Codependency is something that we experience right from the start so it can be difficult to know how to stop being codependent. Growing up, we are dependent on the adults in our lives. In this situation, we only have the capacity to take from others.
By the time we are adults, we are no longer just taking, but are also able to give. This builds a general rule of give and take in everything we do, even in our relationships.
However, what happens when this give and take does not occur in a healthy manner? The relationship becomes one-sided and unrequited where one person’s needs are overlooked or sacrificed.
Codependency is a behavioral and emotional condition which affects a person’s ability to have fulfilling relationships. Learning how to stop being codependent is essential, but before you do that, it is a good idea to understand this condition.
What Causes Codependency?
Codependency can occur because of a number of reasons, and knowing the root cause is necessary. The severity and the nature of their codependency can be due to the following common causes:
Families, where one or both parents are not fulfilling their duties as a guardian, are more likely to have codependent behavior that is being passed on to their children. Their inability to be traditional guardians could stem from addiction, mental issues or illness.
The children will have to take on the role of the guardian and have adult responsibilities such as fixing dinner, doing the laundry or trying to raise their siblings. This pushes them to focus solely on looking after the household, often at the expense of sacrificing their own wants and needs.
Narcissistic parents can also expect to be the center of attention in their families and often resent their child. They can be dismissive or neglectful towards them or they can become extremely controlling of their child’s life. This leads to codependency, stunting of emotional growth, a need to seek approval and always putting other’s needs first.
Addiction – Substance Abuse or Gambling
Another common cause of codependency is addiction such as gambling, substance abuse, or even shopping. When someone is in a relationship with an addict one person often becomes codependent. As the addiction progresses, the needs of this person are actively overlooked.
The codependent person also takes on the role of the caretaker or becomes their savior. For example, if an addict steals money from someone, the other person will step in to either recoup the amount or request that charges should be dropped against them.
When they constantly “save” their partner from the consequences of their actions, their partner is not going to see the error of their ways. Interestingly, codependent people also become the enablers for the addict in their lives.
They experience a blind spot here as they are unable to see how their own actions can worsen the addict’s abusive behavior. Without professional help, both people in this relationship are at risk as the cycle will not end on its own.
An emotionally abusive household or relationship can also cause codependency to develop in a person. In this case, the emotional abuse can cause one to lose their sense of self, have low self-esteem or poor boundaries.
In this case, the codependent person can develop a savior complex too where they feel the need to protect others from the abusive behavior. Again, this means that the person is sacrificing their own wants and needs to keep the peace.
Emotional abuse can also make the codependent person feel responsible for the other person’s actions or behavior. As a result, the codependent person might try to become the perfect person.
The hope here is to keep everyone happy so that they do not trigger the abusive behavior. Coincidentally, many codependent people become perfectionists, and they always feel the need to control everything around them. The need for constant validation from others also starts to develop in such scenarios.
Care-Giving or Care Taking
People who spend a majority of their time taking care of another person who is elderly, has a disability or a chronic illness are also at risk of becoming codependent. In this case, they often feel pressured to look after the person, prioritizing the other person’s wants and needs ahead of their own.
Not all caregivers are codependent in nature, but if someone is spending all their time with their patient, it can lead to it. The feeling of being needed will soon become a source of validation for them and their patients can quickly become the center of their lives.
Codependent caregivers not only experience more burnout but they can also start to harbor resentment when their time and efforts are not recognized. Additionally, they may even come to resent others who try to help them look after the patient, seeing them as rivals.
Knowing the root cause of your codependency can play a bigger role in helping you figure out how to stop being codependent.
7 Common Characteristics of Codependent People
To find out whether someone is codependent or not, a person’s attitude and behavior along with the nature of their relationship will be scrutinized. Codependent people always exhibit some common characteristics including the following ones:
1. Savior Complex
This happens when a person feels responsible for the actions of the abusive person in their life. Even when it is clear to see that the abusive person has done something wrong, instead of letting them deal with the consequences, the codependent person usually takes it upon themselves to fix the situation or to “save” them.
This also makes it more likely for them to become enablers since the abuser does not learn accountability for their actions.
2. Poor or No Boundaries
Most codependent people are unable to say no, vocalize their needs or put their foot down because they are so afraid of displeasing the other person. They will even go so far as to lie or hide their true feelings as they feel that their opinion will upset or anger someone.
This is a quality which translates into all their relationships and friendships, leading to shallow, one-sided relationships and making the person feel used and grow resentful.
3. Low Self Esteem
Codependency is most known for damaging a healthy sense of self in a person. A codependent person will usually feel shame or worthlessness, unless they are looking after someone else.
They also tend to connect their worth with a feeling of “being needed” by the other person. This is why their life revolves around that person and they require validation and approval from others at all times.
Most codependent people live with abusers or narcissistic family members. For them the smallest provocation can be an issue so codependent people often have an extreme need to be perfectionists in order to keep the peace.
There is also a desire to stay or appear normal in the eyes of others. They also take on more responsibility than others that leaves them with little time to themselves and are unable to take criticism or negative feedback without growing insecure.
