Recovering From Codependency

Codependency, in our culture is a widespread problem and it is prevalent among the female population relatively more than the male population. John Bradshaw defines codependency as a “loss of inner reality and an addiction to outer reality. According to Pea Melody, codependents demonstrate very low self esteem, have difficulty in setting functional boundaries, owning and experiencing their own reality, and taking care of their needs.

Codependency is a multigenerational issue and it is prevalent among families who are ignorant if it. Dysfunctional families where parents are overprotective, overly rejecting or critical, alcoholic and who have been subjected to physical/sexual abuse are more likely to pass on codependency to their offspring. The good news is that it is possible to recover from codependency, especially if the person is aware of the codependent traits. The following strategies have been found to be highly effective in recovering from codependency.

1. Reducing The Turmoil

Codependent folks experience a lot of turmoil in their lives due to having the Big FOCUS on another person. This leads to increase in anxiety, tension and decrease in ability to address their issues and hindered relationships. In order to reduce the level of tension, one needs to put the focus back on self. Thus by broadening the perspective the person gains an insight into how the person and others have contributed to maintain the turmoil. In the absence of this insight, fighting, arguing, distancing, getting sick, and blaming others keep the turmoil going. When the person begins to gain the insight, he/she learns not to blame others and begins to take care of health, mental well being, and personal growth.

2.  Compassionate Detachment

It refers to simply disengaging from others problems without cutting off and being assertive versus being passive or manipulative. It also implies thinking about your own needs and wants. Codependent folks tend to be in care taking role, which is another form of control. They spend more time taking care of others and taking responsibility for them. In fact, they get so deeply involved with other people’s lives that they prevent them from growing. Care taking begins with love and concern. For example, an overprotective mother who is blind to see the need for independence of her child or tends to rescue the child by lying and covering up child’s bad behaviors. Compassionate detachment implies being emotionally present for the mate and  not controlling another’s life. It means being there as a friend, listening, responding, being appreciative, and not fixing the problem or giving out solutions.

3.  Decreasing the need to control.

Codependent folks tend to demonstrate a strong need to control people’s behaviors, feelings, thoughts, and the outcome of the situations. In order to recover from codependency, it is crucial to shift the focus from the Big Problem and understand  that one cannot change anyone else.  When codependent people try to control others, they experience a loss of their inner reality and are unable to process their feelings. Their feelings get sidetracked, denied, stuffed or over expressed. Moreover, failure to successfully control others results in shame and increases the need to control. Self esteem then begins to depend on their controlling behaviors and it becomes a vicious cycle and has a no win ending.

4. Engagement in Self Nurturing Activities:

Research indicates that codependent folks fail to engage in self nurturing activities and this leads to increase in tension. Regular exercise, meditation, laughter, having meaningful friendships outside the primary relationships, and engaging in good communication facilitate better self esteem and also reduce codependency on others.

5. Identification and Expression of Feelings.

Codependent folks tend to be out of touch with their feelings. Due to living in dysfunctional families, they learn to overtly deny their rights to feelings and covertly repress them. This tends to make them somewhat numb and they learn to override or over react to feelings. Unexpressed feelings begin to cause emotional and physical trouble like high blood pressure, ulcers, asthma. It is important for codependent people to carefully identify and express their feelings in order to improve relationships, self esteem and deepen intimacy.

Below is the Feeling Script that can be used to express feelings:

I feel______________________( your feelings)

When you ___________________ (an action)

because_______________________(your reason)

I’d like you to please________________(your request)

6.  Improving Boundaries:

Codependent folks tend to have unhealthy, poor, loose or rigid boundaries. Boundary refers to an internal line that marks off “ Me” and the other person.  Boundaries are developed in the family of origin. Parents with poor boundaries tend to be disrespectful and intrusive of their children’s boundaries. They become the role model for their children who also end up having unhealthy boundaries. When boundaries are not clear, the person feels mixed up with others. At the other end are rigid boundaries, which refer to walling yourself off for the fear of abandonment.

Codependent folks need to learn to take care of themselves, and be aware of their unique needs and wants. Boundaries develop as we define our bill of rights, honor and value ourselves. This sense of self is necessary for intimacy.  With loose and rigid boundaries, codependent people tend to lean on to each other for their balance and are unable to firmly balance themselves on their own. With good and healthy boundaries two people stand side by side connected by mutual desire but each firmly balanced on his or her own feet.

