It’s perfectly natural to feel invested in the lives of those closest to you. You maintain a clean home and cook dinner every night to please your partner. You support your child financially while they are attending university because your child is doing really well in school or maybe you are the child that is sacrificing to make good marks in school in order to please your parents and gain their respect. This can be a healthy way to create bonds and improve your relationships.
However, sometimes this goes too far, and people become overly emotionally invested, with the lives of those closest to them. You may not realize this, but if you are sacrificing your needs and happiness in order to make your partner, child, or parents happy, you may be in a codependent relationship. A codependent relationship is loosely defined as prioritizing someone else’s needs over yours. This condition can be caused by a number of things, but fortunately, there are a number of ways for breaking a codependent relationship.
What is a Codependent Relationship?
Melodie Beattie, a leading scholar of codependency, defines codependency as trying to change other people’s behaviors or taking care of people as a result of those behaviors. Beattie writes about codependency when it comes to romantic relationships, usually having one of the partners engaging in emotionally destructive behaviors while the other attempts to either change them or take responsibility. This is only one form of a codependent relationship since there are a variety of causes and behaviors involved in codependency.
How to Tell if You’re in a Codependent Relationship
There are wide arrays of signs and symptoms that indicate a codependent relationship. According to Codependents Anonymous International, there are a few major behavior patterns that include denial, compliance, low self-esteem, control, and avoidance. Each of these has several common behaviors associated with them, but they help define codependency as being a state of self-subjugation.
With compliance and low self-esteem patterns, codependents often minimize their strengths, letting those closest to them dictate their actions. Control patterns tend to involve forcing those around them to act a certain way. Avoidance patterns result in self-isolation, preventing the codependent from expanding their social sphere. Not all codependents experience each one of these patterns, but they are strong identifiers. Here are some signs that could indicate that you are in a codependent relationship.
1. Are You a People Pleaser?
If you constantly find yourself trying to make others happy, even at your own expense, you could be prone to codependent relationships. According to Mental Health America, codependents will put their own happiness last, working themselves miserably to please their friends, family, coworkers, and partners. They can also judge themselves based off of the opinions of those around them. If you largely value yourself based on how happy you make others, regardless of your own happiness, you might be in a codependent relationship. Recognizing this will help you in overcoming codependency.
2. Do You Have Trouble with Boundaries?
Boundaries may vary from culture to culture, but all humans have a well-defined set of boundaries to some level. Think of a literal boundary, such as a country boundary. A lot of countries won’t allow foreigners to cross their boundary line unless they go through the proper procedures to gain access to that country. Now, a personal boundary is a figurative line that you do not allow others to cross. An easy example of a personal boundary is that most people won’t allow a random stranger to hit them. This is crossing the personal boundary line.
Certain conversation topics, personal experiences, physical space, and other aspects of social interaction have access levels. You may be comfortable telling some stories to acquaintances, but some are reserved for your closest friends. With codependency, these lines become very rigid. Often, the codependent will avoid interacting with anyone outside of their relationship, while they become too comfortable with their codependent (partner, child, parent, friend, etc.). This can lead to overstepping boundaries, or it can lead to extreme social isolation.
3. Feelings of Guilt
If you’re in a codependent relationship, you may feel guilt for things your codependent partner does. Especially in the situation where one person engages in emotionally destructive behaviors, someone who is codependent will take the blame and responsibility for the person they have a relationship with, as stated by americanaddictioncenters.org. This can lead to unnecessary guilt, depression, stress, and anxiety. Overcoming a codependent relationship means removing the burdens of your partner, child, parent or friend and learning to let them accept the consequences for their actions by setting boundaries.
The Dangers of Codependency
Codependency is an inherently unbalanced relationship and has many risks involved. From the health risks of self-neglect to the long-term effects of an unhealthy relationship, codependency can have a multitude of risks involved, according to Web MD. When we neglect to take care of ourselves, we can have negative physical and mental health effects. You have the risk of eating unhealthy foods, sleeping less, and social isolation in order to accommodate and please the person you are sacrificing your happiness for.
Feeling responsible for someone else’s happiness and sacrificing your needs in hopes that the other person will change, is quite stressful. If you are burned out due to a codependent relationship, you can suffer from mental health issues such as social anxiety and depression. An unhealthy relationship of any type can make you more prone to have unhealthy relationships in the future. There are also deeper, more complex impacts of codependency.
1. Losing Your Identity
Your identity is a core part of your being. It’s the essence of your individuality, and a codependent relationship will erode that. By becoming overly invested in your partner’s goals and dreams, or by relying too much on the opinions of others, you can lose sight of your own unique goals and opinions. Your identity is worth protecting and is one of the best reasons to overcome your codependent relationship.
2. An Unhealthy Dynamic
Regardless of the specifics of a codependent relationship, it will have an unhealthy dynamic. The codependent is enabling unhealthy activity, or there are emotionally destructive behaviors involved, or there is too much emphasis on outside opinions.
All of these and more are not sustainable or healthy and can have long-term negative effects. It’s possible to burn yourself out of relationships, or you may stay in an uncomfortable situation for longer than you should. You may make sacrifices that you shouldn’t make, causing long-term resentment and regret. Overcoming a codependent relationship can prevent these long-term effects, and can promote healthy relationships in the future and
3. A Lack of Self-Care
It’s important to focus on yourself and your health. A codependent relationship can make it hard to focus on your own well being because you sacrifice and focus on the well being and happiness of others. Self-care can be many things, including simple things like a relaxing bedtime routine and a nutritious diet.
