware that you’re in a codependent relationship how can you go about freeing yourself its shackles? In the same way an alcoholic won’t get sober until he/she acknowledges they have a problem, someone who is codependent can’t change until they acknowledge they’re in a codependent relationship. In this article I talk about my personal journey to help you understand codependency, and ultimately, my hope is that you will follow my advice to help you get your power back — and keep it!
My Story : Breaking Free From Codependency
In 2011, I was reeling from a horrible breakup from an extremely toxic relationship that involved police reports, restraining orders, smear campaigns, and a complete breakdown of my self-worth.
In my efforts at understanding what happened between me and the father of my 4-year-old son at the time, I had discovered that I am a codependent. I also discovered that the father of my son was showing behaviors and characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder. And lastly, I also found that the codependent/narcissist relationship was the perfect recipe for a toxic and dysfunctional union.
And thus began my on-and-off journey to studying codependency.
According to the Codependent Anonymous website, codependency is a disease. It is a deterioration of the soul. It affects all aspects of our personal life, our children, friends, businesses, careers, families, health, and spiritual growth.
It is debilitating, and if unaddressed, causes destruction to ourselves and to other people.
Since my self-diagnosis in 2011, I have not sought treatment, and yes, for the past 10 years, I have been in an on and off-again relationship with the narcissist, the father of our now 3 children. And yes, I have been destructive to myself, and the people around me.
It is now 2021, and I am once again left reeling from the latest dissolution of our relationship. I am left devastated, unable to focus on work, find myself seeking instant relief in the form of anti-anxiety pills, and I am constantly fighting myself not to reach out to my ex-partner to try to work it out.
The ruminations, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and emotional pain are excruciating. And I have finally, finally decided to do something about it, because I cannot live like this for the rest of my life.
I no longer want to wake up each morning with a dark cloud hovering above me, with a feeling of dread in my chest, and going through each day surviving and waiting for my ex-partner to come around.
I have been doing my own research on codependency, in the hopes of treating myself, but have learned that this can be close to impossible.
And so, before I seek treatment, let me share to you what I have found, as well as my personal story about codependency, in the hopes that anyone who’s reading this may become self-aware of their own codependency traits (if any), how you can get started in helping yourself, and eventually, seek the help you need as well.
VIDEO | Signs You’re Codependent
What is Codependency?
Let’s talk about what codependency is and what it is not. It is not a personality type nor is it a personality disorder.
Codependency is a pattern of behavior that occurs when a person is in a relationship. This relationship isn’t limited to romantic partners but also with family members, friends, and even co-workers.
There is no one standard definition of codependency because it is a broad term. In fact, it used to be called co-addiction, because the term originated from Alcoholics Anonymous, to describe family and partners of addicts whose lives were enmeshed in dysfunctional behaviors.
According to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a foremost expert on narcissistic abuse and recovery, she states that codependency is a term that is non-specific and poorly defined. She also states that the term is problematic, as it puts blame on the individual for the abuse or dysfunctional relationship that she has with her partner.
Codependency has also been called relationship or love addiction because there is an unhealthy obsession with the romantic relationship the individual is having. However, as mentioned earlier, the term has expanded to include relationships with family members, as well as with friends, and even colleagues.
According to Melody Beattie, who is the author of the book: “Codependent No More,” codependency is a word that describes a dysfunctional relationship where a person over-depends on another person to provide herself or himself with security, value, safety, and a sense of self.
VIDEO | Melody Beattie Interview
Beattie’s book was published in 1986 when there wasn’t much literature on codependency. It was a pioneering study in the education and treatment of codependency.
Throughout this article, I will be frequently referencing Beattie, as her work is still being applied and practiced in codependency recovery to this very day.
Another author and expert on codependency I will be referencing frequently is Ross Rosenberg. He is the author of the book, The Human Magnet Syndrome and he’s also the owner of Clinical Care Consultants in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Rosenberg has studied codependency for over 27 years and he defines codependency as hyper-focusing on giving Love, Respect, and Care (LRC) abundantly and freely to others while undervaluing and dismissing one’s own needs.
He further states that codependents unsuccessfully attempt to create LRC reciprocity, and they become bitter and resentful, but continue to maintain the relationship.
This personality type moves toward others with the aim of gaining their approval and affection. By doing so, the person subconsciously controls them through this dependent style.
Moving Toward personality types are martyr-like, unselfish, and faithful. For these people, approval from others is more important than respecting themselves.
The term “codependency” is most often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. Researchers discovered that a person’s alcoholism does not exclusively revolve around the addict but also about the family and friends that constitute the network of the individual.
