May 20, 2022

How to Break Free From a Codependent Relationship


Codependency is complex, and it is difficult to describe in a single sentence. Put simply, codependency is a term used to describe a specific relationship dynamic where one person’s well-being relies on the approval of others. 

Many different types of relationships can be considered codependent. You could be in a codependent relationship with a child, a parent, a close friend, or, most commonly, an intimate partner. Regardless of the type of relationship, codependency will cause you to struggle to prioritize your own personal needs. Instead, you will put the other person’s needs ahead of your own–even when doing so means sacrificing your personal success or happiness.

Codependency most often occurs in relationships where one person is struggling with addiction. Codependency and addiction are closely related because people often feel responsible for taking care of their addicted loved ones or shielding them from consequences. Of course, loving an addict isn’t easy, but it doesn’t mean your well-being has to come second.

If you are in a codependent relationship with someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the best thing you can do for both yourself and your loved one is to begin taking steps to break free from codependency. Here’s how you can do it.

1. Dig Deep to Conduct a Personal Emotional and Moral Inventory

The first step towards any kind of healing is taking an honest look at yourself. Examine your behaviors, pinpoint things you do that enable your loved one’s addiction, and ask yourself why you feel responsible for someone else’s actions that you know you cannot control. In order to break free from codependency, you must understand your own codependent behaviors, where they come from, and how they serve you. 

Many people engage in codependent behaviors because they have pure intentions–-they want to keep their addicted loved ones safe from harm. However, this “protector” role often becomes toxic, forcing you to sacrifice your own happiness and emotional security for someone else’s well-being. 

Consider making a list of enabling or codependent behaviors as well as a counter-list that provides examples of ways you can stop enabling your loved one’s addiction.

2. Address Past Trauma in Your Life

Now that you are more self-aware of your emotional state, motivations, and unhealthy behaviors, it’s time to address past trauma that may prevent you from healing. Many people who struggle with codependency come from families with trauma or codependent dynamics. Perhaps you were raised in a home where you always felt as though you had to please everyone else but yourself. Or, maybe you were raised in an abusive or neglectful household that required you to put other people’s needs ahead of your own. Either way, codependency is often a delayed response to early traumatic experiences.

Working with a trusted therapist can help you identify and work through past trauma. You may have to face some painful feelings or scary memories, but doing so will be well worth it. Overcoming trauma will allow you to recognize your true worth so you can begin to put an end to codependent behaviors.

3. Practice Small Acts of Self-Care

One major characteristic of codependency is a lack of self-care. Because you are so busy taking care of your addicted loved one, you may neglect or minimize your personal needs. 

Putting yourself first isn’t always easy–especially if you are used to coming second. That’s why you should start by practicing small acts of self-care. Go buy that new purse you’ve been eyeing to treat yourself to something nice. Or, start taking a short walk outside every morning for your mental health. You may even fill up the bath with bubbles, epsom salt, and essential oils to relax your body at the end of the day before you get to bed. There are many small ways you can show yourself some well-deserved love and compassion.

4. Shift From Negative Thinking to Positive Affirmations

Breaking free from codependency is more about you than it is about them. It’s about learning to love yourself and understand that you are worthy of love, affection, and compassion. While small acts of self-care are a great way to work toward self-love, another powerful tool is positive affirmations.

Codependency often goes hand-in-hand with negative thought processes (sometimes called “stinking thinking”). Unfortunately, it can be difficult to move away from stinking thinking if you are used to thinking this way. Affirmations are one of the best places to start.

Affirmations are phrases you repeat to yourself until you believe them. Examples include:

  • “I am confident”

  • “I am beautiful”

  • “I am worthy”

  • “I am grateful for ____.”

Affirmations start with the words “I am” and use the present tense. Repeat them out loud each day for at least 5 minutes. While this practice can feel cheesy at first, you will begin to hold these statements as truths. From there, your self-love can grow.

5. Set and Enforce Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are a key feature that codependent relationships do not have. Boundaries are also the final step to breaking free from codependency. As a result, it’s vital that you set and enforce healthy boundaries with your addicted loved one.

Reflect back upon your emotional and moral inventory. What actions does your loved one take, or ask you to take, that you simply do not feel comfortable with or that you have identified as unhealthy? Pick one or two things and decide where you draw the line. For example, if your loved one is always asking you to call in sick to work for them, explain to them that you will no longer do so or tolerate being asked to do so. Enforce this boundary by sticking to your commitment. Don’t let guilt get the best of you. 

When you set boundaries and stop enabling, your loved one will have to face the brunt of his or her consequences head-first. You are no longer there to shield them from consequences, so they must experience how painful their addiction has become. Only then will your loved one realize they have a serious problem that requires professional help.

Things to Remember

Healing from codependency isn’t an overnight feat. It is an ongoing process that may involve some trial and error. It’s important that you don’t give up, continue practicing self-care, and remember that self-care is not selfish–it is crucial for your well-being.

Watching a loved one struggle with addiction can be heartbreaking, but it doesn’t have to destroy your life, too. Start taking these steps today to break free from your codependent relationship.

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