Codependency Recovery: 7 Steps for Healing Yourself and Your Relationships

By Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist.

One size does NOT fit all when it comes to codependency. Whether you relate to a few traits or all of them – recovering from codependency looks different on every person!

In relationship, the codependent person ends up doing most of the giving. You give way past the point of it hurting because you need that person to make you feel whole. When codependency is an issue, you crave other people’s approval. You’re constantly looking outside of yourself for love and validation.

You become overly attuned to taking care of others instead of taking care of yourself.

So how do you know if codependency applies to you? Here are a few initial questions to see if codependency is impacting you or someone you love.

Do you put other people’s needs first even when it hurts you? Is helping others more important than taking care of yourself? Does what other people think dictate your actions?

If your answers are yes, there’s a good chance of you struggle with codependency.

What is codependency?

Codependency is a complex issue, much like a huge tree with numerous branches. Though there are several definitions of codependency, here is the simple version. 

Codependency develops when you lose yourself by overly focusing on others instead of taking care of yourself.

Codependency leads to becoming overly focused on helping, rescuing or controlling others. The codependent person’s identity gets defined by what they do for others rather than who they are.

When you struggle with codependency, you give everything you have: your time, your energy, your attention, even financial support. You want to help but can’t ever say no.

As codependent behaviors become a habit, you begin to lose your own identity. Getting the approval of others becomes your only source of validation. Over time, this creates an unhealthy dependency in relationships where other people’s needs and wants overshadow your own. You live for relationships but don’t have the ability to build one with yourself.

What are the signs of codependency?

While the signs of codependency vary from person to person, sacrificing yourself in relationships becomes a major theme.

People who struggle with codependency:

• Seek other people’s approval due to low self-esteem
• Find their value in doing rather than being who they are
• Struggle with setting boundaries and saying no
• Stay in hurtful relationships to avoid being alone
• Become overly responsible for other people’s problems
• Stuff painful feelings which create stress and resentment
• Avoid expressing a different point of view to avoid conflict
• Can’t sit still or let themselves do nothing

Recognizing the signs of codependency is essential in codependency recovery. You have to identify the problem so you know which behaviors need to be addressed.

Why is it so difficult to recognize the signs of codependency?

As a codependent person, it is harder to see your own behavior as a problem. You often attract people who are alcoholic or who have narcissistic tendencies. Since these people tend to be difficult, you don’t see yourself as the problem but the solution to their problem.

Codependent people contribute significantly to their family, friends and community. You blossom during a crisis because of your ability to empathize with other people’s pain. Your superpower is providing consistent help and support.

Because people constantly seek you out for help and support, it reinforces the belief that you don’t need help. This explains why it takes a lot of heartache for codependents to change their own behavior. You honestly believe that others will not survive without your help. Unfortunately, you burn out physically and emotionally in the process.

So, to start the recovery process, a codependent person has to hit rock bottom – much like an alcoholic.

The loss of a primary relationship usually becomes the motivating factor for codependent people to finally seek help. You don’t seek to change your behavior because you think you should. You seek to change because you can’t stand the pain. There comes the point in your life when you’re ready to do something different. That moment of clarity starts the process of recovering from codependency.

How do you start recovering from codependency?

Once you realize you have codependent tendencies, the process of recovery begins. This is often a gradual process of identifying codependent behaviors and finding the right support.

Here are the seven steps to your journey of recovery from codependency:

  • Start putting yourself and your needs first.

Ignoring your own needs has to stop. To recover from codependency, you need to stop sacrificing what you need for the sake of others. Putting your needs last creates a pattern of resentment that leads to internal stress and irritability. On the outside you look easy-going but inside, you feel invisible.

Recovery tip: Instead of asking what others want first, consider what YOU want and feel. Your desires are just as important as anyone else’s. Since you are already great at focusing on others, take your turn sharing in a conversation. This will create a healthier balance of give and take in your relationships.

  • Say what you mean without making it sound mean.

Not expressing your feelings leads to passive-aggressive behavior. When you deny difficult feelings, they come out unexpectedly in hurtful or sarcastic comments later. Without meaning to, you find yourself saying something hurtful. Over time, holding in these feelings becomes harder and harder, until you can no longer contain them.

While most people who are codependent don’t let themselves show anger, the pain of staying quiet eventually leads to unexpected outbursts. The hidden rage spills out when you least expect it.

Eventually, stuffing the pain and sorrow becomes the catalyst for entering recovery.

