How to Decrease Unhealthy Dependency in Codependent Relationships

By Michelle Farris, licensed psychotherapist.

Codependent relationships are based on an unhealthy dependency that turns relationships into obligations. As a result, these relationships deplete your self-esteem and ability to feel whole. In this article you will learn how to decrease unhealthy dependencies on others and learn how to befriend yourself.

Building self-esteem is especially challenging because getting validation from others is faster than trying to give it to yourself. You become the hero, helping everyone except yourself.

When you struggle with codependency you:

•          Get your self-worth from what you do, not who you are.

•          Have difficulty asking for what you need.

•          Depend on others to make you feel happy.

•          Feel joy only when loved ones are happy too.

•          Look to others for answers because you don’t trust yourself.

While there are several different definitions of codependency, here’s a simplified version for you. Codependency is a relationship pattern of focusing on others at your own expense. Their problems become your problems, their needs overshadow all others. 

Eventually, relationships become increasingly one-sided as you neglect yourself in favor of pleasing others. Because of this, some people consider codependency a “relationship addiction” much like alcoholism.  

Confronting Issues of Dependency:

In codependent relationships, you depend on someone else to make you happy and whole. Symptoms of codependency may not be visible to you until a relationship ends. That’s when you will feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach – when the relationship has crashed and you’re alone again. 

At the heart of codependency is an unconscious need to make someone else your Higher Power. “You complete me” becomes the mantra and your lifeline for validation, approval, and support. It’s like waiting for your prince or princess to save you – only that person doesn’t have to be a romantic partner. 

Codependency can develop with a friend, a child, a mentor, anyone that you find yourself needing just a little too much. When they’re happy with you, you feel like the hero, but if they’re upset, it’s heart-breaking. Your feelings become dictated by their moods. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that never seems to stop.  

Acknowledge That The Codependent Relationship Isn’t Working:

Unfortunately, the codependent person doesn’t hit bottom easily. They often have trouble seeing their behavior as problematic but caring “too much” is a barrier to healthy relationships – with yourself and others. 

Everyone wants to be loved but by ignoring your own needs, you are teaching others to do the same. Relationships cannot be sustained when your needs are constantly being put on the back burner. 

So how do you start recovering? 

The first step in codependency recovery is to acknowledge what isn’t working, whether it’s pretending everything is fine (when it’s not), relying on others to feel worthy, or trying to control people, places, and things. 

Eventually, when the pain becomes greater than the fear, you will finally let go. That’s when recovery begins. Ironically, it’s feeling powerless that helps you see that you are not God and can’t help anyone but yourself.

Personal Story of Codependency Recovery:

Depending too much on one person was a very painful lesson for me. So, when a close friendship ended, it knocked me into a major slump. Despite working on my codependency for several years, it caught me completely off guard. 

But I learned one of the most important lessons in my recovery. Without a strong sense of self, I will give others the power to dictate my worth and self-esteem. 

No one single person – even your partner – should determine your worth. 

I had to learn that you can’t love others without loving yourself is painfully true. Learning how to befriend myself was not something I would have willingly done in recovery – I was too addicted to others to see the value in loving myself.  

Fast forward years later, with hard work (and lots of grieving) I shifted that unhealthy dependency towards building a strong foundation of who I wanted to be instead of searching for others to define who I am. Slowly, I began to reclaim myself as a separate person from my relationships. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in recovery but so worth it.

While there is no replacement for true friendship and intimate partnership, neglecting ourselves never works. Some may get addicted themselves or lose faith in relationships altogether. Finding something bigger than yourself to rely on can be comforting.  

Building a Relationship with a Higher Power: 

To befriend yourself, find a new source of connection to support you and decrease unhealthy dependencies. While some cringe at the thought of a God or spiritual being, find what works for you. 

Some develop spiritual practices like meditation or listening to inspirational music or podcasts. Yoga or Tai Chi are also popular choices to de-stress and connect with your body and spirit. 

The purpose of a Higher Power is to realize that it’s not you! 

Accepting that will help decrease the overly responsible feeling that often accompanies codependent relationships.  

You come right sized instead of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.

In 12 step programs such as Al-Anon or Coda, the 12 steps encourage (but don’t demand) a relationship with a Higher Power to help you find a source of strength and comfort. Life is long and having a spiritual connection whether it’s to a Higher being or nature can provide some needed peace. 

There are many paths to creating a spiritual practice. All you have to do is pick one!

Final Thoughts:

Relying on others to feel complete is one of the more painful aspects of codependency. Recovery means being willing to confront dependency issues and begin the shift towards self-reliance.  

Treating yourself like you would your best friend is key because the relationship you have with yourself will be the longest and most important one you ever have.

Michelle Farris, Psychotherapist and Relationship Expert. Get Michelle’s Free Journal Prompts for Improving Self-care and Boundaries in Codependency Recovery:

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