Coping techniques: Codependency

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses

  1. Consider the instructions we receive on airplanes about oxygen masks: that before you attempt to help anyone else put their mask on, make sure your own mask is in place.
  2. There is nothing wrong with sometimes taking care of other people, or sometimes putting their needs first, or sometimes helping them out of tight situations. Many of us are or will be caregivers to children or invalids. Codependency in a relationship refers to a pervasive pattern in which the other person’s needs are always put first, often to the complete exclusion of our own needs. It can include an expectation that if we do this, our self-sacrifice will be recognized and rewarded by them, or by someone else. It can also be an over involvement in the other person’s life, almost as if we’re trying to live through them or for them, instead of through and for ourselves.
  3. Make a list of your needs. These could be what you need in a specific relationship that you’re in, or in a group to which you belong, or for your life in general. It can also include what you need from yourself. Especially if you’re someone who believes all your needs should be met by others whom you take care of and sacrifice yourself for, what good things can you provide for yourself?
  4. One way to begin assessing whether you’re getting your own needs met is to consider how resentful you are in any given relationship.
  5. Sometimes we define ourselves primarily through our relationships, or through what we imagine other people think about us. Take a moment and review who you are, independent of your role or behaviors with other people. What do you like? What do you dislike? What are your values? What do you believe in? What’s fun for you?
  6.  Practice saying no without making use of excessive explanations. Keep it simple.
  7. Begin the day with a period of positive affirmation. For example, complete these sentences in a way that is authentic and positive: “I deserve _____. I’m good at ____. I want ___. One thing I’m proud of is ___.”
  8. Allow someone to do something for you without reciprocating. Notice how this makes you feel, and what you want to do in response to that feeling.
  9. The next time someone thanks you or compliments you, accept it.
  10. Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t meet the other person’s needs. Or if you didn’t control their behavior. Or clean up after mistakes they make. Try taking it a step further: what would happen then? You can begin to get a clear sense of the assumptions you’ve been making, maybe unconsciously. How realistic would you say these are?
  11. Because codependency is a style of relationship it can be passed down in families from generation to generation. Make a genogram, a diagram that shows your family, and see who else might be codependent. Often if a family member is a practicing addict (whether that addiction is to substances like alcohol or drugs or to behaviors like sex or violence or gambling) the person closest to them has a codependent style of relationship, taking care of that person’s needs or cleaning up the chaos, often to their own or other family members’ detriment.
  12. If you find yourself frequently giving the other person advice, consider just listening to them instead. If this makes you feel tense, simply acknowledge that and practice a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing or relaxing the part of your body where the tension has gathered.
  13. If you find yourself rescuing someone over and over again, consider whether or not this is actually helping them. Perhaps they will learn better decision-making skills by living through the consequences of their actions.
  14. Practice detachment in the presence of others’ problems. This doesn’t mean to become cold or lacking in empathy. But remind yourself that their problems are their opportunities for learning, for growth. That their problems are theirs. You have problems of your own, that are yours to sit with and seek to resolve. Mindfulness meditation and exercise can support the development of detachment.
  15. Setting boundaries is important. As you identify your own needs, notice what you need to not be in your life. What are you willing and not willing to do? What kinds of behavior are you willing to accept and not accept in the people you associate with? For instance, if one of your needs is to be treated with respect, engaging with disrespectful people might be something you want to limit, or even do without completely. If your need is to feel safe, then you most likely won’t want violent or unpredictable people in your life. Boundaries are the intention we set with ourselves to limit exposure to what we don’t want in our lives. Boundaries are enforced by clearly communicating them to the other person. For instance, “If you don’t do the dishes I’m going to have a talk with you about that.” Or, “If you come to my house drunk, I won’t go out with you.” Or, “If you strike me this relationship is over.” Boundaries are enforced by acting on the consequences you set, such as following up with someone who doesn’t do their fair share of household chores, or not going out with someone who shows up drunk again, or leaving anyone who hits you. Remember, setting boundaries is not about rejecting anyone. It’s an expression of self-worth, and a clear statement of what you will and will not tolerate.
  16. Increase your awareness of codependency by reading up on it.

To review an article on this topic, please follow this link.