7 Key Steps For Recovering From Codependency
The Belgian psychotherapist and author Esther Perel has been quoted as saying that “There is no greater source of joy and meaning in our lives than our relationships with others.” Our relationships in all their glorious variety anchor us and they bring meaning because that’s how God designed us.We are deeply social and relational beings, and this is because we reflect a God who is an eternal community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is love (1 John 4:16), and His imprint is on the entire universe, including us as His image bearers (Genesis 1:26-27).
Our lives are intricately entwined with one another, which lends credence to the adage that no person is an island. This is a universal insight that speaks to the human condition.
For example, the essence of African humanism or the philosophy known as ubuntu says that “a person is a person through other persons.” This suggests that we are deeply interdependent, and we need each other to truly experience and understand what it means to be human. Such an understanding of things challenges our often-individualistic culture and way of life.
With all this talk about interdependence being a good thing, it may be important to say that some forms of dependence are not healthy and ought to be avoided. Like any good thing, too much of something can be bad for you, just as it’s possible to twist a good thing until it becomes unhelpful.
Friends, spouses, siblings, parents, neighbors, and fellow congregants along with many other relationships carry elements of dependence within them. While they are good there is potential for them to become unhealthy, morphing into codependency.
Breaking down codependency.
Codependency is a term that names an unhealthy dynamic within a relationship when one person enables another while the other facilitates this enabling behavior. It should be noted that there is a vast difference between supporting someone and enabling them.
When you are supporting someone, you are helping them when and in ways that they cannot help themselves. For example, when a parent feeds or changes a young child, it can typically be labeled as support. Alternatively, when one spouse cleans up after their spouse because the latter spouse suffered a back injury that has them bedridden, that is also a form of supporting them.
Enabling someone is doing something for them that they should be able to do for themselves. With the examples given above, it’s one thing to change or feed a child, but as they grow older, they typically grow in their capacity to do such things for themselves.
To continue changing or feeding them is no longer support, but enablement. And in the latter example, once the injured spouse is back on their feet and fully recovered, continuing to pick up after them is no longer the loving and responsible thing to do.
Codependency names a distorted way of relating to one another. The person who enables the other often does it because they need to be needed, while the other person is happy for them to meet their needs.
Thus, you might have a friend that is constantly in crisis, and their codependent friend always swoops in to help them out of a jam. There is a severe imbalance in the relationship, with one person constantly giving of themselves, and the other person only too happy to receive.
Codependency can occur in parent-child relationships, romantic relationships, friendships, sibling relationships, and other relationships as well.
The impact of codependency.
If a relationship is marked by codependency, it will impact all of the people in that relationship in different ways. Some of the ways that codependency affects the individuals in those relationships and the relationships themselves include the following:
Not taking responsibility for your own life and choices. The individual who is happy to receive help when they should help themselves, neglect taking responsibility for themselves, their choices, and their lives. If you don’t take responsibility for yourself and the consequences of your actions, you’ll not mature as a person. You will also have a distorted view of reality and how life works if you’re being constantly bailed out of problems.
The health and well-being of the giver are compromised. The person who constantly gives of themselves or enables the other will often do so even to their own detriment. Because they are so invested in the other person, they may neglect their self-care and well-being. They may neglect their responsibilities at the drop of a hat because they received a call to come and help.
For instance, with parental codependency, a parent may drive clear across town and miss a meeting because their child left their homework at home, instead of letting the child take responsibility for their forgetfulness. Constantly being present for others without thinking about your own rest and responsibilities is a recipe for disaster.
It can result in resentment. Codependency can also result in resentment on the part of the giver/enabler. Due to the deep investment in the other person, codependent people often want to control them and their choices, getting quite resentful if their direction is ignored. Sometimes they even resent neglecting themselves to meet the others’ needs. This resentment can be subtle, but it can result in anger and arguments.
Some of the signs of codependency in your relationships will include the following:
- Elevating the needs of one person in the relationship above anyone else’s.
- A lack of clear boundaries to allow yourself room to meet your own needs and care for yourself.
