Codependency: Changing Beliefs and Behaviors, Part I

Woman and man study one another in the mirrorIn my previous article, What Is Codependency? An Introduction, I covered what codependency is and how it develops. Now, where do you start your healing process? It involves changing some lifelong beliefs and behaviors.

Belief #1: I am responsible for everybody and everything.
No, you are not. You are responsible for yourself, your feelings, your choices and taking care of yourself. You have a responsibility to your children, but you do not have much control over what they do. You can encourage their good behaviors and discourage their negative ones. Accepting your powerlessness over others will give you a tremendous sense of relief. You no longer have the whole world on your shoulders. You can free up your energy to focus on what you can control. You can control your own recovery.

Belief #2: I can fix other adults, if I just care about them enough.
Really, we are not that powerful. If we try to control other people, we will fail. We will frustrate ourselves and alienate others. We may even push them further away from what we think they should do. Suppose we are concerned about a loved one’s addiction. We cannot convince them to seek help. The only thing that will persuade them to seek help is the consequences of their addiction. All we can do is step aside and allow them to experience the natural consequences. Suppose we love somebody and we are fearful that they will leave us for someone else. We may think that if we are hypervigilant enough that we will prevent this. In fact, we will alienate them and may push them away before they ever think about leaving. Whether it is your partner, spouse, child, boss, co-worker, sibling, or friend who is annoying, upsetting, or worrying you, you have no control over them.

Belief #3: I cannot ever trust another person; they might hurt me, and I won’t survive.
The fact is that there are people in the world who are capable of commitment. Intimate relationships do involve an element of risk of abandonment. However, we can learn to be honest about how we feel and who we are. Then, if the other person does leave us, we haven’t really lost anything—we still have ourselves. We will be free to find someone who deserves us. Anyone who survives a relationship with a dysfunctional person is a survivor.

Belief #4: My needs are not important, and I should not spend time taking care of myself.
No, you are important. Your first responsibility is to yourself. You can’t take care of anybody else if you don’t take care of you. Tell yourself every day that you are important and deserve to have your needs met. Do you have any idea what they are? If so, make a list, and try to meet them. Treat yourself like your own very best friend. Please be nice to yourself. If you have no idea, start with the basics. Eat good healthy food, get some moderate exercise, rest, and try to do something that you enjoy. If you have read my blog articles on managing anxiety, Codependency Recovery and Managing Anxiety, Part I, there are many good ideas for self-care.

Belief#5: When I see that others need help, I have to help them.
Is it within your power to help them? Do you have the resources? Is it your responsibility to help them? Is this something that they are capable of doing for themselves? When we do something for others that they can do for themselves, we actually weaken them. What else would you be doing instead of helping them. Remember the three Cs: You did not cause it. You cannot control it. You cannot cure it.

Belief #6: I am not a worthwhile person.
You have an intrinsic value as an individual. This is separate from what you accomplish and what you do for others. When you treat yourself with love, as you would your own best friend, you will begin to feel better about yourself.

Belief #7: It is not okay to express negative feelings in my relationships.  I am afraid if I do there will be an explosion.
It is okay and important to express your feelings in relationships. If you avoid doing so, there will be barriers and resentments between you and others. You can learn to express your feelings in a tactful way, so that others may hear you and not feel defensive. I will teach you how in the next article Codependency: Changing Beliefs and Behaviors, Part II.

© Copyright 2011 by Joyce Henley, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, SAP. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Tracy

    January 25th, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    Wow this is great! i definitely buy into some of these bad thought patterns. I’m going to print this and re read it. I want to change.

  • sharman b

    January 25th, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    as I can see it,these kind of feelings an beliefs do not come happens due to what a person is facing in his or her life,due to the conditions and people around.and whenthese feelings and beliefs donset in slowly,it can become difficult to throw them out.not too many people are capable of doing this and I just think professional help is the way to go if a person is saying “I have this belief too” to the ones mentioned here!

  • eva

    January 25th, 2011 at 8:18 PM

    I love this post so much because i learned from it a lot for free….after reading this i learn how to appreciate myself more. thanks…

  • Ernie

    January 25th, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    You can’t let negative emotions stew. It’ll just keep getting worse until you explode. You need to tell someone when you feel bad, and if a friend tells you they feel bad, do them a favor and listen to them. Don’t blow them off.

  • Cindy

    January 25th, 2011 at 11:31 PM

    It’s a good thing to help others but you can’t help absolutely everyone all the time. There’s a difference between attempting to help a drug addict that refuses to accept treatment or that they have a problem, and helping a child who cuts their finger and needs a bandaid. If you don’t know how to do it properly, you’ll probably waste your time or make things worse.

  • steve

    January 26th, 2011 at 5:37 AM

    I love this article because currently my son is in karate and these are the things that his teacher is always railing against. He is trying to instill positive self image and worth at a very early age in all of his students and to show them the healthy ways to take care of themselves.

  • Faith

    January 26th, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    Even if you try to help everyone, there will always be someone, somewhere who will be a huge butthead and call you selfish for not helping a specific person or group, and instead choosing to help someone else. I find that these people are often guilty of not helping the same person or group that they profess to be so keen on themselves. Somehow they just can’t find the time…

  • Benjamin

    January 26th, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    Thank you Joyce for this article. I am very interested in how CBT can help people with their day to day lives. Nice work here.

