Are You Neglecting Your Needs? (You Can Change That…)
By Carista Luminare, Ph.D.
Codependent individuals are known for being highly empathetic, caring, and giving. One of their defining challenges is they often focus so much on the needs of others that they neglect their own well-being.
Codependency is not limited to romantic relationships. These behavior traits can occur in familial relationships, friendships, and even professional settings. For example, a codependent employee may consistently work overtime to please their boss or take on extra tasks to avoid confrontation or criticism. Similarly, a codependent friend may constantly prioritize their friend’s needs, even when it conflicts with their own schedule or mental health. In romantic relationships, focusing on the partner’s needs dominates caring for one’s own wants.
Common relationship needs include:
- Love. Loving affection is commonly expressed through physical touch, words of affirmation and acts of kindness. This includes each person’s unique way of expressing care for another person.
- Connection. As social creatures, humans have a need for meaningful companionship such as family and romantic relationships as well as friendships.
- Security. Humans thrive when they feel safe and secure in their primary relationships, which requires open communication and trust. Trust can be built through honesty, dependability, and consistency in behavior.
- Validation. Individuals feel empowered when they feel valued and accepted. Reliable emotional support, positive feedback and encouragement can enhance any relationship dynamic.
- Autonomy. While people need healthy connection with others, they also have an essential need for independence. This includes the freedom to choose their personal values, beliefs, and goals, as well as establish healthy boundaries in their relationships.
One of the reasons codependent individuals self-neglect is their deep need for approval and validation from others. They may believe they are only worthy of love if they take care of another’s requests or demands, even if it means they sacrifice their own needs in the process.
Their subconscious desire for approval often comes from early life experiences when their primary attachment figure praised them for helping others. Another source is when a child is ignored or punished for expressing their own concerns and emotions, and they learn to abandon their own self necessities. Reinforced over time, these experiences can lead to a deep belief that their own essential requirements are not important or deserving attention from themselves or anyone else.
To avoid the threat of abandonment, the codependent individual commonly prioritizes the needs of others over their own, even if doing so is harmful to their self-worth. Any connection – even an unhealthy one – feels better than being physically or emotionally neglected.
Another reason codependents disregard their own needs is that they may have poor boundaries. Boundaries are the physical and psychological limits that we set for ourselves in relationships with others, and they are essential for healthy self-care. Codependent individuals may struggle to set boundaries because they feel overly responsible for the feelings of others, or because they are afraid of causing conflict or disappointment. This can lead to a pattern of ignoring their own needs in the process.
Discounting one’s own options, and over caretaking another person to avoid conflict, can lead to physical burnout and emotional exhaustion. Suppressed needs can fester into frustration and resentment that one turns on themselves if they don’t feel safe to process their anger with the person upsetting them. In its extreme, self-denial of core needs can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and addiction.
If you are ready to overcome your codependent behaviors, commit to daily acts of self-care. This includes prioritizing your own needs over others to build self-worth in incremental ways.
1. Practice saying “no” to a request (especially when saying ‘yes’ to the other person is not healthy).
2. If you feel you are abandoning your own well-being to care for another, first choose to do something beneficial for yourself, and afterwards, turn your attention to the other person.
3. Work on developing healthy boundaries by communicating your needs and limits clearly.
4. Give yourself permission to always have a choice to say yes or no.
5. Release the role of responsibility for fixing or rescuing others. You are not to blame for their problems or behaviors that they express.
Codependency is a complex behavior that may require professional help to overcome. Therapy can be a valuable tool for exploring the root causes of codependency as well as developing healthy coping skills for managing emotions and relationship dynamics. Support groups such as Codependents Anonymous offer a safe space for individuals to share their experiences and learn from others who are going through similar challenges
Rewiring new behaviors such as setting specific and healthy boundaries – including what you can and cannot give to another – takes practice. The more you do so, the more you will have the confidence to trust your needs as they arise in the moment. Practice self-compassion and kindness when you make mistakes or experience setbacks.
Self-care is not selfish or narcissistic. Rather, it is foundational to knowing what is healthy for your own inner security. It supports you in establishing safe conditions to protect you from the harmful behaviors of another person who may be clueless about their impact on you.
If the other person demands that you submit to their needs over yours, you don’t need their permission to know what is healthy for you. If they guilt or shame you for choosing yourself first at appropriate times, this is domination and control, not love.
By prioritizing your own essential choices to be your True Self, you can develop a sense of self-respect and self-love. These are foundational to loving another human being.
When you understand that each person’s needs matter equally, it optimizes the opportunity for each person to be more considerate and loving to the other. This is the shared behavior that allows the relationship to blossom.
Carista Luminare, Ph.D., is an Attachment Specialist and “Recovering Codependent.” Learn how Carista and her partner rewired each other and many clients from insecure attachment to secure love, featured in her 3- and 10-week online course at http://healingnarcissismandcodependency.com/