A relational dynamic in which you over-rely upon others and their approval, struggle to see yourself as separate and distinct, and struggle with prioritizing your needs.
Codependent relationships are where your partner’s well being is fundamentally intertwined with your own. As you make decisions and choices, you may feel confused. It is safer to pay attention to your partner’s reactions and responses, whether they are real or imagined, than to focus on you, especially in emotionally charged moments. It can be difficult to respect and acknowledge the boundaries of your partner and your own desires , or to recognize and honor your needs when they are different from your partner’s.
Codependency may appear to be “getting along” and keeping the peace in the short-term. However, subsuming oneself in another can lead to resentment for the sacrifices you make, however unconsciously, at your own expense. It can also lead to resentment among the person you are trying so hard to please. Even in difficult relationships, our healthy parts long for integrity partners who can be themselves, but are also flexible, know their values and have limits. Our strengths can be a counterweight to the weaknesses of our partner, and our strengths can help to overcome them.
How codependency works.
Here’s a great example of codependency at work:
A friend of mine said, “You have to go away.” Let’s go together and book a flight to Miami. I found the perfect B&B. I’ll pay you back later.
You feel lonely and she is thinking of you. You don’t want travel right now, but you aren’t hesitant to go. “You must do this!” She says. You won’t regret it. Cheap flights are available.
It sounds wonderful …” but you should not hesitate.
“Done!” “Done! “I knew you would agree.” She exclaims.
You feel disoriented when you get off the phone. Your stomach sinks. What happened? You try to convince your self that this will be a good thing. “Maybe she is right, and I must get away.” It’s impossible to imagine you rescinding the trip. You don’t think it’s possible to tell your friend that you don’t want the trip.
You can be more focused on other people than yourself if you are chronically or regularly too focused on them. You drift along with the currents and breezes that are created by other people’s needs, schedules, desires, and schedules. At best, you feel lost. If caring for others isn’t balanced with a strong sense about yourself–someone who has your own needs and limitations–you can rely too heavily on the compasses of other people for your own trajectories or sense of purpose.
How to stop being Codependent:
1. Contextualize your codependent tendencies.
In our hyper-independent culture codependency is often criticized. I recommend that people with this problem begin to practice compassion towards themselves when they are caught up in codependency loops. Many of the same qualities that individualistic cultures call “codependent” are celebrated in collaborative cultures. Examples include putting others first, self sacrifice for a higher purpose, and a nuanced attunement with others’ needs. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are weak, flawed, or incapable of taking care of yourself. This means that you are a relationship survivor.
There is also a psychological component to codependency. It is common in childhood. This pattern of “merging with other’s needs” was the best and most secure way to stay connected to caregivers who were often unable to prioritize your needs and your interests.
These parts of you are worth more than you might realize. You can find many audios and lovingkindness meditations online or via different apps on your phone that may be helpful.
2. Small acts of “smart selfishness” are possible.
Codependency is a part of a spectrum. It is not an absolute, fixed category. Many of the same behaviors that are called “codependent” can also be considered pro-social, kind and thoughtful. Growth is for those at the opposite end of the spectrum, those who are counterdependent and locked into a narcissistic mentality. This means that you need to develop more of the skills that you already have: relational attunement as well as sensitivity to the needs of others.
You can avoid straying too far from the end of your spectrum by looking for patterns in your responses when you are around people you care about. What if you could respond differently to make your relationship more satisfying? You can practice small acts that are “smart selfishness”, which is a way to honor your feelings, needs, and wants for the long-term benefit of your relationship. You can use your awareness to identify when you have put others before yourself, and then find a new way. Don’t judge or berate yourself.
3. Learn more about your true needs.
You must distinguish between true needs and fear. Are you trying to avoid disapproval from others? Or do you need some grace and not be too generous? Are you trying to avoid making mistakes? Or do you need to allow yourself to make mistakes and be human? Slow down, soothe yourself, and check in with your true needs.
4. Practice clear, direct communication.
Communicate with others in a direct and courageous manner, leaving little room for interpretation. If someone asks you, “Are your free tonight?” If you aren’t, tell them “No, I am not free tonight.” Clear communication starts with you communicating clearly with others. People should see more than the “pleasing”, peacekeeping, diplomatic versions of you.
5. Keep your distance from the fence.
If you worry about what others think about you, or how they perceive something you did or said, remember that you cannot control what happens to other people’s minds. You can trust others to solve their own problems and find their way. Even when people disappoint you, your goodness shines through.
6. Nurture unconditional self-love.
Self-judgment can make it difficult to love others and ourselves. Self-acceptance is a virtue. Do it for yourself.
“I accept these difficult feelings. They are part of being human.
“I accept my own confusion, because I am unable to be clear-headed all the times.”
“I accept these struggles because they are part of my journey.”
Even if you wish it were otherwise, you can still be supportive of what is happening. Even when things are difficult, there is always something to be proud of.
7. Let go of your stories.
As they come up in your head, recognize worst-case scenarios. Stories can keep you stuck in a vicious cycle of trying to control other people when your energy and time could be spent connecting with your own emotions, needs, desires and values. Let go of stories is a way to honor life, open you up to possibilities, and to respect others’ individual growth paths.
8. Let go of attachments to the outcome
To be able to let go of attachment to the outcome, you must be willing to accept uncertainty and to live with it. This is a crucial skill to develop when trying to overcome codependency. Fear of disappointing someone who is important to you or being “disliked” is part of the cycle that keeps codependency behaviors going. Tolerance for disappointment is simply learning to accept the possibility that you might disappoint important people in your life.
Yes, you may disappoint people. You may be able to temporarily feel unkind toward them. This doesn’t mean you have to be unhappy about it. However, you should practice tolerating it so that you can be more free to be yourself.
You can cultivate practices that place you in a wider field of being so you don’t feel trapped by existential loneliness or fear of rejection. Joy is the most important thing. Remember that you are worth more than making other people happy. Connect with others by praying, meditation, journaling, and praying.
This practice can allow you to feel more in the present moment and less anxious about the future. This can help you trust your present-moment experiences. This is where you can live your life fully.