The term is used to define this network of family and friends who might interfere with the alcoholic’s recovery by over-helping.
I’ve discussed some definitions of codependency above but to really understand the signs of what the pattern of behavior involves, here are some of the signs that you or someone you know is codependent:
- Preoccupied with the needs of others
- Inability to be alone
- Frantic efforts to avoid being alone
- Intense and unstable relationships
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Low self-esteem
- Victim mentality
- Seeking outside validation at all times
- Mood and mental health depends on another person’s behavior
- Overextend oneself to other people
- Chronic neglect of one’s own needs
In a 2018 research review, researchers discovered 4 main themes present in the patterns of behavior of codependents:
- A need to control others
- A tendency to focus on others
- Difficulty regulating emotions
In relationships, codependency is evident by the following behaviors:
- The codependent’s sense of worth is based on another parent’s approval and affection
- Making extreme sacrifices to satisfy the person’s needs
- An unhealthy clinginess and needy behavior
- Chronic neglect of one’s own needs and wants to avoid conflict
I hate to admit it, but I have all of the signs of codependency and more. I would always be preoccupied with making my partner happy. When we were having a long-distance relationship, I would send him boxes of food, send him money when he was short on funds, called him every few hours, and would constantly ask him what he needed. It felt good when he would call me to ask me a favor, I felt wanted and needed when he would do this.
When he was around, I would always think of activities to do that he would enjoy, such as going out, hiking, treating him to restaurants, buying him things, giving him a massage, and yes, giving in to his sexual demands whenever he wanted.
I’d feel really bad when he was not giving me attention. When I would call and he wouldn’t answer, that would send me into a panic and I’d end up calling him for hours until he’d answer. When he was happy or in a good mood, that was the only time I was in a good mood, too.
When he was angry at me, giving me the silent treatment, and treating me badly, I would desperately do things to appease him, even when I didn’t do anything wrong.
It was exhausting, draining, and I hated myself for doing all these things for him. But I felt like if I stopped doing them, he’d leave. And I thought there’s nothing worse than being alone, being a single mom, and being on my own.
I needed him, even though he was abusive, didn’t hold a job, and even when he cheated, I left, but took him back when he’d start acting nice again.
When I felt like wanting to break up with him, I’d remember the months when we did break up and I didn’t want to go through all that pain and loneliness. I would do everything I can, exhausting all my money and energy to keep him and get him back when he would leave.
It has been a painful, depressing, and gut-wrenching 15 years of my life being in a relationship with a narcissist, and I felt trapped. I know it was wrong, I know I was in a dysfunctional and abusive relationship, but I just couldn’t leave.
VIDEO | Trauma and Codependency
One of the ways to understand codependency is to study what causes the behavior pattern to occur. I have always believed that how my parents took care of me, or their lack thereof, as well as how my nannies treated me, are the primary causes of my codependency behaviors.
I remember my parents were very busy with their careers. My father, who is a lawyer, was busy getting his political career started, while my mother was busy with her dress shop and her goal of having a doctorate in education.
During this time, I was left in the care of nannies. I remember one particular nanny, whom I begged not to leave. I remember crying and holding on to her, begging her not to go.
My parents fired her because she was stealing from us, particularly my things. But I begged her not to leave because then who would take care of me? I didn’t have anyone.
I also remember this nanny being particularly abusive. We had to go to my tutor every Saturday and I remember walking from my tutor’s house to my house, even when my mom gave us money to commute. I think my nanny did that so she could keep the money.
I also remember this one time when I was in school and it was lunchtime and I couldn’t find her. My snacks and lunch were with her, so a classmate of mine gave me food. When she arrived, she was fuming mad that I ate food given by someone else.
But when my parents fired her, I was hysterical. I cried and cried and held onto her feet as she was about to get out of the house. And I think this incident really affected me as a young child of about 5 or 6 years old.
As I associate my relationship with the father of my kids with this relationship when I was a child, I can see the same pattern. My nanny was abusive but I felt like I needed her because if she left, then I’d be alone.
My kids’ dad was abusive, but I never wanted to leave him because then I would be alone.
Research has shown that experiences in the family of origin can play a major part in the lifelong emotional and mental health of an individual. Codependent behavior, for the most part, is rooted in childhood relationships with parents and their caregivers.
In my case, my parents were emotionally and physically unavailable to me, and my primary caregiver at that time was abusive.
Studies have shown that when a child’s needs are unmet, the child is unable to assert his or her needs and does not even know what to ask for. The child grows up believing her needs don’t matter and as a result, the child learns to ignore what she thinks, feels, and wants in order to keep people from leaving.
