How to Stop Being Codependent

What Is Codependency?

How to Stop Being Codependent

Behavioral health conditions affect a person’s ability to maintain a normal quality of life. In some instances, behavioral health conditions result in personality disorders that markedly affect a person’s ability to relate to others. Codependency is a type of psychological construct that affects a person’s relationship with others, usually focused on one person or family unit.

Codependency is a term originally used to describe those in relationships that involved substance abuse. Modern definitions of the term have evolved to encompass a wide range of situations. On the whole, codependency involves two parties: the codependent and the enabler.

The codependent, in the simplest sense, depends on the enabler to structure their identity. However, this extends further to depending on a person in a physical, emotional, or financial sense. A true codependent will lose his or her entire self-worth and self-perception to another person.

The enabler becomes the entire reason for existing. As a common consequence of being codependent, affected individuals neglect to care for themselves because they are so focused on prioritizing the needs of the enabler.

In other words, a codependent person’s happiness revolves completely around another person’s needs, even if those needs are unreasonable.

How to Recognize a Codependent Relationship

It’s important to realize that no two codependent relationships are the same. Each relationship is unique and presents its own challenges. However, there may be common threads that signal a relationship is codependent. Keep the following signs and symptoms in mind.

A Codependent and an Enabler

Codependent relationships have both a codependent and an enabler. Codependents build an entire existence dedicated to serving others, focusing on fulfilling their every need or want. They sacrifice everything – including their own well-being – to fulfill the wishes of others. Outsiders to the relationship might call the codependent a martyr.

The following are common behaviors of the codependent:

  • A misplaced responsibility for the actions of others
  • Confusing love with pity
  • Doing more than their “fair share”
  • Becoming hurt when others don’t recognize their efforts
  • Depending too heavily on interpersonal relationships and fearing abandonment
  • Need to control others
  • Lacking in trust for those outside the relationship
  • Lying/dishonesty to “preserve” the relationship
  • Poor communication skills
  • Struggles to make decisions
  • Difficulty with change

The other party in the relationship is the enabler, the person who allows these feelings to continue, whether or not intentionally. Since enabling and codependency are closely linked, it can be difficult to separate the distinction between the two. As such, it is more helpful to think of enabling as part of codependency.

In a positive sense, we think of “enabling” someone as giving them the tools to help themselves, e.g., teaching a man to fish. However, in the realm of codependency, enabling is negative. It prevents the codependent from making progress and growing as a person, and it breeds resentment in the enabler – even if the enabler loves the codependent.

Examples of Codependency

The distinction between dependence and codependency is an important one. In a healthy relationship, two people are dependent on one another.

They rely on each other emotionally for support, but they have their own interests and successes. In a codependent relationship, there is little distinction between the two parties.

The following examples help illustrate the difference between healthy dependence and unhealthy codependency:

  • In a dependent relationship, both parties make working on their relationship a priority, but they are free to pursue other interests and hobbies. In a codependent relationship, the codependent does not have any interests or values outside the relationship.
  • In a dependent relationship, both parties express their needs and wants in relation to one another. In a codependent relationship, the codependent feels his or her needs are unimportant. It may be difficult for the enabler to identify the codependent’s needs or wants regarding the relationship.
  • In a dependent relationship, two people are bound together by mutual respect and love. Both find value in the relationship. In a codependent relationship, the codependent only feels worthy when making sacrifices, sometimes extreme ones, for the enabler.

The Relationship between Codependency and Addiction

Addiction often plays a role in a codependent relationship.

Codependency does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with substance use disorders, but the original iteration of the term was to recognize the destructive relationships that often occur when someone in the family struggles with drug dependence. Codependency often occurs in people who are in relationships, manifesting itself in several different forms:

  • Partners with someone who struggles with a substance use disorder
  • Children of someone with a substance use disorder
  • Parents of a child with a substance use disorder

Frequently, children grow up to be codependent when raised by a parent or caretaker who struggled with addiction. This is often because of dysfunctional family roles.

Rather than growing, learning, or “being a kid,” these children take care of their parent or make money to maintain the household.

