Do another person’s wants and needs come before your own? Do you find yourself trying to solve the unsolvable problem of changing someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors because you have accepted responsibility them? Are you constantly trying to please others even at the expense of yourself? Does setting healthy boundaries sound impossible and rejecting to someone you love? Are you stuck in an unhealthy relationship because you just can’t let go?
If you said “yes” to some or all of the above questions, you have some of the symptoms of co-dependency. Co-dependent people tend to look to others to tell them what they should feel, need, and act like. While most would agree that sensitivity to others is a wonderful trait, people with co-dependent tendencies take it to an extreme and are hurt because of an inability to create healthy boundaries.
So why do we need boundaries? Just like the having walls and doors in our home, boundaries separate us from the outer world and allow us to choose what gets in. They help us understand what is ours and what is someone else’s. That way you don’t have to hold responsibility for other’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and get hurt and frustrated in the process. Rather, you can be caring and supportive to others while letting go of the guilt and pressure to fix them.
While all long-term patterns take time and effort to change, there are things you can do to overcome co-dependency. Just keep in mind that there is extra challenge, because the other person or people in your life might not like or support these changes, at least at first. Just remember that the hard work is worth it to build healthier relationships with yourself and others!
1. Recognize Any Denial
The first step to change is to be honest with yourself and acknowledge the problem. Our brains are really good at justifying what we are doing or want to believe. “It’s okay if I have a second piece of pie, I had a really hard day and I’ll go for an extra long walk tomorrow.” While it can feel scary to admit to being involved in a dysfunctional relationship, honesty is the first step toward healing. Facing the problem allows you to build a better relationship dynamic or let go of people who can’t or won’t be healthy partners for you.
2. Study Your Past
The next step on your path to healing is to take a look at your family history to uncover experiences that may have contributed to your co-dependency. What were relationships like in your family of origin? What messages or events led to you to disconnect from your inner emotions? Who told you that their reality was more valid than what your inner voice told you?
This can be a difficult process and one that involves reliving childhood emotions. You may find that you feel guilty for admitting you were wounded in your formative years by people who you care about. This type of work can be difficult and is best done in a safe therapeutic relationship.
3. Detach from Unhealthy Involvements
In order to truly work on ourselves, we have to first detach from what we are obsessed with. Personal growth will require giving up the over-involvement with trying to change, control, or please someone else. While this sometimes means letting go of the relationship, it can also mean changing how we see our role in the relationship. Learning to differentiate what is ours or not ours and letting go and acknowledging we cannot fix problems that are not ours.
4. Learn Self-care
Giving up your excessive attempts to please others is a good start to healing, but learning self-care is absolutely necessary. It’s important that you first begin to become aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and needs. Then learn how to communicate them in a relationship. This may feel selfish, but try thinking of it as putting on your oxygen mask in a plane. If you put yours on first, you can help all of the people around you, if you don’t you will passed out in the isle. Self care not only makes us feel better, but it also gives us more resources to share.
5. Get Good at Saying “No”
One of the best ways you can begin to set healthy boundaries is to learn to say “no” to situations that are not healthy for you. This will feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. It will also mean that when you say “yes,” you can feel good about what you have agreed to.
Seeking the guidance of a therapist will be beneficial as you work your way through these five steps. They will be able to help you safely explore your painful feelings and experiences and learn healthy ways of relating to yourself and others. If you or a loved one is co-dependent and interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today for a free initial consultation session.