January 13, 2024

Breaking away from codependency

Relationships are built into our lives. Healthy relationships are pivotal to growth as they bring richness, emotional fulfilment and safety. However, dysfunctional dynamics based on codependency are the opposite. People stuck in the cycle of codependency are often emotionally drained, dissatisfied and feeling trapped.


What is codependency?

Codependency is a pattern of behaviours, in which a person’s sense of identity and self-worth are highly influenced by the needs and emotional states of others. In codependent relationships a rescuer-victim dynamic is common, one person takes on the role of ‘the rescuer’, who prioritises the needs and wellbeing of ‘the victim’. The rescuer focuses their attention on the other person and, in doing so, they neglect their own needs and feelings and suppress their own desires and boundaries.


Who is at risk of developing codependency?

Codependency often stems from childhood experiences, particularly growing up without emotional stability and clear boundaries. Experience of trauma, abuse or neglect can make a person more susceptible to codependent behaviour patterns. All those factors contribute due to a deep-seated need to people please and seek external validation at all costs - often at the expense of one’s own wellbeing.

Individuals with their own mental health challenges and low self-esteem can be particularly drawn to codependent relationships and stepping into the role of ‘the rescuer’ in attempt to heal their wounds by helping others.

How do I know if I am codependent?

Recognising the signs of codependency can be very difficult because those behaviour and though patterns are deeply ingrained and feel completely natural. It seems like the only way to form and maintain relationships with others. However, identifying some of the following signs in your own behaviour or thoughts can be an important first step in looking at your own relationships through a different lens:

·       Emotional Enmeshment

Prioritising emotions and wellbeing of other people, even at the expense of your own needs. This comes from an inflated sense of responsibility for managing other people’s emotional state and it is often further reinforced by getting much-needed validation and feeling needed. Codependent individuals become hyper-focused on the other person, constantly looking out for that external reassurance and approval.

·       Difficulty Setting Boundaries

Setting and enforcing boundaries can be extremely challenging as it often doesn’t feel appropriate, acceptable or even safe. Saying ‘no’ can trigger immense fear of rejection and abandonment. As a result, codependent individuals often supress their feelings and allow others' needs to dictate their actions.

·       Low Sense of Self-worth

Codependency is closely linked to self-esteem. Validation from others temporarily helps a person to feel better about themselves, to feel valued and needed. Therefore, it encourages an individual to seek further validation by putting someone else's needs above their own and potentially leads to self-sacrificing behaviours. In the long-term, this behavioural pattern causes distress and further hurts their fragile sense of self-esteem e.g. by watering down their sense of self.

·       Intense Fear of Rejection/Abandonment

Codependent behaviours are developed as a way to protect oneself from being rejected or abandoned, yet in reality they leave a person even more vulnerable. In the process of attending to the needs of others, an individual loses their ability to attune to themselves and to develop a strong self of self. A codependent’s person self-esteem becomes further eroded over time and, in consequence, their resilience to deal with challenges (including rejection or abandonment) decreases. They feel even less equipped to deal with what they fear the most, and often they become trapped in the dynamic that hurts them.

·       Challenges with Developing Self-awareness

Codependent individuals might have difficulty identifying their own thoughts, feelings, motivations and behaviors. Paying attention and expressing their feelings may seem unsafe due to a potential conflict in the relationship, so the tendency is to supress emotions and needs and to not trust their own perceptions.

If you're wondering whether you are codependent, this leaflet from Codependent Anonymus may be a good starting point for self-evaluation.

Lessening the grip of codependency

Breaking free from harmful patterns requires a conscious effort and commitment to change as at times it can be very challenging.

If you believe you may be codependent, here are some steps that might get your started on your recovery journey:

Name The Problem: Recognise and accept that you may be codependent, and honestly assess the impact it has on your mental health and relationships.

Explore your Boundaries: Enmeshment with others is completely natural in codependent relationships, so the concept of boundaries may be foreign. Use your feelings as a guide to map out where you might want to set your boundaries in the future.

Focus on Yourself: Codependent people are used to supressing their emotions, needs and wants. However, you can learn to give yourself the same attention that you would give to your partner. You can start with engaging in activities that bring you happiness, fun and fulfilment to nurture your physical and mental health.

Seek Support: Boost your self-esteem by surrounding yourself with supportive people and give yourself permission to proceed at whatever pace is right for you. You might also want to work with a professional e.g. to figure out and learn to set your boundaries or navigate your changing relationship.

What next?

Recovery from codependency can be long a journey, but it is worth it. Breaking away from codependency leads to empowerment, enhanced self-awareness and a healthier self-esteem, as well as more fulfilling relationships with others.

If this is something that you would like to explore, remember that you can get some support. Feel free to contact Alicja and book a free initial video call if you would like to talk about it.


*The information provided in this blog post is for general educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical or mental health professional advice. If you are struggling with any of the issues described in this post, please seek appropriate professional help from a qualified professional.


DSM-5: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by American Psychiatric Association

Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) at https://coda.org/

Rethinking Codependency: A New Perspective on Relationships" by S. Donaldson-Pressman

Codependency for Dummies by D. Lancer

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