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how to break codependency habits

Many of us have codependent tendencies.

Early in our childhood, we are taught to put other people’s needs above our own.

We learn that to receive love, we need to do what we are told and give excessively.

As adults, we continue to display these people-pleasing and codependent behaviors. They have become habitual and sometimes it’s not easy to get rid of these habits, especially when they have become a part of our personality.

It feels good to be perceived as someone who is caring, generous, and loving. But when we don’t offer our help or do what we are asked to do, we feel guilty for not being the good person other people deem that we are.

Manage your codependency habits before they become an addiction.

However, there might come a time when our codependency habits become out of hand and turn into an addiction. We can’t stop taking care of the other person. We are so worried and obsessive about their problem that we can’t focus on anything else.

This is problematic not only to us but also for the other party that we are trying to help.

Codependency Issues in Your Relationship

When you are codependent, there is a need to control the other person’s behaviors. This is never good because you can’t control another person. When the other person doesn’t do what you expect them to do or don’t give you the appreciation you desire for the help you gave them, this causes you to feel resentful.

In my book, Parent Yourself Again, I mention that each of us has two subpersonalities, one is called the Inner Child and the other is called the Inner Parent. If we put this concept onto a codependent relationship, it looks something this:

Your Inner Parent abandons your Inner Child to take care of your partner’s Inner Child. Instead of taking care of your own Inner Child, you wait for your partner’s Inner Parent to take care of your Inner Child in return for your kindness. If they don’t, you get angry at them and this leads to conflicts in your relationship.

This is unhealthy because both parties are waiting for the other person to satisfy their own Inner Child’s needs.

Both parties give up their responsibilities to take care of themselves. 

Furthermore, it prevents both parties from growing. The addict or the dependent doesn’t need to grow and change because they rely on the codependent to do everything for them. Why do they need to do anything when someone else is there taking care of them? 

The codependents, on the other hand, are dependent on the addict too. They look outside of themselves (i.e. the addict) to feel a sense of importance and worth. Even though the codependents might later feel resentful for overextending themselves, subconsciously they can’t afford the addict to become better. If the addict improves, where else will the codependents meet their need to be needed?

So both parties are stuck in their old ways and unable to break away from their cycle of behaviors. Sometimes, the codependent relationship might even end up abusive or nasty when one of the parties feels that their needs are not met by the other.

Read this post to learn more about reparenting your inner child.

What Causes Codependency Behaviors?

1. You Learned These Behaviors Directly from Your Parents

Children look up to their parents as role models. If either of your parents is codependent, you probably had learned your codependent behaviors directly from them.

For example, I learned my codependency habits from my mom. She always put my dad’s needs first and her needs last. My brothers and I were also taught to put our dad’s needs above ours. He’s like the king in our family. If we don’t do what our dad told us to do, not only our dad would be unhappy with us, our mom would be angry with us too.

For codependents, it’s difficult to differentiate between codependency and love.

This is especially so when you are taught since childhood that love needs to be earned or it’s selfish to take care of yourself. Your parents have their definition of what love is and you are unconsciously influenced by them, thinking this should be the way when you enter a relationship.

2. Your Parents Gave Up Their Parenting Role to You

From young, if you have been put in charge to take care of your family, you might believe that taking care of other people is of the utmost importance. Perhaps one of your parents has a critical illness, passed away early, or is absent for whatever reason. Or it could be that your parents were divorced and you have to play the role of the other parent.

Your circumstances might have forced you to develop codependency habits.

When your parents gave up their roles as parents and you were tasked to take care of the family or your siblings since young, you might not be given the adequate love and attention you needed as a child. In fact, you have to grow up quicker and mature faster than the other kids to cope with the situation.

It might not even be the physical tasks that you have to take over from your parents. Sometimes, your parents might have emotional issues or conflicts with others and they need you to be their confidant or mediator. 

So inevitably, you learn that your needs aren’t as important as other people and learn to give up your needs for others.

3. Your Self-Esteem Depends on Other People

When you look outside of yourself to boost your self-esteem, your self-esteem is condition-based. People who have low self-esteem are likely to develop codependency habits when they base their self-worth on how others perceive them and how much others need them. They do more than expected of them because deep down inside, they don’t feel good enough.

Helping others give you a sense of significance and value.

Instead of loving who you are and change your self-perception, you seek others for approval and validation. You need them to tell you how good or how nice you are to feel good about yourself. When people don’t need you, it makes you feel worthless or unimportant. You are afraid to express your feelings and needs because you are afraid that they get angry and abandon you.

In other words, the other person’s actions, feelings, and words affect your sense of self tremendously. You are hooked onto the other person’s life. You feel a need to control their behaviors and take care of their needs excessively to maintain your self-esteem.

