Codependency describes a relational dynamic where you over-rely on others and their approval of you, have a hard time experiencing yourself as distinct and separate from others and struggle to recognize and prioritize your own needs. People sometimes use the term to describe behaviors that don’t quite fit this definition, which leads to some confusion. Think of it as support that’s so extreme it becomes unhealthy.
In such relationships, codependency can masquerade as “getting along” or keeping the peace, but subsuming yourself in another also builds resentment within you for sacrifices you make, however unconsciously, at your own expense.
In codependent relationships, your partner’s well-being becomes fundamentally entangled with your well-being. You may find yourself confused as you try to make choices and decisions. Putting attention on your partner’s real or imagined reactions and responses feels safer and easier than putting attention on yourself, especially during key, emotionally charged moments. This can make it hard to set, respect, and recognize your own and others’ boundaries or know and honor what you want when your desires are distinct from your partner’s.
Examples and signs of a codependent individual
Here are some examples of what a codependent relationship might look like:
- Investing a lot of energy and time into caring for others with an alcohol or substance
- Making excuses or covering for the other person’s bad behavior
- Neglecting self-care, work, or other relationships to care for someone
- Enabling a partner’s destructive or unhealthy behavior
- Not allowing your others to take responsibility for their own lives
- Not allowing your partner to maintain their independence
Characteristics of a codependent individual are:
- The trouble with emotional intimacy
- Sense of responsibility for others feelings
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of being alone
- Taking any negative comments or criticism as a personal attack
The good news is that codependency is something you can work on by both identifying it and overcoming it.
Here are a few things you could do:
Having healthy boundaries
The nature of codependency is such that it tends to blur the lines between where oneself begins and another ends. People with good relationships are supportive of each other, but they also respect each other’s boundaries.
A boundary is a limit that establishes what you are willing and unwilling to accept in a relationship. Spend some time thinking about what is acceptable to you. Work on listening to the other person, but don’t allow their problems to consume your life. Practice finding ways to decline requests that step over your boundaries. Set limits, then work on enforcing them.
Resist the urge to fix, control, or save
Often, codependency feeds off a false sense of control. We may think we know what the other person wants and that it’s up to us to help them get it. While there’s no harm in proving yourself to be helpful, but there’s a limit. While you can still be compassionate and helpful when someone you love is struggling, you needn’t assume to know what someone needs before they ask. This means that you needn’t assume to know what someone needs before they ask.
Take care of yourself
People who are in codependent relationships often have low self-esteem. In order to stop being codependent, you need to start by valuing yourself. Learn more about the things that make you happy and the kind of life that you want to live. Spend time doing the things that you love to do. Work on overcoming negative self-talk and replace self-defeating thoughts with more positive, realistic ones. Also be sure that you are taking care of your health by getting the food, rest, and self-care that you need for your emotional well-being.