Consider the following scenarios.
You have a friend who is extremely needy. They complain that you don’t call them enough. They become upset when you make plans that don’t include them.
Your significant other constantly seeks your approval. It seems as if they cannot make a decision without first consulting you.
Your parents have not accepted the fact that you are an adult. They make you feel guilty for growing up and wanting to be independent.
Each of these relationships represents some level of co-dependency. Co-dependency is referred to as an “addiction to love” and typically involves an imbalance in the relationship. One person requires most of the energy, attention and affection while the other person feels compelled to provide these things.
If you find yourself involved with someone who is co-dependent, there are several steps for establishing boundaries and developing independence.
Discover what conscious or unconscious purpose the relationship serves.
All relationships (even dysfunctional ones) fulfill some sort of physical, psychological, spiritual or emotional need. Take some time to figure out what it is about this particular relationship that keeps you hooked. Ask the questions, “Who is this person to me?” “What role are they filling at the moment?” “What am I getting from this relationship?”
Sure he never responds to your text messages. But when he does, he showers you with compliments. Perhaps your friend is unreliable when you need really need her but she supported you through rough times.
When you discover what needs are being met through a co-dependent relationship, you develop self awareness and can begin to find healthier means of fulfillment.
Take responsibility for your role in creating and ending the cycle.
But, please understand that changing your behavior doesn’t guarantee a particular outcome. By definition, co-dependent relationships involve two people; yourself and the other party. If you have altered your behavior and discussed your concerns with the other person and they are unwilling or unable to work on the relationship, move on. You can only control your actions and behaviors. You can never control how they will respond.
Change the dynamic of the relationship.
Co-dependent relationships function because both individuals have agreed to certain roles—maybe unconscious—ways of communicating and patterns of relating to each other. If you truly think that the relationship is worth saving, you can attempt to break this cycle by changing how you interact with the other person.
For example, if you always respond to your friend’s excessive neediness with anger, try something new the next time she approaches you ready to zap your emotional energy. Stop, take a deep breath, and try an alternate response; silence, compassion, humor, etc.
Realize that when you decide to change entrenched patterns of behavior, sometimes the ego will resist.
This can come in various forms including; anger, neediness and increased levels of affection from either side. Expect this and prepare yourself by learning to respond in a more mature and graceful—but firm—way so you don’t get sucked back in.
Some examples are to turn off your phone, do something that will allow you to release the tension physically (running, swimming, etc) or seek support from friends and family. Sometimes it works, sometimes it won’t. If you “mess up” from time to time, learn, forgive yourself and move on.
Freeing yourself from a co-dependent relationship involves self awareness, acceptance and action. It’s necessary to understand what purpose the relationship serves, acknowledge your role in creating the unhealthy dynamic and take purposeful action toward ending the cycle of co-dependency.
To find out more about creating healthy relationships, click here.
Alana Mbanza is the Content Editor of Green Psychology, a site dedicated to effective communication skills, healthy relationships and personal development. Connect with Green Psychology on Facebook or follow on Twitter @GreenPsychology.