Balancing Codependent Tendencies: Improving Relationships through Self-Care

sb10063511eo-001Are you a person who takes care of everyone else before yourself? Do you believe you should put yourself last? If you routinely take care of others’ needs before your own, then you may have codependent tendencies. In a relationship, codependent behaviors can potentially sabotage your relationship success. If you neglect your personal needs and wishes and care for others instead, then you may begin to feel resentful and empty. Taking care of yourself enables you to then be available to take care of others.

Codependent Behaviors

Let’s explore some codependent behaviors. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When you are criticized, do you become defensive and angry because your behavior was questioned?
  • Do you feel better about yourself when you are helping (and only when you are helping) others?
  • Do you settle for being needed when you really want to be truly loved?
  • If you are a caretaker, do you anticipate others’ needs?
  • Do you feel responsible for others’ feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being or their lack of the aforementioned topics?
  • Do you find it easy to change your plans for another person’s needs?
  • Do you often feel angry and used even though you choose to ignore yourself?
  • Do you always say “yes” even when you want to say “no?”
  • Do you say “yes” even when it is not in your best interest?
  • Do you feel you do more than your fair share?

If you tell yourself that your circumstance will improve later, get depressed or sick without understanding the reason why, over-eat, feel overextended, or if you stay busy to keep from addressing the issues you need to address, you may be in a state of denial.

Do you find it difficult to feel joy, to have fun, or to do something at the spur of the moment? Do you find it hard to enjoy sex? Do you have sex when you really don’t want to have sex? Do you make up reasons to avoid having sex? Do you have sex when you really just want to be held and loved? Do you look for happiness in others and not within yourself? Do you choose partners who are not available (physically or emotionally) to love you? Do you stay in a relationship long after it is clear it is not working? Do you think you are not loveable? Is your communication poor? Do you blame, threaten, or beg for your needs to be met? Do you ask for your needs and wants indirectly, thinking people will just know what your needs are because they love you enough? Do you think what you have to say is unimportant? Do you avoid talking about yourself, thoughts, or dreams? Do you ignore your thoughts without voicing them? Do you fail to voice your opinions for fear of being rejected or put down?

From an early age, women are usually taught about the importance of nurturing and taking care of others. Mothers generally focus on meeting the needs of the children, husband, and household before addressing their own needs. Simultaneously, society and the media send women the message that they must be perfect. They are given the message they need to be thin, beautiful, young, perfectly dressed, and in all ways flawless. Men are taught to be outwardly strong. They are taught it is acceptable to be angry, but not sad, vulnerable, or outwardly emotional. These incorrect, constant messages will destroy us if we allow them to.

Do you often feel overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious? Are there times where you feel like an empty shell wanting to isolate yourself from the world? Do you also find it difficult to connect with others? If so, it may indicate that certain needs aren’t being addressed. Addressing neglected aspects of your inner and outer world is related to self-care.

What is “Self-Care?”

Self-care can have a different meaning for each of us. Essentially, self-care is associated with taking care of your needs, asserting yourself to increase the possibility of those needs being met, and monitoring your time and energy given to others. To feel balanced in today’s world, we must address both our inner and outer needs. Taking care of yourself will allow you to be there for your relationship. It will allow you to feel the Goddess or God you truly are inside. Your partner will respond to you in a more positive manner, and emotional intimacy will be more easily deepened when your needs are satisfied.

As parents, we get caught up in the family fast track. We are consumed by school, homework, little league, karate, dance class, and on and on. There is little time left to focus on self-care. Parents get caught in this cycle, leaving little to no energy left to meet their own physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual needs. There is no time left for themselves, much less their intimate relationships.

When we neglect self-care by focusing on trying to meet the needs of others before taking care of ourselves, we can lose our identity and power. We also harvest a great amount of resentment and self-hatred when we neglect ourselves. Ultimately, it is when we connect and address our needs that we can find balance and happiness. When this happens, we can give to others from a full heart. In other words, we can enhance our relationships by taking care of ourselves.

The list of things you can do to develop a self-care practice is endless! Learning to respond to your needs with acceptance, compassion, and a willingness to make healthy changes can begin to bring balance into your life and allow you to connect with joy. Self-care does not mean spending money. A spa day or week is great, but self-care can mean much more than having services performed.

