How To Stop Being Codependent
Codependency can make it difficult to have healthy relationships and can lead to significant psychological distress. If you think you might be demonstrating codependent behavior, it is helpful to gain an understanding of what this behavior looks like and learn what steps you can take to change it. Addressing and overcoming your codependent behaviors can help you start building healthier, more fulfilling relationships within your life.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency refers to a dysfunctional pattern of behavior within relationships. With codependency, a person places their focus entirely outside of themselves, fails to express their own feelings and develops their sense of purpose through relationships with others. People who are codependent may be said to have a “relationship” addiction, as they tend to end up in relationships that are one-sided or abusive.
The term “codependency” was originally used to describe wives of husbands who were addicted to alcohol, as the wives were said to enable the behavior of their husbands. While the loved ones of people with addiction can develop codependency, this is not the only type of codependent relationship. A person may be codependent in a relationship with someone who is abusive or has a mental or physical illness. Ultimately, codependent people sacrifice their own needs in order to care for their partner, and they lose their unique sense of self in the process.
Codependency in Relationships
In relationships, codependency becomes a pattern in which the codependent partner cares for the other person. The person with codependency focuses all of their time and energy on caring for their partner and making them happy while letting their own needs fall by the wayside.
Research has shown that codependency leads to problems within intimate relationships. When there is a high degree of codependency, partners also perceive each other more negatively during times of stress. The codependent partner gets satisfaction out of caring for or rescuing their significant other. However, they ultimately enable bad behavior and cause the significant other’s behavior to continue.
Codependency vs. Dependency
Sometimes, people learn about codependency and think that there is no healthy level of dependency in a relationship, but this is not the case. In a healthy relationship, partners can depend on each other for emotional support. They count on each other to share responsibilities, such as bills, housework and the task of raising children. In a codependent relationship, however, dependency is not mutual; the codependent partner fixates on caring for the other, who does not reciprocate the codependent’s care.
Characteristics of Someone Who Is Codependent
People who are codependent have learned to silence their own needs and feelings within a relationship. They put a great deal of effort into caring for their partner, to the point of self-sacrifice. Someone who is codependent will show some or many of these characteristics:
- Feeling responsible for other people’s behavior
- Having a need to “rescue” people
- Doing more than their share of work in a relationship and feeling hurt when their efforts are not appreciated
- Showing a tendency to hang onto unhealthy relationships
- Relying on approval and recognition from others
- Feeling guilty when standing up for their own needs
- Struggling with boundaries
- Having difficulty with communication and honesty
- Having a need to control others
- Struggling to adjust to change
Examples of Codependent Behavior
These examples can help you understand what codependent behavior looks like in a relationship:
- Keeping your feelings inside in a relationship to avoid an argument
- Staying in a relationship with a physically or emotionally abusive person because you feel the need to rescue them
- Saying “yes” to commitments you’d rather turn down, as you feel saying “no” would hurt feelings
- Worrying excessively about other people’s opinions
- Taking on so many responsibilities that you’re overwhelmed, but being unable to ask for help
- Feeling as if you have to constantly care for other people in your life because they would be unable to make it without you
- Valuing your partner’s needs and opinions above your own
What Causes Codependency?
Most experts agree that codependency is the result of dysfunctional family patterns. These patterns can develop because of mental or physical illness, addiction or abuse within the family. When a family member has a serious health problem or lives with addiction, other members of the family focus their attention on caring for the person who is ill.
Throughout this process, family members may begin to sacrifice their own needs for the person who is ill. They also learn to repress their emotions and neglect their own needs. Ultimately, they become codependent and carry these patterns into their adult relationships.
Is Codependency Unhealthy?
Codependency is an unhealthy pattern of behavior because it leads a person to neglect their own needs and feelings within relationships. Studies have also shown that codependency is linked to low self-esteem and an increased risk of depression. Being codependent also leads to unhealthy relationships in which one person assumes responsibility for the other and enables bad behavior. Ultimately, being codependent increases the risk of mental health problems and leads to unsatisfying relationships.
How To Stop Being Codependent
Learning how to stop being codependent can improve your mental health and your relationships. These strategies can help you begin taking steps toward overcoming codependency.
Acknowledge Your Behavior
The first step in overcoming codependency is recognizing that your behavior is a problem. You may have come to believe that codependency is a positive personality trait because it means you are so willing to care for others. However, you need to realize that you are sacrificing your own well-being and allowing other people to develop an unhealthy dependence on you.
Analyze and Accept Your Past
Codependency develops out of dysfunctional family patterns, so overcoming it requires you to assess your childhood. Did one of your parents have a serious mental illness? Did you experience physical or emotional abuse? If this was the case, you might have learned to silence your own emotions or needs in order to care for your ill or abusive parent. While this may have been your childhood experience, that doesn’t mean that it was healthy.
People who struggle with codependent behavior often have difficulty setting boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s behavior and value the opinions and needs of others above their own, which can lead them to develop weak boundaries. Part of recovering from codependency is learning to set boundaries. This can include saying “no” to certain requests, taking time for yourself and setting limits regarding what behavior you will not tolerate in relationships.
When you are codependent in relationships, you tend to center your life around your partner and their needs. In order to heal and stop being codependent, you must explore your own interests. Detaching from the relationship to spend time with friends, take care of your own needs or pursue hobbies you enjoy gives you a sense of self and happiness outside of the relationship.
It can be beneficial to reach out to supportive friends or join a support group when you are learning how to stop being codependent. Co-Dependents Anonymous offers support group meetings where you can share your experiences in a non-judgmental setting and learn from others who live with codependent patterns of behavior. Find a meeting near you on the organization’s website.
If you have difficulty learning how to stop being codependent on your own, or if codependency is leading to mental health concerns like depression, you would benefit from working with a therapist to learn strategies for overcoming codependency. In therapy sessions, you can explore family issues that may have led to codependent behavior. You can also learn how to change the thinking patterns that cause codependency to continue.
If you’d like to learn how to stop being codependent, Nobu offers a free-to-download mental wellness app that features mindfulness training, lessons from mental health experts and a goal tracker so you can monitor your progress. A paid plan is also available with Nobu, which allows users to schedule online therapy sessions with licensed counselors. Download the app today on the App Store or Google Play Store to get started.
Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips
Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.
- Happ, Zsuzsa; et al. “How codependency affects dyadic coping, relationship perception and life satisfaction.” Current Psychology, 2022. Accessed June 22, 2022.
- Mental Health America. “Co-Dependency.” Accessed June 22, 2022.
- Salonia, Garima; et al. “Codependency and Coping Strategies in the Spouses of Substance Abusers.” Scholars Journal of Applied Medical Sciences, June 7, 2021. Accessed June 22, 2022.