“I don’t recognize myself anymore. I don’t know this person who is so controlling, so angry, so obsessed about what other people think. I don’t even know where it all went wrong. I wasn’t always like this. The relationship wasn’t always like this. I find myself feeling more insecure than secure, feeling more lost than confident, feeling more anxious than at peace. I know I need to stop being codependent.”
These are the common words of those with codependency. The fact is codependency can take over your life and create stress, drama, hurt and pain. If you don’t learn to get a handle on it, it will only get bigger and louder.
In her book, Codependent No More, Melody Beattie writes, “many therapists proclaim that, Codependency is anything, and everyone is codependent” (pg. 31). Dealing with codependency is a personal issue many struggle and experience. It is so common that Co-Dependents Anonymous, a twelve-step program, was founded in 1986 in Arizona.
How do I know if I am codependent?
The author, Melody Beattie says her definition of codependency is “a person who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior” (Codependent No More, pg 34).
Being codependent comes with its set of personality traits, which include: controlling and helping excessively, having low self-esteem, having passive-aggressive communication instead of assertiveness, having difficulty regulating and managing your emotions, and often finding yourself feeling guilty, insecure, overwhelmed and burnout.
When you suffer from codependency, guilt becomes your best friend.
Not in a good way that a best friend is supportive and caring; but in a way that feeling guilty is the first and almost the only emotion you feel in bad situations. Feeling guilty becomes second nature, ready to show up in any stressful situation.
You avoid confrontation because you don’t want to risk losing someone’s approval of you. You fear rejection, neglect, and abandonment. This fear causes you to be a people-pleaser. There is a lack of firm and healthy boundaries, leaving you feeling more at a loss of who you are and feeling disconnected from the life you are living.
You master the needs, wants, and likes of the other person while you are lost in your own needs, wants, and likes. You know how to best manage other people’s lives, but feel doubtful and insecure about how to manage your life. When all your care and attention is directed invested in the other person, you feel depleted.
You have codependency because you are afraid of being abandoned. But you have come to abandon yourself.
When you lose contact with your authentic self, your true self is abandoned. You come to learn not to trust yourself, your feelings, or your opinions. This makes it harder for you to advocate for yourself.
Codependency & Negative Thinking:
You disown your opinions because of the underlying negative thinking. Over the years, you come to think, “Others know better than me.” Your inner dialogue doubts you and says, “what if you are wrong,” “you don’t know enough,” and “you are behind.” You start to devalue your opinion and place higher value on other people and their opinions. When you have low self-esteem, you start to seek external validation rather than relying on your inner validation. Other’s approval of you and what they think of you becomes more important than what you think of yourself.
Your lack of trust in your inner voice is influenced by earlier life experiences. There are unhealthy past relationships that shape our negative self-talk.
If you grew up in a family environment where there was inconsistent or lack of emotional support and encouragement, where you were instead often blamed or talked to as if you are inadequate, it shapes how little you come to trust yourself as an adult. One thing we know for sure is that children internalize the things that are said to them. So if you had a parent, a teacher, a coach who often questioned you and made comments that made you feel you don’t know enough, you come to not see your inner intuition, thoughts, and instinct as a reliable compass.
If you had a dysfunctional family growing up, then the dysfunctions in your family of origin may have taught you unhealthy relationship skills which you carry over to your adult life and cause you to have codependency. For example, if you grew up in a family where passive-aggressive communication and silence treatments were the norm, as an adult you don’t have the skills to resolve conflict effectively. You become more likely to do whatever it takes to keep the peace.
Codependency & Communication:
When it comes to communication in codependent relationships, it is hard for you to speak your truth. You are afraid of confrontation because you are afraid of what will happen next.
What if I lose the one I love?
What if they leave me?
What if I hurt their feelings and be the bad person?
You then become hesitant and scared to have hard conversations. Your priority shifts from being authentic and vulnerable to being the one who keeps the peace and doesn’t make any waves. But your needs just don’t disappear, they pile up inside. The more you avoid addressing your needs, the more you become likely to explore. Instead of being open and direct, you become passive then aggressive in your communication.
Fear is the number one factor behind poor communication in the codependent relationships. Most common ones in codependent relationships are fear of rejection, fear of abandonment and neglect, fear of hostility, and fear of being unloved. You may have come to believe that being in a bad relationship is better than being alone.
