Codependency is one of those words that’s thrown around so often and in so many contexts, that it seems to mean everything and nothing at all. We know codependent relationships are dysfunctional, but it seems that “codependent” has now become a synonym for “unhealthy relationship.” There are lots of kinds of unhealthy relationships; codependency is one of them.
In a healthy relationship, both partners depend on each other. That mutual dependence makes both people feel safe, and that sense of security nurtures their resourcefulness and resilience. Your partner celebrates the strength and independence in you, and you celebrate it in them.
In a codependent relationship, two people surrender their independence and instead develop an unhealthy dependence on each other that doesn’t allow either person to grow. One partner is so obsessed with the needs of the other that they ignore their own needs.
Codependents lose themselves in the life of another person. They depend on getting approval from their partner for their very identity. They derive their sense of purpose from making sacrifices to fulfill the needs of another. They are obsessed with taking care of a significant other.
This obsession stems from their frantic need to be in a relationship, and a constant fear of not being able to control the relationship. Making the other person totally dependent on them creates the illusion that they are in control: This person can never leave me, because I do everything for them. Sadly, that means they are trying to find happiness and fulfillment by propping up someone else—someone who is not propping them up.
You know you’re in a codependent relationship when you’re filled with fear that you’ll be abandoned, rejected, or that the relationship won’t last. You’re hyper-vigilant for signs your relationship is in trouble. You somehow believe that by sacrificing everything for your partner, you can control how the relationship will progress. But this leads to an inauthentic relationship in which neither person is truly nurtured and nobody gets what they need.
Codependents seek someone to nurture them the way their parents never did, but because of their fear, they attract self-centered partners. So they are setting themselves up for failure right from the start. Codependency may feel stable in the moment, but it’s not where true security lies.
There is no dignity in a codependent relationship, where both partners are unable to disengage when it’s obvious the relationship is no longer working. The codependency dance is a dance of fear, insecurity, shame, and resentment.
Your partner can never give you everything you didn’t get as a child, because your childhood is in the past. It’s important to acknowledge the neglect or abandonment, but at the same time to let go of that child-like part of yourself. Think about accepting and healing those early wounds, rather than using them as motivation to seek or stay in an unhealthy relationship.
The goal is to not make someone so dependent on you that they’ll never be able to leave. The goal is to seek an open, honest, and compassionate relationship with healthy boundaries where both people take care of their own needs and the needs of their partner.
Becoming a healthy adult means learning to let go of all the toxic lessons from your childhood and living independently so that you can one day live interdependently. You need to teach yourself to honor your own values and let the desperation go; when you know your own worth, you’re more able to be autonomous and less vulnerable to falling into a codependent relationship.
Releasing codependency is all about unearthing the authentic self that has been shrouded in shame and fear. By releasing those old wounds, you release the need to control others—and their ability to control you.
Positive affirmations can really help with this process. Affirmations are statements that describe the good things you want to happen in your life. You frame them as a positive statement that is already happening now. Then you repeat them over and over.
They’re effective because the stories you tell yourself (consciously or unconsciously) are the truths you believe in. Positive affirmations are a tool to consciously change the way you think about yourself and your life. That’s because the way you describe something has a huge effect on how you experience it.
These positive affirmations can help you feel powerful and worthy enough to begin to let go. Try them for yourself, and start the process.
- When I stop controlling, the only thing I lose is fear.
- I am more powerful than anything that frightens me.
- I am not my past.
- I let go of my past and am free to live positively in the present.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She helps singles navigate the dating process to find the love of their lives. Take her quiz to find out if you’re a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. She is also the author of “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie:Kicking your Obsession”. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, and is a sought after online dating and relationship coach. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.