Understanding codependency in relationships and healing from it

Do you consistently focus on the feelings and needs of others, at the expense of your own? If yes, then you have a tendency for codependency in your relationships. In healthy relationships, each person factors their own needs into their decision-making process, it’s not all about the other person. There is a balance between giving and receiving, talking and listening.

In a codependent relationship, one person loses their own identity and orbits around another person. A codependent person has an extreme need to take care of others and to focus on other people, while ignoring their own needs, problems and desires. Often, a person caught in the grips of codependency feels that their own needs are unimportant. This behavioural pattern hurts not only the codependent, but it also hinders the other person’s growth, and also may make them feel suffocated and controlled.

Questions to ask yourself to know if you are a codependent are –

  1. Do you often focus on the needs of others but ignore your own?
  2. Do you find yourself preoccupied by how your loved ones are doing?
  3. Do you have difficulty expressing your feelings and needs in your relationships?
  4. Do you feel compelled to jump in and try to fix others when they’re struggling?
  5. Do you regularly sacrifice your own self-care for the sake of others?
  6. Do you have a hard time trusting people and are hyper vigilant all the time?
  7. Are you a control freak in relationships?

A Codependent Friendship
Let’s meet Ajay and his friend Kunal. Kunal asks Ajay if he can drive him to the airport. Immediately, intuitively Ajay, feels he should say “no.” He has been working overtime and has also been sick with a cold. His chores like laundry and grocery shopping have piled up. The day of Kunal’s flight will be the first day Ajay will have time to rest and catch up on his life.

But barely tuning into his inner voice about this, Ajay immediately thinks about how much Kunal has been struggling lately. He lost her car in a bad accident (yes he was drunk, but still, he’s really inconvenienced now without a car). And Kunal has been trying really hard to get sober, but everything has seemed to go against him. This ride is one thing Ajay can do to make life a little easier for his friend. Ajay thinks, “If I don’t do this, Kunal might end up drinking. I can still find time to rest and do my laundry. How can I not help my friend out? I’m lucky to have a car and the time to help him. I feel like I have to give him this ride.”

We all have an inner voice that tells us when something is a no, a yes or a maybe. Someone who struggles with codependency is often not in touch with that knowing, or they are but they ignore it.

So, Ajay gets a negative feeling inside that tells him the airport ride does not work for him. The codependent response he chose was to say “yes” anyway. One result will probably be that Ajay feels even more exhausted, stressed and, on top of that, resentful.

The healthy response might be for Ajay to kindly tell Kunal that he is unable to give him a ride and trust that honouring his gut will be best for both of them, even if it’s difficult. Ajay might even realize that he wouldn’t want someone doing a favour for him when it really didn’t work for them, and that Kunal deserves authenticity from his friend.

Again, this does not mean that healthy friends never sacrifice or go out of their way for each other. It means they regularly tune-in to their inner guidance, their internal GPS. And that’s where they get their answers. They feel that they have a choice about whether to say “yes” or “no” to the requests of others. They can weigh out the pros and cons honestly and make decisions that respect both the other person and themselves. They can sacrifice their own needs at times, but they can also say “no”, negotiate other options and voice their own feelings, thoughts and needs.

What causes codependency?
For most people codependency begins in childhood. This is important because children are extremely impressionable. Young children don’t have the mental ability or life experiences to realize that the relationships they are seeing and experiencing aren’t healthy, that their parents aren’t always right; that parents may be lying and manipulating, and may lack the skills to provide a secure attachment.

Researches have shown that the parents of codependents are unable to meet their emotional needs when they are growing up. The parents are absent for long periods of time, due to any of the reasons, such as, alcoholism, illness, loss of a loved one, war, etc. The parents of such children are so lost in their own problems, that they are unable to give the time, love and care to these children, like parents in a normal situation do. The result of this is that codependents develop their own means to survive, without any kind of support from their parents.

Codependents, when they do not get time and attention from their parents in the childhood, learn to ignore what they are feeling. If they have any needs, they learn to suppress them. They realize that no one is actually going to pay attention to them, so why bother expressing their feelings and needs in the first place. In some circumstances, such children even fear that if they tell their parents what they want, they might be punished for it. Due to all these reasons, such children learn how to suppress their own feelings and needs and ultimately, by the time they grow up, they completely disconnect from them. Kids who grow up in dysfunctional families come to believe they don’t matter and/or they’re the cause of the family problems.

At the same time, since their parents are overwhelmed and are unable to take any kind of responsibility, such children start feeling responsible for whatever happens to their parents. Children start feeling that somewhere they are responsible for what their parents are going through. It is this very behaviour that is carried forward in all their future relationships i.e. being responsible for others, while ignoring one’s own feelings.

Healing from codependency involves subtle and deep self-inquiry.

  1. Take time to be aware of what you are feeling, and how you can best take care of yourself.
  2. Learn to say “no” – Practice pausing before you say a yes. Tune into your own needs before you jump in to offer support.
  3. Remember that you are not responsible for another adult’s feelings or life.
  4. Ask yourself what you might do in the situation if you did not feel obligated or afraid.
  5. Express your needs – Begin expressing your preferences on smaller things, like restaurant or movie choices. This will help you prepare for the bigger things like relationship needs and limit setting. Tell yourself (until you believe it) that your feelings, needs and preferences matter too.
  6. Start asking yourself what you truly love to do. Aside from the family and friends you care about, what other interests do you have?
  7. Practice allowing others to experience their hardships and figure out their own solutions, rather than jumping in to save them.
  8. Learn to tolerate someone else having feelings (other than happy)!

Bach flower remedies can help us deal with and heal codependency.

We use the Bach Flower Remedy Red Chestnut to help those who have anxiety, fear and worry for the safety and wellbeing of a loved one.

The Bach remedy Chicory is the remedy for those who fuss over their family and attend to all their needs. The mothering type who  likes to control  the family.

The remedy Centaury is for those who find it difficult to say “no”. Such people allow themselves to become doormats and willing slaves. Being kind hearted, they are unable to say no ‘ to people and in doing so often neglect their own calling. Ajay is an example of the kind hearted Centaury type. His example illustrates why the Centaury type feel drained of energy and strength. They just can’t say ‘no’. The remedy Centaury would help Ajay say ‘no’ gently but firmly when required. He would continue to be kind but it would be from a point of strength not weakness.

Olive Tree promotes wellbeing through healing with and learning Bach Flower Remedies. As practitioners of alternative medicine our aim is to enhance wellness and healing by restoring the mind and body harmony.

Our services include Bach Flower Therapy consultation (at our centre in New Delhi, and online worldwide) and a Bach Centre UK certified short distance learning programme which can be taken from any place in India and will empower you to heal your family and friends and also to start a fulfilling career in alternative medicine. We also sell Bach flower essences. To know more call us on 9717146337 or write to us on info@olive-tree.in.