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Codependency Workbook Exercise Four: Take Care of Yourself

Healthy life freeway exit sign

If you are reading this, you probably have worked on Codependency Workbook Exercise Three. Please remember to pat yourself on the back for that; it is an exercise that few complete. Setting boundaries often is a lifetime activity. It does get easier as time goes by. However, there is a saying: “Under stress, regress.” You may find that when under stress you become more vulnerable with dysfunctional people.

This fourth codependency workbook exercise is like the icing on the cake. It is why I enjoy working with people who are codependents so much. It is delightful to be their supportive companion while they learn about how awesome they really are. Many people have been so beaten down emotionally that they have no idea of all their strengths.

The first step is to begin taking care of yourself.

Yes, you do matter, and you have the right to identify your needs and address them. Now that you have stopped trying to take care of everybody else, you will have the time and energy to care for yourself. It reminds me of what flight attendants always tell passengers. They say that if there is a sudden change in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will automatically come down. If you are traveling with small children, you are supposed to fasten your own mask first and then help others with theirs. If you pass out, you will not be able to help anybody else.

How do we go about taking care of ourselves?

First things first. When was the last time you saw your physician? Most of us need an annual checkup, even if there are no obvious problems. I often see codependent persons who have diabetes, high cholesterol, or other serious conditions, but are not taking care of themselves.  Instead, they may be concerned with someone else’s drinking or other problems. I hope I don’t sound too preachy about all this. My point is that you are valuable and deserving of being taken care of, and that can start with good physical healthcare.

Once you are taking care of your own health, the next step is to look at your diet.

Do you eat healthfully most of the time? Do you know what you are supposed to eat to be healthy? If so, I hope you will begin eating healthfully. It is certainly time-consuming to have fruits and vegetables around. If you don’t know what eating healthfully is, check out Weight Watchers—but not necessarily for weight loss. Its diet teaches a lot about eating right and good nutrition.

Please don’t try to do it all at once. Set a small goal. You might decide to start drinking more water. A realistic goal is to add two glasses per day. Once you are successful, you may decide to add fruit each day. Remember, you don’t have to do it perfectly. Just try to move in the right direction.

After diet, look at exercise.

Do you get any physical exercise? If you do, that’s wonderful. If not, is there any sport or activity that you enjoy? A simple thing to do is to walk. It doesn’t have to be a marathon. Twenty minutes three times a week is a minimum for good cardiovascular health. Again, you can start small. If you have never exercised, start with 10 minutes a day and gradually increase. An added benefit is that you will feel more relaxed. It is also something that you can control; you can decide to walk and just do it. Regular exercise will require setting some boundaries with others. For more on caring for your health, check out my GoodTherapy.org article about managing anxiety.

You will find that as you begin taking care of yourself, you’ll begin to feel better. Try to treat yourself the way you would a valued friend. Be nice to yourself. You deserve it!

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Joyce McLeod Henley, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, SAP, Codependency Topic Expert Contributor

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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • ERIC

    September 19th, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    What some people do when they are codependents is they completely ignore themselves and their own needs and this will no doubt have an effect on their ability to remain a codependent.What happens then?Well it pushes the person further down because now they see that they are not as good a codependent as they used to be!This is a vicious cycle that can be fixed easily but only before its too late!

  • steve h

    September 20th, 2012 at 3:57 AM

    We see more evidence every single day that so many things that we have always thought of as being separate from one another (mental health, physical health) are really very closely tied in together. So the reality is that when you take care of one, you are taking care of the other.

  • Joyce

    September 20th, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. .I hope that you are being nice to yourselves today and taking a little time for your own needs.

  • Lora

    September 20th, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    Can you please tell me where I might find the first three entries in this series? Thanks!

  • Darlene Lancer, MFT

    September 20th, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    Denial is a core trait of codependents. They deny reality, they deny their feelings and pain, and they deny their needs. many take care of their physical needs, but especially deny their emotional and spiritual needs, including needs for affection, understanding, inspiration, support, and nurturing. “Codependency for Dummies” lists over 60. It lays out a clear explanation of codependency with a complete self-help plan for healing.

  • RON

    September 20th, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    Growing up I saw my mom ignore her own health issues while taking care of and worrying about my alcoholic father.She had hypertension and diabetes and i certainly think she would have better cared for herself and loved at least a decade more had it not been for all the worry and agony that came from my father.

    People concerned and worried about others often forget to look after themselves and it often becomes the oxygen masks story.Sad but true.