7. Developing Values of Openness, Honesty, and Willingness.

Codependent folks need to be honest with their feelings and honor themselves. Openness refers to being emotionally present, an ability to put aside preconceived notions and feelings and really listening to what another person is saying. It also means being flexible versus being rigid with demands and expectations. Willingness refers to one’s capacity to try different approaches to living and responding and also demonstrate the willingness to make desired changes.

8.  Congruity :

Codependent people are often incongruent in giving messages as they tend to be out of touch with their reality and also tend to mask their feelings. We learn to be incongruent in families in which anger is not tolerated or having feeling is not okay. Therefore it is crucial to  have congruity in what  the person thinks, feels and conveys. Body language can reveal the true feelings of the person for  example, a mother who is angry with the child for breaking an antique flower vase but trying to hide her feelings. However, her body language will communicate to the child that the mother is angry. As adults we learn to deny and suppress our feelings. These feelings are pushed down and are revealed nonverbally in body language. Codependent folks need to be mindful and pay attention to their feelings and have congtuity in their communication.

9. Taking care of Self Esteem.

Healthy people know that they are valuable even when they make a mistake, are confronted by an angry person, cheated, rejected by a lover, friend, child or boss. Their self esteem remains intact in face of adverse situations. Codependent folks lack high self esteem as they are not in touch with their own reality. They need to honor their inner self by acceptance, taking responsibility versus putting needs and wants aside, and value themselves as unique individuals instead of trying to mould themselves to be someone else. They also need to stop berating themselves.

Codependent folks also need to be more assertive and learn to make a distinction between needs and wants.  Additionally, they need to express feelings using, “I “statement versus “you’ statements which convey blame and make the other person feel attacked and defensive. It is also important to be specific with their wants because people have difficulty responding to general requests. It is also important to know that asking for behavioral changes is more realistic than asking for attitudinal change.Visit www.cognitivehealing.com/hypnosis-services/ to learn how hypnosis can facilitate self esteem and many other every day problems.

The above techniques, when used with mindfulness and care, facilitate recovery from codependency.Hypnosis can also help codependent folks. For more information, please visit our Blossom Hypnotherapy page to learn how hypnosis can help reduce symptoms of Anxiety disorders.

Reference.  Focal Group Psychotherapy by Mathew McKay and Kim Paleg (1992)

Codependency article in this book was authored by Ani Amerslav, MA, MFCC

3 Comments

  1. John said:

    Could you please describe your basis for this statement? “The following strategies have been found to be highly effective in recovering from codependency.”
    I am looking for some studies on efficacy; definitely some numbers, even if it is based on your own experience. I hope that you are not one of these therapists who does not even bother keeping track of their score!
    Thank you.

    January 2, 2015
    Reply
    • Lisa said:

      I do not have empirical evidence for much of what I do as a therapist. Science is not a sure thing, research can go in many directions depending on who is doing the research. much of the best work has yet to be written or taught in evidence based schools. Yet a good therapist connects with their patients and knows what works. While numbers may be important for some, I think seeing one person find more peace in their life goes much further than keeping track of numbers. This article was well written, brings up excellent point that I have also witnesses in my practice, uses similar information written in books that have much evidence for efficacy. This article is excellent!

      February 20, 2016
      Reply
  2. Nicholas said:

    Hi there, I found this a really great article to read, there is a lot of info on codependency online however there aren’t a lot of practical suggestions on moving forward, thanks so much for sharing.

    I have a problem I was hoping you could help me with. I am a child of a disfunctional family which I believe has led me to be codependent in my friendships, and relationships, specifically my current one with my girlfriend. I am having trouble making a decision on whether I should keep living at home with my mother who I learned a lot of my traits from. It is convinient for my to stay here as rent is very expensive in London, however I don’t want to keep being subjected to the dysfunction and manipulation from my mother and brother who suffers mental difficulties. My gut is telling me the right thing to do is to move out however I’m fearful of breaking away from that dynamic and living on my own/with other people where I would have to build a life of my own. It feels like a drastic break, is it better to take baby steps?

    I am also struggling to make a decision on whether I should break up with my girlfriend as we keep hurting each other, she is not a narcissist but I feel my life thrives on hers which is in abundance, but we still love each other and want to make things work. I want to believe that I can recover from my codependency whilst staying with her, however it has already done damage and I don’t want to keep hurting her. That being said she still loves me and wants to make things work, but it’s hard as you can imagine..i don’t want to lose her. Is that selfish? I moved back in with my mum after my girlfriend said we should take a break; one dependent environment to another..Can you offer any advice on this? Is there much success with codependents working through recovery whilst still in he relationship they are dependant on?

    Thanks very much!

    August 30, 2016
    Reply

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