Being too involved with someone else’s life can result in adopting bad habits such as social isolationor overeating to compensate for your unhappiness. Self-care can also involve more holistic rituals, like meditation and yoga. If you become fearful that those around you will judge you, you may neglect to do the things that add to your overall mental and physical wellness.
10 Ways to Overcome Codependency
If you’re in a codependent relationship, you might feel lost when it comes to finding your independence. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can overcome codependency. Most of these are lifestyle choices, changing how you interact with people and yourself. These are accessible and can have a multitude of other benefits besides overcoming codependency.
1. Practice Self-Care
When you’re taking too much care of your family or your co-workers, personal care is one of the first things you can sacrifice. Make an active effort to dedicate time to take yourself. Take time to cook healthy meals, exercise a few times per week, and make sure you have time in the day for just your own needs.
If you’re in a more obsessive relationship, this can be difficult to do. You may feel like you’re forcing yourself to take care of yourself, but in the long run, it will help improve your relationship. Consider taking a trip away from your partner or parents or find a separate social outlet. Self-care is about doing things for yourself. Why should you exercise and socialize with friends? Because you need to DO IT FOR YOU, not for someone else.
2. Set Boundaries
You may have a comfortable relationship with your partner or parents, but it’s important to make sure you have clear boundaries. Both you and the person you have a relationship with should have very clear limits set. If the person you are in a codependent relationship with crosses a boundary, such as spying on your phone or taking money from your bank account, there needs to be a clear consequence.
Consequences need to be enforced every single time a boundary is crossed. It cannot be okay or not a big deal one time, but the next time they do it you become infuriated because it only confuses the person crossing the boundary. The boundary must be clear and there must be a consequence. Every. Single. Time. Understanding personal space, conversations, and how you will react to someone else’s actions will not only help you enforce a healthier moderated relationship. It will improve your relationship.
3. Embrace Alone Time
Many codependents fear to be alone. This can be the result of low self-esteem, or of previous experiences with isolation, but learning how to embrace being alone will help you achieve your independence. There will always be times where we’re alone, whether it’s a Saturday night with no plans or a business trip away from home. Live your life as if the person that’s in it will not be there tomorrow. This may sound bad, but what would you do if that person wasn’t in your life anymore? Being able to thrive during your time alone will help you overcome your codependent relationship and gain your independence and identity back.
4. Visualize a Healthy Relationship
It’s easy to underestimate the power of visualization. By visualizing a healthy relationship, you can take the steps to actualize that relationship. Stay away from cliche relationships that you see on movies and on TV. Focus on a relationship that can make you happy. This will motivate you to improve the health of a codependent relationship, giving you more independence in the process.
5. Understand You Are Not Responsible for Someone Else’s Happiness
You may think that if you sacrifice and work hard to please the person that you are in a codependent relationship with, it will contribute to their happiness and change their mindset. You dream about finally achieving the healthy loving relationship you’ve always wanted with that person. If they are happy, you are happy. This not realistic. No matter how much you sacrifice and please someone else, it is up to the other person if they want to change. You are responsible for your own happiness and they are responsible for theirs. So, you might as well do the things that make you happy.
6. Learn to Let Go
It can be hard to watch someone close to you fail, or suffer from their own negative behaviors. It’s important to learn to let go and let those around you learn and grow from their own mistakes. Codependents often find themselves overly invested in the lives of others feeling responsible for the other person’s behaviors. Letting go can be a vital first step to finding independence. Once you’re able to focus less on other people’s lives, you can begin to focus on your own again.
7. You Cannot Change Other People, You Can Only Change Yourself
Overcoming a codependent relationship can be tough. If you base your happiness solely on your partner, or on the accomplishments of those around you, you may be in a codependent relationship. Focus on the relationship and how you feel, rather than how the other person feels. Stop focusing on what you need to do to change or help the other person. Focus on what you need to do to cultivate a healthier relationship. It may seem unfair that you are doing the work and they are not, but by focusing on yourself, you can create a more authentic and healthier relationship.
8. Learn to Communicate Honestly
A common symptom of codependency is being in denial. If you find yourself rationalizing unhealthy behavior or your own unhappiness, you may not be communicating honestly with yourself or with others. If you don’t want to do something, say no. If you say yes, even if you don’t want to do something, it will result in your own resentment towards the other person. You are living in denial and resenting and blaming others by not speaking your truth. It can be tough at first, but by speaking your truth, accepting when you’re not okay with something, and being clear about your needs and boundaries, you can move closer towards independence. You need to be able to identify a problem before you can solve it, so make sure, to be honest with yourself.
9. Overcome Your Fear of Rejection
One of the deep roots that can cause a codependent relationship is the need for approval from others. Overcoming your fear of rejection will play a vital role in building your self-esteem and becoming more independent. Learning to accept yourself without validation from anyone will liberate you to live the life that makes you happiest.
10. Accept Help from Others
Many people in codependent relationships take on the burdens of others. This can make you overwhelmed, stressed out, and can cause you to back out of your own commitments. There are short term and long term effects to doing this, including detriments to mental and physical health, as well as your social and work life. Learning to accept that others can help you is key to overcoming codependency, and will give you the time and energy you need to become independent.
Healthy relationships are a vital part of life. It keeps you happy, helps you grow, and lets you accomplish more in life. But it’s also important to be independent. Finding a balance between yourself and your relationships can be hard, but by overcoming codependency, you can lead a more fulfilling life with rich, meaningful relationships. Independence is one of the many ways to happiness, so take the steps you need to form these healthy relationships.