Children who grew up with emotionally unavailable parents are also seen at high risk for being codependent in adulthood. As adults, they are in relationships with emotionally unavailable partners. Yet they stay in the hopes that they can change this person and be given the love that they are desperate for.
No matter what happens, such as abuse and neglect, codependents stay in the relationship hoping that one day, things will get better. The subconscious hope is that the partner will see all the love, attention, and energy the codependent gives, and be inspired to change and reciprocate this love.
There is a belief in the codependent that if she just hangs in there and gives all her love, support, and care for her partner, the person will finally give the love the codependent yearns for.
But this thinking is destructive. This is especially damaging in physically and emotionally abusive relationships. And with codependence, there is almost always abuse.
Trauma is another possible cause of codependency. It is said to be a normal response to an abnormal person, such as in individuals with a mental or physical illness.
If you’ve had a relationship with a toxic person, you will likely develop some unhealthy coping strategies.
Author of “Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare,” Shahida Arabi, is famous for saying the popular statement : “A child that’s being abused by its parents doesn’t stop loving its parent; it stops loving itself.”
Abuse causes trauma and a person who undergoes ongoing narcissistic abuse will develop some level of dependency to cope with the emotional or physical pain.
Trauma is an event that creates a negative emotional response. Trauma can be abuse, witnessing a violent act, a natural disaster, assault, combat experience, or any event that is extremely frightening or life-threatening.
Trauma can cause all kinds of symptoms, such as self-injury, suicide, nightmares, substance abuse, social withdrawal, and yes, codependency.
Examples of Codependency
I’ve talked about my personal situation and experience with codependency but it can also manifest in family relationships.
Melody Beattie illustrated two of such dynamics in her book, to help readers get a better sense of what a codependent relationship looks like. Here are two of these examples:
The Story of Marles
Marles is an attractive woman who is beautiful when she takes the time to care for herself. She has 5 children and is married to a recovering alcoholic.
She has devoted her life to making everyone in her family happy, spending the family money on buying clothes and toys for her kids, cleaning the house, taking care of everyone, having sex with her husband whenever he feels like it even when she doesn’t want to, and yet nobody gives anything back to her. She’s endlessly taking care of everyone in her family but has neglected herself.
She feels resentful for having to constantly give to everyone in her life. Yet, she feels guilty when she feels this way. She feels guilty when she doesn’t do what is expected of her, and when she doesn’t live up to the standards of being a good wife and mother.
The Story of Alyssa
Alyssa is a mother of two teenagers, and the oldest is a 14-year-old who has behavior problems. He runs away from home, breaks curfew, and skips classes.
Alyssa is worried sick and has done everything she can to make her child stop his destructive ways. Sometimes she becomes so depressed that she can’t even get up from bed. She has tried gentleness, forgiveness, treatment for her child, foster care, and has traveled halfway across the state to bring her child home after he ran away.
She is deeply affected by her child’s behavior and has allowed it to ruin her mental health.
Both of these examples show that both Alyssa and Marles are givers and over-extend themselves to make their family members happy. They are exhausted and drained and feel trapped.
In the book, Beattie mentioned that the counselors who worked with both women expressed that while they cannot control the behaviors of their family members they can control their own behaviors.
They can choose to avoid allowing the behaviors of their family members to control their life. While Alyssa’s child’s behavior is destructive and needs attention, she shouldn’t allow it to destroy her life. And while Marles’ kids and husband are not giving her the gratitude and acknowledgment that she needs, both women need to start attending to their own needs.
According to Beattie, “The surest way to make ourselves crazy is to get involved in other people’s business and the quickest way to become sane and happy is to mind our own affairs.”
In understanding codependency, I also chanced upon the theory of attachment styles. I have read a lot of literature that uses anxious attachment styles to explain codependency.
It must be important to note that not all codependent relationship styles are abusive. A codependent may be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t abuse the person but the relationship is always unhealthy and dysfunctional.
Codependency has been linked to the insecure attachment style of anxious attachment. This attachment style explains an extreme fear of abandonment in the individual, and that his or her behaviors revolve around this central fear.
Before we indulge in this topic, let’s first discuss what attachment styles are.
In the ‘50s, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby proposed his attachment theory. According to this theory, a child’s early relationship with his or her caregiver forms the way the child will have personal relationships and social interaction throughout life.
VIDEO | John Bowlby Lecture — Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy
Secure attachments form when the child’s needs are met by the caregivers. When he or she is brought up in a warm and nurturing environment, she is taught that his or her emotional needs matter and that he or she is supported and loved. The child develops trust in the world and in people.
