Overcoming Codependency

Balanced, healthy relationships are reciprocal—each person cares for the other, and each person also cares for their own self. Though each may depend on the other for things like love, companionship, and practical help they also provide these things to the other person.
No relationship is perfectly balanced. However, healthy relationships include a dynamic of both give and take from each person involved.

What is Codependency?

Codependency can be defined as a drastically unbalanced relationship between two people. A codependent relationship isn’t necessarily sexual. Codependent relationships can include parent-child; siblings; friends. Any relationship where one person feels responsible to take care of the other person and that other person accepts being cared for without reciprocating is out of balance.

A common feature of codependent relationships is that the caregiver needs to take care of the other to the exclusion of self-care. Another common feature of codependency is the individual who is being cared for becomes increasingly dependent and helpless. The unbalanced care is debilitating, rather than helpful. Codependency is unhealthy for both people involved.

Acknowledging an Unbalanced Relationship

The first step towards returning to balance and health is recognizing the problem. Common characteristics of Codependency include

• Prioritizing another’s needs above one’s own
• Neglecting other relationships
• Covering up/making excuses for another’s behavior
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Feeling a loss of control
Anxiety about saying no
• Feeling victimized and/or unloved

Almost without exception, when a relationship between two people is unbalanced both parties bear some responsibility. Though one person cannot force another to change their behavior or seek healthy balance, anybody can choose to change his or her own behavior and seek professional help and support where necessary to do so.

Healthy Balance and Self-Care

Before taking care of another, one must take care of oneself. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean changing another’s behavior. An individual sets boundaries for his or her own self.

A good start is to evaluate individual goals and needs and whether these are being worked towards or met. For instance, one person in a relationship needs time to be alone to work on a project and/or take a long walk or go to the gym every day. However, something usually comes up which interferes with these crucial self-care activities. It’s almost always related to the needs of the other person. What needs to happen to return to the balance of self-care?

The person whose personal needs are being infringed upon can start a return to balance by evaluating what is interfering, how important it is, and at what level of emergency they will allow another’s needs to interfere with their own.

The analysis can go something like this:
• What are my personal needs and goals?
• Have I been working towards my goals regularly?
• What about getting my needs met?
• What usually comes up to interfere?
• Is it an emergency?

Becoming Comfortable With Saying ‘No’

Many people are uncomfortable with saying no, especially to a loved one. However, it’s helpful to remember that allowing another to become overly dependent is disabling for that individual, as well as interfering with the caregiver’s own goals and needs.

Caregivers can practice ways of saying no that will not sound aggressive or unkind. For example, asserting when one is too tired or has already made other plans.

There’s Help Available

Some people have underlying issues that contribute to unbalanced relationships. These issues may not be readily apparent or easy to address without help from an experienced therapist or family counselor who specializes in interpersonal relationships.

There’s also Twelve-Step Support available for those who need help with achieving healthy balance in relationships.
Each Individual is Responsible for Living Fully
While being in a loving relationship with another can be very fulfilling and rewarding, when such a relationship becomes codependent it is no longer healthy and loving. Each person in any adult relationship is responsible for their own wellbeing.

The only way to heal a codependent relationship is for one or both parties to take individual responsibility for returning to a balanced dynamic in the relationship and in their own life. Basically, each person is solely responsible for asserting their needs and making sure another doesn’t interfere with getting those needs met.
When someone wants to change the dynamic in an unhealthy relationship, they may find it is difficult to do so without outside help and support. There’s plenty of help available for those who need it. Personal growth can be painful but it is well worth the effort.

Author's Bio: 

Mike Williams Hurst is a California native who has worked in the recovery field for over fifteen years. He is active in 12-Step programs and is a frequent contributor to the blog at By The Sea Recovery .