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  • Writer's pictureShannon Schell, LMHC

Four ways to free yourself from codependency

Do you ever find yourself sacrificing your own needs and wants to accommodate the needs of others? Are you an extreme people pleaser? Are you always worried about what others think of you? Do you have difficulties saying no? Do you ever feel you are not allowed to be irritable or unpleasant?

If you answered yes to all these questions, you may have a problem with codependency.

The definition of codependency is very complex. In simple terms, someone who is codependent frequently sacrifices his or her own needs and wants to accommodate to the needs of others. It was once thought that codependency only existed in the context of alcohol and substance abuse. The codependent would also be the enabler in relation to the person who is using. The enabler would likely be the partner or the spouse of the person who is using. However, after much research, it was discovered that codependency can take place in adult children of alcoholics, people in relationships with those who have mental disorders, parents of children with behavior problems, people in relationships with chronically ill people, and professionals such as nurses and social workers in “helping” professions.

Melody Beattie describes many characteristics that people with codependency issues may have in her book, Codependent No More.

Here are just a few of them:

· Think and feel responsible for other people

· Try to please others instead of themselves

· Feel safest when giving

· Think you are not quite good enough

· Take things personally

· Feel like victims

· Desperately seek approval

How does codependency develop?

Codependency may develop from dysfunction that existed in the home during childhood. This dysfunction might be in the form of caregivers who were incarcerated, had mental illness, and/or battled alcohol and substance abuse problems. Dysfunction in the home might have also existed in the context of parental neglect, parental abuse, and/or childhood trauma.

How to overcome and “free” yourself from codependency

Many mental health professionals would agree that the first step to resolving any problem is awareness. The second step is acceptance. This problem doesn’t define and label you as a flawed person. This problem is part of your life journey and is a battle that can be overcome. A commitment to doing life differently would be a conscious choice that can help “free” you from codependency.

Here are four ways you can overcome codependency:

1. Put on your oxygen mask first. If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you may recall the safety instructions that are usually given in the beginning of a flight. Parents are advised that should oxygen masks be needed; they are to put on their masks first before helping their children secure their masks. Why is this instruction necessary? Simply stated, a parent is not going to be able to help his or her child with an oxygen mask if he or she is unconscious. Similarly, it is very difficult to be the most effective in any role (i.e. parent, occupation, spouse) when you are not taking care of your needs first. Putting your needs first and practicing self-care is more than just bubble baths, massages, and face masks. Self-care truly involves practicing self-love and self-compassion. It is loving yourself unconditionally and accepting that you are a human being that makes mistakes. Self-care is also “fathering” yourself or setting high expectations for yourself and accomplishing those goals. When you are consistently working towards rejuvenating your soul, you will find that you have more energy and are able to do more for yourself, as well as for those around you.

2. Say "no" and set boundaries. This is also known as practicing assertiveness. Getting to know your own rights, asking for what you do want, and saying “no” to what you don’t want are all part of being assertive. As you feel better about yourself and less dependent on others, you will naturally become more assertive because you believe in yourself enough to do so. Be mindful of the fact that you don’t need to receive the approval of everyone in order to live a happy and meaningful life. Remember, you have a right to say no to requests and demands you can’t meet.

3. Make your own decisions and trust yourself in making these decisions. Often, those with codependency issues are reluctant to make their own decisions. They will ask everyone around them to make their decisions because they are seeking approval and looking to please others. If you struggle with codependency, you may also connect your self-worth to what others think of you. Ultimately, accommodating to the needs of others at your own expense can lead to frustration and resentment. The first step to improving your decision-making is to acknowledge that you have a problem with it. Write out a list of decisions you’ve made. Then assess how fear, self-doubt, and people-pleasing has impacted these decisions. When you know what is holding you back, you’ll have a better idea of what to focus on.

When making decisions, consider these points:

· Will you be happy with this decision a year from now?

· Are you making these choices for yourself or for someone else?

· Don’t rush into making decisions. Take your time and think them through.

Finally, trust and believe in yourself. This will develop in time. There may be times where you make mistakes but that is how we learn. Perfectionism can keep us in fear and hold us back from getting out there and taking risks.

4. Build your self-esteem. Adults with codependency issues may have self-talk replaying in their minds that began during childhood when a caregiver might have said, “you never do anything right!” or “you don’t know what you’re doing!” As adults, we can make the choice to re-tape these messages to “I am strong. I can handle anything!” The thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves can have an impact on our feelings and actions. By changing our thoughts, we can then change our feelings and actions accordingly. Write down some of your self-defeating thoughts and then consider how you can change it to positive self-talk or affirmations. Write these positive affirmations on index cards and place them around your home so that they can serve as a visual reminder of the importance of positive self-talk. Practice saying these affirmations out loud two to three times daily.

Some examples of affirmations include:

· I’m learning to take better care of myself.

· I don’t have to be perfect to be loved and accepted.

· I’m letting go of taking responsibility for other people’s problems.

For more information on codependency, check out the book, Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.

If you or someone you know is struggling with codependency and in need of support, feel free to click here to send me a message or contact me at (813) 501-2703 if you would like to set up an appointment for counseling. I am currently accepting new clients for evenings and Saturday mornings. My office is located in the Carrollwood area at 13801 N. Dale Mabry Hwy. Tampa, FL.

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