Codependency can sneak up on us so subtly that it has become our way of life before we’ve realized it. Part of the reason this can happen is that we think we know what it looks like: someone who is at the beck and call of a romantic partner. If that’s not us, then we think we’re just fine. We often think of a couple’s relationship where one partner abuses the other emotionally and mentally by always taking and taking and never giving.
In actuality, codependency can show up in many relationships ranging from personal to professional. While one-sided romantic relationships are a very common way codependency shows up, this narrow parameter can minimize or dismiss the way you may be engaging in codependency in your friendships and family relationship with your parents or siblings, as well as your people-pleasing habits in the workplace.
It is incredibly common for people to find themselves in codependent relationships, especially because we can engage in different behaviors in different contexts. Learning to identify our people-pleasing tendencies takes time and practice. Understanding how we people-please, with whom, and why, can help us be kind and firm with ourselves as we build new habits and structure our relationships in a more healthy way.
There will always be times when it makes sense for someone else to be the priority. Life does have genuine “drop everything and rush to that person’s side” moments. But those moments are not daily events. If you consistently rank your needs at the bottom of the list, you are probably people-pleasing.
You do more than your share; you go above and beyond with acts of service, emotional availability, willingness to volunteer, etc. You take on the other person’s problems, issues, obstacles, and pain as your own. This can come at the expense of taking care of your own business, such as housework, goals, dreams, and self-care time.
If something doesn’t go according to plan, you take the blame. Viewing life this way results in you feeling guilty most of the time; the food wasn’t perfect at the party, there should have been more donations at the fundraiser, your partner had a hard
day, and you couldn’t make it better, and so on and so forth. This results in you always being the one to apologize and compromise. And we are not talking about the type of apology you give when you run over someone. We are talking about apologizing for doing right by yourself because it made the other person upset.
Declining a request puts a pit in your stomach and a lump in your throat. You feel guilt at the idea of telling someone that you can’t help them move or cover their shift, or watch their kids or go with them to that event. Even if you know that you’re overbooked,
or you’ll be cutting it close on timing, or you simply don’t want to, declining a request feels impossible. For you, it’s not worth the anxiety.
Rather than investing in your relationships with trust and happiness, your actions result from negative thoughts and emotions. Whether it is fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, fear of disapproval, and/or fear of failure, you choose your next moves, your responses, your actions, your reactions based upon “minimizing damage.” You aren’t working toward a healthier, happier relationship; you’re clinging to what you have.
No matter how upset, uncomfortable, or unhappy something or someone makes you; you keep your feelings to yourself. You swallow your concerns; you repress your hurt feelings; you “give in” in arguments or disagreements to end them, even if you know for a fact that you are the person with the correct information. While constantly fighting isn’t a great way to go about your day-to-day life, neither is refusing to engage in conflict when a discussion needs to be had.
Sulking when you don’t get your way rather than stating what you want or need, the silent treatment, backhanded comments and/or compliments, and misleading facial expressions and body language are all examples of passive-aggressive communication. Rather than advocating for yourself directly (and respectfully), you adopt the narrative that you are a victim and everyone else is against you. You let your grievances build up as people fail to meet your secret needs. This may be because your wants weren’t taken seriously in childhood or because you were socialized to be “complacent.” It may also be the kind of communication that was modeled for you.
It’s hard to have time and space in your schedule and your mind when you can’t say ‘no’ to anyone! You always have a to-do list going, or a function to get to, or a favor to do. It weighs on you and nags at you, leaving you half-present for conversations or rushing off to the next thing before this one has concluded. You tell yourself that showing up to an event is what counts, even if your mind is in a completely different place. But you know deep down that you are doing 100 things at half-strength instead of doing a handful of things with commitment and passion.
The expectations you have of yourself are completely unreasonable; you would never expect anyone else to meet your standards. You feel terrible when you don’t do everything
perfectly and fear that one misstep will cost you relationships, stability, job, hobbies, etc. You are constantly beating yourself up for every little thing, even things that you know nobody else would notice or care about. You’ve probably grown tired of your inner voice picking on you, but you don’t know how to make it speak to you with more kindness and compassion.