When communicating with others, focus on sharing your own perspective instead of what other people are doing. Most people who are codependent try to change the other person. Instead, work on expressing your feelings and concerns without making the other person wrong. That will make it easier for you to get heard.

Recovery tip: Start journaling to express difficult feelings privately. Next, use these tools to share your feelings with the people who feel safe so you can start be more honest about who you are in relationships.

  • Learn to set healthy boundaries and say no.

Saying no and setting boundaries is essential for healthy self-esteem and self-care; it means that your needs count.

Boundaries make you more honest in relationship because there will be times when you don’t want to contribute, and that’s fine. Codependent people often feel guilty saying no because they’re afraid of disappointing others. They end up telling lies and feeling horribly guilty afterwards.

Part of codependency recovery is realizing that you don’t need a reason to say no, simply the desire to preserve your time and energy is sufficient. Help them find another solution so you can still be helpful without sacrificing yourself.

Recovery tip: Write a list of situations where you could say no or set a boundary without being too anxious. Pick something minor to gain confidence. When you let yourself say no, relationships become healthier and more balanced.

  • Ask for what you need and ditch the guilt.

Doing everything on your own and not asking for help is a major sign of codependency. To start healing, identify any old beliefs or assumptions that are getting in the way of letting yourself have needs.

Common negative beliefs with codependency include:

If I ask for something…

  • People will think I’m selfish.
  • I shouldn’t need anything.
  • People will think less of me.
  • I will bother or annoy them.
  • No one cares what I want.

Allowing yourself to have needs without judging them builds healthy self-esteem and self-worth. You deserve to have what you need no matter how small or silly it may sound. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking. The people who love you want you to take better care of yourself.

Finding ways to honor your own needs is the key to codependency recovery.

Recovery tip: As a recovering codependent, you can still give but not when it hurts you. By giving what you want to give, you avoid resentment and can enjoy the process of giving even more because you are giving out of choice not obligation!

  • Don’t obsess about things that are not in your control.

A codependent person typically obsesses about other people. Helping, volunteering, and rescuing others becomes a part of their personality. When you are codependent, practice bringing the focus back to your own life. This will naturally decrease stress and make you feel more grounded.

When your energy becomes too focused on helping others, you will lose touch with what you need. You will feel as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, which serves to increase your anxiety and stress levels.

Recovery tip: By focusing on yourself, you will see where you have control and where you don’t. Embrace the things you can’t control and redirect your energy back to yourself. One day at a time, this really works!

  • Start letting go of what others think of you.

Think about the time you have spent worrying, caring for, and helping others. Over time, your identity gets wrapped up in what others think of you instead of what YOU think of yourself.

By getting the focus off of others, it’s easier to let go of what other people are thinking. Stop assuming the worst and remember that what you think is far more important than what others think.

Redirect your thoughts towards a new hobby or follow a dream that you’ve always wanted to pursue. Creating your own happiness is very empowering in recovery.

Recovery tip: It’s okay to think of yourself. Self-care doesn’t mean you are being selfish; it means your needs are also important. Codependency recovery requires addressing your needs first then decide what you can give.

  • Practice letting go of what other people are doing.

When you try to fix, advise or control other people’s behavior, especially when there is an addiction, it distracts you from dealing with your own problems.

Get your serenity back by letting go of what other people do.

When you start living your own life, you can let go of things that aren’t yours, like other people’s problems. This gives others an opportunity to take care of themselves. If they choose not to take that responsibility, you have a choice to make; you can keep doing the same thing expecting different results, or you can let it go.

Recovery tip: Letting go of what other people are doing is one of the most challenging tasks in codependency recovery. You have a huge heart and wanting to help is lovely, but sometimes, letting the other person figure it out is the kinder thing to do.

Final thoughts on codependency recovery

In codependency recovery target one specific behavior at a time. This will help you avoid overwhelm. Consider getting additional support such as attending Al-Anon or Coda 12 step programs that can make this process easier. When there is a history or trauma and abuse, getting professional help from a licensed counselor is recommended.

Recognizing the signs of codependency while taking baby steps towards changing these behaviors starts the process of healing. One day at a time, you are becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be.

By Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist

Michelle is a regular contributor to the #1 Online Magazine For Codependency, Codependency Recovery.

To learn more free relationship tips from Michelle, click here:

3 Responses

  1. Sue Finnerty says:

    Excellent and so helpful. One of the things that really stood out for me was “You give way past the point of it hurting because you need that person to make you feel whole.” An ongoing journey to heal from co-dependency.

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