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Codependency often has deep-rooted cognitive and behavioral patterns that can be traced back to early life experiences, typically within one’s family of origin. These patterns may persist into adulthood, impacting an individual’s relationships and overall well-being.
Codependency is a complex and multifaceted issue characterized by an excessive reliance on others for your sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and identity. It often involves a lack of healthy boundaries, low self-esteem, and an intense focus on the needs and well-being of others, often to the detriment of one’s own needs.
The first step in healing from codependency is recognizing that it exists and being honest with yourself about the patterns and behaviors that indicate codependent tendencies.
It can be especially helpful to work with a therapist who specializes in codependency or trauma as they can help you explore your past, uncover underlying beliefs, and develop strategies to address these deep-rooted patterns.
Understanding codependency, its causes, and how it manifests in relationships is a fundamental step in the process as this will help you build the necessary awareness to address and heal these patterns, ultimately leading to healthier, more fulfilling relationships and a stronger sense of self.
1. Denial Patterns
Denial is a self-protective psychological process that often operates at a subconscious level, allowing individuals to avoid or ignore the presence of problems, pain, or distressing realities.
Denial serves as a psychological defense mechanism aimed at protecting an individual from distressing emotions, thoughts, or situations. It can act as a shield against the harsh realities of life as it helps individuals avoid facing uncomfortable or painful truths, such as addiction, abuse, or codependency in relationships.
Denial is a core feature of codependency, and it can manifest in various ways within codependent relationships and behaviors.
Here are some common ways in which denial can be evident in codependency:
Denial of One’s Own Needs
Codependents often deny or minimize their own needs and desires, focusing on meeting the needs of others instead. They may convince themselves that their own needs are unimportant or that they don’t deserve to have them met.
Codependents often resist seeking help or support for their codependent patterns, believing they can handle everything on their own.
Denial of True Feelings
Codependents frequently deny or suppress their own emotions, especially negative ones. They may put on a facade of always being “fine” or “happy” to avoid conflict or burdening others with their true feelings.
Codependents may employ various avoidance techniques to numb or escape from their intense and often overwhelming feelings. These avoidance strategies, such as isolation, substance misuse, or self-harm, serve as coping mechanisms to temporarily alleviate emotional distress, but they often have detrimental consequences.
Denial of the Impact of Others’ Behaviors
In codependent relationships, individuals may deny or downplay the harmful behaviors of their partners, such as addiction, abuse, or neglect. They may make excuses for these behaviors or enable them to continue.
Additionally, codependents might deny that they themselves are engaging in enabling behaviors, such as covering up for a partner’s addiction or taking responsibility for their partner’s actions.
Denial of Their Own Identity
Some codependents may deny or lose their own sense of identity, defining themselves primarily through their relationships or roles as caregivers.
Denial of the Unhealthy Nature of the Relationship
In codependent relationships, individuals may deny the unhealthy dynamics and dysfunction within the relationship, clinging to the hope that things will improve without intervention.
They may underestimate the negative consequences of their codependent behaviors, both for themselves and for the individuals they are trying to help.
They tend to believe that if they try hard enough and continue to self-sacrifice, they will be able to change their partner and the relationship. Unfortunately, this usually ends in disappointment.
How to Recover from Denial Patterns
Recovering from denial patterns, especially in the context of codependency or other psychological challenges, is a critical step in personal growth and healing.
Recovery from denial involves identifying and embracing your feelings, prioritizing your own needs, practicing self-compassion, and pursuing healthy and loving relationships.
Here are some strategies to help you recover from denial patterns:
The first step is to acknowledge that you have been using denial as a coping mechanism. This requires self-awareness and an honest evaluation of your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.
Try to learn to identify and acknowledge your emotions, even the uncomfortable ones.
It can take time to build up this self-awareness, but practices such as journalling and mindfulness can be helpful tools.
Consider working with a therapist or counselor who specializes in codependency, addiction, or the specific issue you’ve been in denial about. Professional support can provide you with guidance and tools for recovery.
Understand that denial patterns often develop as a means of self-protection. Instead of self-blame, practice self-compassion and treating yourself with kindness.
Research suggests that people who are more optimistic are less likely to avoid their problems and are more likely to deal with them head-on.
Codependent individuals often have a generally negative view of themselves, others, and the world. As such, they are more likely to deny their true feelings and the severity of their stress.