Insecure attachments are formed when a child’s needs are not met by his or her primary caregivers. Or, there is an inconsistency in the way her needs are met.
A child develops an insecure attachment style because she believes that when her needs are not recognized, it is her fault. She blames herself for the treatment that she receives. She then learns that if she acts right, if she doesn’t make a fuss, and becomes obedient to her caregivers, they might give her the love and care she needs.
In adulthood, those who develop secure attachments eventually engage in healthy and mutually giving relationships, while those who form insecure attachments develop unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships.
There are three kinds of insecure attachment styles, and these are anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.
For the purpose of this article, we will only be focusing on the anxious attachment style, since this has been used interchangeably with the term codependency.
A person who has an anxious attachment style struggles with feeling inferior and the thought of never being good enough. The individual seeks others’ approval and tries to appease them, care for others, all in the hopes of avoiding conflict, rejection, and abandonment.
The individual experiences negative feelings, such as insecurity, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, feelings of emptiness, and helplessness.
When she is in a romantic relationship, she feels unsafe and anxious when she is not with her partner. She will only feel safe and relaxed when her partner is around. She needs to make sure her partner is happy or experiencing positive feelings when they are together, and when this does not occur, she will do whatever it takes to make it happen.
She always has a feeling of “impending doom,” as if her partner will suddenly leave her, get angry with her, and always feels the need to take some form of action to fix the problem.
She is clingy, has a tendency to place the needs of her partner before hers, and becomes hyper-vigilant for signs that her partner is being distant.
Do you see the striking similarities between a codependent and a person having an anxious attachment style?
I strongly believe that I am both codependent, and having an anxious attachment style. And learning more about why I’m behaving this way, what happened to me to act this way, and what behaviors I’m demonstrating that make me unhealthy, provide me with the first steps to my healing journey.
The Codependent and Narcissistic Dance
I am aware that I am a codependent. I am aware that I have unhealthy behaviors with the father of my kids. But I also wanted to understand why there was so much trauma and emotional damage with my relationship with him.
I actually learned about narcissism before I learned about codependency. I wanted to understand why my former partner acted the way he did because I just couldn’t fathom the behaviors that he was showing and all the abuse he put me through.
As I learned about narcissistic personality disorder, it was also the moment I learned about the codependent and the narcissistic dance.
Ross Rosenberg perfectly explains the attraction and dysfunctional relationship between a codependent and a narcissist.
But first, what is a narcissist? A narcissist is a person who has an inflated sense of self-worth, has feelings of entitlement, grandiosity, and exhibits feelings of superiority. He or she has poor empathy and disregards other people’s feelings.
My former partner is this and more. He could never hold a job for more than a month because he would complain and criticize his boss and coworkers. He always felt he was better than all of them. As a musician, he would join or form a band that would break up in a month or so because of his superiority and intolerance for criticism.
I could never say no to him, or else, he would start threatening to leave, start distancing himself, leave the house without telling me, start using drugs, and would treat me badly.
I always had to walk on eggshells around him in fear of doing something that would make him angry. In the morning, I would feel agitated not knowing his mood when he woke up. If he was not angry, it would be a huge sigh of relief. Most mornings, he would give me the silent treatment for something I did or didn’t do the night before.
If I was too busy with work or even with the kids, he’d start acting up again. I always had to attend to his needs, his wants, desires, and I always had to read his mind. If I didn’t give him what he wanted, even when he didn’t ask for it, I was punished.
He preyed on my fear of abandonment, and would always threaten to leave me and the kids. He would always tell me no man would take me seriously because I have three kids with him, and this only ignited my fear of being alone.
But, I stayed. I chased after him, appeased him, and did everything in my power so he wouldn’t leave. He always had to be praised, put on a pedestal and he always had to win. It would take him 30 minutes to fix himself and look in the mirror, but when I fixed myself, even for just 2 minutes, he’d get mad and accuse me of wanting to look good so I could seduce men when we went out.
As a dysfunctional giver with a fear of abandonment, I constantly sacrificed myself to make him feel good. And as a dysfunctional taker, my former partner enjoyed everything I had to give.
Our pairing was the perfect and flawless dance.
According to Rosenberg, when a codependent and a narcissist come together, they unfold flawlessly. The narcissist maintains the lead and the codependent follows.
The giving, sacrificial nature of the codependent matches up perfectly with the entitled and demanding nature of the narcissist. The latter is drawn to the codependent because they are allowed to feel dominant and in control. Their feelings of entitlement, grandiosity and their need for attention, praise, and appreciation are met.
