Overcoming codependency is key for any healthy relationship.
This condition will slowly poison any romantic union and the self-confidence of the people in it.
It’s a silent killer that has ruined millions of relationships in modern society. If you suffer from low self-esteem, it can be easy to fall into codependency with a person with the same personality.
Below, we’ll explore what codependency is, why it happens, how it damages relationships and the five keys steps on how to break codependency habits.
What is codependency?
The term ‘codependency’ is most commonly used to describe a relationship where both members are overly reliant on their partner to make them happy. Instead of lifting each other up, they tend to drag each other’s confidence into the gutter.
Many people in this type of relationship will deny that it is bad for them. The symptoms are often portrayed as signs of ‘true love’ in TV shows and movies and can be mistaken as such by those who don’t know any better.
Even those who are aware of how destructive their relationship is often struggle to leave. They’ll rationalize that the path to true love never did run smooth or that they don’t deserve any better.
At its worst, codependency can be as addictive as many drugs. What’s more, the longer you stay within it, the tougher it can be to recover.
What are the signs of codependency?
Codependency is sometimes defined as a condition suffered by one individual. However, the symptoms most commonly occur among both partners in romantic relationships. This is because anyone who displays these symptoms will struggle to attract a partner with high self-esteem.
The symptoms include:
Feeling unworthy of your partner – This is a common side-effect of low self-esteem. While it’s OK to feel like you’re batting ‘out of your league’ in a relationship, feeling completely unworthy is a problem that needs addressing.
Fear of your partner leaving – It’s healthy to be sad about the idea of your partner leaving, but if you frequently experience unprovoked fear or anxiety about this, it’s another sign of codependency.
Jealousy – This stems from the fear of your partner leaving. Many codependent couples will experience jealousy when their partner shows attention to the opposite sex. In extreme cases, it may even occur when they spend time with a family member or friend of the same sex.
Self-esteem based on your partner’s opinion – Codependent couples will often experience heavy fluctuation of their self-esteem, based on their partner’s behavior towards them. Any minor dip in affection from their partner, even over a short period of time, tends to lower their self-confidence. In many cases, no amount of attention they receive is ever enough.
Demanding expectations – Because of this reliance on their partner for good emotions, many codependent couples will make outrageous demands on their partner’s time. They can become upset or angry when their partner chooses to spend time away from them. They will often look for constant reinforcement of the partner’s affection over the phone and face-to-face.
If you recognize these symptoms in your behavior and your partner didn’t run away immediately, this can be defined as a co-dependent relationship. The same can be said if you put up with this behavior from your significant other.
The symptoms of codependency
A healthy symptom of codependency, when seen in happy relationships, is that both partners feel the need to impress each other.
However, within a codependent relationship, this behavior is typically motivated by feelings of unworthiness. In this situation, the ‘giver’ tends to look for signs that these feelings are true and can become upset if their partner appears even slightly underwhelmed by the gift.
Either way, this seemingly positive symptom is often overshadowed by the toxic symptoms of codependency outlined below:
People prone to codependency were often brought up in households where their parents didn’t show enough love for them or each other.
As children, they learned that ‘loving’ couples argue and belittle each other. Also, due to a lack of parental love, they grow up feeling unworthy of affection.
When they go on to receive affection from their partner as an adult, it feels undeserved. It’s outside of their comfort zone and they self-consciously sabotage the relationship by finding drama in the pettiest problem.
The poison drip
The ‘poison drip’ describes the moments where your partner wears down your self-esteem through constant degradation.
This is supposedly another self-conscious act to prevent them from having the confidence to leave the relationship for someone better.
Look out for ways your partner words their displeasure. When explaining how ‘you forgot to take out the trash’, perhaps they add how ‘you’re a lazy oaf who can’t remember anything’. These tiny jabs can take their toll on an insecure person, especially when they place so much worth on their partner’s opinion.
Another form of the poison drip occurs when your partner actively discourages any activities that’ll help you to improve yourself.
It’s more common than you’d expect. How many married couples do you know that have both let themselves go physically while discontinuing their passions, hobbies and social lives outside of each other?
Sadly, a less subtle and far too common form of poison drip is domestic violence…
This is the ultimate side-effect of codependency.
The combination of dependence on a partner’s praise and incessant poison-dripping from this partner can lead to serious cases of depression.
Even so, the sufferer’s self-esteem is often in such tatters that leaving the codependent relationship appears scarier than being alone.
This depression can last months or years after leaving a codependent relationship, especially if you remain in it for a prolonged period.
6 Steps on How to Break Codependency Habits
Now that you understand the impact of codependency, you may be more motivated to undergo the often-difficult task of overcoming it.
Below are five steps to help you on your journey:
Learn to love yourself
This is the catch-all solution for avoiding and overcoming codependency.
People who love and respect themselves have boundaries for the types of people they’ll stay in relationships with. They won’t crave affection from just anyone. They’re able to leave a partner who isn’t right for them and therefore won’t fall in codependency.
