How to Stop Being Codependent and Reclaim Your Life

Relationship Rules
11 Jun 2023
12 min read
9 Ways to Stop Being Codependent in Your Relationships

We’ve all heard about codependent relationships, but the ways to detect such relationships in your life are not clear at all. It may feel like love during the first dates – especially if you’re naturally a nurturer-at-heart and enjoy caring about people. When do you start feeling resentful, your bond becomes poisoned by empty promises, but you realize you cannot get out of this codependency? Read this to develop the necessary skills and understand how to stop being codependent and build a healthy relationship.

What Is a Codependent Relationship?

Codependency, or a shared dependency, is an unhealthy reliance of two people on each other, expecting their partner to meet  their needs. For example, two codependent individuals might be addicted to a substance. So, they build their relationship around that addiction and get the fix they need together. Alternatively, partners can serve unconscious needs of each other. For example, another couple might engage in codependent behaviors around dramatic arguments and making up with one another. So, the dynamic of their relationship is constantly arguing and making up around the same set of topics – even if they don’t recognise that.

Codependency is extremely harmful for all the people involved. It leads to an inability to establish boundaries, unhealthy behaviors, and a tendency to put your partner’s well-being above your own. Or, if you are on the other side of the partnership, a tendency to rely on your partner to meet your own needs.

Generally, codependent relationships are often discussed in the context of romantic relationships and substance abuse disorder. However, there can be codependent relationships of many other types – it may happen between two friends, family members, or even within a professional relationship.

“Foundationally, it is due to poor concept of self and poor boundaries, including an inability to have an opinion or say no.”

Dr. Mark Mayfield, a licensed professional counselor

Difference Between a Codependent Relationship And True Love

At first, a codependent relationship may seem intensely loving. Before you realize you need to learn how to stop being codependent, you tend to experience some real highs. You spend time together, do things for your partner, and absolutely hate being apart.

Unfortunately, you may not be able to put the brakes on your codependent behavior patterns until you can tell the difference between healthy relationships and codependent ones. Here are a few key differences between a loving relationship and a codependent relationship worth your attention.

Loving relationship vs. codependent relationship

If you and your partner fall into unhealthy ways of relating to one another, you are in danger or developing a codependent attachment to one another.

10 Common Signs That I Have Codependent Tendencies

To learn how to stop being codependent, you must learn to recognize your own codependent patterns. You see, codependent people tend to have certain characteristics and behaviors. Take a look at this list, and see what you recognize.

1. You Struggle to Name and Claim Your Feelings

A codependent person will often struggle with understanding and processing the emotions they feel, particularly the negative ones. Rather than sitting with their feelings, acknowledging them, and dealing with them in healthy ways, they engage in negative coping skills. They seek out pleasurable emotions and will act quickly to escape from any negative emotions quickly.

Example: Imagine that your partner is upset because they handled their finances poorly, and doesn’t have enough money to pay their bills. You feel bad for them. But rather than sitting with that feeling and allowing them to handle their own issues, you rescue them with a 200-dollar loan. Because you care about them, right? But later, you find out they used that money to purchase something frivolous. How do you feel? Most certainly, you rage at them about it and break up with them. But if you’re codependent, that only lasts for a few days until you can’t handle the guilt and loneliness and give your partner one more last chance.

2. You Crave External Approval

People who are codependent have their emotional needs met through the love and approval of other people. You want the people around you to be happy with you and will do things that damage your self-esteem in order to achieve that.

Example: Your partner struggles with substance use disorder. As a result, they miss work and eventually lose their job. But rather than allowing them to face the consequences of their actions, you agree to tell friends and family that their job loss was caused by “budget cuts”. With time, denying their substance abuse problems and lying feels terrible. However, your partner is so grateful to you for helping them. They tell you that you’re amazing and supportive and that they don’t know what they would do without you. And if you feel pleased and keep going, that means this “hit” of approval rewards your codependent behavior and keeps the cycle going.

3. You Have a Fear of Abandonment

Fear of abandonment and other insecure attachment styles can lead to codependent relationship dynamics. Essentially, you become so fearful that your partner will leave you that you will jump in to meet their needs, even if you have to self-sacrifice to do that.

Related reading: Are You In Love or Just Clingy? 8 Love vs Attachment Differences

Why do you fall into these unhealthy relationship patterns? You might subconsciously believe that you will keep your partner if they are dependent on you. In this negative attachment style, you believe that you aren’t good enough unless you are proving yourself as a valuable commodity within your relationships.

4. You Take on Responsibility for Others

People who have healthy boundaries understand that other adults are capable of being accountable for their decisions and behaviors. People with codependency may understand that on an intellectual level, but struggle to apply that practice in their own life. Instead of stepping back and letting others handle their own issues, you may feel compelled to rescue them. Also, you might experience feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety.

It’s normal to feel bad for another person who is struggling. The difference is that with codependent behavior, you will feel an obligation to save the other person, even if that means sacrificing your own health, own feelings, or even your own identity.

In a codependent relationship, you struggle to make any decision

5. You Struggle to Make Relationship Decisions

Codependent relationships are fraught with indecision. Do you find yourself thinking and overthinking the decisions you have to make regarding your partner and your relationship? This could come as a result of past relationships and other experiences that cause a persistent sense of self-doubt.

You constantly question your decisions, and that leads to issues with setting boundaries. When you don’t feel sure of your own decisions, you will ultimately make decisions based on the approval of your codependent partner. Then, those choices are rarely going to have a foundation of self-care. This is another example of an attachment style that is based on people-pleasing and self-doubt.

