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Codependency in a Relationship- How to Recognize It and What to Do About It?

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We have all heard the term codependency, but many of us aren’t quite sure what it really means. In brief, codependency is a loss of self while caring for others. Now, this may seem like a wonderful, altruistic trait, but codependents lack self-care and give until they give out or burn out.

If this sounds like you in your relationships, take heart and take hold of what you can do to regain your life. It is important to note codependency is not a formal clinical disorder, but the sufferer is often involved with those who are, such as addicts, sociopaths, or narcissists.

If you are a compassionate person who feels used or abused, frustrated, self-doubting, anxiety-ridden, or burned out, you may be in a codependent relationship.

A few other symptoms of codependency are:

  • People pleasing 
  • Approval seeking
  • Acquiescence to the needs of others while denying your own
  • Feeling overly responsible to and for others while neglecting yourself 
  • Making yourself available to others when you barely have time for yourself
  • Caring for others who don’t care for you
  • Feeling a need to be needed
  • Rescuing behavior
  • Bending over backward to help people and often get exhausted or resentful if you are unappreciated or rejected

You slowly give up pieces of yourself and agree to things you would never have done before so you will not be abandoned. The fear of being alone subconsciously drives the codependent and the narcissist and is why the emotional sinews between them become so difficult to untangle.

Meeting the needs of others so you will not be rejected is indirectly a twisted, covert system to keep yourself happy by making others happy. It is like narcissism in reverse and very confusing if you are unaware of what it is doing to you. Do you find yourself terrified of being abandoned in your relationships? You might be codependent. 

Toxic marriage

The tendency for codependency begins early in life. You were somehow conditioned or fell prey to selfish people by role modeling, trauma bonding, or other tools of manipulation. You subconsciously reenact early childhood constructs to gain mastery in your adult relationships.

However, the cycles of insecure attachment and cognitive dissonance about your current relationships seldom relieve the intense anxiety as mastery is out of reach. 

What can you do about it?

Learn to self-care. This is a very foreign concept to a codependent. The most important way to begin is not to try to change the person hurting you; it is to change yourself.

Be true and kind to yourself.

  • Get massages, travel, or do what you love
  • Stop people-pleasing 
  • Push through the anxiety and get clarity by becoming your true self
  • Don’t make yourself so available. 
  • Don’t let your cell phone become your leash.
  • Forgive yourself for allowing others to hurt you.

Codependency is an indirect form of self-harm because of the allowance of others to use or abuse you, but you can come out of the abyss of gaslighting. Gaslighting is really brainwashing. If you feel like you’re being brainwashed, you will feel self-doubt and think you are crazy. You are not crazy, but you may have given your power to others. 

If you notice a complete change in yourself contrary to who you really are when you are in a relationship, and you are not being true to yourself, take inventory and work on becoming self-actualized.

Self-actualized means you know who you are, and you don’t deviate from your moral code or compass, not permanently anyway. You may need professional help to recover, but there are things you can do on your own to start the process. 

Recondition and regain yourself by positive systematic repetition, which is the same way you got negatively conditioned to give yourself away. Repetition of acting like your true self may cause anxiety at first, and the selfish people in your life won’t like it.

When you release toxic relationships, it makes room for healthy ones to be attracted to you. When you become what you want, it seems miraculous, but it is neuroscience in action. We have mirror neurons that exchange a great deal of unspoken information. When you are confident, you will repel and not attract selfish people.  

Get incremental pieces of yourself back. For example, if the person you are in a relationship with tells you to only wear blue, start wearing red or your favorite color in defiance. It’s not manipulation is self-preservation and self-actualization. You are allowed to have autonomy. It is a basic need in a healthy relationship. 

Narcissists dominate, and codependents subjugate, and you can step out of this dynamic forever.

Seven ways to begin the process of healing are:

How to End Your Relationship On Good Terms?
  1. Find the roots of your codependency to check for reenactment or insecure attachment styles. 
  2. Get back to things you truly love to do. 
  3. Detox from this person. Push past the withdrawal symptoms of anxiety and fear and persevere in coming out truer to you. 
  4. Less exposure equals more composure. Even if it’s only an extra hour a day, stay away as much as possible from the person harming you. If you feel like you’re being punished for doing this, defy them and do even more to reward yourself. 
  5. Get professional help if needed. 
  6. Socialize yourself with others who make you feel good about yourself. Whether you’re in a codependent relationship or not, if you surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself, that is healthy for you. If you surround yourself with people who make you feel bad about yourself, they are bad for you. It is that simple! 
  7. Reframe your perspective from feeling abandoned to feeling fully attuned to your true self in solitude. Getting out in nature will expedite healing.

Enter Your Exit Strategy

The detoxification process is like detoxing from a substance. Little by little, you will gain emotional “sobriety” from being codependent and find clarity about who you are and what you want.

When all else fails, think about staying this way forever and see if it’s sustainable. It is usually not. Motivate yourself to do something about it. Developing an exit strategy is essential, and it takes time. Don’t rush it, or you’ll meet another someone just like the one you have left because you didn’t resolve your own fears first. 

Do something to gain momentum to self-actualization every day, even if it’s just decluttering items that no longer serve you as a symbol of moving forward. The forward motion will change your emotions. 

Your life is meant to be lived with those who love you and treat you with respect. If you let others be themselves and they let you be yourself, that’s what a healthy relationship looks like. Focus on that and meditate on images of your best life, and your brain will guide you toward it and expect more and accept nothing less.

Your tolerance for bad behavior will decrease as you increase your self-esteem. Make a list of what you don’t want in your life and write the opposite in another column. Tear that left side of your only be left that’s right for you.

The end chapter of my book on codependency has an exercise built on one another to help you do just this in a very systematically desensitizing way so you can incrementally reject rejection, conquer your fear of abandonment and live an abundant life. 

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Mary Joye
Mary Joye is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Life Coach and Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator. Her recent book, “Codependent Discovery and Recovery 2.0: A Holistic Guide to Healing and Freeing Yourself on HCI/Simon and Schuster has been well received. Her transformative journey was featured in "O" Magazine.

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