5. Extreme Need for Approval
Due to the fact that their self-worth and happiness is often linked with a person, codependent people are huge people pleasers and will actively seek for approval all the time. They are unable to deal with the fact that they cannot make everyone happy.
For them, having the approval of others is necessary because if they are needed, they are wanted. Self-sacrificing their own needs is also considered the right thing to do here.
6. Fear of Abandonment
Fear of abandonment develops in codependent individuals from childhood when they experience the following:
- Parent leaves the family – divorce or death,
- Neglect from parents,
- Abandonment is used as a threat to discipline them.
In this case, the person will do all they can to appease the remaining parent or individuals in their life so that they don’t leave them. As adults, this can turn into a fear of intimacy or a person engaging in a one-sided relationship and staying in it because they cannot bear to be alone.
7. Difficulties in Trusting Themselves
Codependent people also face difficulty in trusting themselves to make decisions for their own lives. They’re so enmeshed with another person that the other person’s opinion matters more to them than their own.
This can lead to anxiety or guilt when codependent individuals acknowledge or try to assert their own needs first.
While everyone does experience and exhibit these feelings from time to time, codependent people showcase these characteristics more than most people.
21 Tips on How to Stop Being Codependent
Once you understand the characteristics, you can focus on how to stop being codependent so that you are able to undo the damage that has been done. The following are some ways that you can do so:
1. Establishing Healthy Boundaries
Most codependent people have poor boundaries and usually, believe that having boundaries will create conflict. Having healthy boundaries can actually improve and strengthen relationships. To establish boundaries, make sure to communicate with the person what you will and will not tolerate and reinforce it if needed.
It’s a good idea not to lie or make up an excuse about why you want to set boundaries. Your boundaries can also differ, based on the wants and needs of a person and the relationship they have.
2. Learning to Say No
One of the biggest challenges you will come across when you want to learn how to stop being codependent is to learn to say “no.” Codependent people often fear saying no due to their deep-seated need to be liked by everyone.
Many often feel that if they say no, they’re going to ruin the relationship. There are also feelings of guilt or shame associated with it, but you really shouldn’t feel that way.
When you’re saying no, do so clearly and without any ambiguity. If you have to, repeat yourself but don’t invent an excuse for saying no.
3. Supporting Instead of Saving
Understand that there is a difference in supporting someone and saving someone. It’s okay to support someone without stepping in to fix their mistakes. Encourage them, give them advice, but let them deal with the issue on their own.
4. Getting Help From Others
Codependent people have a hard time accepting help from others but there are some situations where your support may not be enough. When helping someone with an addiction, the best option is to seek professional treatment.
Sometimes, the most supportive thing you can do is distance yourself from the abuser. Being the perfect spouse, child, sibling or friend will not help anyone if the abuser in your life is not willing to address their issues or fix their behavior.
5. Change Your Belief System
Many codependent people have feelings of worthlessness, guilt, low self-esteem and a very negative belief system. This is why they get a sense of validation when they’re helping or looking after others. Connecting your self-worth with people is not healthy since you need to learn that it is not possible to make everyone happy.
So instead of feeling guilty, you should challenge your belief system and change it to a more positive one where your needs are being met, your wants are acknowledged, and your boundaries are being respected.
6. Getting Professional Help for Yourself
While codependency is not classified as a mental illness, a therapist can help to shed more light on your tendencies. They also understand how to stop being codependent and can make the process easier for you. Whether you need to establish healthy boundaries, improve your self-esteem and develop healthy relationships, your therapist will help you address many codependency issues.
7. Start Out Small
When you want to learn how to stop being codependent, it’s a good idea to start out small. If you keep big goals in mind, you might be putting too much on your plate. By starting out small, you can also cut down your goals into bite-sized, manageable pieces.
Remember that change doesn’t happen in a day. Similarly, unlearning your codependent habits can take a number of weeks, months or even years. This is why it is necessary to keep your goals small and achievable.
8. Stop Being a Martyr
Stop thinking that your self-sacrificing habits will make others like you. It puts you at great risk to be manipulated by other people. It also creates an unhealthy sense of self where you’re not able to cope without the other person. You’re reliant on them to voice your needs but what happens when they don’t do that?
Not only does this cause resentment, anger and misunderstandings, it also places pressure on both parties involved in this relationship. You have to actively stop being a martyr and start standing up for yourself.
9. Tap Into Your Preferences
A good way to learn how to stop being codependent is to relearn or tap into your preferences. It could be simple such as “what flavor of ice-cream you like” or “what kind of clothes do you want to wear?” As long as you are at the center of your attention here, this is a good thing.
By placing importance on your preferences, you’re able to slowly, learn to understand what your likes and dislikes are which play a huge role in how you are able to say yes or no to others.
10. Stop Taking Responsibility for Other People’s Actions
Remember that adults are, and should be, capable of looking after themselves. You are not responsible for their actions or their behavior. So, stop taking responsibility for it. If somebody’s upset, angry or throwing a tantrum, it has nothing to do with you so you shouldn’t feel guilty.
