Overcoming Codependency Happens in Relationship to Others
By Annabelle Parr, MA, AMFT
Codependency is a pattern of behavior that develops in the context of relationships. It develops as a survival strategy – a means of getting one’s needs met – often in relationships where the other person is struggling with an illness or is unwell in some capacity. The behaviors associated with codependency – caretaking, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, weak boundaries – are designed to try to manage what feels unmanageable. Although at first these behaviors may serve to keep the peace in a challenging situation, ultimately they result in feelings of low self-worth, anger, anxiety, depression, and even becoming out of touch with one’s own emotions.
Like any survival strategy, it can feel very challenging to let go of codependency.
We continue to engage in old patterns of behavior because at some point in time, they gave us some relief or sense of safety. It can feel overwhelming to consider letting go of a way of being that gave us a feeling of security. But in the long term, these survival strategies tend to have a big cost. Codependency can create resentment and ironically impede the connection that the person is trying so hard to create or maintain.
So how do you learn to do things differently?
Because codependency is a pattern that develops in the context of relationships, the way to learn to change is in relationship to others. For such a challenging and entrenched pattern, learning to change in the context of a safe and supportive relationship can be the best place to start. Therapy can help provide this space.
Individual therapy for codependency:
In individual therapy, the therapist and client can focus specifically on the client, building awareness around the client’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotions as they show up in the client’s life but also in the therapy room itself. The therapist can help teach skills to help the client begin to change those behaviors and manage their thoughts and feelings in a different way, and the client can practice these skills both in session and outside it.
Group therapy for codependency:
In group therapy, a process oriented therapy group offers a space in which clients can learn from each other as they compassionately help each other build more awareness around the ways in which they relate to one another. Other types of group therapy may be more didactic, where clients struggling with codependency come together to learn new skills, each week going back out into their lives to practice these skills, and then returning to the group bringing their experiences and supporting each other in the difficult but worthy process of growth.
Finding a new balance of autonomy and connection.
Whether therapy takes place one on one with a therapist, or in a group setting, connecting with someone else who understands what you are experiencing can be transformative. It can help you to learn that while codependent behaviors may not be serving you, it is safe and important to both independently choose to do things differently, and to depend on others for support.
As Hilary Jacobs Hendel put it in her book, It’s Not Always Depression (2018), “Interdependence – when two people are both independent and reliant on each other – is a hallmark of a secure relationship. People who have interdependence in their relationships are equals. They depend on each other, and also function separately and independently of each other. People who have interdependent relationships recognize both their own needs and the needs of their partner and strive to bring both into balance.”
If you or someone you love might benefit from therapy for codependency, anxiety, low-self esteem, or depression, please contact Jodi Staszak, LMFT. Jodi offers Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) for individuals, and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, in addition to Overcoming Codependency groups for individuals struggling with codependence. Jodi can be reached at 619-818-0375 or JodiS.MFT@gmail.com.