Overcoming codependency isn’t easy, but it is possible. If you want to know how to stop being codependent in your relationships with important people in your life – your mother or father, your husband or wife, and/or in your friendships – this post explains what codependency is, common signs and symptoms, and possible causes. We’re also sharing 5 simple yet effective tips to help you establish, embrace, and maintain independence for a happier and healthier you!
What is Codependency?
Codependency was originally used to describe spouses of alcoholics, but research has since suggested that it is much more widespread and prevalent. Codependency is a behavioral condition in which one person in a relationship enables another’s mental health challenges, addictions, etc. Someone who is codependent relies heavily on certain people in their lives for approval, acceptance, etc., and feels responsible for the feelings and actions of those people.
14 Signs of Codependency
If you suspect you or someone you love is codependent, here are some common signs and symptoms to look for:
- Difficulty saying no
- Need to please others
- Inability to establish/maintain boundaries
- Need to take care of others
- Need for control (especially of others)
- Need to always be in a relationship
- Need to be liked by everyone
- Highly reactive
- Need to be in control
- Trouble distinguishing between love and pity
- Problems with intimacy
- Low self-esteem
- Dysfunction within family unit
- Mental health challenges, including narcissism, anxiety, and depression
What Causes Codependency?
Once you acknowledge you have codependency traits, you may begin to wonder what caused those traits to develop.
While there is no known cause of codependency, research tends to suggest it begins in childhood. This is especially true for children who grow up in dysfunctional families in which they feel unsafe and unsupported, and where their emotional and/or physical needs aren’t met. Children who are manipulated, blamed, shamed, and judged, have unrealistic expectations placed on them, and/or who grow up in a household with challenges that are kept a secret from others (i.e. addiction) often grow up to believe they are unworthy, incapable, and the cause of family problems.
When a child grows up with these inaccurate belief systems, they often become caretakers and people pleasers. They feel guilty, unworthy, flawed, and responsible for their family dynamic, which fuels codependent behaviors and relationships as they grow older.
How to Stop Being Codependent
While changing habits is never easy, rest assured overcoming codependency IS possible. Here are 5 tips to help you stop being codependent.
1. EXAMINE YOUR PAST
If you want to know how to stop being codependent, a great first step is to dig deep into your past to determine what caused you to become codependent in the first place. This may be unpleasant, but acknowledging and dealing with the difficult parts of your past will give you the permission you need to let go, move forward, and develop healthy relationships with yourself and those around you.
Unpacking baggage from a dysfunctional childhood can be painful and uncomfortable, and you may be left wondering what the best way to move forward is. This can be especially true when family secrets (abuse, addiction, etc.) were a defining part of your childhood, causing you to take on the role of caregiver and forcing you to make excuses and lie for the people you love. If this sounds like you, seeking the help of a trained professional can be extremely helpful as they will help calm feelings of guilt while also providing effective coping strategies to help you heal.
2. PUT YOURSELF FIRST
If you have an overwhelming need to take care of others and put their needs before your own, scheduling regular self-care into your calendar is another important step in learning how to stop being codependent. Learning how to prioritize your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs will help reduce emotional issues like stress, anxiety, and depression as well as the physical reactions they create. While it may seem selfish at first, engaging in regular self-care will leave you with more energy and motivation, and make you better able to handle the challenges life throws at you.
Of course, this all sounds great in theory, but if you struggle to prioritize your needs over the needs of the ones you love, allowing yourself a little TLC can leave you feeling incredibly guilty. Try to remember that there are many different forms of self-care, and that they can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. If you’re looking for tips and ideas, we’ve written an entire post about self-care, which includes 21 guilt-free self-care ideas you actually have time for!
3. CHALLENGE YOURSELF TO DO THINGS ON YOUR OWN
If you struggle with codependency and the need to please and be liked by others, independence is probably not one of your strong suits. Finding ways to put yourself first is a great step towards learning how to stop being codependent. Instead of defaulting to what other people want (or expect) you to do, ask yourself what YOU want, and trust that those you love will respect your choices.
This will likely feel strange and a little uncomfortable at first, so start with smaller, less overwhelming things. Try a new coffee shop, order something different at a restaurant, watch a new TV show, try a group fitness class, etc. You may not enjoy everything you try, but each attempt at independence will increase your self-esteem, getting you that much closer to your goal to stop being codependent.
4. LEARN TO SAY NO
If you’re trying to overcome codependency, learning how to say no will be life-changing for you. As you begin to explore your own interests, and get more comfortable prioritizing your needs, it’s important that you practice putting your foot down and saying no when something doesn’t align with your values. This can be an extremely tricky space for people pleasers, but there are lots of ways you can say no to someone without sounding harsh or selfish. Here are some ideas to try:
- Do it quickly. While waiting until the last minute to come up with an excuse may seem a lot less stressful than being upfront and honest from the get-go, remember that it’s highly unfair to the other person. This is especially true if someone is relying on you for something. The more notice you give them, the more likely they will be able to find someone else to fill your shoes.
- Be honest. As tempting as it is to fabricate an elaborate lie to try and get out of something, honesty really is the best policy. You’re less likely to get caught in a lie, and the person you are letting down will (hopefully) respect you more in the long-run.
- Don’t dwell. When you’ve made your decision to say ‘no’ to someone, do it as honestly and quickly as you can, and then move on. Get straight to the point and don’t over-explain. The more you dwell, the more you open yourself up for negotiation, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid!
- Propose a compromise. If you’re really struggling to say ‘no’ to someone, consider coming up with an appropriate compromise to help show your support. It can go a long way in letting someone down gently!
- Stop feeling guilty. If you want to stop being codependent, guilt is something that will show up again and again as you learn how to assert yourself and prioritize your own needs and wants. Learn to recognize the emotion for what it is, remind yourself that saying no and putting yourself first isn’t selfish, and do it anyway!
5. ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES
Establishing and maintaining boundaries can be especially difficult for people who struggle with codependency as their relationships tend to have few (if any) boundaries to begin with. Setting clear boundaries is important to our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. It helps us create and maintain healthy relationships with others, while also improving our self-esteem and self-respect. Boundaries are empowering, provide a strong sense of self-identity, and remove unhealthy expectations in our relationships with others.
One of the reasons people struggle to set boundaries is that they fear they need to use harsh language that isn’t characteristic of how they typically interact with others, and worry they will come across as abrasive and hurtful. The good news is that you can be direct without being rude – it just takes a little practice! Be careful to opt for simple language that can’t be misinterpreted, twisted, or misconstrued, and use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements. Remember that boundaries can be flexible, and that they can be different across many aspects of your life. For example, the boundaries you set with your spouse will look different from the boundaries you set with your parents and children. My only word of caution is not to be too flexible when setting boundaries, as this can be counterintuitive!
If you’re trying to figure out how to stop being codependent, I hope the tips and ideas in this post prove useful to you! Remember to take the time to fully examine what drove you to become codependent in the first place, and then find simple ways to explore what it feels like to put your own wants and needs ahead of others. Recognize the feelings these changes create, and seek the support of someone you trust to keep yourself motivated and empowered!