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  • Writer's pictureAveril

Recognising and Managing Codependency: Nurturing Healthy Relationships and Personal Wellbeing

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Relationships are an integral part of our lives, offering support, companionship, and love. Most people desire connected, supportive, intimate relationships, whether with a partner or deep friendships. However, certain relationship dynamics can become unhealthy and hinder personal growth and happiness. Codependency is one such pattern in relationships that can negatively impact our well-being. In this post, we will explore the concept of codependency, its potential consequences, and provide insights on breaking free from codependent patterns to foster healthy relationships and personal well-being.

Understanding codependency

Codependency is a relationship dynamic where one person’s sense of self, worth, or wellbeing is excessively linked to another person. A person may be reliant on the other person for meeting their emotional, physical, and psychological needs (needing to be taken care of in a way that isn’t appropriate for an adult).

Alternatively, a person may focus the majority of their attention and efforts on making sure their partner is taken care of, neglecting their own needs, preferences, and wellbeing. Often, the way they feel is largely or solely dependent on how the other person is feeling or acting — for example, a person in a codependent relationship dynamic may find themselves unable to feel okay themselves if their partner is feeling down or withdrawn.

Codependency typically involves some combination of enabling behaviour (permitting or supporting a partner to act in ways that are unhealthy), a desire for intense and unrelenting closeness, low self-esteem, a lack of personal boundaries, and an overwhelming need for approval and validation from others. Such relationships may be imbalanced, with one person assuming a caretaking role and the other becoming dependent on that care, or may involve two people who feel mutually overly dependent on one another.

Signs of codependency

Difficulty with self-esteem

Codependency makes it difficult for a person to maintain a steady sense of their own intrinsic worth. Some may feel that they are incapable or somehow weak unless they can rely on the strength of others.They may have had an upbringing or experiences that taught them that their worth is instead to be gauged from others’ responses to them (“other-esteem” rather than “self-esteem”). They may have learned that their worth only comes from their usefulness or appeal to others, meaning that they feel reliant on a consistent stream of validation from other people to feel okay about themselves. The reassurance is only very temporary, however, and the individual is on high alert for any small sign that the approval has been withdrawn.

Difficulty holding appropriate boundaries

Codependency makes it difficult to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. They have difficulty saying no and may feel responsible for the emotions and actions of others, leading to consistent feelings of guilt. They may not be able to discern if others are being abusive to them, or if they themselves are overstepping another person’s boundaries. These issues may be apparent in some relationships or environments and not others.

Difficulty with differentiation

People with codependent tendencies may find it challenging to either know exactly what it is they think and feel, or they may be able to discern this but find themselves unable to share it. They may struggle to notice or acknowledge their own preferences and dislikes, and consciously or unconsciously adopt those of their partner as their own. This may stem from a desire to avoid rocking the boat, creating points of difference between themselves and those they wish to be close to in case this leads to rejection, or a belief that to feel safe and close in a relationship both individuals must always be aligned.

Challenges with meeting own needs

Codependency can make a person feel reliant on others to meet their physical or emotional wants and needs. They may have been given the message that they are somehow incapable of looking after themselves, or had an upbringing in which every need was swiftly taken care of by a parent, so that they never learned how to do it on their own. This denies them the opportunity to learn to trust themselves and their ability to self-regulate and cope with difficult emotions or situations. They may have a sense of themselves as younger or more immature than they actually are. They may believe that being loved and having every need taken care of by another are the same thing.

Challenges with moderation

Those that struggle with codependency may experience their emotions as unpredictable and difficult to control. Because their sense of worth or wellbeing is inextricably tied to other people, they may feel that they have little control over how they feel. In a desire for strong connection or approval, they might find themselves oversharing personal information with new acquaintances, or having high expectations for closeness with friends. They may expect every conflict in a relationship to end in catastrophe.

Moving on from codependency

Build your self-awareness

Knowledge is power. Recognise any signs and patterns of codependency within yourself and your relationships. Reflect on past relationships – when have you felt most settled in a relationship, and what situations or behaviours lead you to feel stressed, abandoned, or grasping? Often, people with codependent tendencies will report that they have felt safest in a codependent relationship, where there has been a dynamic of strong reliance on one another, even if neither party was particularly happy or well. Alternatively, they may find the early honeymoon stages of a new relationship most enjoyable, when both people are naturally minimising their differences and focusing on their commonalities as they build a relationship. They may believe that healthy long-term relationships should stay in this cosy, exclusive state forever, and resist the natural maturing of a relationship into one in which both parties are able to maintain a sense of independence and mutual support.

Self knowledge allows you begin healing the wounds that have led you to codependent behaviours. Trying to adopt a more balanced approach to your relationships without understanding yourself and the needs you are trying to meet is only wallpapering over the cracks. Making authentic, sustainable changes requires self-awareness, self-compassion, and commitment to the lifelong process of change.

Reacquaint yourself with your self-worth

If you’ve felt that your worth has been in the hands of others all this time, it will take some time to reorient yourself back to your own intrinsic worth. Your worth has never abandoned you, but it is patiently waiting for you to remember it is there. Undertaking a journey of self-development or spending some time with a good therapist might support you in this process.

Establish healthy boundaries and understand expectations

If you’ve had a history of co-dependency in your relationships, this again will be a process. You may never have had healthy, appropriate boundaries modelled to you, so this might be an area of new learning. Learning about the meaning of healthy boundaries and setting, utilising, and maintaining them will take time as you seek to shift what may be lifelong patterns of relating.

Develop your relationship with yourself

If you have previously defined yourself by your ability to care for others, or found it difficult to know, express, and meet your own needs, it’s time to work on your relationship with you. Explore your own interests, hobbies, and goals to develop a stronger sense of self outside of the relationship. Take time to nurture your physical, emotional, and mental health.

Learn new skills

Healthy relationships require healthy skill sets. You may find that you would benefit from strengthening skills in communication, coping with emotions, navigating conflict, and managing your thinking. There are many online resources and books you can use for self-study – however, ensure that these sources are offering thoughtful, balanced, realistic advice. Consider seeking therapy that will support you to identify your own personal patterns of codependency and its underlying causes, as well as tools that can support you to make changes.

Healthy relationships

Those at the codependent end of the relationship spectrum may often find themselves in relationships with people who are more strongly independent. Both parties often feel misunderstood and frustrated with the other, and each find that their attempts to create a more satisfying relationship only end up upsetting the other.

Between these two relational approaches lies the medium of interdependence. Healthy relationships involve a balance of independence, mutual support, and flexibility. While this concept might be scary for those with a preference for codependent relationships, interdependence supports a long-term, healthy dynamic that allows for both parties to grow together.

Breaking free from codependency is a courageous step towards building more fulfilling relationships and nurturing personal wellbeing. By developing self-awareness and relational skills, setting boundaries, and prioritising self-care, it is possible to release codependent patterns and create a foundation for authentic connections built on mutual interdependence, allowing each individual to grow, thrive, and find happiness both within and outside of the relationship.


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