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What is the truth about codependency? 5 Steps to Healing From Codependency!

At least once in our lives, most of us have formed a codependent bond with someone else. It may have been a family member, a friend, or a partner. Chances are, this relationship didn’t bring out the best in us; we might have been stressed out all the time, or insecure, or paranoid. We may have responded to these feelings by acting out, becoming clingy, or pushing the other person away out of fear. When all was said and done, we probably realized that the situation was codependent if we hadn’t already figured it out. People in our lives may have told us that that was their perception, but it went unheeded.

It might be easy, in that scenario, to assign that specific relationship as codependent and assume it will never happen again. We tend to think of codependency as the problem that causes disconnection, loneliness, and stress in our lives when it may be a symptom of a deeper issue. Because codependency is a heavy barrier to healthy connection, our tendency, habit, or need to relate to another person in this way is a sign that we have some self-work and exploration to do. When we begin to think of codependency as the symptoms, we can start to ask ourselves: what is the problem? What is the truth about codependency?

What Causes Codependency? Where does it come from?

1. Dysfunctional family environment:

Growing up, our family environment plays one of the most important roles in our relationship with ourselves and others. If we grew up in a chaotic and unpredictable environment, it has all the power to shape our sense of safety. Specifically, if your relationship with your primary caregivers, typically parents, were inconsistent and traumatic, you would have had cause always to feel a lack of control. This lack of control growing up causes the adult to seek safety and a sense of belonging constantly.

When we look at a dysfunctional family environment, we are looking at situations in which the child could not be a child. This can involve taking care of self and/or siblings if a parent is unable; these instances often come up when a parent struggles with addiction. A guardian who is unable to fill their role may rely on the child to make meals or do housework beyond their developmental ability. Emotional care provided to a parental figure can have the same outcome; being a confidante for a struggling parent lays the groundwork for unclear boundaries between child and caregiver. Sometimes, this care is given if the parent suffers from mental illness or is the victim of domestic violence. In other instances, if the parent is a narcissist, the child is expected to provide the praise and comfort they demand.

Because children are meant to be cared for, and not the other way around, a child who is forced to keep a household going, or support an adult emotionally or physically, is going to lose track of their own needs. This leads to a pattern in which they view security and stability as their job; as an adult, this same pattern repeats itself, as this is the only way this person has learned to
create harmony.

2. Unhealthy Attachment styles:

Unhealthy attachment styles are often created in a dysfunctional family environment. If a parent, guardian, or caregiver was abusive, harsh, judgmental, had unrealistic expectations, the child probably developed avoidant attachment. In this attachment style, the child avoids seeking help from the parent at all costs. This is the child’s way of coping with the negative responses the parent tends to give. Why ask for help with homework if the other person is going to make you feel badly for not understanding? Why reach out for emotional support if the other person is going to tell you to toughen up or put you down as “too sensitive”?

On the other hand, a parent may have been emotionally or physically distant or absent, inattentive, and/or unsupportive, which leads to anxious attachment. A child who experienced the instability of not being able to rely on the caregiver develops into an adult with the same fears: can I trust this person? Will this person come back? When will this person be available to me? Can I rely on this person to help me with this problem?

There are also examples of children who experience both avoidant and anxious attachment, which is known as disorganized attachment. This occurs when a child receives inconsistent care from a parent: sometimes the parent is emotionally present and available, and sometimes not. Sometimes the parent is supportive, and sometimes not. A child will feel and appear confused or dazed in interactions with their caregiver, never sure how to approach at any given time. As an adult, these same feelings may arise if someone’s behavior triggers a memory of the inconsistency of childhood.

3. Traumatic experiences:

Trauma is an emotional response to hurtful, painful, and/or shocking events. While trauma in childhood can impact attachment styles and lead to codependency, childhood is not the only time that we can experience trauma. Trauma can include death and loss, as well as betrayal. For example, if you develop healthy attachments in childhood but then experience the deaths of several close friends and/or family members, your notion of peoples’ permanence in your life may have shifted. If a partner you trusted cheated on you or broke off your relationship seemingly out of the blue, that would be another traumatic event that could shift your ability to have healthy and trusting attachments to people.

This doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences trauma automatically changes their entire view of the world or loses the ability to put trust in relationships overnight. But experiences that harmed you, in which you learned that you could not depend on or trust in those you thought you could, could play a role in how you approach future relationships.

Suppose you’ve spent an entire lifetime functioning in codependent relationships. In that case, it can seem like a tall order to learn a new way to bond with others, but doing so can open up a whole new, enriching dynamic with the other person. We have to let go of our codependency and people-pleasing to experience our relationships in the most healthy way possible. This means we have to heal from our codependency.

5 Steps to Healing from Codependency:

1. Identify the traits of Codependency:

Change always begins with self-awareness. To challenge your patterns of codependency, you have to identify how it is showing up in your life.
While there can be many different ways one can be codependent, there are some common traits. Knowing what to look for and being open to exploring what you learn about yourself is a great way to begin to unpack your attachment patterns.

