Everything You Need to Know to Heal a Codependent Friendship
By Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist
Everything You Need to Know to Heal a Codependent Friendship
A healthy friendship can provide invaluable support and connection, but in codependent friendships, the pain outweighs the pleasure.
A classic sign of a codependent friendship is when the codependent person becomes overly dependent on the other person. Over time, this makes the other person feel engulfed or trapped. The healthy friendship then turns into an unhealthy dependency.
In this article, you will learn how to recognize and heal a codependent friendship, plus, identify the warning signs of these unhealthy friendships so you can heal these dysfunctional habits.
How do you define a codependent friendship?
A codependent friendship is quite different from a healthy friendship. In codependent friendships, both people lose their emotional independence.
The codependent friend becomes too dependent on the other for support, companionship and approval. The non-codependent friend starts to feel engulfed by the neediness of the codependent.
As a result, boundaries are non-existent because neither party wants to risk upsetting the other person. An early sign of weak boundaries is disclosing too much information too soon. Sharing intimate details about yourself before you really know the person is a major red flag.
Unlike a codependent friendship, a healthy friendship takes time to develop. Each person respects the boundaries of the other, and no one tries to dominate or control the friendship. Both people enjoy each other’s company without needing the other person to make them happy or feel whole.
Codependent friendships lack the balance of giving and taking. The compulsive need of the codependent to save, help, or stay connected makes preserving any independence difficult. This is why codependent people get so involved in helping others that they lose their sense of self. Fixing or helping others defines them and makes them feel needed.
This dependency creates an intense connection that mimics an obsessive relationship. Sometimes, they may also have issues linked to addiction and narcissism.
As the friendship progresses, the non-codependent friend can become emotionally exhausted by the needs of the codependent. If they struggle with codependency as well, they will hide their concerns for fear of hurting the codependent’s feelings. Eventually, the non-codependent friend, will hit a breaking point and might even end the relationship.
Some codependent people may have control issues, while others are people-pleasers who will do everything possible to avoid conflict in their relationships.
What are the signs of a codependent friendship?
- You depend too much on others for validation and support
- You find it challenging to set boundaries or respect someone else’s
- You expect the other person to help you with your personal needs
- You want to spend an unusual amount of time together
- You try to control or change the other person’s behavior
- You avoid difficult conversations to avoid hurting the other person’s
- You secretly resent others for contributing less to the friendship
- You change your identity for approval, just like a “chameleon.”
How to heal a codependent friendship if you are a codependent friend?
To heal from a codependent friendship, you need to understand your own personal limits. Some initial goals include putting yourself first, setting up healthy boundaries, and focusing on creating a healthy separation.
Taking care of your own needs can help you reduce unhealthy dependence on others.
Begin by listing any codependent behaviors that have created problems in your friendships. Do an honest appraisal of our own behaviors. This begins the recovery process for healing codependent friendships. People pleasing, neglecting self-care, and the inability to say no or set boundaries are a few of the issues that you need to consider.
Here are some key questions that can get you started in the healing process:
- Can you put your needs first instead of focusing on the needs of others?
- Where and when have you neglected yourself for others?
- Can you identify if you have control issues?
- Do you depend on your friends to validate your identity?
- Where are you overdoing or caring too much for others?
- Can you say no to others and take care of yourself instead?
If you need additional help, consider attending Al-Anon, the 12-step program, for specific strategies for healing behavior patterns like codependency in friendships. These programs provide free, invaluable support and mentorship to anyone interested in healing codependent relationships.
How to heal a codependent friendship if your friend is the codependent one?
Once you realize you’re in a codependent friendship, don’t pin the blame on the other person. Identify what areas you’d like to change and share your concerns with your friend in a non-judgmental way. Tell them that you still care but want a healthier relationship.
Because codependent people are people pleasers and want to stay connected, they will likely be motivated to work things out. Some may take it personally but don’t let their feelings hinder you from speaking up.
Let your friend know what isn’t working. If you don’t express your views, these issues will fester and eventually end your friendship.
Sometimes, the codependent person feels hurt by the changes you are trying to make. They may blame themselves or resist changing the friendship. Don’t let that deter you. Figure out your boundaries and what you need in order to make the friendship work. When you feel like they are trying to pull you back into codependent behavior, practice self-care and loving detachment.
What is detachment?
Detachment is letting someone else experience the consequences of their choices without trying to fix their problems. You can be supportive, but avoid always being available. Spend more time apart to create more emotional independence. This may take time as the codependent person will likely resist less contact, but setting your boundary with kindness will help to change the codependent pattern.
For instance, when letting them know you need less contact, talk more about you and your desire to have a healthy friendship, rather than continuously pointing out their dependency.
What is a healthy friendship?
A healthy friendship has strong established boundaries. You should be able to ask for help without making others feel responsible for your happiness. You do not have to sacrifice self-care and self-reliance for the other person. Each person has their own identity and understands that they are responsible for their own needs.
Healthy friendships feel supportive and close without becoming too intense or enmeshed. Friends can live independent lives and still have warm, trusting relationships. They can share their concerns without needing the other person to constantly take care of them.
In a healthy relationship, one person does not have to take on the giver role. There are times when you lean on your friends for help and support, but there are times when you are able to do the same for your friends. It’s a give-and-take relationship.
Although it can take some time to heal from a codependent friendship, recognizing codependent behaviors creates the opportunity for continued growth. While not every codependent friendship will survive recovery, the lessons learned will improve the quality of your relationships especially the one you have with yourself.
Michelle Farris, Relationship Therapist. Learn how Michelle can help your heal your codependency and build self-trust with her FREE journal prompts for improving self-care and boundaries: https://counselingrecovery.lpages.co/codependency-council/