Unhealthy relationships take a toll not only on your mental wellbeing but also on your physical health. Many people find themselves repeating the same flawed patterns in relationships despite their best intentions.
Excessive emotional dependency on a romantic partner, friend, or family member is one such avoidable pattern. Specifically, the term codependency is used to describe a situation in which two people with dysfunctional personality traits bring out the worst in each other.
How to stop being codependent?
You should start by recognizing what a codependent relationship looks like.
In a codependent marriage, for example, one partner (called the enabler) has severe emotional or physical needs and the other partner (called the codependent personality) is willing to do whatever it takes to meet those needs. Over time, the couple’s personalities become enmeshed. They become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore.
If you believe you or someone you love may be in a codependent relationship, read on to find out how to stop being codependent.
What is a Codependent Personality?
Before you can learn how to not be codependent, it’s important to understand a codependent personality. The term codependent is often loosely used to describe a needy person. But there is much more to codependency than clinginess.
A codependent person makes huge sacrifices for their partner’s happiness without getting much in return. They devote all their time and energy to satisfying their partner’s every need. A codependent person’s mood and happiness, indeed their very identity is defined by their partner.
Codependent personalities crave the approval of their partner and wrap their sense of self-worth and identity around this approval. The partner, who is usually a more dominant personality, knowingly or unknowingly gets satisfaction from controlling the codependent person and feeds off their neediness.
Some of the signs and symptoms of a codependent personality include:
- Difficulty making routine decisions without advice or reassurance from others
- Difficulty communicating in relationships
- Difficulty identifying their feelings
- Difficulty starting projects without support from others
- Feeling worthless unless they are needed by others
- Having an obsessive need for the approval of others
- Having poor self-esteem or lacking confidence or trust in themselves
- Having an unhealthy dependence on others, unable to care for themselves
- Avoiding disagreements with others for fear of disapproval or abandonment
- Having an obsessive need for support or nurturance from others
- Feeling helpless and vulnerable when alone
- Having no personal identity or interests outside the codependent relationship
- Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for other people’s actions
- Making extreme, out of proportion sacrifices for others
- Desperately seeking another relationship when one ends
These personality traits can lead to unhealthy, codependent relationships with romantic partners, friends, and family members. If you recognize some of these traits, it doesn’t mean you’re trapped. There are many ways to make positive changes in your life. Read on to find out how to stop being codependent.
Is Codependency a Mental Illness?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is an authoritative guide that describes all known mental illnesses. Healthcare professionals use the DSM to diagnose mental illness in their patients. The DSM does not recognize codependency as a distinct personality disorder. However, it does list dependent personality disorder to describe people who have excessive neediness and dependence on others.
The terms codependency and codependency recovery originated in the context of substance abuse. They are used to describe enabling behaviors that ease relationship tensions caused by one partner’s drug abuse.
For example, a codependent person will bail their partner out of financial difficulties caused by alcoholism. Or make excuses for them in professional or social situations. Or ignore a drug problem and pretend nothing is wrong. In other words, a codependent person is constantly coming to their partner’s rescue, thus enabling continued drug use.
In such cases, where one partner has an addiction, learning how to stop being codependent can be the difference between life and death. Because understanding the unhealthy relationship pattern and getting the addict the help they need can prevent a tragedy such as a drug overdose.
Why Does a Codependent Relationship Develop?
Before we get into how to break codependency, let’s take a quick look at some of the reasons this type of relationship develops. A common scenario is when a person grows up with an unavailable or unreliable parent.
A parent who does not fulfill their role as a guardian forces a child to take over adult responsibilities, including taking care of younger siblings. This type of physical and emotional neglect can lead to feelings of shame and low self-esteem in a child. Such children often believe they are not worth loving or caring for. This unhealthy pattern can spill into adult relationships. For example, a codependent person may have an exaggerated sense of responsibility for their partner’s actions.
Another scenario in which codependency can arise is when one partner in a relationship has an addiction. The codependent person takes on the role of caretaker for their partner, assuming all family responsibilities, such as finances and household chores. The codependent person also covers for their partner outside the relationship, such as lying on their partner’s behalf. While there is a sincere intention to help, the behavior enables the partner’s continued addiction. That’s why it’s important to learn how to stop being codependent.
Codependency can also develop in abusive relationships where one person is made to feel unimportant or insignificant. Such a person may develop a codependent personality to counteract those feelings. They may try to heal their partner with love and care. They may try to earn gratitude by catering to their partner’s every need. The sense of “saving” their partner makes the codependent person feel important and empowered. At Rosglas Recovery, we have special programs to treat trauma and PTSD and address the root cause of the codependency.
How to Recognize a Codependent Relationship?
One might argue that the very essence of love is putting your partner first. However, this is healthy only when both people find value in the relationship and rely on each other for love and support. Before you can learn how to stop being codependent, you should be able to recognize there’s a problem. How can you tell the difference between healthy love and codependency?
See if this sounds like your relationship…
When you first fell in love, you experienced a surge of emotions. There was unusual attention on your partner and a burning desire to please them.
But unlike healthy relationships, this initial euphoria did not settle down into a calm, contented love. Instead, you lost your sense of self and started focusing completely on your partner’s needs.
Over time, it progressed into an obsession, to the point that you began to rationalize your partner’s problematic behavior. You withdrew from your friends and gave up hobbies to focus on your partner.
As time went on, you developed feelings of anxiety and guilt. Your self-esteem took a beating. You started making compromises to sustain the relationship.
At the same time, you began feeling resentful, angry, and disappointed. Ultimately, these emotions began to take a toll on your health.
You developed stress-related conditions, such as sleep problems, headaches, and eating disorders. Perhaps you even became addicted to illicit substances as the obsessive-compulsive behaviors took a stronger hold on you. Now you find yourself angry, despondent, and hopeless, wondering where it all went wrong.
If any of this sounds like your relationship, you are most likely a codependent personality. No doubt, the question on your mind right now is how do I stop being codependent?
How to Break Codependency?
Like any emotional or mental health issue, overcoming codependency requires time and effort. A good first step in how to stop being codependent is getting professional care.
A psychologist can help you break out of unhealthy behaviors with individual or group therapy. Couples therapy can give you a deeper understanding of the dynamics in your relationship. Counselors can help you discover and acknowledge deep, suppressed feelings, often dating back to your childhood, that have led to codependency in your adult relationships.
At Rosglas Recovery, we use a variety of treatments, such as CBT, DBT, trauma therapy, and EMDR along with supportive therapies like yoga, reflexology, mindfulness, and acupuncture to help our clients.
If you’re not quite ready for counseling and therapy, here are some tips on how to recover from codependency:
- Introduce small periods of separation into your relationship.
- Carve out some “me time.” Find a hobby or activity you enjoy.
- Don’t center your life around your partner. Spend time with family and friends to broaden your support circle.
- Don’t make extreme sacrifices for your partner (especially if your partner doesn’t do the same for you).
- Set boundaries in your relationship. Do things that make you happy, even if they don’t meet your partner’s approval.
- Do not tolerate abuse from your partner. Get help if you think you’re in an abusive relationship
- If you or your partner is abusing illicit drugs or alcohol, get addiction treatment.
Now that you have a better understanding of how to stop being codependent, you can start healing and moving toward a healthier future. The expert psychologists and psychotherapists at Rosglas Recovery have considerable experience in treating codependency and can help you break out of such behaviors. And if codependency treatment doesn’t work, you can walk away from an unhealthy relationship knowing you gave it your best.