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Codependency: How to Break Codependency in Relationships

January 12, 2023

close up of living room set up in a dollhouse with one person leaning over clinging onto the other person on the couch, that doll has a

Amy Mauro

The inherent issue with codependency is that the codependent partner in the relationship loses their authentic sense of self through pouring all of their energy into the other person.

Are you constantly giving to your relationships and abandoning your needs to respond to or do something for someone else? Do you tend to think and feel responsible for everyone else around you, including their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and wellbeing?

Are you afraid that by not appeasing your relationship you’ll end up disappointing or losing your partner, family member, or friend? 

Many individuals who display codependent behaviors might find it difficult to identify their habits of people-pleasing, self-sacrificing, and prioritizing their relationship over themselves. They might have a hard time expressing their feelings, if they believe that they will face rejection or abandonment. Others might feel anxious about changing their codependent behaviors because they’ve attached to the habit of repeatedly giving to their relationship without receiving anything in return.

Identifying codependent behaviors in yourself or your relationship is the first step to creating healthy boundaries, taking care of your wellbeing, and participating in more of an equitable relationship. 

In honor of National Codependency Awareness Month this January, we’re taking time to learn about codependency, and encourage people in codependent relationships to seek support from a mental health professional.

We sat down with two of our mental health professionals at HBH to learn more about codependent behaviors, and how to break the cycle of codependency.

What is codependency?

Codependency is a set of emotional behaviors and attachments which can affect a person’s ability to have a mutually fulfilling relationship. 

The term codependency can also be referred to as relationship dependency, or “relationship addiction.” 

According to Alexandra Malin, LMHC and Clinical Supervisor with HBH, people who are in codependent relationships are mentally and emotionally reliant on their partner.

There is a significant imbalance in the power dynamic meaning one of the partners usually has more control or influence in decision making than the other. While it’s possible for a couple to take turns holding the power in a codependent relationship, it typically lands on one partner influencing the other.

The inherent issue with codependency is that the codependent partner in the relationship loses their authentic sense of self through pouring all of their energy into the other person. It becomes difficult for the codependent partner to remove themselves from the relationship, since they might feel relied on and identified with the role of the giver. It also becomes difficult for the taker to leave the relationship, since they feel dependent on the giver.

Codependency can also be passed down through generations, and learned through watching or imitating family members’ codependent behaviors.

What are the characteristics of codependency in a relationship?

According to Alexandra Malin, LMHC people in codependent relationships typically engage in the following behaviors: 

  • You think and feel responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, and wellbeing 
  • You feel anxious or guilty when other people have a problem 
  • You feel compelled to help a person solve a problem and provide unsolicited advice
  • You feel safest when giving to others
  • You value the approval of others more than yourself
  • You have difficulty communicating or identifying your authentic feelings, wants, needs, or desires
  • You have difficulty making decisions in your relationship and default to your partners whims 
  • You lack trust in yourself and exhibit low self worth
  • You have difficulty creating boundaries
  • You avoid conflict and make excuses for your partners behaviors 
  • You have intense fears of the relationship ending
  • You feel bored, empty, or worthless when you don’t have a problem to solve or someone to help
  • You feel uncomfortable alone or spending time in your personal space

3 tips to overcome codependency from trained therapists:

1. Weekly self care activities

One tip to break codependent patterns, according to Alexandra Malin, LMHC, is to practice structured self care activities throughout the week. For example: 

  • Monday can be your body self care day so you might practice yoga, stretching, or taking a walk.
  • Wednesday can be your mind self care day. You can learn something new by reading a book, listening to a podcast, or following a new recipe 
  • Friday can be your soul self care day where you do something creative or follow a guided meditation

Implementing a weekly self-care practice in your routine can put you more in touch with your wants, needs, and desires. This practice supports the idea of making you a priority.

The practice of taking care of your mental, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs also detaches you from the person, or people, you feel overly-involved in helping or controlling. You can start getting back in touch with yourself, and feel empowered by your own ability to take care of yourself. You can learn to love, and care for others without attaching all of your energy to them.

2. Know your self worth

Sarah Presson, LICSW and Clinical Supervisor with HBH shares that it’s essential for codependent people to know their self worth.

From an early age, we may learn that self worth comes from external validation. We might believe that we can only find happiness through, “finding the perfect person to be in a relationship with.” 

Taking care of someone else and their responsibilities will not help you build self-worth.

A healthy self worth comes from defining our own identity. As children, we might have felt free to express our ideas, thoughts, and feelings without fear of rejection. If we receive love, acceptance, and support from our caretakers, then as adults we can take care of ourselves and others. 

We must learn to care for ourselves as adults if we were taught to prioritize our parents over ourselves as children.

Working with a mental health professional can help us break away from unhealthy behaviors and thoughts. We can learn to identify our thoughts and feelings, and take responsibility for our actions.

3. Set boundaries

Sarah also recommends setting boundaries to overcome codependency.

Once you’ve identified the pattern of codependency within yourself, stop and set boundaries. 

  • Accept support from others 
  • Learn to say no
  • Stop taking care of everyone else around you 

If we focus all of our energy on other people and their problems, we don’t solve anything. We’re left feeling overworked, and undervalued. 

Once we’ve set boundaries and allowed ourselves to take care of ourselves, we can start giving ourselves what we need. Codependents can benefit from working with a therapist to learn to pay attention to their own needs and desires.

The take-away

If you’re consistently looking for validation outside of yourself, seeking happiness through solving other people’s problems, and losing interest in your own independence, you might struggle with codependency. 

The cycle of codependency can be painful, but it can be overcome by establishing and nurturing a healthy relationship with yourself. Many people have learned to overcome codependency, and take control of their lives; you can too. 

You can practice self care routines that fill your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs. You can learn how to identify, and break limiting beliefs about yourself that no longer serve you or your relationships. You can set yourself free by learning how to create healthy boundaries in your relationships. You can stop taking care of everyone else around you, and learn to take care of yourself. 

While some people can overcome codependency on their own, others will benefit from professional support. Our mental health professionals at Handel Behavioral Health provide safe and supportive therapy for people of all ages struggling with codependency. 

We serve the entire Massachusetts community with our offices in Amherst, Franklin, West Springfield, and Wilbraham Massachusetts. We also offer online teletherapy services to accommodate your schedule and preferences. 

If you or your loved one is struggling with codependency, contact us today at (413) 343-4357 and begin your healing journey.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Alexandra  Malin Headshot

Alexandra has been a practitioner in the field for 16 years.  She has a Masters of Art in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University and is licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in the state of Massachusetts. She has had the pleasure of training masters and doctoral level clinicians and interns and truly loves teaching others about mental health. More About Author →

Sarah Presson Headshot

Sarah has extensive experience working as a clinician, and has been in the field for nearly two decades. She has worked in community mental health settings providing support to local communities and families. Sarah has also worked as a Social Worker in multiple levels of care, both in outpatient, inpatient and crisis settings. More About Author →