Ian Hammonds, LPC Intern
“Islands in the stream, that is what we are. . .”
As a therapist, I frequently work with clients on breaking codependency in relationships. In this post, I will give you tips to help do this on your own. In a world that places so much emphasis on relying on our partners or spouses, we can all too easily become forgetful of our sense of self and who we are, both independently as well as in a relationship. We frequently put entirely too much pressure on our significant others, leading to a loss of the ability to rely on ourselves as well as the relationship becoming a burden. It is not to say that leaning and depending on our partners is unwelcome; however, the goal of this article is to create an opportunity to ask yourself if you are in a codependent pattern with your partner, and if so, create a healthy space for yourself.
Codependence can also exist within families and friendships. We have seen many clients who are struggling to find a healthy space with family members whom they might be relying on too much and who feel taken advantage of by their friends, or who have an overall lack of healthy boundaries with virtually anyone in their lives.
Codependence vs. Interdependence
Codependence is essentially the opposite of interdependence. Codependence is putting your own needs, wants, desires, and values aside to feel complete in a relationship; the idea of integrity in a relationship is either hidden or completely lost as well as your own sense of self. Interdependence is understood as a healthy idea of your own wants, needs, desires, and values and having a space to healthily distill them in a relationship. Your view of self is fully realized, and you are not afraid to do things like advocate for yourself when needed, ask for help when necessary, and utilize integrity in your own loving relationships. Ultimately, the goal of the therapist who is treating a client in a potentially codependent and hostile relationship is to bring them to a healthier space of interdependence and self-reliance.
Ways to Avoid Codependence:
Learn how to advocate for yourself: Do not be afraid to put your needs first. Your own sense of comfort is always necessary in order to feel whole as a person as well as in a loving partnership. Being able to speak up for yourself if you are feeling uncomfortable or unsafe is key in any interdependent relationship.
Establish healthy boundaries: In codependent relationships, there tends to be either very rigid boundaries or a lack of boundaries completely. It is never too late to say “no” when you feel your boundaries are being crossed or violated. Learning how to manage boundaries can take a lot of time as you are unlearning old unhealthy habits that might have been in place since childhood.
Not being afraid of conflict: To mimic the first two tips, advocating for yourself and establishing new boundaries can often bring up conflict in the persons with whom you may be codependent. However, every change that is long-lasting is always uncomfortable at first and might bring about some distance from those in your life who might be relying on you too heavily. Be mindful of those who are willing to accept the change you want and of those who want you to stay the same for their own benefit. Use your discretion when you realize who belongs in your life and who needs to be kept at a healthy distance.
Finding your “happy place”: Do not ever feel afraid to take time for yourself, do some self-reflection, and ask yourself what makes you feel happy as a person. At Just Mind, we often do a mindfulness-based exercise with clients; we have them close their eyes and allow them to go to a place that makes them feel safe, secure, wanted, and fully able to be their authentic selves. We emphasize that the feelings this brings up should be felt in their lives and in their relationships more often. Often, when clients realize what they need to make themselves feel safe and less codependent, their partners can sometimes catch on and meet their needs in this, making the relationship a healthier space for each partner to co-exist.
Finding your self-care: This again is tied to finding our “happy place.” It can be understood that in all codependent persons, there is a lack of self-care and an unnurtured inner child. We often tell our clients (sometimes exhaustively) that the way to become more self-reliant and less dependent on others is to take moments to breathe, ask yourself how you’re taking care of YOU, and become comfortable with nurturing the parts of yourself that may be still wounded from some kind of trauma or painful family upbringing.
Listen to your gut: Have you ever been dating someone and have always had a funny feeling in the back of your mind that something was off? Or that there was this need for space for you but it was never respected? If you are in a codependent relationship, chances are you are not listening to what your gut is telling you. You are dismissing your feelings of discomfort to appease the very relationship that is probably bulldozing over your life. Do not ignore what your body is telling you!
Ask yourself who you are in a partnership. Be able to take time to take a step back and ask yourself eye-opening questions like: “Am I relying too much on my partner emotionally?”, “If I saw myself through my partner’s eyes, how would I feel?”, and “Is this relationship helping my partner and I grow as individual people?”
Ask yourself what kind of love was taught to you. The family therapists at Just Mind are always mindful of what childhood was like with our clients. Such things as divorces, alcoholism, and physical and emotional abuse can have a profound effect on how we love as adults. Codependence is usually what happens accidentally to children from an abusive or chaotic household—they grow into adulthood, searching blindly for what they were deprived of as children. Having an understanding of what led us into codependence can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves individually, as well as in a partnership.
Thank you for taking the time to read an article on something that is sometimes painful and controversial. We hope that this article was helpful and eye-opening. We realize that some of the wording in this post was strong and potent, so please be kind to yourself if you feel that this has awakened a painful part of your relationship history or triggered some past childhood trauma. If you feel that you need to do some work on yourself or that you are feeling hopeless in your ability to love, Just Mind has a wonderful selection of therapists who specialize in everything this article discusses. If you feel like you may need relationship or marriage counseling due to lack of boundaries or codependent patterns, contact us as we also have a dynamic team of couples therapists who can help with this!
If you liked this post, you can also read What Makes Love Last? Simple Ways to Improve Your Relationship and How to Avoid the Blame Game.