How to overcome Codependency:
Since codependency can show up in variety of ways and have variety of reasons behind it, there are list of skills to consider for your journey ahead:
1). Engage in healthier, more balanced and loving self-talk:
In order to change the relationship you have with others, you have to change the relationship you have with yourself. It starts with changing your inner dialogue. You need to learn to talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love. It means changing your judgmental and critical self-talk to a kinder, more understanding one. It starts with challenging your negative thinking. Then you engage in reframing your thoughts so they are more flexible, rational, and balanced. As you change your self-talk, you will notice that you start to relate to yourself in a new way. When you let go of codependency, you develop a new sense of self. You get to know your likes, dislikes, wants and needs, and ultimately be happier in your own skin.
2) Heal from the past trauma:
Your past traumatic experiences may leave you feeling wounded and hurt. Codependency might have been your unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with past trauma. Once you learn to revisit these painful experiences and work on repair and healing, then you find the clarity, resilience and strengths to overcome codependency. Because
3) Feel your feelings:
On your recovery from codependency, you also need to change the relationship you have with your emotions. When you are in the midst of your codependency, it often is difficult to know how to best manage and regulate your emotions. When you have gone so long taking care of others and putting others’ needs before yours, you inevitably come to neglect your emotions. During the recovery phase, you learn to be more aware of your emotions and create a toolbox full of coping skills. You start with identifying and naming your emotions. You start to pay attention to them by observing and describing your feelings non-judgmentally. Based on how you are feeling in a given situation, you engage in coping skills that are most effective in soothing and regulating that particular emotion.
When you explore the fears that played a role in your codependency, such as fear of abandonment and being unloved, it is best to respond to your fears and insecurities with self-compassion and kindness rather than shame and embarrassment. Fears are part of being a human being. Your fears don’t make you weak, and yet they don’t have to dictate your life.
4) Set new healthier boundaries:
Codependency goes hand in hand with poor boundaries. Meaning any codependent relationship has poor, rigid, and unhealthy boundaries between the two people. Recovery from codependency requires you to challenge and reframe your boundaries where you have flexible, firm, and direct ones.
In enmeshed boundaries, your needs blend in with the needs of your partner. Leaving no room, tolerance, or embracing of each other’s individuality. You notice that there is barely any time spent apart. There are no activities you or your partner do alone. There is also no separate social network. Separate does not mean that you don’t know the social network of your partner and vice versa. It is the idea that you or your partner never hang out with people without you being there. Therefore the relationship consumes all your time and attention. Often, there are fears of letting go of control that leaves little room for individual space.
When you are new to setting healthy boundaries, you probably ask yourself: “How do I set them? I don’t know where to begin.” When you are learning to redefine your boundaries, start with paying attention to your feelings, specifically feelings of anger and resentment.
When you start to set new boundaries and let’s say no instead of saying yes to a request, you can pay attention to how it made you feel afterwards. After you say no, are you feeling calm and at peace? Because often when we set poor boundaries and say yes to things when we should’ve said no, it leaves us feeling angry and resentful. These emotions can signal to you that you just violated your own boundaries. Your emotions are telling you that you were not being authentic. Your emotions are telling you that you were people pleasing. Your emotions are telling you that you should’ve said No. You need to pay attention to how you are feeling after you set a boundary to help you know if it was the right one.
It is normal that initially when you start to set new and healthier boundaries, you might feel uncomfortable and guilty because you have a history of being afraid of hurting others’ feelings. It is also normal that the other person will not right away respect your newfound boundaries and try to manipulate you to revert back to your old ways. Do not take the other person’s response as an indication that you are doing something wrong.
5) Let go of control:
In a codependent relationship, control becomes a way to feel safe and loved. By controlling the other person, the outcomes, and everything in between, you end up feeling more exhausted and burned out. When you tried to control everything, part of you felt like you were doing what was best and right. The fact is you can only control yourself, not the other person or the outcome. Recovery from codependency means redirecting attention back to you.
When you only focus on yourself, it is also important to be reasonable and flexible with yourself. Just because you let go of controlling the other person doesn’t mean you won’t start to have high expectations of yourself. We can be just as guilty of being perfectionist with ourselves. Letting go of perfectionism starts with accepting that as human beings we are meant to have flaws and imperfections. We can let go of expecting ourselves to be perfect.
This quote by Penny Reid: “Don’t set yourself on fire trying to keep others warm” reminds me that recovering from codependency means you come first. It is a journey towards self-love and self-acceptance. It is letting go of pleasing everyone and learning to keep you happy and at peace. It may be a long and difficult journey, but you will arrive at a place where you meet your authentic, truest, and highest self.
About the Author
Dr. Menije is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, CA. When she works with her clients individually or as couples, the goal is to help you break free from the vicious cycle of anxiety and judgment and instead build a true sense of trust in yourself. The practice is currently accepting new clients and offers online therapy.