How to Overcome Self-Care Challenges in Codependency Recovery

By Michelle Farris, psychotherapist and relationship expert.

When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, you learn to take care of others and neglect yourself. Your needs are put on the back burner in the attempt to please others and avoid abuse. 

Maybe you heard that you shouldn’t have any needs or that taking care of yourself meant that you were self-centered.

In this article you will learn how to address and heal self-care challenges in codependency. 

What is self-care?

Self-care is the ability to take care of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs without delay.

Self-care is not a bubble bath or walking on the beach. It’s a commitment to take care of yourself FIRST, which becomes challenging when you struggle with codependent traits like people pleasing and not setting firm boundaries.

For instance, self-care is knowing what you need and prioritizing those needs without guilt or shame. You don’t wait for permission. Self-care is the ability to care for yourself without feeling guilty.

Where should you start?

Physical needs are the foundation for everything else. For instance, when feeling tired, hungry or stressed, emotions become harder to manage. Simple solutions like getting enough sleep and eating well can decrease stress. 

Emotional needs for support and connection are also important to address in codependency recovery. Trying to cope with the challenges of life alone isn’t healthy and contributes to anxiety and depression. Cultivating healthy relationships is the cornerstone of recovery.

Spiritual needs help you center yourself like meditation, belonging to a spiritual or religious community or a spiritual practice like yoga or Tai Chi.

These are all self-care activities that will help in your codependency recovery.

When you struggle with codependency in relationships you prioritize everyone else’s needs ahead of your own. This makes it very difficult to practice good self-care because your worth becomes attached to doing things for others not in doing things for yourself.

As a result, self-care gets neglected for the sake of pleasing others and seeking approval. Over time, this hyper-focus contributes to low self-esteem, self-doubt, anxiety and overwhelm.

So how do we fix this? 

Codependency recovery means learning how to give to others without putting your needs last. Giving becomes a choice which helps to preserve your time and energy. 

Often codependent people have negative beliefs about themselves that make it hard to prioritize what’s best for them.

When you give out of choice instead of obligation you will give more freely and avoid the cycle of saying yes when you mean no, then feeling resentful. In recovery, self-care does not mean you have to stop giving because codependent people are natural givers. 

Giving can be your superpower when done in moderation. Unfortunately, a common codependent dilemma is giving even when it hurts you. For instance, someone asks you to help them move, but you have an important test at work. Out of guilt, you end up saying yes and flunking that test for work.

You pay the price by not letting yourself say no.

How can we stop putting other people’s well-being over our own? It starts by challenging old beliefs that keep you stuck in codependent behaviors. 

Some common beliefs learned in childhood include:

  • Feeling guilty when thinking of yourself
  • Assuming that self-care is being selfish or self-centered
  • Believing that you should always take care of others first

Practicing consistent self-care means replacing those beliefs with positive statements like “I deserve to get my needs met” and “Self-care doesn’t mean I’m selfish”. Taking care of yourself can improve your relationships, not diminish them.

Here are some steps to improve your self-care.

1. Identify two or three self-care activities that will improve your quality of life. Then, break each one down into baby steps. For instance, start exercising gradually starting with only 15 minutes, or make it a priority to get more sleep. 

If you tend to isolate, reach out to someone who’s emotionally safe and will be glad to hear from you. This will help to build your confidence that loved ones want to hear from you. 

Whenever you are starving to make changes, don’t expect yourself to do it perfectly because that’s where codependent tendencies show up. Having an all or nothing attitude doesn’t work because recovery is about moderation.  

2. Work through negative beliefs around self-care. Do you feel guilty, like you shouldn’t have any needs? If yes, you’re not alone. The key to recovery from codependency is giving yourself the same grace you’d give a dear friend. 

And let’s face it, the people who really love you want you to take better care of yourself. They don’t want you to suffer or feel anxious and overwhelmed all the time.

3. Practice giving less to others and more to yourself. This practice preserves your time and energy which will make self-care more manageable. Recovery requires changing your perception of yourself, and your identity often gets wrapped up into being generous without boundaries.

For instance, if someone asks for help, offer less time than you normally would.  Or, if you don’t want to go to a certain event, let yourself leave early. Instead of doing all the housework, ask someone to help. Again, baby steps are the key to following through with confidence. 

Final thoughts:

Practicing self-care works best when the changes are small but steady over time. Realize that you may still over-give at times and that too is part of recovery. Giving yourself permission to do it imperfectly and embracing our imperfections is recovery.

Michelle is a psychotherapist, codependency expert, and anger management, specialist. Her relationship recovery helps people go from relationships that don’t serve them, to learning how to trust themselves and create mutually satisfying connections that work. Grab my FREE journal prompts for codependency, self-care and boundaries:

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