How to Break Codependency Habits

Codependency is a frequently used term these days, but the actual disorder is quite complicated. So, it would stand to reason that breaking codependency habits would be complicated as well.

Let’s take a quick look at the definition of codependency so we can identify some of the unhealthy habits that go along with it and then break them.

What is Codependency?

Codependency, in its simplest terms, is an addiction to control. It is an addiction to controlling other people, their feelings and their behaviors. Let me be clear, codependent people are not intending to harm others.

Codependent people navigate relationships with others through a series of maladaptive patterns and behaviors that convince them that they can control the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of other people. What does the codependent get out of this? A very short-lived feeling of gratification.

Related: Must Read Books on Codependency Recovery

So, let me identify a few of the most harmful codependency habits and give some tips to break these habits.

Codependency Habit #1: Living in Denial

Codependents are very often unaware of their codependent patterns and behaviors. In fact, they believe themselves to be quite helpful, caring and selfless and they are. However, the difference between being helpful, caring and selfless in a codependent relationship versus a healthy relationship is that they are frequently doing all of these things while sacrificing their own needs and well-being.

As a result, they are frequently unable to identify how they are feeling, they conceal emotions that are painful, they may communicate in passive-aggressive ways and very often do not recognize when they are in relationships that are abusive and unhealthy. They are blissfully unaware of the cycle of codependency.

Break it!

Breaking out of the cycle of codependency starts with learning how to identify, feel and express emotions and sharing emotions with other people. When expressing your emotions, express them directly, assertively and with confidence. Begin to engage in relationships that are healthy, loving and caring.

Learn to let go of relationships that make you feel bad about yourself or that drain you. Healthy relationships should not leave you exhausted at the end of the day!

Codependency Habit #2: Perpetuating low self-esteem

Low self-esteem is a well-known symptom of codependency. People with codependent tendencies have difficulty making decisions, believe that their opinion is not as important as other peoples and do not perceive themselves as worthwhile and lovable.

They then frequently find themselves in unhealthy relationships, situations and, let’s face it, in a negative headspace. As a result, self-esteem and self-worth stay in a perpetual loop of negativity, self-doubt, and hopelessness. Over time, this can lead to serious mental health difficulties.

Break it!

To be honest, improving self-esteem and self-worth is a life-long commitment. However, focusing on self-care can help us improve it. Most important is a commitment to speaking well of yourself. If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, do not say it to yourself.

Here’s the caveat, you don’t have to believe it to say it! You just have to say it to believe it! Consider thinking of yourself as valuable, check your motivations for doing things for other people, and take responsibility if you make a mistake. Learning to love yourself unconditionally only serves to improve your relationships with others in the long run.

Codependency Habit #3: Overfocus on others

Codependent people will frequently gush about how loyal they are as friends and partners. Ride or die, as they say. There is nothing wrong with being a loyal friend as long as there is a minimal personal cost to do so. The overfocus of codependents on everyone around them leaves them vulnerable to a loss of self, suppression of emotions and decision making without regard to consequences.

Staying in harmful relationships for far longer than is safe compromises integrity. Avoiding uncomfortable feelings or rejection by compromising values puts the codependent in much more unsafe situations than is necessary.

Break it!

Healthy relationships are interdependent. This means that two people mutually rely on each other. We bond with the person we are in a relationship with, but we are also free to be autonomous.

Recognizing that we have our own opinions and feelings about things and being able to express these is a much healthier pattern. Getting our needs met by others does involve taking risks, however; never being true to our beliefs and opinions guarantees that we don’t get our needs met.

Codependent Habit #4: Engaging in controlling behaviors

Ahh, the dreaded “C” word. When considering codependent behaviors as controlling, it is important to remember that codependent people are not engaging in controlling behaviors to harm anyone. Rather, they are controlling under an umbrella of help.

Consider someone who appears to be struggling. Since codependent people do not tolerate when others are struggling, they might offer some assistance to the person they believe to be struggling. What’s wrong with this? Nothing much, except the struggling person has not asked for any help! The motivation for offering help becomes self-serving. The codependent person is actually trying to make herself feel better by offering help.

Break it!

Learn the difference between care and control. We are caring when we respond to someone who has asked for help, or if we have asked IF we can help. When we decide that someone is struggling and have come up with the solution with no feedback from the person who is struggling, this is controlling.

Codependent Habit #5: Avoiding emotional vulnerability

Not dealing with feelings, pushing people away and avoiding emotional intimacy you say? Yes, this is a common codependent habit. Because codependent people have difficulty identifying their feelings (see Codependent Habit #1), they will frequently avoid any situation which may trigger an emotional vulnerability.

Dodging questions about themselves, placing the focus on someone else, and judging others harshly only serves to keep the focus off the codependent and on someone else. The result is that they do not have to focus on themselves, which we know would require some actionable change.

Break it!

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! Perhaps one of the most important behaviors to learn in life is setting boundaries. Boundaries allow us to say “no,” they permit us to protect ourselves and they are the basis for every healthy relationship from now until forever. So, learning, studying, discussing and practicing healthy boundaries is the key to feeling less vulnerable and more in charge of our relationships in our lives.

There you have it! Breaking unhealthy codependency habits and developing healthy habits creates two important purposes in our lives. It improves self-esteem and self-love and it ensures that the people we choose to be in relationships with will treat us with the love, compassion and care that we all deserve.

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Website: Ellen Biros

Ellen Biros is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in the treatment and assessment of individuals with personality disorders, substance abuse issues and emotional regulation problems in the criminal court system, private probation, and private practice.

In addition to maintaining a private practice in Suwanee, Georgia, just outside Atlanta, she is also a faculty member at Tulane University and the University of Phoenix.