They may have heard they were “selfish” when they  tended to their own needs, setting the groundwork for later codependency.

The professionals at Family First Intervention often see a history of emotional abuse in codependent adults, though physical abuse may have been present as well. Above all, it is important to understand the role addiction and dysfunctional family roles can have in the development of codependency.

Myths of Codependency

Unfortunately, myths about codependency abound. Oftentimes, people misconstrue behavioral health conditions and distort the definition to make a point in casual conversation. A good example is someone (who does not have OCD) looks at a messy room and makes the offhand comment, “I couldn’t live that – I am too OCD.

” A person truly struggling with obsessions or compulsions would understand just how erroneous and hurtful that seemingly offhand comment is. Similarly, people tend to use the term “codependent” lightly.

When someone takes an issue regarding something his or her partner is doing, a response might be, “He [or she] is so codependent.”

True codependence is more than simply “needing someone to be around.” We all rely on our interpersonal relationships. A relationship becomes truly codependent when one party cannot conceive of a reality without the other in it. This notion progresses to the point where the codependent, fearing abandonment, will go to any length to keep the enabler in his or her life.

How to Stop Being Codependent

True codependence is the result of a complex interaction between two people, their environment, their upbringing, and several other factors.

As such, it is not as simple as recognizing there is a problem and stopping it in its tracks. Understanding the depth of the issue is an important precursor to recovery, but it is only the first step.

There are several ways to learn how to stop being codependent..

Take an Honest Inventory of the Relationship

what you’ve learned about codependent relationships so far, do you notice any red flags? Does your partner or loved one exhibit any signs of being codependent? By allowing yourself some introspection, you can better decide how to proceed with the information you have.

Understand the Impact a Codependent Relationship Has on Your Life

Remember the difference between a dependent relationship and a codependent one. In a dependent or mutually beneficial relationship, both individuals find value, grow, and pursue their own interests. In a codependent relationship, the overall effect of the relationship is negative. It stymies the growth of the individuals and can breed both resentment and desperation over time.

Take Responsibility

Only you can be responsible for your own actions. A codependent frequently tries to take responsibility for the feelings and shortcomings of others, even when unfounded or unmerited.

An enabler often allows this to happen, often without realizing it. Remind your partner that your feelings are your own – you control them, as you do your own destiny.

Telling a codependent that you are responsible for your emotions and shortcomings can help break the cycle.

Seek Professional Help If Necessary

In many cases, a codependent relationship will not improve without professional intervention. Remember that dysfunctional family roles and the childhood presence of parental addiction can play a role in the development of codependent adults. These are deep-seated psychological constructs that a true codependent may have trouble coming to terms with.

Codependent behaviors may require targeted professional help in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling. The codependent needs to understand the nature of these feelings, how they evolved, and to learn compensatory strategies when they arise. This process requires the assistance of a trained professional.

Do You Need Professional Help for Codependence?

Codependence is the mark of an unhealthy relationship in which neither partner benefits.

If you are unhappy in your relationship and these signs and symptoms seem familiar, you could be in a codependent relationship.

Given that a wide range of factors contribute to feelings of codependency, professional help is often needed to elevate the relationship to a healthy, mutually beneficial place.

Is an intervention necessary? Take the quiz. Family First intervention services take a holistic view of your relationship and apply evidence-based practices to get you on the road to codependence recovery.

Codependency Comes in 4 Ways – Which Defines You?


How to Fix an Addicted and Codependent Relationship

How to Stop Being Codependent
Willingway works with families who are in a codependent relationship related to drug or alcohol addiction. If you or a loved one are in need of help for an addiction, please call 888-979-2140.

It is true that love is unselfish. When we have children, their needs have to come before ours.

We are not going to let our baby cry for hours from hunger in the middle of the night because we feel sleeping. We will drive our children around to activities when we are tired or would rather be doing something else. Acting responsibly as a parent is part of what it means to love our children.

However, when we always put the other first in our adult relationships, at the expense of our own health or well-being, we may be codependent.

