My favorite way of describing the meaning of codependency is the concept of “if you’re good, I’m good” meaning if your emotional state is positive, so is mine. If emotionally you are angry, upset, or sad- then I am not okay either. Codependency is when stability comes from outside of ourselves.
Oftentimes, codependency is a pattern of losing ourselves in others. Codependency is not unique to romantic relationships and can be formed alongside addictions, platonic or familial relationships, parent/child relationships, etc.
To understand how to begin to conquer codependency is first to understand how codependency shows up in our lives.
Oftentimes those of us who are codependent struggle with low self-worth and an overall minimal understanding of ourselves. I hear people who struggle with codependency often state feeling out of touch with their instincts and gut feelings, that they often seek that security outside of themselves. There is little trust in that inner voice because frankly, we don’t understand what it is even saying. This looks like relying heavily on others for advice, often sharing and replaying your exact predicament with each person and getting confirmation of which choice is the right choice.
I think alongside the premise of the definition of codependency is “if you’re okay, I’m okay” is this belief that: if you make the decision and it turns out to be wrong, it was you that was wrong, not me. Sometimes it’s easier to live with mistakes regarding us being made by other people.
People who struggle with codependency also tend to experience behavioral addiction.
With addiction to substances, we see this commitment to a substance of choice, regardless of consequences. With emotional addiction, we often put our true needs on the back burner in order to make sure the other person is pleased with us, at whatever cost to us that may come. This often looks like people-pleasing, caretaking, and attempting to save or rescue others. This requires us to repress our needs and feelings which chronically, puts us very out of touch with ourselves.
Now that we’ve got a bit of a better understanding of what codependency means and what it looks like, I’m going to outline a few steps to conquering codependency and reclaiming your identity.
The first step to recovery is to begin to get to know yourself. I need to be able to know who my authentic self is in order to fully step into that. To put it simply, we can’t trust people that we do not know. To do this identity work, we have to start learning what feels good for us. Not what the people around us enjoy that we do to please them, but what feels good and effortless for us.
A good way of gauging this is checking in with yourself and your energy levels. Do you feel depleted after doing this thing, do you feel resentful after doing this thing? Does this thing give you energy, boost your mood, and motivate you for the future? More of what is authentic to our wants and desires, leaves us feeling good after.
Spending Time Alone:
This isn’t typically at the top of a codependents list of things they enjoy doing, but this goes hand in hand with the identity work. How do you want to spend your days? When you’re old and gray, what do you want to be able to say you did or accomplished?
Practice intrinsic motivation. Practice refraining from asking your loved ones what to do but instead- lean into the last time you felt a sensation of warmth and fulfillment. What was that thing that you were doing, or where were you? Some ideas could be: getting food from your favorite restaurant: alone. This could mean dining in or if you’re not ready yet, getting takeaway. Eat it in your car, drive by the ocean or your favorite park, and eat it there. The key here is that you are alone. Phone and distractions away- just you with you.
Finding the Middle Ground:
Recovery is stepping out of the black and white extremes and searching for what exists in the middle. This comes with a lot of discomforts. The work is showing up even though it feels painful. Every time we show up, we teach ourselves we can be trusted.
Back to my analogy before of being unable to trust someone we don’t know. If someone is entirely new to us or even betrays us, it takes time to trust them. The saying “actions mean more than words” definitely applies here. A great way to find the middle ground, in the beginning, is to write out the two extremes you can easily think of. An easy example: Socializing. I can socialize with everyone all of the time or I can isolate myself entirely and socialize with no one. What exists in the middle?
The priority shifts and is now centered on you. This might feel a bit weird and uncomfortable, that’s how you know you are growing. I refer to these commonly as growing pains.
Self-care allows you to prioritize the things that are for YOU that you know feel good or gives you a chance to learn what you enjoy in the absence of others. If you thought of taking a painting class in the past and someone told you it was silly, now is the time.
For some people, self-care is a warm bath and a face mask and for others, it’s pushing themselves to go out for a 5-minute mental health walk. The key here is starting small and working your way up.
If you are interested in conquering codependency and are ready to be supported in your journey, we invite you to contact Alex Steiner today at 954-391-5305 for your complimentary consultation. If you would like to learn more about Alex and her services, you can find her bio here.
Alex provides counseling for adults at our beautiful office located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and online via our secure telehealth platform for those who live in the state of Florida.