There’s a saying that claims, “You cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” It encourages people to practice self-care instead of focusing their energies on others’ needs and wants. It’s the fancy way of advising people to put on their oxygen masks before helping others. But for a codependent person, the advice goes against the way they think relationships should function.
A codependent person feels like they have to give everything they have (and then some) to others to have value. If they aren’t running themselves ragged trying to help others, they feel like their lives aren’t worthwhile. Breaking the cycle of codependency is challenging because it feels like such a big part of who you are. But you’ll be emotionally healthier and happier if you do.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition. It doesn’t allow space for a mutually beneficial relationship. The codependent person gives all of their time and energy to another person or other people — their partner, friends, or family members. Often, they receive little if anything in return for their unyielding dedication.
A codependent person feels worthless unless they’re needed and making sacrifices for another person. They may lose their identity, interests, or personal values outside their codependent relationship.
Signs of codependency include:
- Staying in a relationship, even if you know the other person causes you mental, emotional, or physical pain
- Constant anxiety about a relationship because you always want to make the other person happy
- Feeling little or no satisfaction in life outside of doing things for others
- Feeling guilty
- An unwillingness to express personal needs or desires
If you or someone you love show signs of codependency, you can break the cycle. It takes an understanding of the emotions and where they originated and the willingness to combat them.
What Causes Codependency?
Codependency is a learned behavior, which, like addiction, stems from a traumatic and challenging past. Codependency often occurs when people grow up in dysfunctional families.
Dysfunctional families are:
- Refuse outside support
- Deny that the family has issues
- Physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive
- Place unrealistic expectations on children
Many codependent people learned that their needs were less important than a parent’s or caregiver’s. They may have had to forego thinking of themselves to focus on their parent’s needs or desires. Parents may even have told them that they were greedy or selfish for wanting anything for themselves.
If someone in the household was physically or mentally ill, the codependent person’s sense of self-worth formed around someone else’s need for them. They learned to take care of this other person before themselves.
Another common factor in those who are codependent is coming from an abusive home or relationship. These emotional, physical, or sexual abuse scars can cause issues that last long into the future.
Learning how to repress their feelings to defend themselves against pain is how codependent people cope. This learned behavior results in caring about others more than themselves because that’s how they survived in the past.
What is the Cycle of Codependency?
The cycle of codependency is a series of events that feeds a codependent person’s need to be needed. These happen to a codependent person because of their understanding of attachment, the emotional bond with others.
Characteristics of the cycle of codependency include:
- Craving Connection. Feelings of not being good enough have permeated the person’s life. They crave validation and connection from an outside source. They seek someone emotionally unavailable. That insecure attachment feels familiar, and they go to extremes to try and create a relationship.
- They Need to Be Needed. When seeking a connection with someone, they find people who need their support, time, and attention. They lose themselves in this unhealthy attachment because they feel validated by someone else’s desire.
- Experiencing Pain or Rejection. Codependent people who aren’t capable of connection. They may also find themselves in relationships with people who use them when they need things, leaving them feeling rejected when they no longer need their help to function.
- Pleasing the Partner to Maintain Connection. Relationships of all kinds have conflict. A codependent person will try to repair or maintain the connection anyway because they tie their worth to their partner’s happiness.
The Relationship Between Codependency and Addiction
Codependent people act as enablers to those with addiction. They excuse the addict’s behaviors because the illness means they’ll always be needed. And attach their value to the caregiving they provide for their partner, whose addiction means they need ongoing care. They attribute the addicted partner’s successes and failures to their self-worth.
Setting boundaries is a challenge for a codependent person. They rationalize their partner’s destructive behaviors, which can encourage a partner with addiction to continue their habits.
Keys to Breaking the Cycle of Codependency
Codependent people may believe that their altruistic behavior is in their nature and helpful to other people. And it may be beneficial to people, especially those who choose to take advantage of them. But it is not mentally healthy for the codependent person.
If the cycle of codependency resonates with you, you can break the habit by taking small steps toward separation from your self-worth and someone else’s choices.
Keys to stopping codependency include:
- Nurture a Loving Relationship with Yourself. The relationship you have with yourself is the most important one in your life. Try small self-worth-building activities every day. Try a hobby, self-care, or spending time with friends outside of your codependent relationship. Allow yourself to rediscover who you are as an individual.
- Recognize Your Relationship Patterns. Accepting that you have a codependent attachment style can be difficult. Look at your past relationships and see if you can identify any patterns of unhealthy behavior. You’ll often find stories with a similar theme of addiction, unavailability, and controlling behavior.
- Practice Setting Boundaries. Set boundaries around your relationship and what you don’t want in your life. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but practice saying “no” and detaching your self-worth from someone else’s needs will give you a sense of freedom.
- Ask for Help. Becoming codependent doesn’t happen overnight. It is a lifetime of learned and practiced behavior. It may be challenging to detach yourself from this, but you don’t need to do it alone.
How Begin Again Institute Can Help
Learning how to break the cycle of codependency isn’t easy. You may not be able to do it alone, especially if you’re in a codependent relationship with someone with an addiction. If you and your partner are experiencing the effects of codependency and addiction, find out how Begin Again Institute can help you restore your individual mental health and create a healthy relationship.