How to Stop Being Codependent: Recognizing and Moving Past Codependency

Codependency is a two-sided coin of “give” and “take.”

One individual tends to fill the caregiver role: They’ll step in and help a loved one who’s experiencing difficulties. This impulse often stems from good intentions – after all, the desire to help others is human nature. But when such actions becomes the go-to response, the dynamic may become potentially enabling to its recipient.

On the other side is the individual receiving this attention. Such a symbiotic dynamic can cause the “care taken” individual to foster reliance – and they may start to fall into a habit of depending on the caregiver to “bail them out,” so to speak.

Although codependency has long been associated with substance abuse and chronic illnesses – e.g., a child caring and taking responsibility for their alcoholic parent – it can apply to other types of relationships as well. Romantic partners, friends, and family members can all fall into codependent patterns.

The good news is that (as with many interpersonal conflicts) codependency is something you can work on both identifying and overcoming. Here are five steps to help you stop being codependent:

1. Understand what codependency looks like to you

The first thing you need to do in order to break away and heal from this type of dynamic is to understand what it looks like to you. Which side of the coin are you on?

Do you find that your mood, happiness, or sense of self are defined by your significant other? For example, are you unshakably low on the days your partner, family member, or friend is moody?

Or do you find yourself resorting to dishonest tactics to avoid confrontation with important people in your life, for fear of retaliation?

Conversely, maybe you have trouble trusting others – which manifests in a compelling need to control others, and commonly find yourself saying statements like “I need you to do this now.”

Or maybe you feel totally responsible for your partner’s unhealthy actions – so you find yourself repeatedly bailing them out from unfavorable situations.

Some characteristics of codependent individuals may include:

Some potential examples of codependency include:

There’s no right or wrong – it’s a question of determining your own patterns, so you can begin the healing process that’s necessary to move past them.

2. Figure out where your relationship expectations are coming from

“Until we can detangle these emotions for ourselves, it will be difficult to grow out of a codependent cycle.”

“One challenging aspect of recovery from a codependent relationship is pulling back from blaming the other person for the problems,” says Juliane Maxwald-Schrey, a Licensed Psychoanalyst and Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor in Long Island City.

More often than not, it’s never just one person who’s the source of all things wrong with an interpersonal relationship.

We tend to bring our “family ghosts from the past” into our adult relationships. All those past disappointments and resentments can affect how we interact with others.

“Until we can detangle these emotions for ourselves, it will be difficult to grow out of a codependent cycle,” she says.

Spend some time meditating and reflecting on what your family’s relationship expectations were. For example, what role did your mother play for your father, or what role were you expected to play for your siblings? Understanding where your relationship expectations are coming from can help you identify unhealthy patterns in your current relationships.

Therapy can be a way to dedicate time to understanding these patterns, too. Unpacking expectations from your upbringing (also known as family of origin) is also the expert realm of psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapists; consider looking for therapists who take these therapy approaches.

Related: Couples Therapy 101: 6 things to know about relationship counseling

3. Establish boundaries for yourself in relationships

The nature of codependency is such that it tends to blur the lines between where one self begins and another ends.

Those healing from codependent relationships may benefit from developing a stronger sense of self.

The following acts can help you develop stronger boundaries:

Establishing stronger boundaries can help you say “no” to a friend or partner’s requests, or, on the flip side, to understand that just because your partner doesn’t need you 24/7 doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It can also help you identify how – and when – to walk away from situations that aren’t healthy for you.

Related: A therapist shares her personal discovery in understanding codependency

4. Resist the urge to fix, control, or save

Often, codependency feeds off a false sense of control. We may think we know what the other person wants – and that it’s up to us to help them get it.

While there’s nothing wrong with being helpful, doing too much – exhausting our energy in “mind-reading,” and trying to remedy situations before they even happen – may lead to a codependent dynamic. It’s also easy to get stuck in this type of pattern.

If you’re ever stuck in a “fixer” remind yourself: “I can’t truly know what the other person wants or needs; only they do.” While you can still be compassionate and helpful when someone you love is struggling, you needn’t assume to know what someone needs before they ask.

That’s not to say you can’t be compassionate and helpful when someone you love is struggling. It just means that you needn’t assume to know what someone needs before they ask.

5. Prioritize Your Own Growth

At the end of the day, relationships are meant to complement your already awesome life – not be your entire life.

As Maxwald-Schrey says, “It can help to identify what your unspoken expectations might have been in the relationship, and then to explore where those expectations came from.”

Is there something you were trying to get from the partner, family member, or friend in question that would be better off coming from you instead?

Taking a break from patterns of codependency allows you to channel that time and energy back into yourself. Try the following acts to foster self-growth:

Working with a therapist can help you figure out where your codependent tendencies come from, and determine techniques to overcome and heal. Visit the Zencare.co homepage to check therapists’ availability, watch their introductory videos, and book free initial calls to find the right fit for you.