“If mama ain't happy, then ain’t nobody happy”. How many of us have laughed at the truth of this common saying. I know I have. And this is true, to some extent, for most of us when we truly care for another person like “mama”. But what if Mama or Papa is rarely happy? Does this mean we have to stay miserable too? What if our partner or child is sick with addiction or riddled with depression? Does this mean we can not be happy until they find some of their own peace? What if our partner is struggling with their own issues that cause their emotions to change at a moment's notice? Does that mean our emotions must instantly change as well? This is where the dangers of codependency become trickier.
While the expression is funny (and true in many cases) when we take that thinking to extremes, it can be very unhealthy for relationships and adversely affect our own health and wellbeing. While there is nothing worse than seeing someone we love struggle, does this mean we have to struggle and be miserable too.
What is codependency?
On some level we are all invested in people we care about. We generally call this empathy, compassion or understanding. Codependency is an emotional condition that involves putting aside one’s own needs in order to constantly fulfill the needs of others. I often call it putting our happiness in the hands of others. A simple way to put it, codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. When our parents model these behaviors in our families or origin (especially when someone in the family is struggling with their own mental health issues) it is easy for us to pick up and follow these behaviors into our current circumstances and relationships. This codependency affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy relationship with themselves and others. People struggling with codependency often have relationships that are one-sided and can be easily taken advantage of. As a result the individual who does not stand up for themselves can become resentful, disconnected and feel inadequate.
Codependent people try so hard to accommodate others that they often feel out of control. “If only my partner would ------ then I would feel so much better”
Signs of Codependency
These are just a handful yet some of the more recognizable ones:
Preoccupation with another person’s behavior or well-being
Worrying more about another person’s behavior than they do
A mood that depends on how the other person feels or act
You feel mean when you say no.
You feel obligated to do things for others.
You feel guilty for asking for your needs
Tips to Face Codependent patterns
1) Acknowledge the patterns. Understand the difference between support and codependency. Having compassion and understanding for a loved one struggling is a normal part of life. Saving and preventing that loved one from experiencing consequences of their own choices, in hopes it will change them, is a codependent pattern that often leads to conflicts, resentments and prevents the individual from making their choices and decisions.
2) Learn what a non-codependent healthy relationship looks like. There are some amazing resources out there to learn about health relationships and how to deal with codependency and “letting go” in our relationships. The Author Melody Beattie offers a some great books including; The “Language of Letting Go”, “Codependent No More” and “The New Codependency” are some amazing all time favorite books in this area.
3) Boundaries! Boundaries! Boundaries! Learning boundaries is no easy task. The only thing more difficult is NOT learning them. Often many of the resentments we carry around in relationships are due to not taking care of our own needs in relationship in setting health boundaries. Boundaries allow us to take care of ourselves and our needs as opposed to always caring for others. Boundaries can be physical, emotional and even verbal. We need to learn what is acceptable to us and call out what is not.
4) Practice saying “NO”. There is a very old expression that “No is a complete sentence”. Many times individuals dealing with codependency have forgotten how to say no. They believe, fasly, they need to explain themselves over and over and that the other person's needs are immediately more important than their own. Saying no (without explanations) can be a powerful tool to take back control in your own wellbeing.
5) Acknowledge your own needs. A question I often ask clients dealing with codependency is “Are you doing this because you want to or because someone else wants you to?” or “Are you doing this by choice or because you feel you have to?”. Asking ourselves these simple questions can be empowering and helps us to identify if this is a healthy choice for ourselves. What do you need and are you getting that need filled? Is this good for me or just for the other person?
6) Consider getting support. Finally, facing and identifying codependent patterns is often difficult to change and even identify. Some of these behaviors are so “automatic” we barely stop to ask ourselves if this is a good choice for myself. Working with a therapist that understands codependency is a great way to set support. There are also several great self help groups out there including CODA and Alanon that can provide tremendous resources in this area.
As always if our team at Gooding Wellness can be a support for you, please feel free to reach out.