Their rules match like the perfect pieces of a puzzle because they have been practicing their roles their whole lives. The codependent gives up her power and since the narcissist thrives on control and power, their dance is perfectly coordinated.
The codependent gives more than what she receives, and although this is her nature, she actually resents it. She gets bitter as she depletes herself, and feels trapped in the dance. She seems to be stuck on the dance floor, always waiting for the “next song,” which she hopes will be the time when the narcissist will eventually understand her needs.
However, the “next song,” never really arrives. There may be snippets of some form of affection, but it never really lasts.
The codependent confuses sacrifice and loyalty with love and she ends up feeling used and underappreciated. She yearns to be loved but because of her choice of a dance partner, she finds her needs are unrealized.
Because of this, she learns to be silent and bitter, swallowing her unhappiness. She gets stuck in a pattern of giving and sacrificing but never experiencing receiving the same from her narcissistic partner.
Though she harbors feelings of anger, bitterness, and sadness, she doesn’t leave her partner on the dance floor. She is concerned that she will never find someone who can give her the love that she needs, so she stays. She forms a type of learned helplessness that ultimately keeps the dance going.
And though the codependent desires and yearns for a balanced and harmonious relationship, she continues to sabotage herself by choosing the narcissistic partner.
The codependent would rather stay in a dysfunctional, often abusive relationship than be alone. Loneliness is too painful to bear for the codependent, and thus, she stays even when she’s unhappy.
But there’s good news. Codependency is a learned behavior. Remember that it is not a personality type, which means codependency is not genetic. You learn it in early childhood. Since it is a learned behavior, it can also be unlearned.
Rosenberg believes that a codependent can learn to heal her psychological wounds. And until she does this, she will be designed to maintain the steady beat and rhythm of the codependent and narcissistic dysfunctional dance.
Through therapy, the codependent can begin to recognize that her dream of a balanced and living partner is possible.
Rosenberg believes that if a codependent is motivated and committed to her healing recovery, she can stop the insanity-inducing dance with the narcissist.
Once she has healed and transformed, feelings of personal power will begin, and this will foster a desire to finally dance with a partner who is capable and willing to share the lead and provide a mutually loving exchange.
Once a codependent learns an unwavering belief in one’s self-worth and commitment to healthy relationships, she will finally experience joy within herself and the relationship.
I mentioned Melody Beattie earlier in this article, as well as her pioneering book, Codependent No More. This book and its corresponding workbook have helped countless men and women overcome codependency since it was first published in 1986 and it is one of the most studied books on the topic.
The goal of the book is to help codependents learn the skills to take care of their needs, as well as learning that the actions of others should not affect or take control over their lives.
I have been recommended this book for years but have not had the chance to buy it, but I have listened to its audiobook version.
I have also read articles and blogs about how this book has helped people realize and learn a few points, and here are the most important lessons I’ve learned:
The Only Person You Can Control is Yourself
If you allow the behavior of others to control how you feel, you will go crazy for the rest of your life. You can never control another person no matter how much love and support you give them.
If you want to have a sense of control, the only person you can have power over is yourself. You need to detach yourself from the problems of other people and if you must help, make sure you are only helping them enough, that they will still do the work to help themselves.
In the example I mentioned earlier about the story of Alyssa, she can’t control the behavior of her eldest child, but she can control how she reacts. She doesn’t have to let her child make her feel depressed and ruin her life.
You Must Understand Your Emotions
Codependents are reactive. We feel anger, frustration, pain, joy, and all kinds of intense emotions on a regular basis. We must understand that we are not our emotions, and our feelings should not take control of our lives.
We have to understand that emotions are neither good nor bad, but your reactions to them are. When we feel angry and we act in violent ways, then that may be considered bad. When you are anxious and you engage in risky behaviors like taking recreational drugs, then that can also be seen as bad.
But, when you’re angry and you exercise, run, or cook, then that reaction may be considered good.
We are not our emotions and we do have control over how we react to them. We don’t have to let these emotions run their course and create damage in our lives. We have the power to react to them in healthy and productive ways.
When you find yourself feeling anxious or angry, pause for a few seconds before you allow yourself to act. Ask yourself why you feel that way and healthy things you can do to relax and calm yourself.
By being aware of your emotions, labeling them the correct way, and finding the source of your distress, we can better regulate what we feel and direct them into healthier behaviors.
We can’t rely on another person to take care of us. Yes, our loved ones can give us the care and love we need, but there will always be times when they can’t, and that’s okay.