About Codependency

Codependency is a learned behavior. We watch the actions of our parents when we are children. If our mother or father had a problem with boundaries, was always the martyr, could never say ‘no’ to people, and had unhealthy ways to communicate, we most ly learned these behaviors and brought them into our intimate relationships.

Children who grow up with emotionally unavailable parents are at risk for being codependent. As adults, they often find themselves in relationships where their partner is emotionally unavailable, yet they stay in the hopes that they can change the person. No matter what happens, they won’t stop hoping that one day things will be good.

The subconscious hope is that the other person will see all the love we give and be inspired to change. We believe that if we just hang in there and give our love, understanding, and support, we will finally get the love that we desire. This thinking is destructive. It is especially dangerous if our partner tends toward physically or emotionally abusive behavior.

The worst part is when we do not realize what is going on and continue to live in a loveless partnership because we have never learned what a good partnership looks . Codependent people do not believe that they are worthy of love, so they settle for less. Often, they find themselves taking mental, emotional, physical, and even sexual abuse from their partner.

People who are codependent often look for things outside of themselves to feel better. They form relationships that are not healthy, looking to ‘fix’ the other person. A person with codependent tendencies may find themselves in an intimate relationship with a person who has addiction issues that cause them to be emotionally unavailable.

How to Tell if You’re Codependent

If you are in a relationship that you think may be codependent, the first step to independence is to stop looking at the other and take a look at yourself.

If you agree with the following statements, you may be codependent.

  • You tend to love people that you can pity and rescue.
  • You feel responsible for the actions of others.
  • You do more than your share in the relationship to keep the peace.
  • You are afraid of being abandoned or alone.
  • You feel responsible for your partner’s happiness.
  • You need approval from others to gain your own self-worth.
  • You have difficulty adjusting to change.
  • You have difficulty making decisions and often doubt yourself.
  • You are reluctant to trust others.
  • Your moods are controlled by the thoughts and feelings of those around you.

The Relationship Between Codependency and Addiction

One of the many problems with a codependent relationship is that you may be inadvertently enabling a partner’s addiction. In your attempt to show your love by “helping” your partner, you can discourage him or her from seeking the treatment necessary to get sober.

For example:

  • You justify your husband’s drinking by saying he has had a stressful day or needs to relax.
  • You make excuses when your girlfriend can’t come to social functions because she is under the influence of heroin.
  • You let your boyfriend borrow your prescription opioids whenever he complains of any minor discomfort, even though you’re worried about his growing dependence on the medication.
  • You quietly take on extra responsibilities around the house or in parenting your children because your partner is always under the influence.
  • You find yourself frequently apologizing to others or doing favors to repair relationships damaged by your partner’s drug or alcohol abuse.
  • You risk your own financial future by loaning money to your partner to cover debts incurred from substance abuse.

Addiction impairs judgement and critical thinking skills. This makes it very difficult for someone with a substance use disorder to see that they need help. When you go your way to prevent your partner from experiencing the consequences of substance abuse, you make it less ly that they will acknowledge that a problem exists.

Loving someone with a substance use disorder can also cause your codependent tendencies to spiral control.

When your partner is behaving erratically due to drug or alcohol abuse, it’s easy to resort to using codependent behavior in your fight to maintain a sense of control over chaotic surroundings.

This creates a vicious cycle that traps both of you in a dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship.

Healing from Codependency

The good news is that codependency is a learned behavior, which means it can be unlearned. If you love your partner and want to keep the relationship, you need to heal yourself first and foremost.