Try to identify and challenge the distorted beliefs that fuel your denial patterns and replace them with more balanced and realistic beliefs about yourself and your ability to cope.
Practices such as keeping a gratitude diary, practicing affirmations, and focusing on your strengths and achievements can be helpful.
Understand the Difference Between Caretaking and Caregiving
Understanding the difference between caretaking and caregiving is important, as the two concepts have distinct implications for relationships and personal well-being.
Caretaking is often motivated by the caretaker’s need for validation, approval, or a sense of self-worth. The caretaker may seek to control or fix others to feel needed. Caretaking is closely linked to codependent patterns, where the caretaker derives their sense of self from the role of taking care of others.
Caregiving, on the other hand, comes from a place of compassion and empathy. Caregivers genuinely want to support others in times of need without expecting anything in return. Caregivers offer compassion, understanding, and emotional support to those in their care without seeking to control or manipulate the situation.
Understanding this difference can lead to healthier, more fulfilling relationships and personal growth.
2. Low Self-Esteem Patterns
Self-esteem refers to how you perceive and value yourself. Low self-esteem is characterized by having a generally negative view of oneself. People with low self-esteem tend to have a diminished sense of self-worth and may struggle with self-acceptance.
Low self-esteem is a core feature of codependency and can manifest in various ways within codependent relationships and behaviors.
Individuals with low self-esteem often have a pessimistic and critical view of themselves. They focus on their perceived flaws and shortcomings while minimizing their positive qualities.
They often engage in harsh self-criticism and have a negative inner dialogue where they constantly judge and berate themselves for their perceived inadequacies.
They set unrealistically high standards for themselves and feel like failures if they don’t meet these standards.
At the same time, they are constantly comparing themselves to others, feeling inferior or inadequate in comparison.
Feeling Unlovable and Unworthy
Codependents often rely on external sources, such as the approval and validation of others, to feel a sense of self-worth. However, they also may struggle to accept compliments or positive feedback, often deflecting praise or downplaying their accomplishments.
Codependents often have difficulty accepting themselves for who they are, flaws and all. They may feel a constant need to change or “fix” themselves to be worthy of love and acceptance.
Difficulty Saying “No”
Low self-esteem can lead to a fear of rejection and a reluctance to assert one’s own needs and boundaries. Codependents may find it difficult to say “no” to others, even when it’s in their best interest.
Fear of Abandonment
Codependents may believe that they are not lovable or worthy of love, leading to clingy or dependent behavior. Low self-esteem is often linked to a fear of rejection and abandonment, so codependents are often hypersensitive to criticism and fear that others will reject them or find them unworthy.
How to Recover from Low Self-Esteem Patterns
Recognizing and addressing low self-esteem is crucial in the process of healing from codependency.
Building self-esteem involves changing negative thought patterns, practicing self-compassion, and working on self-acceptance. It also includes setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, asserting one’s needs, and reducing reliance on external validation.
Here is some advice to get you started:
Focus on the Positive
Practice self-love and respect every day. That can mean using daily affirmations (e.g., “I am good enough”), writing down what you are grateful for, what you have achieved, what you look forward to, etc.
Celebrate your successes, no matter how small, as they contribute to building self-esteem.
Work on identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself, and replacing self-criticism with self-compassion and positive self-affirmations.
Seek Internal Validation
Internal validation means that you derive your sense of self-worth and self-acceptance from within, rather than relying on external sources, such as the opinions or approval of others.
When you seek validation from within, you become less vulnerable to the judgments, criticisms, and fluctuations in external validation.
Practice self-acceptance by embracing yourself, flaws and all. Understand that imperfections are a part of being human, and they do not diminish your worth.
Try engaging in activities and hobbies that promote personal growth and a sense of achievement as setting and achieving personal goals can boost self-esteem and internal validation.
Everyone makes mistakes, and they are an important part of growth.
Treat yourself with the same kindness and empathy you would offer to a friend. Understand that it’s okay to make mistakes and that imperfections are part of being human.
As Nelson Mandela said, “There is no failure, you either win or you learn”.
3. Compliance Patterns
Compliance, in the context of codependency, often functions as a coping mechanism that is rooted in a person’s upbringing in a dysfunctional family environment.