We need to learn how to care for ourselves first. It is an attitude towards oneself that reminds you that you are responsible for your own well-being. It is a reminder that your partner, especially if he is a narcissist or an addict, can’t take care of you perfectly and without fault.
Identify your needs and create a list of things that you can do yourself to meet these needs. You have to set goals for self-care to teach yourself that you are capable of making decisions to care for your body and emotional health.
Get Out of Your Victim Mentality
Codependents have a victim mentality. We learned helplessness and hopelessness, and it keeps us trapped in a cycle of victimhood. When we think we are victims, we don’t believe that we have the power to do anything about your situation.
We may feel paralyzed because we think we can’t do anything to change things in our lives. We have to remember that yes, we can do something about our situation and yes, we can take control of our lives.
We need to ask ourselves what behaviors are we doing that reinforce our belief that we are victims?
Acceptance means that you can never change a person. The only person responsible for you is you. No matter how much love, support, and help you give someone, they will never change their negative behaviors if they are not willing to help themselves.
We need to accept that some things can never be changed and controlled when it comes to other people. But we can accept that you are the only person you can control.
Acceptance is letting go of hopes and dreams and desires that you can never control and change. Accept that you are powerless over other people’s behaviors, but acceptance doesn’t mean settling.
You may express your desires and needs to your significant other but if they are not receptive, then you must learn to accept that and let go.
Allow yourself to feel peace in your life. You may have to go through some period of grieving when you give up your hopes of a loving and reciprocal relationship, but you must accept that some things can never be given to us by the people in our lives.
If we must accept that they are not treating us right, if they are toxic and abusive, we must accept that letting go is the best thing to do.
All of these 5 points are easier said than done. They’re so easy to say and read but the work has to start with you. No matter what I say, no matter what a therapist says, if we are not committed and motivated to make these changes in ourselves, we will always go back to the same pattern and the same relationships.
We have to really make it a point to practice these changes if we really want to improve our lives.
Ross Rosenberg, before he begins his therapy with his clients, offers them a Surgeon’s Warning, similar to a warning on a pack of cigarettes. He tells this to patients because he wants them to know that the road to recovery will be hard, difficult, and painful.
He provides his clients with a medical analogy of physical therapy after a hip replacement. He tells them that it will hurt like hell at first and that they may want to quit. In fact, clients will beg to quit, but he also says that perseverance pays off.
He tells his patients that the payoff is worth it, and by the end of his recovery program, you will be better skilled at having a balanced and fair relationship with your loved ones, create healthy boundaries, and enjoy interdependence with the people in your life.
What You Can Do Now | Codependency
Not everyone will have access to therapy. You may have issues with your insurance, you may not be financially capable right now, and you might still be considering doing some self-treatment like myself before taking that big and needed step to getting therapy.
Although therapy and having a good support system are key to recovery, there are a few things you can do to get started on your healing journey.
One of the things you can do right now is journaling. I know, journaling is so cliche and it’s an activity that is recommended for a lot of people and treatments, but it can be your first step to breaking free from codependency.
These 5 questions work like a worksheet rather than a journal and you must answer them as truthfully and as diligently as possible.
And here are the 5 questions in this codependency worksheet:
What Can You Do to Focus More On Yourself Right Now?
Consider what you need right now. Are you failing because of your codependency? Do you suffer from chronic headaches, muscle aches, constant infections, flare-ups, weight gain, weight loss, or lack of sleep?
If you are suffering from any physical effects, focus on that right now. Maybe you should go see a doctor, change your diet, or start exercising.
By attending to the simple areas of your life, it will help you feel more grounded. It will also make you feel physically better.
How about interests and hobbies? Do you have a hobby you’ve ignored? Maybe it’s pottery? Writing poetry? Or playing an instrument? Get back to activities that brought you pleasure.
Make a list of things that can improve your health, as well as activities that you enjoy doing.
What Boundaries Do You Need to Start Setting?
Identify areas in your life that you feel overwhelmed. Maybe you’re exhausted from cleaning the house all by yourself, or maybe you give all of your free time to your partner or kids?
The goal of setting boundaries is to find a balance between prioritizing self-care and giving to your partner and loved ones.
Now, this may anger your partner and the people who have benefited from your generosity and lack of boundaries.
If your partner has always verbally abused you, insulted you, or demanded that you attend to his needs at the expense of yours, you should expect that he or she will be angry. If you are in a violent relationship, this advice is not for you.
When you set boundaries with a violent person, you can expect his aggression to escalate, and that can be a dangerous situation for you. This advice is intended for codependents who are in emotionally abusive relationships.
