Codependency Recovery: Moving Past Resistance
By Michelle Farris, LMFT
People who struggle with codependency don’t find their way into recovery easily. They are usually outward-focused and devote much of their time and energy to helping others, rather than investing in themselves. They bend over backward trying to be everything for everyone. As a result, they burn themselves out. Some even get sick with stress-related illnesses.
Being codependent means that we become a human doing rather than a human being. Much of the time we feel overwhelmed and under-appreciated. The codependent person expects others to give the same in return but they struggle to receive because it feels too vulnerable.
Codependents are kind-hearted but suffer in silence.
The hardest part is who they attract: people with addictions or narcissistic tendencies. Their relationships become a source of pain and frustration because they didn’t grow up learning how to honor their own needs. Instead, they learned to sacrifice themselves and tolerate abusive behavior.
With all these problems, why is it so hard for the codependent person to seek help? To move past the resistance here are some common beliefs that get in the way.
#1 Codependent people think other people are the problem.
Because codependent people focus on others, they have trouble seeing their behavior as a problem. They appear selfless but those good intentions make it difficult for them to recognize when they’ve crossed the line.
The codependent person believes that if only their loved ones would just act right, take their advice, or stop drinking – everything would be fine.
Because of this, they are constantly exerting control, assuming that they have all the answers. They get frustrated when others don’t follow their advice instead of seeing their own control as the problem.
With issues of control, conflict is inevitable. No one likes being told what to do, but in codependent relationships, this happens frequently. Family and friends get tired of being told how they should behave. Unfortunately, the codependent person thinks they are just being helpful.
Tip: Getting into recovery means confronting old beliefs and behaviors. It starts with acknowledging where we have control (mainly ourselves) and where we don’t (other people, places, and things).
#2 People who struggle with codependency don’t think they need help.
Being able to give and take are essential qualities for building healthy relationships. However, the codependent person gives too much because that makes them feel needed. They think that they know best, so they’re always trying to help. This is one of the reasons why people with codependent tendencies don’t see a need to ask for help: they don’t think they’re at fault.
Codependent people have relied on themselves for so long that they naturally assume they can recover on their own. It feels too vulnerable to consider joining a group or going to a therapist but in order to build a lasting recovery, they will need outside help.
By joining a 12-step program, like Al-Anon or CODA, they get access to a community that will encourage introspection and growth. This is an important first step in coming out of isolation and moving beyond the dysfunction.
People working a 12-step program make faster progress than those who attempt it alone. Without adequate support, it’s difficult to challenge old behaviors because we can’t always recognize our own dysfunction.
Tip: Take the time to find additional support. Even starting a private group with two like-minded friends can get you started.
#3 Codependent people believe that if they’ve already left their alcoholic or abusive partner, there’s nothing else to change.
Leaving an addicted partner (or someone who mistreats you) doesn’t solve the problem. Without the alcoholic, the codependent person assumes life will improve — but soon realizes that their problems were not all about the drinking.
In fact, without that person to blame, it becomes obvious that our codependency hasn’t gone away. Issues of control, unrealistic expectations, and perfectionism have become ingrained in our psyche despite leaving our dysfunctional relationships.
Until we can acknowledge our own codependency, we will struggle to maintain healthy relationships. Instead, we will continue to find ourselves drawn to relationships that continue to drain our energy.
Tip: Leaving a dysfunctional relationship can be the turning point to examine and heal old behaviors that don’t work.
How do we begin to recover from codependency?
Codependency recovery starts with a willingness to change ourselves instead of expecting others to change for us. Eventually, the pain of doing the same thing and expecting different results becomes the catalyst for being willing to recover.
Common codependent behaviors to focus on include:
- Ignoring your own needs (like sleep, food, or self-care)
- Saying “yes” when you mean “no”
- Not advocating for what you value
- Pretending everything is okay when it’s not
- Having a high tolerance for abusive behavior
- Being unable to let go of unhealthy relationships
- Giving too much at your own expense
Codependency recovery begins by focusing on our own healing. It’s letting others be who they are even when we think they’re off track. We begin to see that giving them the answers doesn’t amount to much.
Tip: While it takes a lot of courage to seek help, recovery provides an opportunity to start a new life that far surpasses the isolation we once knew.
Recovery takes a lasting commitment. There is no quick-fix. You can’t eliminate codependency by just reading a book or listening to a podcast. It’s a process of unlearning dysfunctional behaviors and honoring yourself no matter what others are doing.
This journey requires the support of others who have been where you are now. This can include therapy, but to get the most healing it should include a support group or 12-step program.
By committing to codependency recovery, you can begin to advocate for yourself and create mutually satisfying relationships. By breaking the cycle of codependency, we can finally create a new way of living that we truly love.
Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in codependency and anger management. She believes in “walking her talk” and shows others how to make small but significant changes in their relationships. She writes a weekly blog and offers online courses on relationships, anger, and codependency. Sign-up for Michelle’s free 12 Codependency Prompts for Self-care and Setting Boundaries.