Learn / Codependency Treatment: Healing Your Relationship With Yourself and Others
Codependency is born out of good intentions. It’s easy to miss the signs of this condition, because you might think your behavior is loving. But love isn’t always healthy. And when you take full responsibility for your loved ones’ problems, things can get out of hand. If you’re ignoring your own needs in order to please and care for other people, you might be codependent.
It may feel like the world will crumble if you ever put yourself first. But actually, the opposite is true. You can—and should—put on your own oxygen mask first. By prioritizing yourself, you avoid building resentment. And, you can respond to problems with a level head.
The idea of letting go can be daunting. You might worry about how your loved ones will get along without your constant support. Those feelings are valid. And the process of working through them is the process of healing from codependency.
Try to be compassionate with yourself. Breaking old patterns isn’t easy. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay. And remember that, just like your loved ones, you’re allowed to get support.
Everyone deserves care.
Codependency is a valid issue that has a serious impact on your well-being. It can be very challenging to recognize and undo—and if this is the case for you, intensive treatment can be helpful. Fortunately, that’s widely available. You can even attend a rehab center that treats codependency.
Let’s dive into what this looks like and how you can go about finding help to heal.
Technically, codependency isn’t a mental health diagnosis.1 Instead, researchers call it a “psychosocial condition.” It’s characterized by an extreme focus on other people, and a lack of emotional openness. People with codependency get a feeling of purpose from their relationships—and not from a strong sense of self.
The idea of codependency is controversial. Some feminists argue that “codependent” is a sexist term.2 And some find the term itself acceptable, but think codependency is only possible because of sexism. Other experts argue that this concept is too vague to be actionable. But it can still be a helpful framework for recovery. Learning about codependency helps many people begin the healing process.
In a recent study, participants said that codependency felt real and tangible.3 This new perspective helped them understand a lifetime of emotional problems. “It explains everything,” one person said.
It’s important to note that people, and not only relationships, can be codependent. Recovering from this condition means healing yourself as an individual. It can be empowering to admit that you have this quality, instead of blaming it on a relationship. This lets you take responsibility for your role in a relationship dynamic. And once you take responsibility for your behavior, you can begin recovery.
The participants in the study all described feeling like chameleons. They felt such a strong need to blend in, they’d change themselves to fit into various situations. This came from a desire to feel liked, accepted, and more confident.
Participants also struggled in relationships. They needed acceptance so much, they stayed in relationships that weren’t working. Many of them felt they’d taken on more passive roles in which they felt powerless.
Participants often felt they lived in extremes. They’d work too much or too little. They’d swing between excessive self-care and total self-deprivation. They found it difficult to find a happy medium, and struggled to regulate their emotions. Peace and quiet felt boring. According to one participant, “In order to relax I have to burn out almost, I don’t know how to just relax, ‘cause I somehow have to go to the extremes.”
The study found that all participants had difficult childhoods. They lacked support from their parents, who were either physically or emotionally absent. As a result, participants felt both controlled and abandoned.
This data aligns with that of other studies. There is a well-documented link between childhood trauma and codependency in adulthood.4 But with the right treatment, you can learn to build sustainable relationships.
Healing from codependency can be joyful. This is the process of getting to know yourself. As you learn how to prioritize your own needs, you’ll get better at saying no. And when you’re protected by healthy boundaries, you can learn how to love yourself. That process not only improves your life; it also improves your relationships. The idea of stepping back from people you love might be scary at first. But eventually, it becomes liberating.
When you first start recovery, it’s important to take time and space away from your relationships. This lets you reset, and get to know yourself in a new context. Who are you without your partner, or your friends, or your boss? There is an answer to that question. And for some people, inpatient rehab is the right place to find it.
During your time there, you might engage in one or more of these treatments:
In 1:1 therapy, you’ll reconnect with yourself. You may start by talking about your relationships, and your role as a caretaker. But over time, your counselor will also help you process your emotions. This is an essential part of healing from codependency.
You might try more than one type of talk therapy during rehab. For example, some people benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for codependency. This treatment teaches you new coping strategies, and can help restore your sense of self. Your therapist will teach you how to respond to your own negative thought patterns. These habits can help you improve communication with other people.
In any form of therapy, you’ll learn to separate your sense of empathy from your own feelings. This can help you recognize the difference between your needs and your loved ones’ needs. With that awareness, you can choose when to help other people, and when to focus on yourself. And it’s healthy to strike a balance! You don’t need to control every situation. In fact, most of the time, it’s better to let go.
Codependency doesn’t just affect you; it also affects your relationships. It’s important to start recovery with 1:1 therapy. That way, you’ll build a stronger sense of self before you expend any more energy on other people. But in time, you can involve your family members in the recovery process.
In family or couples therapy, you and your loved ones can process what you’ve been through together. But you won’t just talk about the past. You’ll also start to establish healthy boundaries, and make plans for the future.
Family therapy is more than a way to heal relationships; it can also help you heal as an individual. Studies show that support from relatives is just as helpful as treatment from a therapist.5 One study even found that communication family therapy (CFT) lowered codependency scores6 significantly.
However, know that sometimes, these relationships may be beyond repair. If that’s the case, you can take everything you learn from therapy and work on that in your new relationships.
It can be extremely helpful to connect with peers who share your experience. They may be able to offer you insight and social support. And, this is a way for you to build new relationships in a safe, structured context. Think of this as a way to practice your interpersonal skills, without the pressure of caring for a loved one who needs help.
In the 1940s, the term “codependent” was used to describe the spouses of people with alcohol addictions.3 Since then, this definition has grown. Today, “codependency” describes dysfunctional relationships between partners, family members, and even friends. In a codependent dynamic, one person sacrifices their needs and sense of self for the other person.
It’s common for people with addicted loved ones to be codependent. You may feel at home in that dynamic because of your codependency issues. Or you might become codependent because of a relationship. Either way, you may feel obligated to take responsibility for a loved one who’s struggling.
Despite your good intentions, too much generosity can be toxic. If you try to control their behavior, you’ll risk hurting them, your relationship, and yourself. According to one study, people with a higher codependency score had a harder time maintaining healthy relationships.1 They reported issues with communication, setting and respecting boundaries, and expressing their feelings.
Codependency is associated with negative beliefs about relationships. But you might still get your sense of self from the very relationships you devalue. This can become a vicious cycle, and interfere with your sense of well-being.
Some experts believe codependency is an addiction to relationships.8 And it follows similar patterns to other addictions. You crave the other person like a drug, and prioritize time with them over your other needs. Over time, the relationship gets less satisfying, but you may not know how to get help.
The goal of recovery is more than fixing any single relationship. With the right treatment, you’ll learn to recognize your own needs, and walk away from dynamics that harm you. And even before you attend rehab, you can start learning about codependency on your own terms.
There are many resources that can help you understand codependency. This information is no substitute for formal treatment, but it can help you plan for recovery.
The process of recovering from codependency is empowering. You’ll learn what it means to love yourself, and how to meet your own needs in a healthy way. And that with those skills as a foundation, you’ll be able to build stronger relationships. You may even get better at caring for other people, since you’ll know how to respect their boundaries. Best of all, that care will stop feeling like a burden. Instead, you’ll find new ways to appreciate the people around you—and yourself.
You deserve support, too. Learn more about treatment at these rehab centers for codependency, including pricing and insurance information, housing options, and which types of therapy are available.
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