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. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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