Compliance often arises from a fear of conflict and a desire to avoid confrontations or negative reactions from family members. Codependents often become skilled at people-pleasing and prioritizing the needs of others in an attempt to maintain peace and harmony in the family.
Additionally, in dysfunctional families, there may be addiction issues, abuse, neglect, or other challenging situations. Compliance can develop as a survival strategy in response to these dynamics.
Breaking free from the pattern of compliance is a crucial step in the recovery from codependency as these patterns of behavior tend to be carried into adulthood and adult relationships.
Here’s a closer look at compliance in codependency:
Suppression of Self
Compliance can lead to the suppression of one’s own needs, desires, and individuality.
Codependents tend to prioritize the needs and wishes of others over their own. As such, they often struggle with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, as compliance often involves sacrificing personal boundaries to meet the demands and expectations of others.
Being overly compliant may mean you find yourself in harmful, risky, or dangerous situations because you feel a sense of obligation to comply with the wishes of others, even if it is detrimental to their own well-being.
For example, you may stay in an abusive relationship to avoid confrontation or upsetting the other person.
Compromising Personal Values
When codependents compromise their personal values, they may do so in an attempt to maintain relationships, gain approval, or avoid conflict.
The fear of rejection or abandonment is a common feature of codependency, so in an effort to avoid these fears, codependents will suppress or compromise their values, beliefs, and needs in relationships.
They engage in self-sacrificing behavior, putting the well-being and happiness of others before their own. This self-sacrifice can lead to the erosion of personal values and boundaries.
Loss of Identity
Over time, compliance can lead to a blurred sense of self, a loss of personal identity, and a diminished understanding of one’s own values and priorities.
How to Recover from Compliance Patterns
Breaking free from the pattern of compliance is a crucial step in the recovery from codependency. This involves recognizing the underlying dynamics, developing healthy boundaries, and learning to assert one’s needs and desires while maintaining your self-worth and self-identity.
Here are steps to help you recover from compliance patterns:
Consider whether you are making a certain decision because you want to, feel you have to, or want to please others.
Identify and clarify your core values and personal boundaries. Knowing what you stand for will help you assert your needs and beliefs.
When you reflect and practice being honest with yourself, you will start making healthier decisions that are aligned with your true self.
Establish and Maintain Boundaries
Developing and maintaining boundaries tends to be difficult for codependent individuals; however, boundaries are necessary for self-respect and emotional well-being.
Start by defining what is important to you and what you find acceptable and unacceptable, and then practice communicating this to others.
Make sure you are prioritizing self-care and self-nurturing. Make time for activities that promote your physical, emotional, and mental well-being, and challenge yourself to say “no” when necessary.
It’s important to assert your boundaries and prioritize your needs and well-being.
Communicating your boundaries requires assertiveness: being able to express your opinions, feelings, wishes in a respectful, direct, and clear manner.
Understand that it’s okay to disagree with others and have your own opinions. Disagreements can be healthy and lead to better communication and understanding in relationships.
4. Control Patterns
Codependents often have a strong need to control not only themselves but also the people and situations around them. This need for control can stem from their struggles with low self-esteem, fear of rejection, and difficulty being assertive.
While it’s natural for everyone to desire some degree of control over their environment, in codependency, this need can become excessive and manifest in various ways, including:
Codependents often believe others are incapable of taking care of themselves. Therefore, they tend to take on the role of a caregiver or rescuer in relationships to control or manage the well-being of others, often at the expense of their own needs.
They may feel compelled to fix or save others from their problems or negative consequences, even when it’s not their responsibility. This is a way of exerting control over the outcome of situations.
In some cases, they may micromanage and control various aspects of their own and others’ lives, such as schedules, finances, or daily routines.
Codependents often engage in people-pleasing behaviors to gain a sense of control over how others perceive them. They go to great lengths to ensure they are seen as agreeable and accommodating.
Some codependents resort to manipulation or passive-aggressive tactics to influence the behavior or decisions of others.
They may overreact to situations or conflicts as a way to regain control or to create a sense of urgency. Or, in an effort to maintain control over their emotions and relationships, some codependents isolate themselves from others, as isolation feels like a way to control external influences.
How to Recover from Control Patterns
Recovery from such control patterns involves self-awareness, self-empowerment, and the development of healthier ways of relating to yourself and others.
