Teen and their parent talking about their codependency with them partner

Here’s How to Stop Being Codependent

Updated: July 5, 2024

5 min.

Concrete tips to help you build self-awareness, set healthy boundaries, and break free from codependency.

By: Sarah Fielding

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

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If you prioritize others’ happiness at the expense of your own, struggle with healthy boundaries, or constantly need validation, you may be dealing with codependency — a behavioral and emotional condition where a person excessively relies on someone else for emotional needs, and self-worth, often leading to excessive caretaking, people-pleasing, poor boundaries, low self-worth, and control issues. These patterns can develop from early life experiences, such as growing up in a dysfunctional family or experiencing trauma.

Codependency can harm your emotional well-being and relationships by creating a pattern where your needs are consistently overlooked. Fortunately, there are effective strategies to break free from this cycle. Below, we explore six practical ways to stop being codependent and reclaim your sense of self, leading to healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

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6 ways to stop being codependent  

Here are the steps mental health professionals recommend taking to overcome codependency. 

1. Check in with yourself

Checking in with yourself is the first step towards determining if you’re codependent and, if so, how you want to go about changing it. This inward look must occur both at the beginning and as you continue disengaging from codependency. It allows you to figure out your needs, wants, and boundaries and how to not forgo them, says Kate O’Brien, MT-BC, a psychotherapist.

2. Work on your self-esteem and confidence

It’s common for a codependent person to lack self-esteem or confidence outside of positive affirmations from the other person. “Instead of relying on the approval or validation of your partner, focus on building your sense of worth and confidence through self-care and reflection,” says Steve Carleton, CACIII, a licensed clinical social worker and the executive clinical director at Gallus Detox. “When you’re fully secure in your identity, you won’t have to rely so heavily on your partner for validation or emotional fulfillment. You already know you’re enough.” Building yourself up is doing things that make you happy and going after your personal goals.

3. Focus on your needs

Spend time deciding what you want to do and then go for it. “Having separate hobbies and interests can help both partners feel more independent, which will ultimately lead to healthier relationships overall. Spending time apart is not an indication of a failing relationship — when done correctly, it can actually lead to a stronger bond and a more meaningful connection,” says Carleton.

This will help grow your confidence and self-esteem, adds Joni Ogle, CSAT, a licensed clinical social worker and the CEO of The Heights Treatment. Try doing things with friends or family members as well.

4. Engage in honest conversation

It can feel intimidating to start a conversation about the power imbalances in your relationship with the other person. Yet, taking this step is critical to maintain any relationship with them. As Carleton says, “This will help both of you understand the unhealthy relationship dynamic at play and work together to move away from codependent behavior.” 

5. Set boundaries

Personal boundaries may be lacking in a codependent relationship. Resetting or creating new, clear boundaries is a massive step towards ensuring you get the respect you deserve and your needs are met. They also help tell the other person what a healthy relationship looks like to you and vice versa, says Ogle.

6. Take responsibility for your feelings

In a codependent relationship, it’s easy to base all of your feelings and emotions on the other person’s actions. Instead, “work on learning how to take responsibility for your feelings rather than expecting your partner to meet them,” says Ogle. “Practice identifying your feelings and expressing them in healthy ways.”

How do you know if you have codependent tendencies? 

Identifying codependent tendencies involves recognizing specific codependent patterns of behavior and emotional responses. If you recognize several of these tendencies in yourself, seek support from a mental health professional to explore these codependent patterns further and develop healthier relationships and self-care practices. Here are some behaviors commonly seen in codependent individuals:

Excessive caretaking

You prioritize others' needs over your own to the extent that it negatively impacts your own well-being.

People-pleasing

People-pleasing includes going to great lengths to gain approval and avoid conflict, often sacrificing your needs and desires.

Lack of boundaries

You struggle to set or enforce healthy boundaries, leading to feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of.

Dependency

You rely on others to make decisions or feel complete and may fear being alone or abandoned.

Control issues

You feel a strong need to control situations or people, believing that your intervention is necessary for things to go right.

Difficulty with emotions

You may have trouble identifying, expressing, or managing your emotions and instead focus on others' emotions.

Does codependence only occur in romantic relationships?

Codependence can occur outside of romantic relationships, manifesting in family, friendships, work, and caregiving roles. Here are some examples of what codependence can look like outside of romantic relationships:

  • Codependent individuals may prioritize family members’ needs over their own and struggle with boundaries
  • One person might seek constant validation from a friend, relying on them for emotional well-being and self-worth
  • An employee may feel overly responsible for a colleague’s success or well-being, neglecting their own needs
  • Caregivers may become overly involved with those they care for, neglecting their self-care
Teen couple fighting

How are codependence and mental health connected?

Codependence is not classified as a mental health condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the standard manual for diagnosing mental disorders. Instead, it is seen as a relational pattern or maladaptive coping mechanism that can develop due to certain circumstances or environments.

However, codependent relationships often involve enabling unhealthy behavior and may be linked to issues like substance use, relationship addiction, or trauma. While not a mental disorder, codependence can co-occur with conditions such as anxiety, depression, or personality disorders. It is often related to early life experiences, such as growing up in a dysfunctional family or experiencing trauma, which contribute to developing codependent behaviors.

Although codependence is not considered a mental health condition, it can significantly impact a person’s mental health and well-being. Recognizing that codependent relationships are unhealthy and seeking professional help can help codependent people develop healthier relationship patterns. Specifically, seeking therapy for codependency can provide valuable support and guidance, helping individuals develop healthier relationship patterns, set boundaries, and improve their self-esteem.

How Charlie Health can help

If you or a loved one are struggling with an unhealthy relationship or your mental health, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic online therapy, managing your mental health is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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