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What Is Codependency?

Codependency is very simply when someone consistently prioritizes others’ above themselves. They may prioritize others’ expectations, desires, thoughts, and/or feelings over what they truly want, need, feel and believe.

My definition of codependency that is featured in both of my books; The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence is:

Codependency is the process in which people’s focus on the world is external, so they seek their worth, and proof of their worth, from others rather than using an internal compass. Their focus is on “other worth,” instead of “self-worth.” A person who is codependent doesn’t believe in their inherent value, so they believe they need external measures to “prove” their merit.

 

A classic example of codependency is a person believing their partner’s addiction is proof of their worthlessness. This false belief leads to another false belief which is that if their spouse recovers they will have proven themselves to have worth and value. These beliefs drive this person to spend much of their energy trying to fix, or heal, their partner. This will likely lead to a cycle of resentment between both spouses; the codependent partner will resent that they can’t “fix” the other and thereby, are still “worthless,” and the addicted partner will resent trying to be changed or controlled.

Where Does Codependency Come From?

The fundamental reason for codependency is always a lack of self-love. After all, if we truly believed in our worth and value, we wouldn’t consistently put others’ approval or comfort above our own sense of self-respect.

In codependency, we feel a lot of shame which is when we feel inherently like a broken or bad person. This differs from guilt which we feel when we do something that violates our values like lie if we value honesty.

Shame keeps us stuck in the codependent cycle because we are always looking outside of ourselves for approval, validation, and acceptance to feel “good enough.” Unfortunately, our shame prevents us from ever feeling good enough no matter how hard we try to be perfect or please others.

Often, our experiences growing up hurt us enough that we made up that something must be inherently wrong with us for such a bad thing to happen. We must do work to realize that even though something horrible happened to us (maybe even repeatedly) it’s not a reflection of your worth. This work does take time but a good place to start is to remember this: The painful things that have happened to you and the mistreatment you have survived are not reflections of your worth. Unfortunately, some of us are born into families who cannot respect or protect us and this is tragic but it is a reflection of their character at that time – not your worth.

No matter what, you are inherently valuable and worthwhile.

For people who struggle with codependency that don’t relate to such wounding or trauma, there were still experiences that led you to feel “not good enough.” The reality is many families, cultures, and religions have a lot of expectations about who we “should” be to be accepted, loved and “good enough.” Often, because human beings are multifaceted and unique, these expectations don’t honor a person’s authenticity. Therefore, people are often left feeling like they don’t “measure up” to others and therefore are “not good enough.” We can make up we aren’t good enough because of our bodies, our dreams, our sexual orientation, our gender, our race, etc. – really anything that has been judged and devalued by others. People in their codependency often feel like they aren’t enough and simultaneously, like they are too much.

How to Heal from Codependency?

The healthy contrast to codependency is interdependency. This occurs when a person is focused internally first, because they trust in their inherent worth. They have a healthy sense of self and self-respect, so their actions reflect self-awareness, maturity, and integrity.

An interdependent person would still likely love to see their spouse recover from an addiction, but their experience is vastly different than someone’s in codependency. They will know, deeply, that their spouse’s addiction – or recovery – isn’t a reflection of their worth as they know they have value no matter what. They also know that they can only support, not fix, their spouse.

Interdependent relationships are mature, healthy and stable ones. They are made up of two adults who each have self-love and self-respect and are clear on their personal needs.  Each person in the relationship is responsible to either meet their own needs or seek support when they need assistance. And since, they also have other-love and other-respect, when they need support, they communicate their needs kindly and clearly. They also understand the ongoing need for compromise and negotiation because both people know they matter equally.

We heal – and become interdependent – by connecting with our inherent self-worth and reducing shame. We do this first by starting to prioritize ourselves with self-care. After all, deprioritizing ourselves reinforces the shame that codependency feeds off of. We must practice as if we love ourselves to finally learn to love ourselves. We also learn to diminish shame by protecting ourselves with healthy boundaries. There are other steps to codependency recovery which are outlined in my book, “The Codependency Recovery Plan.”

If you relate to being codependent, let me emphasize there is hope. Recovery is possible! I’m personally in recovery for codependency and while it takes take hard work and commitment to recover, it is totally possible and worth it. I’m here to support you with my blog, course to develop self-love, and codependency recovery coaching. Please contact me if you would like extra support. I’m truly rooting for you!