A good phrase to tell yourself at this time is “Not my circus, not my monkey.” This literally means that it’s not your problem. Plus if you didn’t make the problem, you’re not going to take responsibility for it either. Instead, focus on your own choices.
11. Resist the Urge to “Fix” Everything
This is an area where most codependent people turn into enablers. They fix all the mistakes of the abuser in their lives. Whether it’s lying, stealing or even violence towards others, the codependent person will either assume the blame or try to lessen the penalty being given.
In such cases, you have to resist the urge to fix the situation. The other person needs to face the consequences of their actions. When faced with such a scenario, take a step back and get more perspective. Additionally, refuse to help or step in for them.
12. Take a Break
Whether you’re a caregiver or just looking after your siblings, remember to take a break. It is okay to want some time to yourself. Everyone needs some time to themselves occasionally. In this case, it is a much needed break that will allow you to recharge.
Without a break, you’re more likely to experience a burn out. This will also cause you to feel tired and grow resentful. Instead of assuming all the responsibility, try to delegate it to someone else. Teamwork makes the dream work after all.
13. Stop Being a People Pleaser
No matter how nice, polite and helpful you are, you’ll always meet someone who just doesn’t like you. If you’re constantly putting others first, it’s not going to make them like you either. In fact, it’s impossible to make everyone like you. Learning how to stop being codependent, hinges a lot on letting go of your people pleasing habits.
Also understand your motivation for being a people pleaser. You’re assuming that doing this will make them like you. Instead, you’re manipulating their perception of you. Instead, try to put yourself first. People will like you more for being authentic.
14. Put Yourself First Before Committing to Something
How many times has it happened that you’re not free but you agree to do a favor or a chore? It’s not healthy for you to take more responsibility than needed. If you can’t do it, say no. Always take your time to evaluate how you are feeling before you commit to something.
It’s more disappointing if you promise something and back out than the other way round. This also leads to a lot of resentment or unmet expectations. By taking a step back, you can understand if you are equipped to help them out.
15. Start to Be Honest
A very hard habit that codependent people have to unlearn is how to be more honest. Codependent people are more likely to lie because in the past, telling the truth got them nowhere or had harmful consequences. Lying is a defense mechanism but it also pushes people away.
No one wants to be around a liar. When you start being honest, your word holds more value than gold. It’s a good idea to start as soon as possible. Plus an honest person is more likely to make friends than one who lies constantly.
16. Express Your Feelings Honestly
Codependent people feel obligated to hide their true feelings. If something feels wrong, they’re still likely to squash that instinct, plaster on a smile and say that they’re perfectly fine. It’s actually not okay to be this way. Learn to not only recognize your feelings but also express them in an articulate and healthy manner.
If you want to, write down your feelings in a journal. Journaling will not only validate your feelings but also help you learn to vocalize or express your feelings. Don’t just focus on the negative here, either. Write down happy feelings, feelings of success, achievement and positivity too.
17. When You’re Hurt Don’t Ignore It
Your feelings matter and if someone hurts them don’t brush it away. You have every right to call them out on their bad behavior. However, don’t turn it into a fight or an argument. Instead, you should try to express your emotions in a healthy manner.
Before you take any step though, just take some time to process exactly why you’re angry or hurt. What was the root cause? Once you identify this, you will able to ask for an apology on that basis.
18. Develop a Healthy Way to Handle Conflict
One of the ways to learn how to stop being codependent is to stop being scared of conflict. Many codependent people have learned a lot of conflict avoidance techniques which they need to unlearn. It’s a hard task but the results can be very rewarding for you.
Address all conflict openly instead of hiding it or ignoring it. Additionally, try to avoid insulting or demeaning the other person. The aim of your conflict resolution should be to fix the situation, not worsen it because you’re angry.
19. Work On Loving Yourself
Many codependent people are unhappy with themselves, even the perfectionists. They seek for validation from others which doesn’t always appear. Their low self-esteem can make them prone to experiencing depression, have poor boundaries and also develop other mental illnesses.
So, try to work on yourself. You have to learn that you are worthy of love, you’re not weak and you’re not useless. Think of it in this light – Your life is a movie and you’re the lead actor, so why would you put someone else in the main role?
20. Boost Your Self-Esteem with Your Achievements
A good way to boost your self-esteem is to recognize your own achievements and celebrate them how you want. Treat yourself to a shopping spree or a dinner out. Codependent people usually do things to please others and want validation from others.
In this case, you are the one who is going to validate yourself. You’re a strong, independent person who’s done wonderful things and deserves to be loved and celebrated!
21. Be With People Who Support You
Your circle matters and you should try to spend time with people who support you. Surround yourself with good friends and people who want to see you grow. Try getting a mentor or be with people who have your best interest in their hearts.
They can also give you a reality check from time to time, help you address any major issues you have and also hold you accountable for your actions. They’re also the ones who will be truly happy.
At the end of the day, codependency is a learned, behavioral condition that can start in your childhood and can be passed on to your family in a generational manner. So, if you want to stop being codependent and lead a healthier life, just know that it all starts with you.