Here are steps to help you recover from control patterns:
Understand the Underlying Fears
Explore the underlying fears that drive your need for control.
For most codependents, their extreme need to control others often stems from a fear that others will abandon them.
In these cases, it can be helpful to identify if you have an anxious attachment style and how this might be contributing to your fears as this will enable you to take appropriate action.
Focus on Yourself
You must understand that you cannot control others and that you are not responsible for their choices and behaviors. Instead, work to cultivate self-love, acceptance, and compassion.
Embrace the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes and that you don’t have to control every aspect of your life to feel secure.
Practices such as breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and time in nature can help you improve your self-regulation, stay present in the moment, and observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment.
Let Go of Fixing Others
Understand that you cannot control or fix other people’s lives or choices. Allow others to take responsibility for their own actions and face the consequences of their choices.
Learn assertiveness skills to communicate your needs, desires, and boundaries in a respectful, direct, and clear manner, and practice standing up for yourself without controlling others.
Avoidance is a common coping strategy used in codependency to escape or distract from difficult thoughts, feelings, and situations. This avoidance can take various forms and often serves as a way to temporarily numb or suppress emotional discomfort.
Here are some ways in which avoidance may manifest in codependency:
Codependents may use substances such as alcohol, drugs, or even prescription medications to escape emotional pain and distress. Becoming overly invested in a relationship can also be seen as a type of addictive behavior.
Codependents may withdraw from social interactions and isolate themselves to avoid the discomfort of dealing with relationships or social situations.
Workaholism can be a form of avoidance, where codependents immerse themselves in their work to escape personal or relationship issues.
Focusing on perfectionism and overachievement can be a way to avoid feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability as it provides a sense of control and distraction.
Some codependents may engage in compulsive cleaning or organizing to distract themselves from emotional discomfort. Others may become overly focused on solving other people’s problems as a way to avoid addressing their own issues.
How to Recover from Avoidance Patterns
Recovering from avoidance patterns in codependency is essential for personal growth and emotional well-being.
Here’s how to begin the recovery process:
Face Your Fears
Start by identifying the specific avoidance behaviors you engage in and acknowledge the impact they have on your life.
Understand that avoidance is often a response to uncomfortable emotions. Learn to accept and sit with your emotions, rather than trying to escape them.
Recovery is a process, and it’s important to be patient and compassionate with yourself as you work on healing from codependency.
At the beginning, try to break down your recovery into small, achievable goals. Focus on making gradual progress rather than expecting immediate, dramatic change.
Seek Professional Help
Consider working with a therapist or counselor who specializes in codependency and avoidance patterns.
They can help you to address your avoidance behaviors (including any addictive behaviors) and provide tools that will help you to face your fears head-on.
Additionally, consider connecting with a support group or trusted friends and family members who can provide encouragement and understanding as you work on overcoming avoidance.
Practice Open Communication
Effective communication is essential for building healthier relationships, setting boundaries, and addressing underlying issues.
Open communication allows you to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs to others in a clear and respectful manner and enables you to be honest and authentic about your experiences.
This is also key to setting and maintaining healthy boundaries as it allows you to assert your boundaries, clarify your limits, and ensure that they are respected by others.
Open communication provides a constructive way to address conflicts and disagreements. It encourages active listening, empathy, and problem-solving, reducing the need for avoidance or control behaviors.
Healing codependency is a journey that takes time and effort. While the guidance of a therapist or counselor can be invaluable, there are also many steps you can take to support your own recovery.
Understand that recovery is a gradual process with setbacks, so be patient, celebrate small wins, and learn from the challenges along the way.
Ultimately, the journey to heal from codependency is about reclaiming your sense of self, developing healthier relationships, and fostering emotional well-being. It’s a process that empowers you to live more authentically and find fulfillment in your connections with others.
Julia Simkus edited this article.
Codependents Anonymous (2011). Patterns and Characteristics of Codependence. https://coda.org/meeting-materials/patterns-and-characteristics-2011/
Ritchie, T. D. (2014). Denial. In T. R. Levine (Ed.), Encyclopedia of lying and deception. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Scheier, M. F., Weintraub, J. K., & Carver, C. S. (1986). Coping with stress: Divergent strategies of optimists and pessimists. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1257–1264.