Codependency can have its roots in generations of dysfunctional relationships, passed on from parents to children. A narcissist, alcoholic mother who controls her daughter can raise a child with low self-esteem whose greatest desire is to please others. The daughter does not learn to develop herself, but rather, to try and get her mother’s approval, even if it results in behavior detrimental to the daughter. Eventually she learns a codependent pattern of behavior that is often self-defeating. When it comes time for the daughter to get married, she looks for a husband who will “need” her, and she falls into the familiar pattern she already knows.
If this example hits home in any way, think about this:
What would happen if you stopped pleasing this person?
Is the mere thought too much to bear? Do you absolutely have to have this person’s approval to exist on this earth? Would you be a worthless person undeserving of being loved?
No, no and no. Even though it may feel that way, you are better than that. It is time to stop letting someone else define you. It is time to start fulfilling yourself. It is time to stop suppressing your own needs and start putting yourself first for a change.
You can break the self-destructive chain of behavior.
It will take effort to change behavior that is handed down from one generation to another. With courage, you can do it for yourself and for your children. But you need to face up to the truth, however difficult. After all, a hallmark of codependency is a code of silence. It is understood that talking about the dysfunctional relationship is taboo. You must muster the strength to break this taboo and recognize the truth. Once you do, you can begin to pay attention to who you are and what you need in life.
1) Listen to yourself.
Not your mother. Not your significant other. You. Down deep. Take time to focus on the simple facts of you. How you like to spend your day. What you’d like to achieve. How you feel about life, love, work, everything. Develop your own interests, ones that you truly gravitate toward.
2) Learn to say no.
There is nothing wrong with saying yes. There is nothing wrong with pleasing people. But when you do it to your own detriment, when you sacrifice yourself because someone else is manipulating you, stop. Say no. The world will not implode. And you will change the dynamic of your relationship for the better.
3) Please yourself.
The fact is, when you try to please someone else all the time, you will fail at some point or another. It is simply too much of a burden to be responsible for someone else’s happiness or success. You can only be responsible for your own. That is why you must do what you think is best for yourself. Your approval of yourself is most important—others’ approval can be capricious at best.
4) Admit your dysfunction.
You don’t need to tell the world, but admit to yourself that you’ve been in a dysfunctional relationship. Understand that it’s been a nice ride for the person who’s been using you, and he probably won’t want to give it up without a fight. Know that you’ll face his rejection, displeasure, or worse. You’ll want to avoid this short-term unpleasantness, but don’t. You will gain in the long-term.
5) Cut yourself some slack.
It will take time to grow and develop on your own. You’ll feel at loose ends without someone else to make happy. Understand that you need to forgive yourself and the other person and go forward with your life. Know that it will be difficult at times, and you may slide back into comfortable, familiar patterns. But have the courage and fortitude to fight back to your authentic self. After all, it’s your life.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.