- People-pleasing behavior, where you do things even though you’d rather not or even if it’s inconvenient.
- Poor self-esteem on the part of the person who takes care of others. They try to shore their lack by being present and being needed by others.
- Struggling to identify your feelings because you’ve calibrated your life to meeting the needs of others ahead of your own.
- Constantly walking on eggshells to avoid conflict with the other person in the relationship.
- Feeling overly responsible for the feelings, thoughts, and actions of others. This may in turn lead to controlling behaviors.
Recovering from codependency.
Recovering from codependency is possible. Some people, only begin to deal with the problem when they compromise their health, or when the relationship ends, and they have the time to think through things carefully. However, you don’t have to wait until you’re emotionally burned out or resentment sets into your relationships with others to do something about codependency.
There are several key steps you can take to begin recovering from codependency.
1. Recognize that you have a problem.
The first step to resolving codependency is to see that you have a problem that needs to be addressed. Many codependent people see their actions as caring, nurturing, and loving things to do for the people in their lives. If you recognize any of the signs of codependent behavior, take them seriously and take steps to overcome codependency.
2. Get to know yourself a little.
Codependent people are often so preoccupied with other people and their needs that they essentially lose touch with themselves, and what they want and need. Healing from codependency will therefore include you getting to know yourself.
You can do this by intentionally exploring who you are, what you like, what’s important to you, what your goals are, and so on. Go on a road trip by yourself or spend a weekend or more away from your usual haunts. Rediscovering yourself is an exciting and necessary part of overcoming codependency.
3. Set up and maintain healthy boundaries.
Codependency often means that a person neglects their own needs to fulfill those of others. You ought to get comfortable communicating assertively and standing up for yourself; part of that means setting up boundaries. Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships, as they reassert our individuality so that our needs can be met, and we can participate in the relationship as equals.
Boundaries will help you rebalance yourself as you consider your own needs and make them a priority. It needs saying that this doesn’t mean that you should ignore the needs of others or neglect meeting those needs, but it does mean that you should consider your needs just as important as other people’s. Having boundaries will help you avoid feeling resentful, unfulfilled, and depleted.
4. Prioritize self-care.An excessive focus on the needs and wants of others means that you’re likely not taking care of yourself. Codependents will often think that taking time for themselves to replenish their reserves and recover from fatigue is selfish, but that’s not the case.
You need to get some sleep, exercise regularly, eat balanced meals, take time to catch up with your thoughts and feelings, and so on. Prioritizing self-care means having limits on when and where you are available for people, and that is part of having healthy boundaries too.
5. Practice compassion toward yourself.
Codependent people are often hard on themselves, and they can be extremely self-critical and unforgiving in their self-assessment. Not only does this not help and lead to persistent poor self-esteem, but it is also not an accurate assessment. Rather than condemning yourself, proffer yourself the same love, kindness, acceptance, and support that you would offer others.
Remind yourself of truths such as this one from Romans which says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, NIV) Recognize that if God doesn’t condemn those who are in Christ, then we ought to embrace God’s love and treat ourselves with compassion as we would a dear friend.
6. Take responsibility for yourself.
If you are the one that is happy to receive the aid of a codependent person, your part is to take responsibility for yourself and respect their boundaries. Not only is that for your sake but for theirs as well.
7. Get help.
Recovering from codependency is possible, and your recovery is a process that you can undertake one small step at a time. It can be overwhelming if you begin to think about all the changes you need to make but don’t let that stand in the way of making those small beginnings.
On your journey, you can make use of help such as a counselor who can walk with you as you’re recovering from codependency. They can help you understand the origin of your codependent behaviors, create healthy boundaries, and help you process what it looks like to move beyond codependency in daily life.
If you think you could benefit from counseling for recovering from codependency, don’t hesitate to make your appointment and begin moving toward healthier relationships.
“Outstretched Hands”, Courtesy of Hanna Morris, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pensive”, Courtesy of Blake Cheek, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Overwhelmed”, Courtesy of Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bike Ride”, Courtesy of Everton Vila, Unsplash.com, CC0 License