Five Methods to Break Free from Codependency

The Codependent

Codependency is when someone excessively relies on another person, usually their partner, for emotional well-being and a sense of self-worth. A codependent relationship can also exist between family members, friends, and even in an employee/employer dynamic.

Most frequently, the codependent person is reliant on a person with an active addiction (such as to alcohol or other substances) or with a chronic illness – that is, somebody who needs constant support and assistance.

In a codependent relationship, “the giver” is trapped in a one-sided, abusive, and/or emotionally damaging relationship with “the taker,” yet is seemingly unable to leave it.

For this reason, codependency is sometimes also known as “relationship addiction.”

Why codependency is “relationship addiction”

Codependency does have similarities with other addictions. One definition of addiction is when someone continues with something that’s detrimental to their well-being but seems unable to quit it and stay quit from it.

In fact, anything that alters a person’s emotional state can potentially become an addiction. This is if they frequently do not like the way they feel, and so are compelled to seek external means to change that.

In the case of codependency, this external means is another person. It is a complex way of being and codependency has numerous reasons behind it.

Who is most likely to be codependent?

“Codependent” as a term was believed to have first been introduced at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings.

Then, in 1986, self-help author Melody Beattie brought codependency to the public’s attention with her book Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others And Start Caring For Yourself. Since its publication, the book has remained one of the world’s best-selling recovery books, offering insights and understanding on codependency.

Depressed man sitting in the dark looking at his phone

There are certain aspects that make it more likely that someone will become codependent, including:

  • They are almost constantly in or looking to be in a relationship.
  • A fear of abandonment is their greatest concern.
  • They have a huge fear of making mistakes or being wrong in any way.
  • They constantly focus on any mistakes they do make – and are very harsh on themselves about it.
  • Complaining is something that they find almost impossible to do.
  • Gaining the approval of others, especially a significant other, is more important than having self-respect.

How can someone stop being codependent?

Getting away from codependency means finding self-awareness, self-compassion and self-love. It takes a great dedicated effort.

Here are five techniques that can be used to break free from codependency:

1. Take time for self-reflection

Take time to honestly examine your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around relationships. This should be for all relationships, but most of all in the specific relationship that’s troubling you – which is usually a romantic one. 

Look for patterns of people-pleasing, neglecting your own needs, or excessive caregiving. When you spot these patterns, ask yourself if you’d like them to continue or not.

Notice the feelings that arise when you express your own desires or establish healthy boundaries. These could be very similar to feelings you had during childhood, so think about that connection.

Learn to use effective tools such as journaling, support groups and/or therapy to gather an understanding of your codependent behavior. Becoming aware and engaging in daily self-reflection is invaluable in your journey towards overcoming codependency and essential for your personal growth. 

2. Be your true self

Breaking free from codependency involves developing a strong sense of self. It means finding fulfillment beyond relationships, particularly any specific relationships you are heavily reliant on.

So, start to develop your own interests, hobbies, and passions. Make sure you give time and energy to activities that give a personal sense of achievement and joy.

This can also often mean that you gain new friends, such as at an art class, book club or gardening group. This is a positive step for a codependent person trying to change.

Regaining your sense of self and developing independence enables you to have a healthy relationship with yourself first and foremost. This will naturally reduce your dependency on anyone else for validation and happiness.

3. Boost self-esteem

A codependent person usually has low self-worth and will often be extremely self-critical. So, to move away from codependency it is vital to find self-compassion and boost self-esteem. 

This means showing kindness, patience and understanding towards yourself. Care for yourself as you would a valued friend.

Confront negative self-talk and purposely do estimable acts of kindness, such as giving to charity, calling an elderly relative, or volunteering in your local community. “Esteem” derives from a word meaning “estimate” – so self-esteem really means how you value yourself.

Much of this can go back to how we were spoken to and generally treated during childhood. Therapy can be a crucial support here to help you identify and deal with the root cause of your lack of self-esteem.

But also, how we live today adds or takes away from how we value ourselves. Doing loving acts without a price tag will always boost us from the inside, increasing our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

4. Create healthy boundaries

Young couple sitting opposite each other, flirting, outdoors

Boosting self-esteem will help with setting and keeping healthy boundaries. This is something that is vital in order to break free from codependency.

Think about and establish what your personal limits, needs and values in life are as well as in relationships with others, particularly the specific relationship that is troubling you. Then learn how to say what they are in an assertive, confident way. 

For instance, this may involve saying “no” when you want or need to say it – and without feeling guilty or fearing rejection or abandonment as a result. Setting boundaries like this is not self-centered but is actually an act of self-love and self-respect.

5. Find support

Putting down healthy boundaries often takes great courage at first, and it takes practice to be comfortable doing this. People starting their journey of breaking free from codependency will most likely need guidance from such as a therapist or Twelve Steps group sponsor.

Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a Twelve Steps organization that has regular meetings to help codependents. CoDA’s first meeting was held in Arizona in 1986. Since then, the organization has grown extensively in the US and around the world with meetings in 60 other countries as well as dozens online on platforms such as Zoom.

When a codependent person starts to change, such as developing their own interests and setting healthy boundaries, there is often resistance from the person or people who have become used to their codependent behavior. This is another reason to find an understanding therapist and/or a support group to help keep you on track. 

Seeking the guidance of a Twelve Steps support group, therapist, counselor, or coach with expertise in codependency will usually enable breaking free from codependency to be swifter and stronger. These professionals can help in looking into underlying issues, healing from past traumas, and developing healthy relationship skills.

Tikvah Lake Recovery Center’s help for anyone affected by codependency

Breaking free from codependency is a transformative path that requires dedication, patience and great self-care. It is essential to know that everyone deserves love, respect and healthy relationships.

Our experienced expert team at Tikvah Lake Recovery Center has helped people with all types of relationship problems for many years now. As a recovery center run by a family, we extend a warm welcome to everyone who chooses to stay with us – rather than being our clients, we think of anyone choosing to stay with us as our guests.

Our luxury campus is designed to provide the utmost comfort, privacy, and serenity. We know the great significance of these factors in the well-being and recovery process.

Situated by our breathtaking lake in Florida, our location blesses us with abundant sunshine throughout the year and a tranquil setting among stunning natural scenery

Get in touch to find out how we can help you or somebody you care about – starting today.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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