  • Nancy tollison

    September 21st, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    I am the kind of person who, when I want to go for it, then I want to go for it in a big way, you know? I jump in feet first and full steam ahead, and I think that for me this is the only way that real life changes are going to work. When I wanted to get healthy, I stopped smoking, started exercising and started to try to eat better all on the same day. Talk about a tough emotional and physical period for me. But I knew that if I did not do it all at one time, I would never be motivated to give anything else a try if I failed with the first step. So here I am two years later happier and healthier than ever before! This may not be the right path for others who are intent on making some very big changes in their lives but this is the path that worked best for me.

  • Ella

    September 22nd, 2012 at 5:19 AM

    This is exercise 4

    Most of us are going to have to go back and refresh on the first three steps before you have the ability to truly focus on taking care of yourself.

    the other work has to be completed in a positive way before you will have the ability to know that you are just as important as the other people in your life and that you have to stay healthy yourself for everything else in your life to move more smoothly.

  • brenda

    September 22nd, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    read through your third and fourth exercise and although these things seem tough and by no means easy they definitely do point in the right direction for codependents.

    also,I have a question-is it possible to be a codependent to someone even though they are not really affected (addicted) themselves?like someone who always treats you like a shoulder to cry on and you are just so carried away by the relationship that you turn into something of a codependent.Is this possible?

  • Hurt to the core

    September 22nd, 2012 at 7:07 PM

    Brenda, I am very eager to hear an answer to your last question. I think this is me…being so attached to my husband, I cannot see anything else. I forgive him every misstep. Yet he continues to hurt my heart, even having an affair finally…

  • Kurtis

    September 22nd, 2012 at 11:59 PM

    ^^I read your other comments here and I’m very sorry about what happened.Although we do forgive our loved ones for what they do out of love and sometimes maybe because we want to save our relationship with them,sometimes we need to ask ourselves if what we are doing is really going to work in the long term or if it (or the person)is even worth everything we are putting in.

    Being cheated on is no easy thing and I have been there before.Emotional cheating is a different word than the usual cheating but I believe it hurts you even more than what just an affair would entail.After all,there is much more to a relationship and marriage than just the sex.It is the emotions and feelings and everything else that could well be said to be more valuable than even sex.

    SO I think you really need to have an open discussion with your husband regarding this.You said he did not want her the day after you found out. Ask yourself(and him) if this was a genuine response or just a oh-I-was-caught-so-I-need-to-say-this response. Also you mention your husband contacted her even after he said he wants to be with you. I am sorry but that is just not right. Have a chat with him, see a counselor together, do whatever you think is right. But at the same time please remember – Be a lover, not a fool in love, there are many people who do not deserve so much and putting your love,energy,emotions and effort into someone who is not worth it will only leave you scarred for a long time. All the very best.

  • louis

    September 23rd, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    when someone who is leading a healthy,problem-free life needs all the periodic health checkups and regular care taking for health,it is only obvious that someone always working towards something for someone else(a role that has proven to have psychological drawbacks) definitely needs extra special care and who better to do that than the codependent himself! after all,looking after yourself couldn’t be tougher than managing someone with an addiction or major issue!

  • Elliott

    September 24th, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    This point, however, cannot be overlooked.
    The true fact of the matter is that many people fail to take care of themselves because they are lacking the resources and the money to do so.
    I realize that this is not always just about money, I think that all of us know that.
    But what may be a routine exam for me might equate to a luxury that someone else can’t afford to do because they are instead trying to pay the bills.
    Many of us don’t have to face this kind of choice but that does not mean that we should forget the fact that many of us do.
    Shouldn’t that outrage us far more than the issues of the day that always get all of the attention?

  • Charlene

    April 15th, 2015 at 8:53 PM

    Thank you! You hit it right on the head!! I’m struggling a bit but money is also an issue. Thank you for your insight:)

  • rene

    September 24th, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    its weird how someone who is struggling with the problems of another is is sometimes taking care of them and being the shoulder to lean on can be ignorant about their own needs…are we not capable of handling the needs of another person and ourselves at the same time?why does this happen?

  • SusanH

    September 25th, 2012 at 5:47 AM

    I have got to go back and start from the beginning because I have a very hard time rationalizing that it is okay for me to take time out of my day to take care of myself when my family needs me and there are so many other things going on in my life that need to be handled too. I know that without keeping my own mind and body healthy that I can’t be of much use, but it is still quite the struggle that I have to tell myself that I am not being selfish by needing to take care of me too.

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