The term “co-dependency” has been used in various ways for decades. And although the term has never been designated an official diagnosis, the idea of co-dependent (or “dependent”) behavior is quite real. Basically, codependent behavior is present when you rely on another person to meet all of your emotional needs and to maintain your self-esteem.
This is particularly debilitating when the person you care for is working through addiction or other maladaptive personal issues. You are likely to disregard your own needs or values to accommodate what you think others want from you and are likely to manipulate situations and people to get what you want from them.
It can be tricky to identify, as codependency is often disguised as a willingness to adapt to other's needs or as a selfless desire to help. However, in this case, the extreme “selflessness” is a way to feel needed and wanted because you have trouble feeling like a “good enough” person on your own. Also, you may tend to take on the full responsibility for other's emotions and choices, which puts all the pressure on you and very little on them.
Codependency happens when you do not have a strong sense of self, you are not aware of your personal boundaries and values, or you lack the ability to communicate your wants and needs directly.
This can cause you to stay in a self-sabotaging relationship, as you are fearful of being left alone. Although you might have often thought of walking out of the relationship, you don’t have the courage to do so.
When you set boundaries and communicate your thoughts and needs, relationships become more honest and fulfilling.
Shedding codependent behavior is not all that easy and won’t happen overnight. But when one person takes the initiative to change their behavior in the relationship, the other will have to make changes accordingly.
These adjustments may help your relationship grow stronger, but sometimes it can also create more distance between you and your partner. But either way, decreasing co-dependency is a sign you are growing into a healthier person.
Here are some suggestions to help you adjust your co-dependent tendencies and develop healthier relationships.
- Don’t be a martyr. When you focus on pleasing others, you may be compromising your long-term interests. If you constantly sacrifice your wants and needs to receive love and care in a relationship, you unknowingly start resenting those you have helped. Sometimes, the people who received your help will take you for granted or even end up resenting you. They may not even be aware of what you are giving up to please them, so learn to enjoy life to the fullest.
- Focus on your preferences. Know your likes and dislikes. Create a relationship with yourself. Learn more about the things that make you happy and unhappy. Always stay centered and know what exactly you want from life. Think of who you are outside the relationship.
- Stop feeling personally responsible for others. When you take on the full responsibility for other people’s comfort and well-being, you take away the opportunity for them to take responsibility for their own well-being. It also sends a subtle message that they are helpless without you and are not capable of taking care of themselves. Eventually, they may come to believe it. Take a step back and let them do things on their own. Occasionally refuse to step in or help them out. This also helps shift your focus to taking care of your own needs and can remind you that you are not responsible for other's choices.
- Resist the urge to advise them. Although you might have good advice to offer, curb the urge to counsel others all the time. Often, people who feel compelled to advise and counsel others are needy and insecure. Advising others makes you feel in charge and boosts your self-esteem. But if you are overly involved in another person’s life and decision-making, you are crossing that person’s personal boundary. Respecting healthy boundaries will help your relationship grow.
- Establish personal boundaries. Stop trying to please people all the time. Only when you do this can you effectively establish personal boundaries. Know when to say no and draw a line. Do not force yourself to do something you do not want to do. Don’t let others manipulate you into agreeing to what they want. You cannot control what others do, but you can definitely control your response or reaction. Enforcing clear and defined boundaries will help others know what is okay and what is not. They will know when they are crossing the line. This will also help improve your relationships.
- Take breaks from each other. Have a life of your own. Go out together, but also make sure to spend some time away from each other. Take your kids for a walk, do things on your own or with your friends. Go to a beach or park on your own.
- Don’t be a people-pleaser. You might love it when people like you, give you attention and praise you for your generosity when you help them or do things their way. But most of the time, you do these things not because you truly enjoy doing it but because you want to please others or to control them. You are manipulating them to get what you want or need from them. Know that when you are saying yes to the small things, you are missing out on things you would have enjoyed doing. Try to make conscious choices, as it will free you to do things that will truly energize you.
- Think before committing to something. The next time you are committing to something to please others, ask yourself a few questions, ‘Will this person reject me if I don’t do what they want me to do? Will I displease them by not doing what they want? Will they leave me? Ask yourself whether you are losing yourself to make others happy. Learn to say no and practice it often. And learn to say yes when it is healthy for both of you.
- Honor your needs. Your decisions should not always be made on the basis of what others want from you. Instead, you should consider your betterment when making a decision. Learn to become honest about your own needs, so that you can have mature and mutual relationships.
- Listen to your inner feelings. Remind yourself that you are allowed to have your own opinions, judgments, and feelings.
- Learn to speak the truth instead of being the ‘yes’ person. Do you avoid speaking the truth and instead say ‘yes’ when you actually meant to say ‘no’? Do you ever deny that you are upset, and instead smile and behave as if nothing happened? When you suppress your true feelings rather than expressing them, you are damaging your relationship or causing trouble for yourself in the long run. If you don’t speak about your problems or express your true feelings because you think it will cause trouble, the problem will never be resolved. Learn to express your feelings in a gracious and open-minded manner. Find healthy ways to bring up your issues and talk about how you are feeling.
- When you are hurt, address the cause. Become aware of your inner feelings, thoughts, wants, and needs. Also, learn how to communicate them. When you feel hurt, address it. But before doing so, look for the cause of the behavior that hurt you. Once you know exactly why you are hurt and angry, it will be easier for you to communicate with your partner.
- Do not insult your partner. Avoid criticizing, insulting or blaming others. Don’t call them names or label them. For instance: If you have an argument with your partner, instead of calling them mean and selfish, tell them, ‘When you don’t spend time with me and our kids, I feel neglected.’
- Find your way of handling conflict. Find your method of healthy conflict resolution. Some couples yell at each other, others are silent until their emotions are calmed down, and some use humor. Explore different ways of conflict resolution, something that is comfortable for you and your partner. When both are comfortable and happy with one method, you will tend to be happier together. The main point is that the conflict is addressed openly and not swept under the rug or thrown in each other's face.
- Work on developing yourself. If you spend your efforts attempting to win others’ approval, you are not spending enough time developing yourself. Tune into your inner feelings and intuitions and work on your ability to make your own decisions.
- Believe in yourself. Try to remember the times when you managed something successfully on your own. Make a list of the qualities that you like about yourself. Know that everyone makes mistakes and that mistakes help us grow. Learn to work on it. Regardless of what someone thinks of you, try to love and accept yourself, and you will get stronger with time.
- Keep a journal. Write down all the positive choices you have made for your personal and emotional health, and the resulting successes and achievements. Even if your hard work didn’t result in the outcome you were looking for, it could still strengthen your sense of self-worth. Keeping a journal about what you are doing right will boost your self-esteem. It will help you focus on yourself and give credit when it is due.
- Lift your self-esteem and confidence. Recognize your strengths and change the way you think about yourself. Read and watch uplifting materials. Jot down one positive thing about yourself every day. Be aware of the negative thoughts in your mind and make a conscious effort to change them. Attend self-improvement workshops to stop being codependent.
- Create your own positive space. Stop feeling responsible for other's actions and thoughts. Create a positive space for yourself. You don’t need to take responsibility for others. If someone is misbehaving, it’s not your fault. If someone is not responsible in a relationship, it’s not your job to make them responsible. You are only accountable for your own actions and reactions.
- Be around people who are good for you. Surround yourself with people who help you grow; who make you feel good, and give you what you really need, having your best interests at heart. People who make you feel better, those who are wise and let you become a better person on the inside. Make sure to stay away from negative, emotionally draining people.