Rosenberg discussed in his codependency recovery program that when you begin to set boundaries, you will lose people in your life. Slowly, the people who have benefited from your lack of boundaries will start leaving you, will be mad at you, and will even disappear from your life.
This will show you who has been taking advantage of your codependency. This will be a very painful experience for you, as you begin to stand up for yourself. You will lose one-sided relationships, as you move into mutually beneficial relationships with the people around you.
You need to set boundaries in your life because this is one of your problematic behaviors. When you don’t have boundaries, people can easily abuse you and take advantage of your neediness and need for self-sacrifice.
This is not to say that you are to be blamed for being abused. There are people who have codependent spouses and they don’t turn abusive, but there is always some form of unhealthy patterns in the relationship.
Prepare yourself to lose people once you begin setting boundaries.
How Can You Begin to Detach Yourself from Unhealthy Situations?
Codependents are attracted to people who need fixing. Our perpetual need to be needed makes us gravitate towards people who are addicts or have unhealthy and abnormal personality types, such as those with narcissistic personality disorders, or borderline personality disorders.
When we exert control over them, such as overhelping, doing things that they can do themselves, and always trying to extract love and care from them when they are mentally incapable to do so, we are actually enabling their behavior and pushing them away at the same time.
Our behaviors add to their problematic personalities and this creates unhealthy relationships that are extremely damaging.
The last incident between me and my former partner involved his substance abuse. Yes, my former partner is a double-edged sword – a narcissist and a substance abuser. He has the perfect characteristics of what a codependent is attracted to.
Whenever he would start using drugs again, I would feel like a failure. I would get depressed, angry, and I would always confront him. His drug use affected me mentally, emotionally, and psychologically.
It devastated me so much that I couldn’t work properly, I lost motivation to run my business, and I couldn’t take care of our kids the way they deserved. I lost sleep, I couldn’t eat well, and I withdrew from people.
When his behavior became too much to bear, I told him to pack his bags and leave.
It was a moment of power and control, but my codependency got the better of me. The next day, I kept calling and asking him to come back, to no avail.
When a narcissist experiences narcissistic injury (me telling him to leave), they will always be vindictive. They will hurt you, harm you, and do things they know will hurt you to your core.
I chased after him and even apologized for making him leave. But he became even more verbally and emotionally abusive, insulting me, blocking me from all forms of communication for days only to re-appear again, acting like nothing happened.
All of this became too much for me, and I read and watched videos about codependency and narcissism once again. I started re-learning the tools to detach and set boundaries, and I determined that this time, the cycle of my codependency and our narcissistic dance will finally stop.
I also realized that codependents prevent these narcissists and addicts from recovering because by overhelping them, we fail to allow them to face the consequences of their behaviors.
When my former partner used drugs and started abusing me, I stood up for myself but then I chased after him and begged him to come back. The healthy reaction would have been to let him go, stop all forms of communication, or limit communication, and let him suffer the results of his actions, and that is to lose my love, care, and help.
I am slowly learning that his actions are not a reflection of me. If he uses drugs, if he abuses me, it is not my fault, no matter how much he blames me.
If he insults me, if he cheats on me, if he does drugs, if he leaves me, if he doesn’t contact me, I shouldn’t be depressed, I shouldn’t be raging with anger, and I should just let it go.
Sure, I can be angry and I can be sad, but I mustn’t let it take control over me. I can still get up from bed, I can still work, and I can still enjoy life even when my partner is destroying himself.
His behaviors are not a reflection of me, but it is a reflection of him, and I must detach from the destructive behaviors that are causing chaos in his life, and not mine.
How Can You Stop Worrying About What Others Think of You?
Codependents obsessively worry about what other people think of them. Their self-esteem is based on how others value them and they are always looking for external validation.
We need to stop this kind of thinking because we will never be good enough for many people. Just because someone doesn’t think we’re smart, pretty, or a good person, doesn’t mean it’s true.
You’re the best person to give yourself validation. You can start doing so by making a list of all of your best qualities.
What do you like about your face? How about your hair? What about your body? Maybe you like the way you dress? The way you cook spaghetti?
Most codependents believe that they have to be perfect in order to be loved but no one really is and we have to accept that just because you’re not as pretty as a celebrity or not as rich, or not as smart as other people, doesn’t mean you’re unlovable.
By making a list of all the things that you are good at, that you think are valuable in you, you can start giving yourself the validation you need.
How Can You Ask For Help?
Codependents take pride in doing everything for everybody without asking for any help. When they have problems, they would rather keep it to themselves than bother anyone or cause problems to their loved ones.
