Wondering how to overcome codependency, or navigate a codependent relationship? If so, this article is for you.
“I know what it’s like to lose yourself so badly that you don’t know if there’s a you or ever was one.” – Melodie Beattie
What is Codependency?
Many have defined the term over the years, and they are all similar. However, Melodie Beattie is an expert on codependency, and in The New Codependency she defines a codependent person as “one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” She then goes on to say that it is so much more than that.
“Codependency is simply normal behavior that is taken too far in an extreme way. Here is another definition that is helpful: “Codependent individuals ‘share the responsibility for the unhealthy behavior, primarily focusing their lives on the sick or bad behavior and by making their own self-esteem and well-being contingent on the behavior of the unhealthy family member.’” (Esposito, Linda, LCSW. “6 Signs of a Codependent Relationship”)
Codependent people often lose themselves when providing care. They neglect their own needs in order to meet the needs of others. They struggle with saying no, setting boundaries, and releasing control and worry. They can be clingy, needy, and a bit smothering to their loved ones.
They long to solve others’ problems and obsess over helping others. They can be over-protective, over-entitled, and they can be a bit narcissistic. Their behaviors often are a result of how they have learned to survive in the world, and many times they are looking to fill a void in their lives. They cross lines and allow others to cross them, too.
However, it is possible for people who struggle with codependency to overcome extreme behaviors and become more balanced. They do not have to give up caring for others if they love to do that, but they can learn to take care of themselves in the process, which often translates into better, more loving care for others.
How to Overcome CodependencyThis will not be exhaustive by any means, but this is to serve as a guide for someone who wants to learn how to overcome codependency. It is wise to seek professional counsel as you navigate this road to recovery. We suggest that you read The New Codependency to see much more detail on this content.
Let go of stigma from the label “codependent.” Accept that these are your behaviors, and resolve to work on them. If you continue to label yourself this way, you will not make steps to change and it will become your identity.
Take care of yourself. Many people who struggle with codependency believe that taking care of themselves is selfish, that it is their job or purpose or duty to care for others and sacrifice their own needs. But taking care of yourself is not selfish.
If you love to pour out to others, it is crucial to pour into yourself, too. This will look different for each person. Ask yourself: what do I need? What do I need to meet that need? What fills me? What drains me?
The goal is to incorporate things that fill you on a daily basis, multiple times a day. This can become selfish if you completely neglect the needs of others in your life. Remember, though, that you cannot pour out to them if you have not poured into yourself (spiritually, physically, mentally, relationally, etc.).
Practice gratitude. This simply helps you to continually notice the good.
Set appropriate boundaries. Melodie Beattie (on page 24) helps people know when it is time to start setting more boundaries in their lives. She says that you will know when:
- you are done saying “yes” when you mean “no”
- someone’s hurtful behavior must stop
- you are ready to say how you feel
- you are willing to part ways with someone
- you are ready to hold someone responsible for something that they did instead of taking the blame
- the pain of living without someone is less than the pain caused by living with someone
- you are done letting injustice occur
- you are ready to stop something (even though others want to you continue) or you are ready to start something (even though others do not want you to start)
Boundaries are loving, and they are your way of speaking truth. Be careful that your boundaries are not a new way of controlling another person. If they are not loving to you and what seems best for another, they may not be appropriate.
Engage in caretaking in a balanced way. Many people who struggle with codependency identify as a caretaker. It is who they are. They try to take care of things for which they are not responsible, and they often offer help when it is not requested.
It can even be a form of manipulation and control over another. When you can take care of yourself, do the things that are your responsibility only when caring for others, and detach/pull back when necessary, you will be able to be more balanced.
Do not enable your loved ones who battle addiction.
Allow them to experience the consequences of their actions. Set strict boundaries with them. Intervene when it is life-threatening. Do not give them more money than you are able, and do not let them control your life. Seek professional help.
Communicate with others about your thoughts and feelings.
Share authentically, from your heart. Tell the truth of how you feel and what you think, but allow space for another to share, too. Practice sharing with a safe person. Your voice matters, too.
Break free from your need for control.
It is not your role to control another person’s actions or their life. You may believe that you need control because you have not had much, but trying to control or manipulate others is not the answer. The answer is simply learning what is in your control and focusing on that. You are in control of your actions, your thoughts, your beliefs, your attitudes, your reactions, and your emotional responses.
Accept things that you cannot change, and work to change the things that you can.
There will be people and things and situations that are out of your control. That does not mean that you are a bad person for not being able to change it. Accept that there are things not in your power, and there are things that are in your power. Allow God to take over.Codependency is not a disease to be cured, but it is a pattern of behaviors that can be harmful to self and others. It is “normal behavior, plus.” That “plus” can be detrimental, so it is crucial to pay attention to yourself. Pay attention to your tendencies and if you tend to do some things mentioned. Read more about codependency.
If you find that you are doing some of those things, then start working through this list. It may be a long journey of self-discovery, but it is worth it. You will be able to find much more information on self-care and setting boundaries and learning to communicate, but do not go on this overcoming journey alone.
Seek a friend or a professional counselor that can be objective and help you see the truth and magnitude of your personal situation. And most importantly, determine to make the necessary changes to not only better yourself, but others as well.
Beattie, Melody. The New Codependency, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks: New York, NY. 2009
Esposito, Linda, LCSW. “6 Signs of a Codependent Relationship”, Retrieved from psychologytoday.com. Posted on 19 September 2016
“Tossed by the Waves”, Courtesy of Alex Iby, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Today I am Grateful”, Courtesy of Gabrielle Henderson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Victory”, Courtesy of Alex Woods, Unsplash.com, CC0 License