Make a list of your needs: spiritual, emotional, physical, intellectual, and relationship intimacy needs. Under each heading, record activities that will support self-care in that area. Keep space for additions as you think of them.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Journaling, meditating, yoga class, moving to your favorite music, taking time to enjoy your favorite music, lunch with the girls/guys, overnight romantic time with your honey, walk in the rain, bubble bath with candles and music, taking a lunch to the river, reading a book, or anything you enjoy. Search your soul for those things that really nurture you.
  • Make a list of things that nourish your spirit and make you come alive. Is it music, art, writing, cooking, or dancing? If you’re not sure what would be on this list, then explore new activities or hobbies.
  • Connecting with nature can be extremely nurturing. Take a walk on the beach or in a park and really listen to the surrounding sounds and sights. Allow your senses to open and let yourself be nourished by nature. “Taking time to smell the roses” is good advice after all.
  • Laughter can be the best medicine. Play. Play with your partner. Find ways to put humor and playfulness into your everyday living. Let that “inner child” out often. Allow yourself to be silly. Allow yourself to enjoy. Allow yourself JOY.When you are filled with joy, even part of the time, all of your relationships will benefit, not just your romantic relationship.

Accept the fact that the road of life will have bumps. Instead of resisting or personalizing these bumps, accept that there are things you cannot change. Realize that the only thing you truly have control over is yourself. Be present in what is happening in your life. Reflect on whether you’re responding to your emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical needs. Are you taking good care of both outer and inner needs? Are you listening to your inner voice when it tells you to slow down, set boundaries, take care of your body, rest, or exercise?

Take care of yourself. Have fun. Life is short, so enjoy every moment. May your day be interspersed with joy.

© Copyright 2011 by Yvonne Sinclair, MA, therapist in Lincoln, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 21 comments
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  • Ginger

    July 5th, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    Recently I have made it a priority to take care of myself. I started watching what I eat and make sure to get some exercise every day. I even go do some classes and little things like that. I really don’t think that my family minds the time that I am taking for myself but there are times where I feel so guilty! Will this go away? I know that when I am doing is right and is the best thing for all of us but it still makes me feel like I am going to miss something important with the family by taking time out to do some things for me.

  • Tanuka

    August 1st, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    Dear Yvonne this article is a miracle. On my road to recovery I thought that’s it. I won’t progress anymore. And boom comes your wisdom. This is me period. Glad to know there are so many like us. I’m tired of being giving and unable to enjoy receiving.
    I will change now am sure.

  • Shannon

    September 22nd, 2015 at 2:44 AM

    This is exactly what I am going through right now. I’m 22 and am continuously thinking of my family’s happiness before mine. Every time I start to put myself first, I feel bad and guilty because I feel like I should also be helping my family be better and also feel like I’m missing out on quality time with them. The balance is so hard and so is my anxiety. I feel too young to feel this way. I should be living my life… Not worrying all the time about others :/

  • Eric S

    July 6th, 2011 at 4:44 AM

    @Ginger, girl you can’t go around feeling guilty about that!
    If you don’t take care of yourself then no one is going to do it for you!
    And what about the fact that this could actually be inspiring your husband and kids and could help get them on board to a healthier lifestyle too? Think about that. That is not being selfish at all.
    That is showing them a better way to live, and to hopefully live healthier and longer, all of you together!

  • Ally

    July 6th, 2011 at 6:55 AM

    I keep telling my mom to take care of herself.Between her home-based office and my grandparents and the entire family she hardly gives any time to herself and is constantly stressed.I am sharing this very well-timed article with her,thanks.

  • RR

    July 7th, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    I see a lot of older folk doin this.It’s a trait in them kind of.But I feel people born after the 70s are hardly like that.Isnt this true?has anyone else made this observation?

  • Valerie M.

    July 9th, 2011 at 6:19 PM

    Yvonne, I found myself nodding along so much there I thought my head would fall off. :) Not only do I put everyone else first and run around like a headless chicken but what’s worse and makes me feel worse is that I fail miserably at what I’m trying to achieve! The house is never tidy, dinner’s never on the table on time, and there’s always something I forgot to do that needed doing. I wouldn’t mind so much if it made life more harmonious.

    I work from home which apparently the family takes to mean I’m available 24/7 for anything that needs done and whenever they want to go out or chat or whatever. They don’t seem to realize that if I spend two hours doing mundane things with them I’ll be working for those two hours later that night. Then I get complaints that I’m up all night working! (My husband doesn’t keep well so I take on a lot of work in case he has to give up his job, which I see on the horizon before the end of the year. I live in fear of that happening and us having no income, so I do the best I can to bring in some money and take care of the home and family too.)

    Most nights I fall into bed exhausted and wake up feeling the same way. I’ve tried asking for help and it lasts a day or two then I’m back to square one. And they wonder why I get stressed and weepy some days. Being menopausal doesn’t help but mostly, I feel like my needs don’t matter. The only time anyone really helps is if I’m ill in bed with a migraine. I look at myself in the mirror and wonder where that fun person went I used to be. Somehow she slipped away in all the chaos.

