Codependency: Changing Beliefs and Behaviors, Part II

An iron gate opens onto a grassy scene.Before reviewing the behaviors we need to change in order to move past codependency, I want to address two beliefs I had inadvertently left out of the first article in this series, which discussed seven codependent beliefs that need to change.

Belief #8: We have to do everything perfectly.
It is ironic that I forgot that one, isn’t it? At least I practice what I preach. We do not have to be perfect and it is impossible. I always tell people that the perfect husband is in heaven with the perfect wife. Or the perfect parent is in heaven with the perfect child. Being imperfect is part of the human condition. When people ask me if there is something wrong with them, I usually reply, “There is something wrong with everybody.” Setting an unattainable goal is a guarantee of feeling inadequate.

Belief #9: It is not okay to ask for help.
Why is it okay for every other person on earth to ask for help and not you? Everyone needs help at times; it is not a weakness to ask for help, but a strength. It takes a lot of courage and humility to admit the need for help, to ask for it, and to follow through.

I know it is difficult and scary to let go of these beliefs. For many years we have thought that these beliefs helped us to survive. Remember, as an adult, they damage and sabotage our relationships. We deserve the opportunity to have healthy and fulfilling relationships. Many people with codependency have not yet experienced a healthy relationship. Some have never seen a successful long-term relationship up close. I promise you that they do exist and with some work and help you can have one.

Now that we have reviewed the beliefs that need to change, what are the behaviors that we need to work on?

Behavior #1: Take care of yourself.
When I ask people experiencing codependency what they do to take care of themselves, most say nothing. They often have never even thought about their own needs. People with codependency try so hard to please others, that they lose their own identity. Many have no idea how to even begin the process of self-care. Some find focusing on themselves to be scary. It can be scary in the beginning, but after a while it is exhilarating. If you have no idea where to start, begin by being nice to yourself. Treat yourself as you would a very dear friend. Try to improve your lifestyle by making it healthier. Get more rest, take the time to eat healthy, and try to incorporate some mild exercise into your life.

Behavior #2: Set boundaries in your relationships that are lopsided.
That means let other people know what you will no longer do for them, or what you will do, if their behavior is unacceptable to you. For example, you may tell a friend, spouse, lover, or child that you will no longer bail them out of financial trouble. Do not say these things to people unless you are prepared to follow through with them. I know this will be difficult, but you can do it with some help. Remember, some people will not like it. Since you have always taken care of them before, they may have developed a sense of entitlement. They will try to manipulate you, to make you feel that you have to take care of them. Many dysfunctional people are very adept at manipulating others to give them what they want. In the long run, it is not good for them, and it certainly isn’t good for you. By meeting their responsibilities for them, you unknowingly make it a little easier for them to remain dysfunctional.

Behavior #3: Let go of what you cannot control.
That is a lot easier said than done. I have been working on this for much of my adult life. I have learned that I have no control over other people, places, and things. None at all. I am not the boss of the world. Neither are you. If you try to control things that you cannot, you are going to make other people angry and yourself frustrated. Remember that none of us are so smart that we know what other people should do. It is such a feeling of relief to let go of what we cannot control. It frees up a lot of energy for more constructive pursuits. We no longer have to constantly argue with other adults, or constantly check up on them. Instead we can focus on ourselves.

Behavior #4: Stay out of situations that are not your responsibility.
People with codependency are good at finding troubled people and difficult situations. Troubled people and difficult situations are drawn to codependents. Before you automatically say yes or offer to help, slow down. Ask yourself if this is your responsibility. How would helping them affect you? Maybe it would be better for them to face the consequences of their choices or actions. It would probably be better for you to direct the time, energy, and resources to taking care of yourself. Proving to yourself that you can take care of yourself will give you more self-confidence. Having a good relationship with yourself will improve your relationships with others.

I know that working on these beliefs and behaviors is difficult. The rewards are more than worth it. I hope that you have some help outside of yourself. In my next article, Codependency Recovery and Managing Anxiety, Part I, I list some the sources of help available to you.

© Copyright 2011 by Joyce Henley, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, SAP, therapist in O Fallon, Missouri. 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.

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  • Deann

    Deann

    February 23rd, 2011 at 5:37 AM

    I strongly think that for many of us it is that lopsided relationship that gets us into so much trouble. We are constantly doing more for others than they would ever do for us and at the same time we are enabling them to continue on with whatever bad behavior we do not like but since we keep giving and giving this allows them to continue as well. The cycle has to stop and i know that this can feel like you are being mean but really it means that you are coming to respect yourself and that is so critical.

  • Marjorie

    Marjorie

    April 16th, 2018 at 11:31 AM

    I love what I just read and make a conscious decision today to change my codependent behavior which resulted from being married to an alcoholic for 39 years! It’s time!

  • A'lynn

    A'lynn

    February 23rd, 2011 at 10:06 AM

    I was overprotective of my teenage son until last year when I spoke to a friend who is also a counselor.He would rebel and this really scared me as a parent. She advised that I should learn to give him a little room and that he requires his freedom.

    So my son and I had an agreement. He could go anywhere as long as he informed me before hand and he should return within a pre-specified time. he is very open to me now and I know where he is what he is up to at all times. I have checked upon him a couple of times and all seems fine.

    one thing I have learnt from this is that if you try to control something too much it will just go out of control. What is needed is moderation and everything will be fine :)

  • Skyler

    Skyler

    October 7th, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    I never realized I was a codependent until I ended up in a relationship with someone who needed constant rescuing. Someone like this can threaten suicide and not mean it, cut you down and then build you up, also in need of constant advice about what they should do in any given situation. This is called an emotional vampire and is the worst kind for a codepenent. Thankfully with some help from a therapist I now have the tools needed to protect myself from a situation like this ever again. Realizing the problem is the very first step. This personality defect can be overcome!

  • Eric

    Eric

    October 24th, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    I am codependent and I am now realizing that this has been a problem for many years. Now that I am setting realistic boundaries, the ones that I thought I was helping, are now helpless and angry that I am setting these boundaries and seeing through with my decisions. It’s empowering and allows me to sleep well at night, worth clean hands and a clean heart.

  • Jessica

    Jessica

    October 24th, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    That’s great! I could relate to every one of the points in this article. I’m a recovering codependent woman who has struggled with boundaries. But I’m learning that being independent and taking care of myself are very helpful .

  • Wang (not real name)

    Wang (not real name)

    March 17th, 2015 at 6:23 AM

    I knew about codependency, but I never knew that it hit me hard.

    I have a brother who has bpd and npd, and tries to run our lives, but when we call him out on his leeching and life-running, he seems to be on the defensive and I have pent-up anger which I want to act out on.

    The problem is that, I can’t go no contact since we all are stuck in one home. I want to help my mom get out of that infernal house.

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