However, if you suffered from a difficult upbringing, learning to love yourself may not be easy.
Below, are some practical steps to help you engage in self-love.
Write a self-love list
Complete a list of 50 things you love about yourself. Include past achievements, physical attributes, likable parts of your personality and anything else you can think of. Feel free to add weaknesses that you’re attempting to improve upon, too. The fact you’re bothering to better yourself at all makes this list-worthy.
Fifty is A LOT. The challenge is supposed to be difficult, so it forces you to dig deep and uncover everything you appreciate about yourself.
The result is a huge helping of self-love. Those who believe in the power of affirmations may want to read their list every day. Either way, the fact that you managed to write 50 items should provide a jolt of self-esteem during difficult moments.
Start a gratitude journal
If you start a gratitude journal, you’ll be joining worldwide names such as Tony Robbins, Arianna Huffington, and Oprah Winfrey in doing so.
There are many forms of gratitude journals, but many people use it to list five things they’re grateful for each morning and five achievements they’re proud of every evening. Nothing is too insignificant to be listed.
Meditation is the practice of staying in the present moment, rather than listening to your internal voices.
It’s fantastic for improving focus, calming anxiety, and reducing stress. If your inner voices constantly remind you of your fears and insecurities, it could be a great habit for increasing your self-love too.
In fact, it’s possible to focus your meditation on gratitude and self-love.
Develop hobbies and passions
If you find an activity you’re truly passionate about, this will go a long way in stopping you from worrying about your relationship status.
The best hobbies for overcoming codependency are those you can engage in alone. Your passion should allow you to garner a flow state that makes the hours fly by without you even noticing.
Many athletes describe experiencing this sensation during sports. Musicians experience the same while practicing their instruments as do artists in the middle of their latest creation.
Your passion doesn’t have to involve talent. It can be as simple as reading or listening to music, provided that it makes you satisfied in your own company. If you haven’t found a passion, that’s a fantastic excuse to try new activities. Meetup.com is a brilliant website, which will list plenty of ideas in your local area.
Of course, you can engage in hobbies with your friends, too. Just don’t become too dependent on their company for a good time.
Gain romantic abundance
Most people fall into codependence because they feel their destructive relationship is their only chance for love. They cling to that unhealthy person because they believe noone else will have them.
As such, a great step for overcoming codependency is to gain romantic abundance. This might be a more long-winded step than the others, but it remains important.
If you’re not currently abundant with romantic options, you may have to indulge in self-improvement and that’s absolutely fine.
Learning to love yourself will do loads to gain you more romantic options. Indulging in hobbies, nurturing friendships, and leading a life that other people want to be a part of will also help. Making an effort to meet more people, whether that’s through social events or dating apps like Tinder is another great idea.
You can work on your appearance, perhaps by exercising or updating your fashion. But it’s the added confidence from the other steps listed above that’ll do the most to attract more love interests into your life.
This work will make you less attached to lovers who are wrong for you and give you the ability to choose your best fit from a bigger field of people.
End your codependent relationship
Just as going cold turkey on cigarettes is the best solution for smokers, ending your unhealthy relationship is a key step for overcoming codependency.
A clean break from the relationship is crucial if you’re serious about focusing on yourself in the way that this article advises.
You might think you’re able to become the hero that ‘saves’ your partner from their codependent feelings, but it’s harder than you think. You can only save people that want saving. Remember, most codependent lovers came from backgrounds where they only knew pain. No matter how much love you show them, they’ll reject it, unless they’re ready to change. Only they can make that decision.
A break-up is likely to be the best aid for your partner.
Scott Wetzler, psychology division chief at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, explains: “Sometimes people delude themselves into thinking they are helping a codependent partner by continuing to cater to his or her anxiety. But ask if you are truly helping or simply fostering that negativity.”
Perhaps, in cases where marriage and children are involved, it’s worth taking a shot at saving your relationship. In such situations, it’s recommended to do so with the assistance of a professional relationship counselor.
Choose a new partner with high self-esteem
Once you’ve learned to love yourself and find happiness with or without a relationship, it’s important to ensure any new partner has the same ability.
Be careful and look for signs of extreme neediness, jealousy or engaging in controlling behavior.
If you spot these red flags, call them out straight away. If these symptoms persist, break the relationship off. You deserve better.
Codependency is probably more common than you realize, so don’t beat yourself up if you fall into it.
However, it is important to be aware of its detrimental effects and to never to accept being part of a codependent relationship.
Overcoming codependency isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the effort to secure your long-term happiness.
For more in-depth advice on overcoming codependency, download my free e-book ‘How To Conquer Social Anxiety’.
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Author: Joe Elvin
Joe Elvin is a freelance writer travelling the world living as a digital nomad. He blogs about how to escape your comfort zone, chase adventure and find the bravery to live your best life. Download his free e-book 'How To Conquer Social Anxiety' at https://bit.ly/2MBxm4N