Any and/or all of the signs of people-pleasing may apply to you in various forms and intensities. Perhaps you are surprised to tally up all how you sacrifice yourself and your needs to benefit others because it
has become so normalized to you. It may have become a way of life for you; it may be the foundation of all your relationships. Because of its prevalence in your life, it may be hard for you to imagine letting go of people-pleasing. It will take time and practice undoing habits and behaviors to establish a new way of doing things.
People-pleasing is not the same as being kind and caring. It is not what you do to show someone that you love them/her/him. It is not something that comes with being “loyal” to your family or relationship. People-pleasing is a disease to please. It is a form of relationship addiction where you are doing something over and over again hoping it will make things better when all it is really doing is creating a situation where you feel drained, stuck, and resentful.
In your quest to understand people-pleasing, it is helpful to know your triggers. In what situations, places, and/or circumstances do you feel the strongest urge(s) to please people? Put your triggers on a hierarchy from the weakest to the strongest. Think of the triggers that are least likely to spur you to engage in unhealthy and toxic people-pleasing behaviors through the triggers most likely to do so. Reflect on each trigger, when and where it becomes a problem, and take note of what happens to you when you are exposed to each particular trigger.
Brainstorm how you can avoid some of these triggers, and create a plan of action for how to cope when your triggers arise. At the moment, it can be challenging to put your plan into action, but having one in place makes it more likely that you will.
You can’t assert what you are unwilling to own. Be unapologetic about what your needs are, what revives and replenishes you. Remind yourself that you can’t pour from an empty cup – I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. It is commendable to want to help and support your loved ones, and giving up people-pleasing can feel like giving up caring for them, but that is simply not the case. In actuality, caring for yourself is and always should be the most important thing you can do for yourself. There is no need to apologize for or feel guilty about that. An added bonus of having your own needs met is that you are better able to prioritize and help others from a place of generosity and abundance instead of a feeling of obligation.
Yes, this is easier said than done. But once you have owned your feelings and your needs and set your own priorities, it becomes easier. This doesn’t mean that you don’t trust your loved ones to advise you when you’d like them to; it just means that you don’t let the perceived needs or wants of others override your own self-knowledge. Think of any random example, and contextualize it: “My priority is getting at least eight hours of sleep six nights per week; that is best for my health and wellbeing. I have to leave that dinner party by nine o’clock to get to bed by ten. I deserve health and wellbeing. If others are staying longer, that is their choice.” Remind yourself that you don’t hold the choices of others against them, so why should others do it to you? Nobody else is living your life; nobody else is alone with your thoughts at the end of the day. Striving to construct something that will satisfy other people will only leave you dissatisfied with yourself.
Self-care is a popular catchphrase nowadays, and that’s for a good reason: self-care is self-love. Operating from a place of loving and respecting yourself is the best way to evaluate your feelings and needs, enabling you to set and enforce boundaries and make choices that serve you. Remind yourself that you deserve space to decompress, time to relax, activities that make you happy, and the right to say ‘no.’
Reflect on your emotions and your needs through journaling or speaking to someone you trust, such as a therapist. Make sure you have a box of self-care items ready for times when you need to unwind and don’t want to make another decision. Drink enough water, eat enough food, get enough sleep, or at least do your best to.
Actively nurturing yourself will help you to become more attuned to the importance of your own wellness and elevate your desire to prioritize your own needs.
I had to save the best and the hardest for last. Overcoming your people-pleasing tendencies didn’t develop overnight. There must have been sequences of events that led to this pattern.
Sadly, there were probably some significant attachment figures that played a role in you having people-pleasing issues. Most often, when you are struggling with people-pleasing, it is because you came from a family environment that was chaotic and dysfunctional. While this can look different for everyone, ultimately, the environment taught you always to watch other people and “check the temperature” of the room so that nothing bad happened. Healing this trauma won’t happen all at once, just like the behavior didn’t grow all at once.
There will always be an event or circumstance at which the urge to please people is strong; there is no avoiding it. But with time and commitment, you can reduce the frequency and severity of these urges. It is essential that you are kind to yourself while you are recovering from codependency. Remember that all things take practice and trial-and-error. Recovery and behavior changes do not happen overnight, and they do not happen in a straight line.
When you are able to speak and act from a place of independence and confidence, you are able to build and sustain relationships of trust, honesty, and mutual respect. These are the pillars of happy and healthy interpersonal relationships with partners, friends, family members, and coworkers, something you are worthy of experiencing.
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.
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