Common symptoms of codependency include low self-esteem and a need for validation, brought on by feelings of unworthiness and guilt over things you were blamed for in the past; perfectionism and a need for control, as you grew up fast and took on a caretaker position in your childhood, and probably use(d) control of others as a way to feel control over your life; and people-pleasing, which you learned as a way to stay on peoples’ good sides, and/or in their good graces.

Once you have an idea of how codependency can show up in your life, you are able to spot behaviors associated with it and adjust as needed.

2. Repair your attachment style so as to build a more secure attachment:

To repair your attachment style, you need to do the work to heal yourself and release the patterns and fears of your inner child. There are a lot of trust issues that come from growing up in an unhealthy family environment; repairing your sense of trust in yourself, and others is an important part of releasing codependency. It can be helpful to do this sort of work with the guidance of a therapist like we offer here in Woodland Hills or via teletherapy if you are still more comfortable staying home as often as possible. This work can involve: learning to self-soothe, so that you know that you do not need the other person; practicing being assertive and direct, rather than manipulating or being passive-aggressive; honoring and accepting
yourself and your emotional needs; and healing your inner shame, raising your self-esteem, and increasing your self-love.

You may also need to learn to better identify the red flags in relationships; they will either help you realize that you need to adjust behavior or indicate that perhaps you have chosen a partner from a place of insecurity or fear instead of healthy feelings like trust.

Therapy for Codependency in Woodland Hills, CA, is here to provide you with a safe space to explore your relationship history so that you can have the right tools for better connections.

3. Set healthy boundaries:

Healthy boundaries were probably not modeled for you as a child. Either a caregiver was completely emotionally intertwined with you, oversharing or demanding a lot of support, or so distant that there was no situation in which you could explore boundaries. When you determine what your needs and wants are, you can also decide what doesn’t serve them. This is how you establish a boundary. For example, if you like a bit of warning before someone stops by your home, that is a boundary. A person who disregards that need and stops unannounced from time to time is crossing your boundary. The other person may think that that’s a silly boundary, but other people do not determine our boundaries. Perhaps you want a moment to have brushed your teeth or put on a bra. Maybe you would like a few minutes to tidy up. Maybe you never had private time as a child, and now your home is a sanctuary. Perhaps you are careful with how many different people come over because you feel sensitive to the energy of others and their interactions with you in your home. Whatever your reason is, it is fair for you to expect your boundary to be respected and adhered to.

4. Communicate your needs openly and assertively:

What seems like a no-brainer to us is not always that way to the other person. You have every right to state what your needs are and every obligation to do so. Providing the other person with the information they need to show up for you is both an investment in your relationship and an act of self-love. This doesn’t mean that you start making demands off the top of your head, but rather that you are direct and open about what matters to you. Many times, we feel a lump in our throat when we try to assert our needs. This can lead to us saying nothing and hoping that either we get used to the behavior, perhaps it magically changes on its own. There are some behaviors, such as violence or name-calling, that we can assume the other person knows better than to do. But beyond that, we are just as responsible for telling our loved ones our specific needs as they are for respecting them. Throwing in the towel because someone can’t guess how you feel is a cop-out. But if you have communicated your needs and they are ignored, that is a sign that there is work to be done or a change to be made. This may bring about an ending to a relationship, an event that could be particularly upsetting to you. This fear can sometimes lead us to keep quiet about our needs, when in fact, the end of something that doesn’t work for you can be an incredible learning and growth experience. You may find the self-love you deserve in this time period.

5. Assess for co-occurring mental health needs:

Dealing with codependency can exacerbate depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and/or addiction. If your codependency has brought on additional mental health issues in your life, it is important to address those as well.

Being prepared to unpack more than one thing at once, or to have to organize and prioritize, will set you up to succeed in dealing with codependency as well as whatever other issue(s) arise. This means removing as many triggers as possible when dealing with the other, having someone to talk to as you go through your process, and returning to the work you have done to build self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-love.

Individual therapy and counseling in Woodland Hills, CA, can provide you with the support, psychoeducation, and coping skills you need to address the co-occurring anxiety, depression, other mental health needs you may have, along with your codependency.

Individual therapy and counseling in Woodland Hills, CA, can provide you with the support, psychoeducation, and coping skills you need to address the co-occurring anxiety, depression,  other mental health needs you may have, along with your codependency.

Codependency isn’t built overnight, and cannot be deconstructed in that amount of time, either. It is ongoing, conscious work, but it does become easier and more straightforward the more you do it. Rewiring thoughts and altering behavior patterns includes setbacks, delays, and struggles; be kind to yourself when you experience them. The work itself is part of your healing journey. In gaining independence, you will not lose connections with people. In actuality, you will learn to seek love from a place of want, pleasure, and free will, as opposed to need and fear, creating more harmony and happiness in your relationships.

Other Services at Embracing You Therapy

Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, 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.

At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, Codependency, and Addiction.

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 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.

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