Attachment issues like codependency can cause unhealthy relationship patterns in which you rely on your partner for providing your happiness, approval, self-esteem, and sense of identity. They become your world. You may think and feel responsible for other people's feelings, actions, wants, and choices. You may struggle with self-care or have a hard time with self-worth. Your partner is anything and everything to you, giving you your confidence and reason for existence. Of course this can be an exaggeration for some but, if this sounds familiar or if you're in a relationship like this, read on. This article will cover ways of regaining self-assurance and independence. Continue reading for helpful tips on overcoming attachment and relationship issues recommended by experienced experts in the field. Know for a fact you don't need to suffer, and you are not alone, especially with a resource like online therapy. Codependency is common and not something to be afraid of.
Historically, codependency has been defined within the context of a relationship. Typically, one party lives with some sort of complex issue such as:
The codependent individual would then care for the partner and their condition, taking the responsibility as their own. Examples include a codependent wife purchasing beer for her alcoholic husband to avoid him getting upset, or a codependent parent rescuing their adult child from the financial consequences of their irresponsible decisions. These tendencies can begin in childhood for many children requiring constant attention from their parents, but continue into adulthood when the partner treats their emotions as their partner's and you can't separate from each other in healthy ways.
These relationships show codependence, for the most part, one-sided types of codependency. The codependent individuals give much more than they receive, and the result is an unhealthy balance of codependence for both people in the relationship and does not leave room for much of anything besides worry and guilt. The partner can avoid dealing with the complex issue and the codependent partner becomes emotionally exhausted and starts feeling hopeless about any chance of change.
The concept of codependency has evolved to become more of a "personality type" rather than existing solely within a relationship. Being raised in a dysfunctional or emotionally unhealthy home can cause people to become codependent and seek out additional codependent relationships, rather than stay insecure and lonely. The original definition of codependency was someone with a dependent attachment style who has difficulty with understanding their own needs outside of someone else.
Characteristics of a codependent individual are:
If you have been in a codependent relationship for a long time, you may find it hard to accept that you are powerless in changing another person. Someone who is in a codependent relationship with a person who has alcoholism or drug addiction, for example, typically believes that if they just say and do the right things, their partner will stop and get their life on track. Then they can stop both of their suffering and won't be worried anymore. Codependency arises from a need to regain control over an out-of-control situation. It's important to remember that you are the only person you can change. Your own needs are just as important, even though you likely have good intentions in your relationships.
Usually, by the time a person realizes they are displaying traits of codependency, these codependence patterns are deeply established. While you're the only one who can change your life to avoid codependence, support can be an invaluable part of the process of changing codependence. A counselor knowledgeable in codependency can help you navigate your way through codependence.
If you have been codependent or in codependent relationships for a long time, you may have a hard time letting go of the idea that you can't change another person. It is very hard to stop being codependent, but not impossible. A person who is codependent with an alcoholic typically believes if they say and do the right things, their partner will stop drinking and get their life on track. Someone who is codependent with a mentally ill person who isn't trying to manage their illness may feel that the other person won't be able to do better unless they push them or make sacrifices to keep them calm.
However, people who have these and other complex issues don't learn how to get better when they have someone catering to all their unhealthy desires and fostering their unhealthy behaviors. When the caretaker partner provides the partner with complex issues with everything that they need and sacrifices their wellbeing in the process, this is called "enabling" and can lead to codependence. When you enable someone who is codependent they don't have the opportunity to grow or get better and this often leads to codependence. This person never has to face the consequences of their behavior, so they never have the chance to grow as a person. Whether they're your romantic partner, your friend, or a close relative, you can't change them by making allowances for them.
The good news is that you can save yourself and avoid codependence. A counselor can teach you how you can identify the behaviors that are keeping you locked in codependency. They can encourage you to put your needs first so you can become stronger, more self-confident, and more emotionally healthy and how to avoid codependence. Always remember that taking care of yourself is the healthiest thing you can do. After all, when you don't take care of yourself, someone else has to, putting you on the other end of the codependent relationship.
If you stop playing the role of caregiver with the other person, you allow them to learn and grow and avoid codependence. This can be very difficult for them as well as difficult for you to watch as you start to change the codependence in the relationship. However, this sort of "tough love" will help both of you grow as people emotionally. During this process of changing codependence in a relationship, their demands may get more vocal or even more aggressive.
Whatever happens, you need to remember it isn't your responsibility and avoid taking ownership of someone's else feelings. You can care about them but being their caregiver won't help them conquer and no longer avoid their issues. Instead, once they realize that they are causing their problems, they might take the actions needed to change themselves. If not, you'll have to decide whether to continue in your old codependence ways or free yourself from their issues.
You might indeed be able to salvage a codependent relationship without going back to being codependent. However, you can't change codependence alone. The other person must do their part as well to avoid codependence. The goal is to have an interdependent relationship in which both people give something to the relationship and also benefit from the relationship.
Stopping and changing a codependent relationship is no easy task. A counselor can guide you through the process to end codependence as you both learn new ways of thinking and behaving that are different to avoid codependence. You can have some effect simply by acting in ways that aren't codependent. Yet, if the other person's actions show that they aren't interested in a healthy relationship and don't want to learn how to stop codependency in the relationship, then at some point you will need to decide if staying in that situation is beneficial for your mental health.