  • Brent

    January 26th, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    How therapists manage to keep a professional distance and not allow themselves to be affected by the stories they hear from the broken every day is amazing. It’s such a giving profession filled with compassionate, caring men and women that have devoted their lives to healing through therapy. I don’t think I could do it and remain “up”.

  • Caroline

    January 26th, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    That was a good article. Don’t kid yourself, folks. You’re neither a martyr nor a hero if you put another person’s needs at an infinitely higher priority than yours. You’re being silly. There’s no point in helping someone if you wind up needing help yourself in the process.

  • Victoria L.

    January 27th, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    Even if you want to give people your time to help them, it’s important to take care of yourself first. You can’t help someone very much if you yourself are out of sorts. It’s not selfish to do so either because you’re then in much better shape to be of real assistance. We think too much about giving to everybody else before we give to ourselves first. It should be the other way around.

  • ryan

    January 28th, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Curing people with care only works in fairy tales. It’s like praying or having lucky charms on your keyring. It gives some people a bit of a pick-me-up and keeps their spirits up, but that’s where that ends. People with physical problems need actual physical help from professionals who know what they’re doing.

  • Desiree

    October 22nd, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    Dear Ryan,
    Thank you for taking the time to read the article, comment, & share. I’d like to give you the opportunity to see what my Pastor shared with me.
    Romans 3:23
    Romans 5:8
    Romans 10:9-10
    Romans 10:13
    John 3:18

  • Cherie

    January 28th, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    If you do want to help a friend or loved one and you don’t have the skills yourself, the next best thing you can do is to find out who can and let them know what support is available. But most importantly, you should ask them first if they want help from you. Being pushy about it if they don’t want it could end the relationship rather than improve it. They need to want the help, not have it foisted upon them.

  • Katherine

    January 28th, 2011 at 7:38 PM

    Breakups hurt, but the population of the world is in the billions. You’ll find another love. If you’re scared of being hurt by your girlfriend or boyfriend breaking up with you, welcome to the human race. That’s the chance you take when you fall in love! We become more vulnerable. It’s much better than being lonely forever, is it not? :)

  • Arlene

    January 29th, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    If they genuinely don’t like you anymore and want to get out of the relationship, breaking down into tears in front of them and begging them to stay is extremely selfish and manipulative as far as I’m concerned. If you love somebody, set them free as Sting once sang.

  • Gary

    January 30th, 2011 at 5:56 PM

    Not everyone is out to get you. You can think that if you want and while it’s true of some people, the vast majority of us have no enemies who wish us serious harm. I have run across people I dislike, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to ruin their lives.

  • Eve

    February 1st, 2011 at 8:20 PM

    If you’re in a relationship where you’re scared to admit your feelings, leave it. That’s not a relationship. Easy to accept when you can stand to hear the truth.

  • Caleb

    February 3rd, 2011 at 11:33 PM

    Some people who feel worthless are just in situations where they -are- worthless. Like me for example, put me at the helm of a ship, I’m worthless. Want me to fix your computer? You will sing my praises. If you’re bad at something, find something else to do and if you don’t know what that is, keep at it until you find what you’re good at.

  • tasha

    February 5th, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    Last time I tried to be responsible for everything, I burnt dinner because I forgot about it while cleaning the yard. That can happen as well if you try to help too many people all at once. You simply do not have the time nor the ability to help everyone and take care of your day to day routine.

  • Joyce McLeod Henley

    February 14th, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    Wow! There are so many excellent comments, I don’t know where to begin. So much good advice about dealing with relationships. I understand that they are hard, and they are not supposed to be easy. I also know that if you grew up in a dysfunctional household, you spent alot of time learning to believe the above myths and you won’t disbelieve them overnight. There is so much help out there. If you read my second article, it lists some of the sources.
    Thank you all so much for writing.

  • anon

    February 4th, 2012 at 5:56 AM

    One important thing I got out of this article is that it is a bad idea to ask friends or family for emotional support. (Which is something I knew already, but your article confirmed it.)

  • Amy

    October 24th, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    So many people struggle with these issues and with having clear boundaries. This was a concise, clear explanation. Thank you! I will be showing this to some of my clients, colleagues & friends.

  • Bonnie

    October 21st, 2014 at 6:17 PM

    Thank you for posting this. I have come a long way and I am grateful of the lessons I’ve learned. I know My worth. Finally got the relatipnship thing right – chose a healthy one however i still areas of mprovement in my work. Many of the people I care for have some early stage if dementia. Dealing with a aging parent as well. I must remember #1 and 2. I really can’t fix everybody and everything. They still get to chose the life they want to live. That’s the hard part for me. Letting go with love when I
    believe I can make it better. Maybe I can but if they don’t want it, I need to save that gift for somewhere that it can truly help someone. otherwise it is a control issue and i will burn out. Been there done that and have the T shirt and scar to prove it.

  • paula

    October 21st, 2014 at 11:38 PM

    I am guilty of all of the above thoughts, but when you automatically think this way its really hard to stop :(

  • Rachel

    August 29th, 2015 at 8:07 PM

    Does anyone really have these beliefs as stated? This sounds like a caricature of my real problems. I appreciate the effort to be helpful, but a more realistic, empathetic approach would have helped me more.

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