Codependency: How to spot the signs and heal

Mahevash Shaikh 4 March 2022

Codependent relationships are usually a sign of low self-esteem and unhealed trauma coming home to roost—if you're stuck in one, here's how to move beyond it

Are you overly anxious to keep your partner happy? Do you usually put their needs above your own to avoid conflict? Does your self-esteem depend on their validation? If your answer to these questions is yes, you may be suffering from codependency. 

According to Robin Sutherns, a relationship expert at Mantelligence, “It is a relational dynamic where one is emotionally and psychologically reliant on the other to an unhealthy extent.” Here are some ways to help you stop being a codependent partner. 

  1. Get to the root of the matter

Understanding and accepting that you have a problem is a significant first step. But if you want to eradicate codependency, it is crucial to dig deep and find out why you have it. It is often due to a traumatic childhood experience, something whose memory you have suppressed as an adult. Beverly Engel, LMFT, psychotherapist, and author of The Emotionally Abusive Relationship, agrees.

“Most codependents have unfinished business from childhood, such as denial about emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. And then they get stuck in a cycle of reenacting childhood trauma in adulthood. It is crucial to take a clear-eyed view of your childhood and stop pretending it was normal. Only then can you begin to admit the truth to yourself and find healthy ways to release anger and other emotions.”

Your best bet is to take the help of a mental health professional. They will help you identify and work on trauma, triggers, and other mental health issues in a safe space.

  1. Build your self-esteem

Ensure that your self-esteem comes from within, not from the approval of your significant other. A healthy sense of self will empower you to stop saying yes when you want to say no. It will enable you to stop giving too much of yourself to sustain the relationship. It will also help you challenge and silence your inner critic. When you stop being your worst critic, you will gradually view yourself in a more positive light. 

Dr Isaac Tourgeman, PhD, a neuropsychologist and psychology professor at Albizu University, offers some helpful tips. “Simple steps such as spending time on forgotten hobbies help build self-esteem. Another thing to be tackled is self-criticism. A codependent person fixates on shortcomings and failures. Reciting daily positive affirmations that focus on your strengths and talents can help change the narrative.” 

  1. Focus on your needs and wants

Having an appealing schedule will help you focus on yourself instead of catering to the love of your life. You may struggle to think of your needs and wants because you are accustomed to people-pleasing. In this case, enlist the help of supportive friends and family. They can help you go back to old hobbies and rediscover new interests—none of which involve your partner.

Leanna Stockard, LMFT, Couple & Family Therapist at LifeStance Health, explains the importance of focusing on yourself. “I work with clients towards building an independent life. By engaging in this separation, you are not separating from the relationship. Instead, you are regaining sight of who you are. Doing so can help you get back in touch with yourself and be more authentic in the relationship.”

  1. Learn to validate yourself

Codependency compels a person to crave constant validation from their loved ones. Internal validation does not matter, nor does it exist. While everyone needs external validation from time to time, wanting it all the time is unhealthy. For codependents, not getting external validation affects their self-esteem. It can drive one to go to extreme lengths to get approval from another.

Stephanie Byrd, PsyD, Psychologist, and founder of bareWell, affirms the power of self-validation. “Finding ways to validate yourself can help you transition to an internal locus of control. Speak to yourself kindly and celebrate all your accomplishments as often as possible.”

  1. Identify if your partner is at fault

Since codependents are givers and narcissists are takers, they tend to find each other and couple up. It’s crucial to determine if the person you are with is a narcissist because if they are, they are enabling you. Since narcissists are self-centred and unempathetic, being with one will prevent you from getting better.

Even when you try to break free from unhealthy traits, they will manipulate you into making self-destructive choices. While it’s best to consult a mental health professional for a diagnosis, Tara Krueger, PsyD, Psychologist and National Director of Family Therapy Services at Newport Healthcare, talks about some crucial red flags. “You may recognise that your partner contributes to you having low self-esteem. If the relationship threatens your mental and/or physical health, it may be time to leave your partner. In a case such as this, it’s important that you prioritise your well-being and focus on healthy relationships” .

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