Some healthy steps to healing your relationship from codependency include:

  • Start being honest with yourself and your partner. Doing things that we do not want to do not only wastes our time and energy, but it also brings on resentments. Saying things that we do not mean only hurts us, because we then are living a lie. Be honest in your communication and in expressing your needs and desires.
  • Stop negative thinking. Catch yourself when you begin to think negatively. If you begin to think that you deserve to be treated badly, catch yourself and change your thoughts. Be positive and have higher expectations.
  • Don’t take things personally. It takes a lot of work for a codependent person not to take things personally, especially when in an intimate relationship. Accepting the other as they are without trying to fix or change them is the first step.
  • Take breaks. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from your partner. It is healthy to have friendships outside of your partnership. Going out with friends brings us back to our center, reminding us of who we really are.
  • Consider counseling. Get into counseling with your partner. A counselor serves as an unbiased third party. They can point out codependent tendencies and actions between the two of you that you may not be aware of. Feedback can provide a starting point and direction. Change cannot happen if we do not change.
  • Rely on peer support. Co-Dependents Anonymous is a 12-step group similar to Alcoholics Anonymous that helps people who want to break free of their codependent behavior patterns.
  • Establish boundaries. Those who struggle with codependency often have trouble with boundaries. We do not know where our needs begin or where the other’s end. We often thrive off guilt and feel bad when we do not put the other first.

Self-Care Is Not Selfish

As you’re working to break the cycle of codependency, it may seem you are being encouraged to behave in a way that is selfish and unfair to your partner. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In a healthy relationship, both people have fully formed identities outside of their time together. They each bring unique attributes to the table—creating a partnership that allows both of them to grow and thrive.

Watching a loved one struggle with drug or alcohol addiction is heartbreaking, but you won’t be in any position to support your partner’s addiction treatment unless you make time to address your own mental health needs.

At Willingway, we offer personalized, evidence-based treatment for men and women struggling with substance use disorders. This includes extended treatment services to reduce the risk of relapse as well as treatment for families to address codependency and other issues that may be interfering with the recovery process.


Lose You To Love Me: 3 Steps to Overcoming Codependency in California

How to Stop Being Codependent

If you have struggled with overcoming codependency, the following phrases might resonate with you…

“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. Honestly, I don’t even know where it all went wrong.

I wasn’t always this. The relationship wasn’t always 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, or having passive-aggressive communication instead of assertiveness. Further, it can mean 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 s of the other person while you’re lost in your own needs, wants, and s. 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: How to Start Overcoming Codependency

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 a 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

Did you grow up in a family environment where there was an inconsistent or lack of emotional support and encouragement? Or where you were instead often blamed or talked to as if you are inadequate? This type of childhood shapes how little you come to trust yourself as an adult. One thing we know for sure is that children internalize the things said to them.

For example, you may have had a parent, a teacher, or a coach who often questioned you and made comments that made you feel you don’t know enough. And now, you come to not see your inner intuition, thoughts, and instinct as a reliable compass.

If you had a dysfunctional family growing up, your family of origin may have taught you unhealthy relationship skills.

Further, there is a good chance you carried them over to your adult life and they now 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 ly to do whatever it takes to keep the peace.

Codependency & Communication: The Key to Overcoming Codependency

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?

I’m scared…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 ly to explore.

Instead of being open and direct, you become passive than aggressive in your communication.

Fear is the number one factor behind poor communication in codependent relationships. The 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 start overcoming codependency:

Since codependency can show up in a variety of ways and have a variety of reasons behind it, there is a 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 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 s, diss, 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.

3) Feel your feelings:

When working on overcoming codependency, you also need to change the relationship you have with your emotions. Especially, 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.

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 when overcoming codependency:

Codependency goes hand in hand with poor boundaries. Meaning any codependent relationship has poor, rigid, and unhealthy boundaries between the two people. Overcoming 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 leave little room for individual space.

Setting new boundaries

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 you can start to pay attention to how it made you feel afterward. 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. And, 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 you were doing what was best and right. The fact is you can only control yourself, not the other person or the outcome.

Overcoming 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 perfectionists 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.

Final Thoughts About Overcoming Codependency:

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.

And, 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 Los Angeles Therapist Dr. Menije

Dr. Menije is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, CA. When she works with her clients for individual therapy or for couples therapy, 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 in California.

Contact us to start therapy for codependency in person near Los Angeles or online throughout the state. After you reach out, one of our staff members will get back to you no later than 24 hours to schedule a free phone consultation. Not quite ready for therapy? Check out more from our blog for additional insight on mental health.

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