Understanding Codependency Part 2: Breaking Free from Codependency
In part one of this small series on codependency, I discussed the complex and challenging pattern of behaviour that we don’t often notice, and the profound effect it has on our relationships and well-being. Breaking free from codependency requires self-awareness, introspection, and commitment to personal growth. In this second part of the article, I will explore strategies for empowerment to foster healthier relationships and a more fulfilling life.
You’ll find the history of the word codependency in part one, along with ten signs of codependency. Briefly, the characteristics of codependency are an excessive reliance on others for approval, identity, and self-worth. It manifests in various ways, such as an intense need for validation, difficulty setting boundaries, and a tendency to prioritise others’ needs over your own. This pattern of behaviour leads to dysfunctional and unbalanced relationships, where one person becomes overly dependent on another for emotional support and validation.
Living with codependency has detrimental effects on both mental and emotional well-being. You may experience chronic stress, anxiety, and a diminished sense of self. Codependent relationships often lack healthy boundaries, leading to emotional exhaustion and a sense of feeling overwhelmed. Breaking free from codependency is a crucial step towards reclaiming your identity and building healthier connections with others.
Steps to Break Free from a Codependent Relationship
The first step in breaking free from codependency is developing self-awareness. Reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in various relationships. Identify patterns of excessive reliance on others and recognise the impact on your emotional well-being. In Ross Rosenberg’s ten stage model of recovery, all stages require some form of self-awareness.
Self-awareness isn’t something you can simply magic up. It is a process that takes strategy and time. There are many exercises you can do at home to improve your self-awareness. However, a course of therapy will help greatly. Initially, begin by reflecting on your own emotions and behaviours within and outside the relationship. Pay attention to patterns where you might excessively rely on other people for validation, approval, or identity. Identify instances where you may compromise your own needs and boundaries to meet the needs of the other person.
Keep a journal to document your thoughts and emotions. Writing is a powerful tool for self-reflection. Record your feelings, experiences, and patterns you notice in your interactions with other people, especially your partner in the codependent relationship. This process will help you gain clarity on the dynamics of your relationships. In your journal, explore the situations or behaviours that trigger codependent tendencies. Understanding what activates these patterns will help you anticipate and navigate them more effectively. Recognising triggers empowers you to respond consciously, rather than impulsively.
Take a close look at your own needs, desires, and goals. Ask yourself whether you pursue your own interests or other people’s / someone else’s. Assess your level of independence and identify areas where you can reclaim autonomy in your life. If you find this difficult, ask a trusted friend for their perspective. Share your reflections and experiences with them, and ask for feedback. They may offer insights you might not consider, and can support you in the process of breaking free from codependency. Rediscover and nurture your own identity by pursuing individual interests and goals. Take the time to reconnect with activities and passions that bring you joy and fulfilment outside the context of the relationship. Fostering a sense of self-reliance and autonomy will enhance your individual well-being and contribute to healthier and more balanced relationships.
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, will help you learn how to stay present in the moment. The expectation of mindfulness is that you observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment, improving self-awareness. This awareness provides a foundation for intentional choices in your relationship. You can use this self-awareness to clearly define and communicate your boundaries within relationships.
Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is crucial for overcoming codependency. The first step to setting boundaries is understanding your own needs and accepting them internally, i.e. being honest with yourself about what you need and the limits that will protect your emotional wellbeing.
Clearly communicate your needs, desires, and limits in relationships. Learn to say ‘no’ when necessary, and prioritise self-care without feeling guilty. This is easier said than done. When self esteem is low, setting boundaries is a big step. Especially when you feel fearful of rejection or extreme guilt. Ideally, the increase in self-awareness will empower you to feel confident enough to terminate the relationship if your partner does not respect your boundaries. You may find you need to increase your self-esteem before you can establish healthy boundaries.
Codependency often stems from a lack of self-esteem. Building self-esteem is a transformative journey that begins with acknowledging and appreciating your own worth. It involves recognising your strengths, accomplishments, and unique qualities. Cultivating self-esteem requires practising self-compassion and reframing negative self-talk into positive affirmations. Engage in activities that bring joy and achievement. Set and achieve small goals, and surround yourself with positive influences to enhance your self-image. Building self-esteem is an ongoing process that involves self-reflection, self-acceptance, and the cultivation of a healthy and resilient self-concept. As you invest in your self-worth, you’ll create a foundation for a more confident, empowered, and fulfilling life.
A good first step to building self esteem is acknowledging your values and living in alignment with them. Use a formal value setting exercise to do this, and make any necessary adaptations to your life to align with the values you ascertain. This will help you feel authentic, leading to greater happiness and improved self-worth.
Breaking free from codependency is a transformative journey that requires dedication and self-reflection. By understanding the impact of codependency, establishing healthy boundaries, building self-esteem, and seeking support when needed, you can empower yourself to create more fulfilling and balanced relationships. The path to empowerment involves reclaiming your identity, fostering independence, and cultivating a deep sense of self-worth, ultimately leading to a more authentic and satisfying life.