6. You Struggle with Communication in Your Relationships

Healthy relationships are built around good communication, including conflicts. Both people know how to calmly articulate their thoughts, and manage their own negative emotions. Yes, arguments happen, but they don’t last long. The goal is to find a solution to the conflict and move on in a healthy way.

These communication patterns don’t happen in dysfunctional relationships. You may worry that your partner will leave or become upset with you if you express anything negative. So, you hold back. Eventually, that results in an outburst from you or guilt-tripping. This leads to a cycle of arguing and making up that defines these high-drama relationships you tend to have.

7. You Don’t Trust Your Own Judgment

If you don’t have strong self esteem, you will struggle to trust your own judgment, particularly in romantic relationships. For you, every situation becomes a cycle of self-doubt.

You spend so much time questioning whether your perceptions are correct that you begin to wonder if you are imagining things. This exacerbates your codependency as you become frozen, and unable to move forward with a sense of confidence.

Related reading: Gaslighting Phrases Everyone Should Know About

8. You Will Choose a Dysfunctional Relationship Over Being Single

Relationship addiction and codependency go hand in hand. When you value yourself based on your romantic relationship status, every decision you make has one underlying goal. You must maintain relationships, even at a cost to your mental health, because being alone is unfathomable to you.

9. You Have Unbalanced Expectations of Your Relationships

With codependency, your expectations are out of balance. Rather than the emotional labor being evenly split, one of you carries much more of the burden. Generally, one partner plays the role of being dependent. The other takes care of their needs. Although this may be alternated with periods of shaming or guilt-tripping the dependent party.

10. You Crave Being Needed

You gain your sense of self-worth from being needed by others. This is a learned behavior that may have its roots in your childhood. Chances are, these tendencies are clear in your other relationships too, not just the romantic ones.

It’s important to remember that codependency isn’t simply one person taking advantage of another. Both individuals involved get something out of the situation. One person is having their needs met and avoiding responsibility. The other person plays the rescuer and often experiences an unhealthy sense of superiority because of that. Some people who play this role in a codependency situation develop a sense of martyrdom.

9 ways to break free from a codependent relationship

9 Ways on How to Stop Being Codependent

Fortunately, you can overcome codependency, improve your low self-esteem, and enjoy better mental health. Use these 9 tips to stop being codependent.

1. Identify the Specific Issue

Before you can break free from codependency, you’ll need to engage in some self-analysis. Figure out what you get from your role in these relationships. When did you start engaging in those behaviors?

By spending time on this, you will develop a deeper understanding of your approach to relationships, and be able to improve your life.

2. Work with a Mental Health Professional

You have a lot to untangle on your path to start overcoming codependency. It may be time to work with a trained professional to help you with this. When you seek professional help with codependency, you are no longer relying on good intentions. Instead, you are taking a meaningful step to address codependency.

A few sessions of family therapy with a licensed professional counselor can have amazing results. However, you don’t have to be in a relationship to get help. Work on your personal growth and well being through therapy sessions to help you avoid codependency in the future.

3. Educate Yourself to Overcome Codependency

Spend time learning what codependency is. Educate yourself on the behavior patterns you might fall into. It will do wonders for your self worth when you are able to identify unhealthy habits such as ignoring your own needs. You can set boundaries, but people are free to ignore them if you are unwilling to enforce those.

Listen this podcast for starters:

4. Focus on Changing Yourself

Boundaries are so important for people who struggle with codependency. At the same time, remember that the only person you can control is yourself. This applies to both romantic and other relationships. Make a note to work on this during couples therapy.

5. Find New Sources of Fulfillment

Codependency can be the result of an unfulfilling life. You seek to fix or save others because you achieve a feeling of self approval and satisfaction. This doesn’t have to be the case. There are so many ways for you to have an interesting and satisfying life.

For example, you can achieve a healthy self esteem boost by volunteering in your community. This way, your tendency to be a caregiving person is leveraged in ways that are beneficial to others.

6. Define How Codependency Hurts the Other Person

You claim you want to help the other person, but is that really what you’re doing? When you are always there to rescue another person, you rob them of the ability to learn and grow. Your lover or family member may end up suffering with low self esteem, because they feel helpless and incapable.

Codependency can cause low self esteem in other ways too! People who are on the “fixing/rescuing” side of these relationships are often emotionally drained and resentful. Imagine having someone in your life who always seemed exasperated and disappointed in you. This could be how you are making others feel when you jump in and rescue them.

7. Take a Look at All of Your Relationships

You may be surprised to learn that your codependent nature is pretty far reaching. You may fall into these habits in your friendships, when dealing with your family, and even at work. Spot the pattern to enable a deep change on all the levels.

8. Improve Yourself

The codependency issue could be caused by your own low self esteem. Instead of building yourself up by playing the hero in another person’s life, focus on your own growth.

Take a class, learn a skill, tackle a project, and dedicate more time to self care. Anything that gives you a feeling of accomplishment and makes you feel better will help.

There’s another good reason for doing this. Often, codependent partners will make you feel as if you are only valuable when you are doing things for them. Focus on yourself, and don’t fall prey to that manipulative tactic. You are worth the time and effort that self improvement costs.

9. Let Them Learn and Grow

We get it. It can be anxiety inducing, or even painful to let another person deal with the consequences of their own actions. However, if you want a healthy relationship, this step is absolutely necessary.

Time for Moving on with Healthy Boundaries!

Everything listed above is hard work. It can take months or longer to go through this journey. However, the end results make it all worthwhile. You will become a stronger, emotionally healthy person. Then, you will be able to approach online dating with confidence in your ability to find the right person and build a healthier relationship with them. Just be dedicated and do the right thing for yourself!

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.

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