After you research and understand more about codependency, you might conclude that your codependency didn't start with your current relationship. It could be a result of many relationships over time, or family trauma. You can even experience codependency with a close friend. Codependence may have been your pattern for as long as you can remember. If so, it's even more important to not avoid going inward and shift your focus onto yourself, to what you need, and what makes you happy.
Longstanding patterns of codependence take time and effort to change and end. You might have to reassess and no longer avoid everything you thought about relationships in the past. You will need to learn to set limits and recognize when you’re being taken advantage of. You'll have to get to know yourself as an individual, perhaps for the first time in your life. The insights gained during this type of therapy which can help you no longer avoid these complex thoughts can be quite surprising and sometimes distressing. You might come to some epiphanies about yourself and the other person about codependence. Regardless of the realizations, you come to, a trained therapist will be there to support you as you rediscover and accept yourself for who you are. And that's one of the most important things to figure out after you break a codependent dynamic: who are you?
Being in therapy for codependency teaches you to value yourself. With the assistance of a counselor, you can learn ways of identifying codependent thoughts, behaviors, and feelings and replace them with empowering alternatives. If you stay in counseling long enough, you eventually leave counseling when you reach a time in your life when you understand that you deserve peace and happiness. Clients leave the practices of their therapists understanding the benefits of therapy and each of their sessions, providing them with skills and a strong state of mind. The services a therapist gives their client are priceless when it leads to a happier and healthier life for the client.
Once you learn to value your happiness, you'll be ready to leave and rebuild your life on solid ground. Your counselor can guide you as you build a network of support made up of healthy, independent people. You might decide to leave your job and begin a new career, go on a vacation alone or with mentally healthy friends, move to a new neighborhood, take up a new hobby, or simply rest as you reintroduce yourself to a new, healthier version of what used to be your codependent life. Your therapist will help you adjust to your new life and encourage you to work towards what you want. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"As a victim of trauma I was told to find a very compassionate counselor and I am so grateful to her for having that quality and in a healthy manner as to not increase my codependency issues. Having trust issues as well, she never makes me feel ashamed when I tell her about really sensitive issues. She is a great counselor and extremely knowledgeable in different aspects of therapy."
"Stephanie is a gem! She's very thoughtful, thorough, honest, insightful but most of all helpful. This is coming from a person that never wanted to do counseling and just "knew" I didn't need it. She's been key in helping my wife and me find our better place. She made us grow as a couple and individually. Thanks, Steph!"
Codependency is not only mentally unhealthy; it can even be dangerous. It’s essential to stop being codependent in relationships as soon as possible. The person who is dependent on you may sink deeper into their addictions or mental illness. This can sometimes lead to aggressive and hostile behaviors toward themselves and loved ones, including you.
You may say, "But that would never happen here!" You might be wrong about that but suppose you're right. Does that mean you want to continue in relationships that keep you bound in fear and sacrifice? Does it mean you don't want to be happy for yourself? Probably not, and the best way to make sure you have a life you can enjoy is to begin to make changes to get beyond your codependency.
Long-standing patterns take time and effort. You will begin growing yourself as an individual, perhaps for the first time. Only you can decide what you want your life to look like and only you can go out and claim it. Take the first step to stopping codependent behaviors today.
Some commonly related questions on this topic can be found below.
Codependent relationships take two to tango. Often, dysfunctional relationships with codependent tendencies result when healthy boundaries are not present or respected on one or either side of the relationship. Often, a codependent relationship consists of an avoidant attached person and an anxiously attached person. This combination allows for codependent behavior.
For example, an anxiously attached person may only care about their partner’s well-being and ignore their own feelings in a romantic relationship. They may spend time for hours thinking about the emotional needs of their partner. They may even neglect other relationships out of fear. Their self-esteem is impacted by their sense of how much their partner is happy with them. They often struggle to set boundaries for themselves.
On the other hand, an avoidant attached person will have a hard time with relationships and family in general. They may lie, partake in codependent patterns of manipulating their partner’s sensitivity, and will take the energy that the anxious person gives out. They may avoid romantic relationships in general and avoid the idea of commitment. Their own identity may be more important to them than how their partner feels. They may value other relationships more than their romantic one.
When this pair is put together, the anxious partner receives serotonin and self-esteem from their partner’s brief positive reactions to them, and the avoidant partner gets their physical and subconscious needs met and may feel powerful.
Attachment styles are developed based on family patterns as a child, as well as the attachment style of the family who raised you. If there was substance use in your household, you may grow up to have a codependency issue.
Not everyone who is in codependent relationships is a narcissist. This behavior in general can be abusive, depending on how it is used.
Many codependent individuals are simply people with a history of trauma and attachment issues who have low self-esteem and learned behavior from their past. The people involved don’t even always know they are in this kind of relationship. On the flip side, they often don’t even know how to stop their tendencies. They may have seen the common signs and patterns of codependency in their family and the relationships of their family growing up.
Only a trained professional therapist can diagnosis narcissistic personality disorder, so it’s best to speak to a professional if you’re unsure about where you or your partner stands in relationships and want to learn how to stop being codependent.
Codependent people are often attracted to relationships that mimic patterns they saw from their family when they were a child. They may be drawn to avoidant or anxious energy, depending on their attachment style. They may even seek someone out as a friend who fits those same traits. Those who tend to give more than they get are often drawn to people with substance use issues.
If this sounds like you, a licensed professional counselor can help you understand why you have these patterns in your relationships, and help you come up with ways to start overcoming codependency for good.