Let’s Talk About Codependency
Valentine’s Day may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean love isn’t still on the (collective) brain. Relationships are always a hot and heavy topic, simply consider the question “how to find a soul mate” has over 110,000,000 results on Google. In other words, a LOT of people want relationships, and the growth of dating apps since the onset of COVID further proves our desire to nest when the goings get tough.
Given that so many relationships fail, you may wonder why people, en masse, still yearn for them. More couples than ever before get divorced in the US, and yet, the growth of relationship counseling and coaching speaks to a deeper, more conscious need to make love work. One of the biggest threats to healthy, long-lasting relationships is codependency. This is another one of those terms tossed around A LOT in self-development circles and on Instagram. For better or for worse, that also means it’s very easy to misinterpret. Codependent patterns can make or break a relationship, and I’m not just talking about the one with our significant other or family, but also the one we have with ourselves, our work, and others. Our relationships with anyone and anything else starts, first and foremost, with ourselves. Learning to recognize, untangle, and respond to codependent patterns can free you from a lot of strife, as well as help your relationship evolve in a healthy, long-lasting way.
What is codependency?
Have you ever been in a codependent relationship? Do you feel confused as to whether you have codependent tendencies or not? Despite the Instagram buzz around the topic, the definition of codependency is often misunderstood. One adage describes life as codependent as if you were “lighting yourself on fire to keep another person warm.” Let’s break it down.
You/your relationship may be codependent, if:
- You don’t feel ok unless those around you feel ok.
- Your emotional state is dependent on others and how they make you feel/how you feel around them.
- You feel as though others’ actions are a reflection of you. (Hint, it’s usually not about you.)
- Your decision-making centers around the other person, you may have trouble making decisions without consulting them.
- You depend on your loved ones for fulfillment.
- At the same time, you also live to fulfill others’ needs rather than listening to your own as you fear their discomfort or disapproval. You often live in fear and apprehension of others’ moods.
If any of the above sounds familiar, you may be codependent/in a codependent relationship. Note that these could be characteristics of yours, ones you’ve learned in a relationship, or some combo thereof. Note: codependency and codependent behavior doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships! Many people have codependency issues across the spectrum of their relationships, including with family. If you’re reading this and thinking, “oh crap, that’s me,” don’t panic. Codependency is incredibly common and can develop in just about anyone. Research does show that it’s more common among those who experienced neglect or abuse from their parents. Some popular schools of thought, notably from the work of Melody Beattie (who’s written on the topic at length) suggest that many codependents date/become involved with people who struggle with addiction.
How to overcome it? Step into deep self-love.
Codependent patterns do not spell a death sentence for your potential to have healthy relationships! When you begin to heal your codependent patterns, you also heal the most important relationship of all: that with yourself. So much internal strife will begin to melt away and it’ll open your eyes to a whole new way of relating to yourself and thus, the “outside” world.
In addition to working with a coach or therapist, cultivating a deep self-love practice will open you up to heal from codependency. Note, this won’t happen overnight, and that’s ok! Most of us go through different phases of evolution in our relationships, and if a particular scenario triggers old feelings or behaviors, you haven’t failed, you simply need to activate your toolkit.
Some ways to heal codependency:
- Practice a kind attitude towards yourself. Work on softening your internal dialogue, particularly around self-criticisms and judgments.
- Discover your core – the part that cannot be rocked. Codependent patterns may have made this part of you unrecognizable, but trust that it’s there.
- Work on building your confidence, self-esteem, and trust in self by bringing awareness to how far you’ve come in life! Look at the obstacles you’ve overcome and how you’re still going. Honor your resilience.
- Work on boundaries. Strong, healthy boundaries create an intrinsic trust in self and self-respect. Boundary work is a nuanced, deep thing and will get you far in so many areas of your life beyond just relationships!
- Identify your wants and needs. Learn how to have them met instead of leaning on the codependency for your identity and happiness. It may help you to journal about your wants and needs if you’ve forgotten how to pay attention to them.
Interdependence does not equal codependency.
Again, breaking patterns of codependency doesn’t mean you can’t get close to people. In fact, you’ll discover a deeper intimacy when it no longer comes from a place of fear and people-pleasing. When you awaken to your codependent characteristics, it’s natural to fear relationships and intimacy. Don’t swing so far in the opposite direction that you avoid the messy, beautiful experience that is getting close to others!
Remember our interdependence with others. It’s ok and safe to need and want people and you can learn to come at it from a healthy place. Not being codependent doesn’t mean the same thing as becoming completely self-reliant or strongly independent, effectively swinging in the opposite direction.
In summary, this is deep work! Healing your codependent tendencies will have a gorgeous ripple effect in your life that impacts everyone around you. Remember this: not all codependents are the same and there is no quick fix. That being said, there IS hope, and you can make great strides by simply becoming aware and integrating some of these tips. You might consider consulting a coach and/or therapist to help you navigate the waters of healthy boundaries, self-worth, and codependence. Above all, be kind and patient with yourself – if you’re reading this, you’re more resilient than you likely realize.