People who are codependent believe their mood depends on someone else’s mood. You might be prone to people-pleasing and peace-keeping, then resenting others when your sacrifices do not provide specific results. Fortunately, with focus, you can shift away from codependent behaviors. To stop being codependent, use mindfulness techniques and personal boundaries, and rely on consistent support, including a therapist.
What Is Codependency?
Codependence is defined as excessive reliance on a partner, particularly emotional or psychological reliance. Someone who is codependent often requires support due to illness or addiction.1 However, the depth of this reliance can take many forms, and while codependent relationships often occur with someone who is ill or who struggles with addiction, the patterns are not exclusive to these groups.
Codependent behavior can be understood as a self-soothing effort, rooted in insecurity and achieved through controlling others.2 While the symptoms may occur predominantly in intimate relationships, they also occur in friendships, professional relationships, and even with acquaintances.
Codependence is not a diagnosis, meaning there is no scientifically agreed upon criteria to determine if this pattern applies to you. Because the term is not clearly defined, codependent behaviors are often covert, persistent, overlooked, and minimized. For this same reason, they’re easy to participate in and encourage in others.
What Causes Codependency?
Codependency may be caused by the conflicting messages we receive as children that encourage us to be both selfless and to strive for personal success. These lessons lead us to value other people’s happiness above our own as a survival mechanism.2
The most prevalent cause of codependency in adults is family dysfunction. Dysfunction is common in families that experience drug and alcohol misuse, as well as other forms of addiction. However, almost all families have some level of dysfunction, often influenced by family size, blendedness (e.g., divorce, separation, remarriage), birth order of children, socioeconomic status, and more, which is why codependent behaviors can be so varied.3
Codependency & Cultural Awareness
Note that there may be cultural influences to family dynamics that resemble codependent patterns.2 It is up to the person experiencing these patterns to decide whether they feel unhealthy or not. However, if you’ve learned to mask, hide, or change yourself or prioritize others to make them happy, this is likely rooted in codependence.
8 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship
There are many signs of a codependent relationship. Some of the signs can be more obvious than others, however some common signs of codependent relationship are:
- Inability to make decisions
- Unable to communicate needs
- Low self-esteem
- Needing approval
- Poor boundaries
- Abandonment issues
- Feeling trapped in the relationship
- History of abusive, codependent or toxic relationships
How Being Codependent Can Affect Your Relationships & Your Mental Health
Depending on the severity of your codependence, it can interfere with your relationships—both with yourself and others. Monitoring other people’s moods and well-being can be physically exhausting, particularly when trying to translate information based on something unspoken. When codependence is your driving force, obsessing over small cues like sighs or changes in tone can occupy significant personal energy.
Codependence can also affect your mental health in the following ways:
- Interferes with happiness and self-esteem
- Damages relationships and friendships
- Causes significant miscommunication
- Causes you to feel unappreciated, resentful, misunderstood, and/or unseen
- Leads to poor self-care
- Causes you to feel unloved and alone
How to Stop Being Codependent: 11 Tips
To put a stop to unhealthy codependent patterns, replace them with new, positive behaviors. However, if you aren’t already aware of your codependency, that’s the first step. Practicing mindfulness is a simple way to increase awareness and decision-making abilities. Overall, it’s necessary to find ways to reclaim your power of choice.
Here are 11 tips for how to overcome codependency:
1. Talk to a Therapist
When persistent thoughts, feelings, and behaviors cause you personal distress and lead to ongoing challenges with interpersonal relationships, seek the support of a mental health professional. People with codependency often have a hard time asking for help. Remember that you do not have to wait for the problem to worsen before deciding to act.
Also, codependency can and will occur in abusive relationships. It is important to differentiate between codependent behavior that results from an inability to handle someone else’s bad mood, and codependent behavior that results from the need to protect one’s life. If you are unsure if you are in an abusive relationship, please seek support from a counselor or mental health professional as soon as possible.
2. Join an Online Support Community or a Twelve-Step Program
There are groups online that provide connection and support to people suffering from codependent tendencies. They provide a place to vent and be inspired by others.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Whether it’s a family member or partner, ask yourself what response you are expecting when you choose to engage in an emotional exchange. If you are not willing to receive a specific response, there is likely a codependent pattern in place.
4. Figure Out Where Your Expectations Are Coming From
We all have expectations going into a relationship, however it’s important to share those and discuss them before entering into a committed, long-term relationship. Sometimes codependency can happen due to one partner misunderstanding or having unreasonable expectations. If you feel that your expectations are not being met, you have to think about what they are, if they are known by your partner, and if you are reciprocating them.
5. Ask for What You Need
Instead of implying, ask clearly for what you need. We cannot read each other’s minds, so if you’re frustrated that others are not picking up on your hints, try being straightforward. You are worth asking for what you need.
6. Check In With Yourself
Is your tank running on empty? If you keep giving away your energy, you’ll have nothing left. You are responsible for you.
7. Get Curious About the Other Person
If you are having a hard time figuring out someone else’s logic, try being genuinely curious. Ask questions from a place of interest versus following an agenda or trying to fix, control or save the other person.
8. Take a Time Out & Communicate When You Need Space
If you are not able to become curious about others, it might be useful to take a time out. Step away from the situation and check in with yourself. You may need to navigate certain emotions before doing anything else.
9. Practice Real Self-Care
It’s important to make sure you are taking care of yourself. Self-care is critical for everyone, especially those who are trying to stop a pattern of codependent relationships. Your partner may feel that you are being selfish for taking time for yourself, however taking care of your own needs first is the only way you can wholly and truly show up for others. It is an act of self love to take care of yourself.
10. Call a Friend
A friend may be able to give you an unbiased perspective on a situation. Be mindful, however, that you don’t just call someone who you already know will justify your behavior.
11. Read Books on Codependency
“Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie or even other books like “Adult Children of Alcoholics” include relevant information for breaking out of codependent patterns.5,6
Getting Professional Help for Overcoming Codependency
Therapy allows you the freedom you need to examine codependency at whatever depth and pace you deem necessary. If you are navigating these patterns with a partner, family member, or friend, you may find the option of couples counseling or family therapy useful.3
Online mental health directories can be a great way to help you find a therapist. Some therapists and online therapists accept insurance, although their waitlists may be extensive as a result. Therapists who do not accept insurance often accept sliding scales or negotiated rates.
It is recommended to give therapy at least six weeks, but deeper work such as codependence often unpacks experiences connected to childhood, family, and long-rehearsed internal messages. Because of this, learning to let go of codependency is usually ongoing. Think of this process as a starting point to becoming self-directed and self-compassionate. You won’t immediately stop being codependent, but with time and effort, you can make changes that promote healthy relationships.
How To Support a Codependent Partner
If you believe you have a partner or loved one who is codependent, practice setting healthy boundaries with them. Remember that it is not your job to teach them better patterns of thought or behavior. It is your job to take care of yourself, and in doing so, you are supporting your loved one on their path to healing.3 If possible, encourage them to meet with a therapist.
Final Thoughts on Dealing With Codependency
If you’re dealing with codependent behaviors or tendencies, you’re not alone. While everyone experiences codependency differently, the experience itself is universal. It can help to speak with a mental health professional or someone who has been in your shoes. There is always help, you just have to ask for it.