Co-dependency is a learned behaviour. This is good news because it means we can learn a new way, a different way of interacting with others, one that will help us feel good about the relationships in our lives.
Below are some tools we can use to move beyond the old pattern of co-dependency.
Communicate how you feel directly to the person involved in the situation. Often we spend our time telling other people how we feel about a situation but don’t tell the person that was directly involved in the situation. One effective way to communicate how you feel is an “I statement”. When using I statements you take accountability for your feelings while also explaining the behaviour you did not like.
Example: I feel (insert feeling) when you (insert behaviour). I feel threatened when you yell at me.
2. Ask for what you want
Others cannot read your mind. You may be very perceptive but this is rare in most people. Asking for what you want honors yourself and others. The other person is responsible for answering based on their own needs and abilities and has the option to say no.
3. Say “No”
Saying no without guilt takes some practice if you have been in a pattern of co-dependency. Learning to say no doesn’t mean that you have to say no to everything. It means that you get to choose what you do. When someone makes a request, ask yourself if this is something you can realistically do or if it will cause you some major inconvenience or even harm. When first learning this new skill, it may be helpful to start with saying, “I don’t know. Let me get back to you.”
4. Set Boundaries with Others
Boundaries are the physical and emotional limits we set to protect ourselves from being manipulated, or used by others. Before letting other people know what is okay and is not okay, we have to define it for ourselves.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is okay and not okay for me? (Examples: It is not okay for people to take their anger out on me, invade my personal space, go through my belongings, make comments about my weight, tell off color jokes in my company, etc.)
- What is it that I need to have a healthy balance in my life? (Examples: privacy, quiet time, space to change my mind, etc.)
When setting boundaries with others, keep the following in mind:
- Use simple and direct language. Explain what the boundary is and what you will do if it continues to be crossed. For example: Please do not yell at me. If you continue to yell, I will leave the room. In this example, yelling is considered not okay and is a boundary marker.
- Leave the room if the boundary is crossed.
- It is not necessary to defend the boundary, explain your feelings or debate the boundary. Be respectful yet firm when stating your boundary. If the other person attempts to argue or question your boundary, repeat your original statement or request. This is called the broken record technique. Keep repeating the statement over and over instead of engaging in a debate.
Follow through and be consistent after you have set your boundary. If you go back on your statement, it is a signal to others that they can ignore your boundaries.
4. Recognize Unhealthy Boundaries
Examine your current boundaries. How do other people treat you? Your response to their behaviour tells them whether or not what they are doing is okay. Below is a list of some unhealthy boundaries:
- Going against personal values or rights in order to please others.
- Giving as much as you can for the sake of giving.
- Taking as much as you can for the sake of taking.
- Letting others define you.
- Expecting others to fill your needs automatically.
- Feeling bad or guilty when you say no.
- Not speaking up when you are treated poorly.
- Falling apart so someone can take care of you.
- Falling “in love” with someone you barely know or who reaches out to you.
- Accepting advances, touching and sex that you don’t want.
- Touching a person without asking.
5. Set Internal Boundaries with Yourself
Internal boundaries protect our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. We have the power to choose these. When we set clear internal boundaries, we become responsible for ourselves. We define who we are. But when we don’t have internal boundaries, others can define who we are, and we feel powerless. Often times we take what others say about us as the truth without questioning it.
6. Make yourself a priority
It is not selfish to take care of yourself. Have you ever ridden on a plane and heard the flight attendant explain the safety precautions to take if the cabin loses air pressure and masks drop from overhead. If you are traveling with a small child, who do you put the mask on first? People with codependent tendencies usually say the child first. But the answer is yourself. If you do not take care of yourself first, you may not be conscious to help care for that child. The same is true in life. The more you care for yourself the more you will have to give to others.
Source: Teresa Kleffner, MSW, LCSW
Also see: 18 Signs Your Ex Is Co-Dependent – Or Maybe You’re Co-Dependent