They don’t ask for help because they believe that help is nowhere to be found. They don’t express their needs because they believe their needs will not be met.
We need to start opening up to people and seek help when we need it. We may have learned as children that our primary caregivers couldn’t give us the care and love we need but other people can.
We can start building new relationships, and this time with healthy people. Reach out to friends you may have lost when the narcissist isolated you. Join groups and classes that interest you and create new friendships.
And lastly, seek therapy when your codependency has caused damage in your life. Oftentimes, codependents do not seek help. They believe they can handle everything on their own, but this often leads to more damage in their lives.
Codependents seek help when there is nothing left to give. We only seek help when we can no longer function, when our health has suffered, when our careers are on the line, and when we can no longer take care of our kids the way they need to be cared for.
I am in this stage. The abuse, the chaos, and the damage have been done. But just because I have reached rock bottom doesn’t mean I can’t get up. With a dedication to heal and recover and have the life I dream of, I can have the power to break free from codependency.
Final Thoughts | How to Break Free from Codependency
Codependency is not simply a result of a relationship gone bad. It is a pattern of behavior that slowly sucks the life out of a person.
Many therapists find it hard to identify and even treat codependents because it is such a broad topic. Because it is not a personality disorder per se, it can be hard to diagnose. Most of the time, codependents believe they can manage their lives and their relationship until the time comes when they can no longer do so.
And when this happens, a codependent would be suffering from physical illness, depletion of finances, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. When you reach this point in your life as a codependent, it is time for you to seek help.
I have delayed treatment for 10 years since I became aware of my own dysfunctional behaviors when I am in a relationship. Though the relationship I had with the father of my kids was the most damaging, I have to be honest and say that this is not my first codependent romantic relationship.
All throughout my college years, as I was studying for my Psychology undergraduate degree, I was in my first codependent relationship. My partner wasn’t as damaging, wasn’t as abusive, but emotionally, he was toxic. It was the first time I experienced that kind of extreme pain and codependency, and I promised myself I would never be in the same place ever again.
A year after leaving that relationship, I began my toxic codependent relationship with the father of my kids, and to say it has been hell would be an understatement.
I realized, since I have had two of these relationships, that I do have a problem with codependency. It is not something that came about by my last romantic relationship, but it is a pattern that has damaged my life.
Now that I am no longer with the narcissistic and substance abuser/father of my children, I find myself being scared. What if I find someone else and become a codependent again? I don’t want to go through this hell I’ve been through for the past 20 years of my life.
And worse, what if I develop a codependent relationship with my children? I don’t want them to suffer as I have. I don’t want them to feel guilty if they spend more time with their friends or romantic partner, and I want them to live their lives freely. If I latch on to them, I will only cause them pain.
It is time, it is time I do something about it, and I believe therapy is the answer. If you’ve finished reading this article and you realize that you’re codependent, it’s time you take action before it’s too late. Don’t waste years of your life as I did.
Everyone deserves to be in a loving, mutually reciprocal relationship with love, care, and support. But you won’t get it if you don’t work on yourself first.
If you believe you are codependent, try to look for therapists near you that specialize in this pattern of behavior. Not all therapists will be able to help you, so it’s important that you find one who’s an expert in this area of practice.
If you can’t have therapy, Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More is a great book to get started.
If you feel helpless and hopeless, remember that codependency is a learned behavior. Because it is learned, realize that it can be unlearned.
It is about time we unlearn codependency and take back our lives. We need to start loving people without attachment. We need to detach from these unhealthy habits and let go of control.
With knowledge, dedication, and commitment, we can break free from codependency, love ourselves, and hopefully, gravitate towards people who are capable and willing to give us the love and support we so freely give.
Reference / Sources :
- Codependency Recovery Stages. Full Psych Central Webinar. Relationship Advice : YouTube Video
- What Are the Signs of Codependency? / PsychCentral
- Learning to be yourself again : Review of : Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
- 7 Writing Prompts for Healing Codependency / Counseling Recovery
- The dance between codependents and narcissists By Ross Rosenberg
- What Is Codependency? Recognizing the Signs / Very Well Mind
- How to Fix an Addicted and Codependent Relationship / Willingway
- How I’m Healing Codependency After 26 Years of Narcissistic Abuse | The Virago
- Love or Codependency: How to Tell the Difference? / Discover Recovery
- How Trauma Can Result in Codependency / BrightQuest Treatment Centers
- Understanding Codependency (Anxious Attachment) / Kennedy McLean
- Anxious Attachment: Causes & Symptoms : The Attachment Project