Breaking codependency can be one of the hardest things that you ever do in your life.
Thankfully, there are ways out.
Co-dependency is a learned-behavior emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships and can be passed down from one generation to the next.
This behavior may lead to destructive and/or abusive relationships.
It may also emerge alongside substance use disorders (SUDs), which have negative impacts on an entire family system. Each family member may be at risk to develop codependency with their SUD loved one.
For example, someone who is in a relationship with an addict may depend on their loved one’s addiction in order to fulfill their need to feel needed.
As a result, the addict may continue down their path to satisfy their partner’s need, putting both the codependent and the addict down a cyclic path that impedes both of their abilities to grow.
What Does Codependency Look Like | Am I Codependent?
A codependent person may look like someone who is often depended on—someone who anticipates the needs of others, continuously goes out of their way to disregard their own needs to be there for others.
They may encourage others to put themselves in a caretaker role or try to convince people what to think or feel.
Someone who is codependent may exhibit the following:
- Dissatisfaction in life, other than doing things for another person.
- Stay in a relationship even if they know their partner is hurtful to them.
- Do anything to please and satisfy their enabler no matter what the negative impact might be on themselves.
- Have a constant desire to always be making the other person in their relationship happy.
- Have consistent relationship anxiety.
- Use all their time and energy to give their partner everything they ask for.
- Avoid expressing wants and needs in a relationship because doing so makes them feel guilty.
- Ignore their own morals or conscience in an effort to do what the other person in their relationship wants.
What Causes Codependency?
A codependent person can be anything from supportive to manipulative, but these behaviors stem from an underlying issue that was brought about during childhood.
As a kid, a codependent person’s need to feel nurtured, safe, unconditionally loved, and cared for was not met.
As a result, they grow up in constant search for this need, relying on others, rather than themselves, to fulfill it.
They will disregard their own wants and needs in a relationship, and they often search for relationships where they are heavily depended on. For example, they may gravitate towards a person who suffers from alcoholism or addiction.
When your needs aren’t met when you’re a child, you carry those feelings of dissatisfaction with you as you become an adult.
You may even experience repressed emotions, which can appear as undiagnosable conditions with uncomfortable symptoms.
The longer this goes on, the harder it can be to break the cycle of toxic codependency.
Your identity becomes centered around a specific role that gets “acquired” due to trying to satisfying this unmet need.
Breaking Codependency | Stopping Codependent Behaviors
In order to break codependency behaviors, the first step is to become aware of them. Individual therapy can help a person to address their behavior, analyze it, and become more of the instances when it happens.
Some tools that may be used in therapy include:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
- Clinical hypnosis
- Emotion-focused Therapy (EFT)
- Couples therapy
- Personal growth therapies
Therapy can also help a person with:
- developing greater self-compassion
- increasing self-confidence and self-esteem
- learning to recognize healthy relationships
- challenging and reframing negative thoughts.
These are effective if practiced outside of the therapy sessions. Challenging your ideas of a situation and their role is difficult, but helps to reshape the schema of the unhappy life you currently live.
Outside of therapy, meditation can help a person take the time to look inward and view their thoughts in a non-judgmental way.
Codependents can also take steps towards taking charge of their own emotional wellbeing by reacquainting themselves with things that they enjoy.
For example, they can try spending more of their time with friends outside their codependent relationship, put effort towards exploring their interests, and practice self-care.
Some forms of self-care include:
- making time to relax
- making sure you get enough sleep each night
- eating well
Over time, a codependent will need to learn how to become more and more comfortable with their emotions, no matter how uncomfortable they feel.
Rather than turning to their partner or acting on the emotion with a codependent behavior, a codependent can learn to recognize and sit with these uncomfortable emotions so that they can then learn to cope with them.
One way a person can do this is by asking themselves questions.
Stay curious about your thoughts and the behaviors—ask where these emotions feel in the body, what triggered them. Doing this takes practice and hard work. It isn’t easy, and it’s much harder to sit with a feeling rather than distract from it.
Breaking Codependency in Relationships
It can be hard to be in a relationship with a heavily dependent partner who may enable or trigger your codependency. Some ways to try to break codependency include:
Setting boundaries with your partner is extremely important, especially if you’re in a codependent relationship.
These can be hard to set when you’ve grown so accustomed to not having them.
Start small, and reinforce those boundaries. For example, maybe you take one day a week to spend time just on yourself.
Ask for What You Need
When your needs have been unmet for so long, it’s important to learn how to voice them.
It’s difficult to do, but the more you express how you’re really feeling, the more you can get closer towards an opportunity for your partner to help you provide a healthy, satisfying relationship.
Attend Couples Therapy
It may help to work with your partner on the codependent relationship with a professional.
In couples counseling, you can have a safe space to express your thoughts and feelings and have someone monitor, mediate, and provide tools to create more effective communication that you can take with you.
Codependency is a deep-rooted issue that stems from childhood, but it can lead to unhealthy relationships and dissatisfaction in life.
It is possible to break codependency. With time, effort, and patience, a codependent person can learn to break codependency by looking inward.