So, what is codependency? Codependency is being in a one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting the majority of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enable another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.
Where does codependency start? The development of codependence has its roots in dysfunctional family systems and occurs over a fairly long period of time. Overly rigid, dogmatic, or authoritarian types of families appears to produce codependency. These families tend to emphasize discipline and control where rewards are given for compliance with strict and often illogical rules.
We learn that any positive feelings about ourselves are dependent on the mood of someone else. As children we learned early on not to express our thoughts or feelings and to ignore family behavioral problems. This survival response effectively raises a child’s tolerance for emotionally abusive and inappropriate behavior in others.
As adults, we have a greater tendency to get involved in abusive painful relationships with people who are unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. Lacking entitlement for our feelings, as adults we tend to be indirect about our needs, deny feelings, and distrust intimacy. We begin relationships with the belief that love is sacrificing for their partner and putting up with whatever they dish out. This is a set up for making the relationship more important than you are to yourself. Also referred to as being ‘other person centered”.
I remember clearly and will never forget the moment when I revealed my truth. Out through the locked up and suppressed little girl hidden deep down within, I allowed myself to say, “I always feel as if I need to give people what they want.”
It was almost as if lighting struck and the clouds parted at the same time. I knew that “it” was over. I did not know what “it” was or the amount of work and change that would follow, but I knew that I was ready and willing.
I grew up codependent. From the influence of an alcoholic father and narcissistic mother to the string of unhealthy relationships formed afterward, my identity evolved through who I was to others and what I had given to them.
I did not realize that I was lost and without balance. I wanted others to be their authentic selves, truthful and free, but I could not do that for myself so I continued giving up and giving in. Not all was bad, but I knew I would need to learn something different I truly did not know who I was outside of a relationship.
So, I have learned something different. It has taken a long time, but things have been getting better. If you’ve also realized you are codependent, these ideas may help you dig down and reveal your true, authentic self.
Create a relationship with yourself.
I remember in my previous relationships that I conformed to what my partner wanted without serious thought to what it was that I felt or needed for myself. Remember the scene in Runaway Bride where Julia Robert’s character decides she will choose what kind of eggs she likes instead of choosing the kinds that her former partners liked? This simple act is where it can all begin. Make an effort to just ask yourself honestly, “What do I want?”
Take time to focus on your preferences, likes, dislikes, and so on, learning more about the things that make you happy and unhappy.
I always found it was hard to say no. Remember NO is a complete sentence, there is no need to explain yourself. One of the most important things I am learning is to stop people pleasing and establish personal boundaries. Basic ideas of personal boundaries include when to say no and where to draw the red line.
An example of this would be refusing to let someone convince you to do something you don’t want to do, even if someone tries to manipulate you with negative comments. We can’t change what other people do but we can change our responses. Honoring our personal boundaries like this will improve our relationships and build self-esteem.
Work on building self-protective and self-loving habits.
The most important habit being, do not accept negative behavior from others. You can change everything in your life just by changing yourself. YOU choose whether or not to engage with bad behavior and dignify it with a response. No one FORCES you to do anything, including react. Do not tolerate manipulative or abusive behavior from anyone. If you need it, get external help from a therapist or attend a support group. Strengthen your footing in your own values as an individual. If something goes against what you want from another person, don’t tolerate it – get mad, but not reactive. Feel the anger and don’t give them what they don’t deserve! This is a big and important piece of the equation – you standing up for you and deciding that you will not bend to the will of others. You get to set the boundary for what you will and will not accept.
Create a positive space.
Feeling responsible for others’ actions, thoughts, and reactions would leave me drained and confused. When I began realizing the difference between owning others’ problems and giving them support, I started creating my own positive space. This has a lot to do with boundaries, where someone else ends and where you begin.
I realized I don’t need to take responsibility for other people. I have learned not to own others feelings as if they were my own. I tell my clients “If it is not yours, don’t pick it up!” Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves, this is enabling. There is a better way to accept the way that others are and arrange the pieces that are given, not try to make up for them.
Listen to and trust your own feelings and intuition.
Growing up I learned to frequently feel anger, guilt and shame. I learned to say sorry and explain when I truly felt that I did not have to. For me it was difficult to identify what my own personal feelings were. It takes time and practice to be able to identify exactly what you are feeling after coming out of that restricted world.
I began to take ownership of my own feelings. I began to identify with more than the anger, guilt and shame that was taking control of me. I was finally able to grieve the loss of my childhood and acknowledge the sad little girl within.
Observe what you are feeling and thinking and remind yourself that you are allowed to have opinions and judgments.
Honor your own needs and intentions.
Growing up, I made decisions based on what other people wanted, not for the betterment of myself. I would feel a sense of fear before I would utter a word.
In order to bring awareness to what I was feeling, I began questioning the intention behind my words and actions. This allowed me to understand my own ideas and motives, instead of letting other people define them for me. It helps develop a sense of confidence and self-respect, making it easier to communicate our needs to other people.
Understand that the reason you ended up in these type relationships is because of your childhood. You unknowingly allow people to feed off of you and not give back to you equally in return. You gave them access to you that they should not have been allowed. Why? That’s something you have to unearth and understand for the good of your future relationships. In order to not continually repeat this pattern, you need to get to the bottom of why you don’t feel deserving of the kind of friendship you give to others. Or why you don’t feel comfortable receiving that kind of attention. Why does it feel uncomfortable to be showered with love and attention? What makes you feel icky? There might be some bad discomfort inside that makes you naturally place focus away from yourself. Once you gain awareness, you can reverse engineer your ability to enjoy receiving! Trust me – I did it, and you grow to love it.
If want to choose supportive relationships from this point forth, begin enacting self-protective habits and work on finding answers to your tendencies. This crossroads is a gift in disguise and you should treat it as an opportunity. Because once you start only allowing those who DO shower you with love and support to receive your love and attention – your WORLD changes. It becomes amazing and beautiful and full of so much happiness you would never know possible. You grow because now your relationships actually PUSH you and HELP you grow vs. breaking your spirit and draining you of energy.
In the end, we are responsible for ourselves and our own happiness. What we create in ourselves we can later skillfully give to others. Loving ourselves not only makes us stronger, but also the people around us. It all starts with you.