But ultimately, you can’t possibly control the other person, so in essence, you lose yourself and your control to the other person. 

How to Break Codependency Habits and Stop Being Codependent

1. Take a break from your relationship to reconnect with yourself.

When you are too preoccupied with the other person, the first step you can take is to take a break from the relationship or end it completely. It’s difficult to break the codependent cycle when both of you keep acting the same way and relating to each other in the same manner.

Of course, some relationship is harder to break away than others, especially if both of you have to stay together or work in the same department. Even in these cases, it’s important to find the time and space to reconnect with yourself.

Shift your attention from the other person to yourself.

Reconnecting with yourself means being mindful of your thoughts, feelings, needs, and body. If you haven’t been looking inwards for all these years, you might feel uncomfortable at first. You might be tempted to help another person or jump into another relationship.

A word of caution though: If you just come out of a relationship, don’t go looking for another one immediately. You will most likely fall into the same codependency pattern. So as uncomfortable the feeling is, learn to stop reacting to it.

To learn how to connect with yourself deeply, read my book, Reconnect to Love.

2. Feel your desire to take care of the other person and understand why.

Instead of running to rescue the other person once you saw they need help, be present with the uncomfortable feeling. Breathe into it and let the urge subside. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do you want to be over-involved in someone else’s life?
  • Why do you feel a need to control the other person’s behavior?
  • What triggers you to run to the person’s rescue?
  • What rewards would you get from taking care of the other person?
  • How can you get the same rewards without taking care of the other person?

Being aware of what you need and brainstorming other ways to satisfy your own need help you to break the codependent cycle. It allows you to replace your current behavior with a new routine.

Do something else that gives you the same reward.

For example, if helping your friend makes you feel good, find other ways that can make you feel good such as picking up a new hobby or learning a new skill. Just don’t rely on your friend as the source of your self-esteem.

The habit mechanism (i.e. cue-routine-reward) is elaborated in details in the book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. Read it to find out more.

3. Challenge and change your belief system.

Most of the uncomfortable feelings that we feel from not taking care of another come from our thoughts about the situation. And these thoughts are a product of our belief system.

You might feel unease to let your adult child, friend, or spouse resolve their own issues because you believe they will not be able to do so without you. Challenge that belief!

Other people don’t need you to rescue them. Don’t be their parent.

This is a learned behavior from childhood. If from young, you need to take care of your parents’ needs, naturally, you will believe that other people aren’t able to take care of themselves and need to be taken care of. Or you might think it’s your responsibility to do so.

But this is not true. Most adults are capable of taking care of their own needs. They might need some help along the way or acquire new knowledge on how to do so.  But if they need help, it’s their responsibility to ask for help. You don’t rush in immediately to rescue them.

Instead of being their parent, be your own parent. You have a worried Inner Child that thinks if it doesn’t go and help the other person, the other person will be in trouble. So take care of your Inner Child’s incessant worry and help it change its belief about the situation.

4. Communicate and set boundaries.

When you start to pull away from the other person or focus more on yourself, the other person will probably dislike this change. They are so used to being taken care of by you. Now you aren’t there to do the work for them, it’s as though they lose a lifeline and are on their own.

When you change, they have to change too. It means they have to learn how to take care of themselves now. This is a positive thing for them. But it requires work and effort on their part. If you find it difficult to break your codependency habit, know that it’s difficult for them to break their habit of relying on you.

So expect resistance. Expect them to keep you the same.

They might say something that makes you feel guilty about not taking care of them. Or they might become angry with you and make you feel like a bad person. Don’t react to their resistance. Enabling them doesn’t do any good for them or yourself. It just keeps the both of you stuck in this codependency loop.

Instead, know your responsibilities and the other person’s responsibilities. Keep communicating the boundaries over and over again until the other person knows that there is no use in resisting. They would have no choice but to accept the fact that you have changed. They would either change themselves or find another person to cling on to.

5. Be aware of how your codependency habits show up in other relationships.

It’s not easy to cure or end your codependency behaviors completely. When you fix or heal from one relationship, there might be another person in need that triggers your codependency habits.

You have to be very aware of how your obsession shows up in other relationships. Ask yourself: Are you just moving from one person to another person? Are you a codependent moving from one form of relationship to another form? For example, instead of being a codependent partner, you have now become a codependent friend or co-worker.

So it’s important to develop mindfulness to catch these habits.

Also, know the difference between love and obsession.

You can be loving and compassionate to another without doing all the work for them or thinking about them all the time. When you are obsessed with someone, you need to know that they are okay, you want to control them, and you need them to do what you want.

But if you truly love someone, you would feel very free. You feel connected to them even when they are not around you and you allow them to be who they choose to be.

When you are able to recognize the difference between the two, you will be able to notice whenever your codependency habits act out again.

Featured Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez