Is it codependency or simply a desire to be connected? Although these concepts may sound similar to each other, they are vastly different. Having a secure connection is the ability to balance a healthy exploration of the world around us with a relationship we can return to when there is a need to be held, supported, or celebrated by the other person.
Codependency typically involves an obsession on the part of one or both individuals to control the other’s behaviour. For an individual to gain control, boundaries are often crossed on a regular basis. The need for control usually develops out of insecurity and can come at a great cost to the individuals involved. For example, one person might think, “If I do this, then they won’t leave me,” which leads to a pattern of overextending and feeling burnt out because they are ignoring their own needs. Overall, there is a chronic sense of being unsure where one person ends and another person begins.
What Does Codependency Look Like?
Codependent behaviours can include doing, caring, or feeling too much. Although behaviours like people pleasing, clinginess, insecurity, or repressing feelings are bids for connection, they can have the opposite desire of pushing people away. They can also make someone vulnerable to attracting others who are draining and not emotionally secure.
These types of behaviours are often adaptive skills developed at some point in an individual’s life in order to get their needs met. However, they become problematic when they turn into negative patterns in adult relationships.
Codependent behaviours can include doing, caring, or feeling too much.
With awareness and intention, the following tips for overcoming codependency can be helpful for adjusting our way of being in relationships to ensure we are gaining a more secure connection.
1. Return to Self-Care
What we need to keep ourselves regulated and calm is constantly changing and requires awareness, openness, patience, and self-love. The better we know ourselves, the better we can predict what we will need to keep our cup filled. And it’s not all bubble baths and books. Sometimes self-care is about parenting ourselves and doing the boring, hard, or angsty work of adulthood. This involves thinking about the needs of our future self and planning accordingly.
Strategies for practicing self-care:
- Find a role model: This person could be a teacher, therapist, mentor, spiritual guru, etc., who has accomplished the growth and healthy relationships that we want. Take steps to connect with them about what you’re dealing with, which may include scheduling direct sessions, reading material they’ve written, watching their content online, or finding others who subscribe to a similar line of thinking.
- Practice gratitude: Regularly reflecting on people, places, or activities that have brought relief, joy, resolution, compassion, or any release of negativity is a powerful tool. Repetition helps us be more mindful of accepting events going forward. Even difficult experiences can be used to practice gratitude as we acknowledge the lessons being learned.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries
A large part of turning codependency into secure connection is through the development of healthy boundaries. Reflecting on the relationships that feed us and which ones drain us is a good start. Those connections that end up draining us let us know that we need to implement or change a boundary. The intentionality behind this practice means that boundaries aren’t necessarily a natural skill we all possess. Rather, it’s a skill to be honed and learned with practice. Understanding the limits of a relationship allows for consistency, predictability, and, in the end, better security for everyone involved.
Strategies for setting healthy boundaries:
- Make your “yes” or “no” intentional: This involves checking in with ourselves prior to committing to something. Part of this is being open to saying no in a congruent nature, knowing that there may be repercussions in the relationship as a result. This may also include being open to saying “I don’t know” or “I’m unsure” if the answer isn’t clear and allowing yourself time to consider a response.
- Express your limits: Ideally, a boundary is expressed directly to another person and outlines how far we’ll go for someone and how far they can go with us. It should also include what will be done if the boundary is not respected and address any challenges as they occur. For example, saying, “I will not tolerate you calling me names,” and then calling the person out if they use a derogatory name towards you in the future.
- Follow your limits: Healthy boundaries go both ways – ensure you are also respecting the boundaries of those around you. This includes respecting the rights, privacy, and personal business of others, as well as doing your best not to expect, assume, demand, or insist. It can be as simple as following through on what we’ve agreed to or checking in with the other person if they have space for a conversation, visit, or activity.
Individuals who work through their codependency are often successful in relationships they have developed a keen ability to endure and solve problems.
3. Avoid People Pleasing
A typical aspect of codependency is when the needs of others are put before our own on a repetitive, chronic basis. Ebb and flow are normal in relationships, but the act of neglecting our needs can lead to resentment, causing us to feel like victims who are stuck in a negative cycle.
Strategies for overcoming people-pleasing behaviour:
- Allow the unknown: Although it can be hard to sit idle when someone is in need, it’s important to remember that this is our interpretation of the situation. It can also be helpful to rely on certain mantras such as the idea that struggling is a normal part of the human experience and is required for someone to achieve growth. We can decide that, unless we are asked directly for support, we will not step in. We can also determine what level of support is healthy and/or appropriate depending on our own energy levels and role in the person’s life.
- Use physical regulation activities: Practice self-soothing your discomfort by focusing on your body and engaging in activities that turn off the urge to overstep. This looks different from person to person, depending on how stress shows up in the body. Start by becoming aware of what it looks like for you and trying an alternate activity. For example, worried thoughts about not stepping in to save someone could be counteracted with mantras (above). Or, tense, stressed muscles could be calmed through 10 repetitions of purposefully tensing and releasing major muscle groups such as the arms, legs, or jaw.
Learning to develop healthy relationships is a skill that can be developed and honed through intention and awareness. Often, individuals who work through their codependency are successful in relationships because they are better equipped to deal with stress and have developed a keen ability to endure and solve problems.
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