    I guess though I’m my own worst enemy. This line really struck that home to me. “Do you often feel angry and used even though you choose to ignore yourself?” Yes I do and as you say it is a choice I’m making to ignore myself. I never really saw it as that before but it’s true. I’m going to make time for me and to heck with the rest of them. They are all big enough to fend for themselves and won’t starve or be deprived if I do. If they aren’t happy with things, they can pitch in more. Thanks Yvonne! I feel better already. :)

  • RobinL

    March 30th, 2017 at 10:33 AM

    I started to tear up reading your comment, Valerie. Especially about the reflection in the mirror…who is that woman? I don’t recognize her anymore. Thank you for sharing!

  • Yvonne Sinclair

    Yvonne Sinclair

    August 1st, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    Wow…you found it hard to implement this suggestion too. I have to pay attention and work on it myself. It does pay off to take care of yourself, in so many ways. You feel physically and emotionally better and can then be there for someone else. Get your spouse to take care of themselves now and what a package that will be. Thanks for your response. Yvonne

  • maru

    January 10th, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    I definitely am a caretaker..I’m still young and yearn to have fun but because of my mum being ill with a mental health problems I had to grow up pretty quickly. I’m ready to start enjoying life but the guilt can be immense as I’ve never had to consider myself before.

    Everything described is exactly how I feel. Wish I didn’t. Ive had counselling and it helps. Doubt I will change though. I care too much for other people

  • sherri502

    January 19th, 2015 at 4:36 PM

    Hello please live your life. Caretakers need to know they cannot sacrifice themselves entirely. Co dependency is something you could look into. I have gone to support group and it helped.

  • Berna

    March 30th, 2015 at 8:55 PM

    So sad and shocked to learn I was the caregiver of a control freak. Recently decided to break up the relationship. Now I am beggining to see the truth of my own behavior and how I nurtured the already abusive behavior of my girlfriend. I feel terribly sad, longing for her anyway and feeling deeply alone and empty.

  • Chama

    September 1st, 2015 at 10:01 PM

    @Berna I’m in a similar situation, the father of my two kids (one that is a newborn) and man I’ve been with for 10 years. I was enabling him to be a sociopath, abusive and an addict. I left when he got arrested and it’s the hardest thing trying to stop the feeling of wanting to be with him. But the only way for this to end well is to fix ourselves.

    To everyone else
    If you’re willing to give support or need it, please do send a reply! I wish I could do one of those support groups or counseling but with the baby and no transportation it’ll have to wait for now.

  • Laura

    December 7th, 2015 at 6:13 AM

    Hi.. It is certainly one of the hardest choices we make

  • Elly

    September 6th, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    I don’t care for myself, I’m just waiting until this is all over. I don’t love life, I don’t want it. I have no passions of joy. My only purpose is to make sure people around me are ok but I’m just existing until it all finishes. I hope it’s not too long in coming.

  • Jennifer

    September 6th, 2015 at 6:56 PM

    National suicide prevention lifeline is 800-273-8255.

  • GoodTherapy Admin

    GoodTherapy Admin

    September 6th, 2015 at 9:00 PM

    Thank you for your comment, Polly. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Chama

    September 7th, 2015 at 12:35 AM

    Don’t give up on trying to find happiness again. It’s easy to believe things can’t get better when you get lost.

  • Sharon

    January 28th, 2016 at 2:27 PM

    I may have missed it in the comments, but I’d like to point out that more men are becoming enlightened, but then subject more often to the role of caretaker, as women have traditionally been. I’ve known many male “caretakers” in my life, who often neglected their own needs to cater to a needy or demanding partner. They don’t necessarily do it the same way women tend to, but often succumb to the role of “rescuer”, especially with women who have severe emotional problems or less often, problems with addiction. The point is that men in this situation need help to get out of that type of codependent role and learn self-care. Sadly our society teaches men to ignore self-care in other, more dangerous ways than women, such as ignoring medical problems, avoiding doctors and taking risk behaviors, including staying in unhealthy relationships!

  • Leonora

    March 3rd, 2016 at 11:33 AM

    This is such an appropriate article in so many ways. I especially agree with Sharon’s comment about men as co-dependent caregivers. I have recently realized that a male family member has been in a codependent relationship for many years to a wife who has had physical and mental health issues, and I see so many symptoms of this situation in him. He is also in denial, and when I’ve gently brought up the subject of self care he refuses to accept that he needs to, or should do this. He believes compassion is to suffer with another, and not to do things to nurture oneself. It is very distressing to see him so empty and depressed, I am not sure what the best course of action would be to help him as anything I say seems like imposing advice onto him.

  • Disappointed and Frustrated

    May 24th, 2016 at 3:01 PM

    Why are some theapists so condependent. She insisted that I come back after my deciding that when made multiple mistakes over 3 sessions. Said to give her another chance. Not sure maybe that is business and not CODA. They are in business for so long they think they make no mistakes.

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