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Ending Codependency in Relationships: Find And Live Who You Really Are

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  ~Oscar Wilde

I remember clearly and will never forget the golden moment when I revealed my truth. Out through the locked up and suppressed little voice hidden deep down within, I allowed myself to say, “I always feel as if I need to give people what they want.”

It was almost as if lighting struck and the clouds parted at the same time. I sat there comfortably in the chair of my therapist’s office, and with a deep breath I knew that “it” was over. I did not know what “it” was or the amount of work and change that would follow, but I knew that I was ready and willing.

I grew up codependent. From the influence of an alcoholic and narcissistic father to the string of narcissistic relationships formed afterward, my identity evolved through who I was to others and what I had given to them.

A relationship with a narcissist defines your existence as not your own but as a part of theirs. Others saw me as shy and nice, but I did not realize that I was lost and without balance.

I wanted others to be their authentic selves, truthful and free, but I could not do that for myself so I continued giving up and giving in. Not all was bad—life is beautiful in each form—but I knew I would need to learn something different, as I always dealt with fears and anxieties.

So I have learned something different. It has taken a long time, but things have been getting better. If you’ve also realized you are codependent, these ideas may help you dig down and reveal your true, authentic, beautiful self.

Create a relationship with yourself.

Remember the scene in Runaway Bride where Julia Robert’s character decides she will choose what kind of eggs she likes instead of choosing the kinds that her former partners liked? This simple act is where it can all begin. I make an effort to just ask myself honestly, “How are you doing?”

Take time to focus on your preferences, likes, dislikes, and so on, learning more about the things that make you happy and unhappy, and healthy ways to deal and cope with the latter. It is always important to stay centered.

Establish boundaries.

I always find that with being intuitive, I have the ability to feel what others really want. And it was hard to say no. One of the most important things in learning to stop people pleasing is to establish personal boundaries. Basic ideas of personal boundaries include when to say no and where to draw the red line.

An example of this would be refusing to let someone convince you to do something you don’t want to do, even if someone tries to manipulate you with negative comments. We can’t change what other people do but we can change our responses. Enforcing boundaries like this will improve our relationships.

Listen to and trust your own feelings and intuition.

Growing up I learned to frequently feel guilt and shame. I learned to say sorry and explain when I truly felt that I did not have to. Coming out of that restricted world, I began to take ownership of my own feelings.

Observe what you are feeling and thinking and remind yourself that you are allowed to have opinions and judgments.

Honor your own needs and intentions.

Growing up, I made decisions based on what other people wanted, not for the betterment of myself. I would feel a sense of fear before I would utter a word.

In order to bring awareness to what I was feeling, I began questioning the intention behind my words and actions. This allowed me to understand my own ideas and motives, instead of letting other people define them for me. It helps develop a sense of confidence and self-respect, making it easier to communicate our needs to other people.

Create a positive space.

Feeling responsible for others’ actions, thoughts, and reactions would leave me drained and confused. When I began realizing the difference between owning others’ problems and giving them support, I started creating my own positive space. This has a lot to do with boundaries, where someone else ends and where you begin.

I realized I don’t need to take responsibility for other people. If someone hasn’t called me back after three tries of calling them, it’s not my fault or responsibility to get them to call me. If there is a pause in conversation, it is not my need to fill it.

There is a better way to accept the way that others are and arrange the pieces that are given, not try to make up for them.

Commit to lifting your self-esteem and confidence.

Bill Murray once said, “The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” No truer words have been spoken.

I spent a year falling over my own feet and making mistakes. I spent the next year learning and discovering from them. I spent the third dedicated to a practice of loving myself, and now I will spend this year in a state of acceptance, to be aware and solidify that loving-kindness inside.

And you know what? It feels good. Thank you, Bill Murray.

In the end, we are responsible for ourselves and our own happiness. What we create in ourselves we can later skillfully give to others. In this dynamic and vibrant world, loving ourselves not only makes us stronger, but also the people around us.

Photo by Anant Rohanker

Avatar of Anna Puchalski

About Anna Puchalski

Anna is a modern and aspiring botanist by trade, lover of all things outdoors, inspired by nature and admirer of the simple things in life. She grew up and lives in the Chicagoland area.

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  • lv2terp

    WONDERFUL post! Thank you so much for these wise and wonderful tips! This is something I have been working on changing for the past cpl yrs, and I seem in line with your time line as well. ha…I am looking forward to this 3rd yr, and then 4th! :) Thank you for sharing your story, experience and wisdom! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565595533 Andrea Lewis

    Excellent article Anna! I can relate to everything you wrote about to a T. Besides codependent relationships, I coped with my unfulfilled needs via self-destructive behavior. It was not easy to find self-love, but I did it because I was committed to healing.

  • rebecca

    Alanon

  • Amna

    Brilliant post! Every word is true :) I’m establishing boundaries, accepting myself, making no apologies for who I am and most importantly, being gentle with myself. It’s hard but worth it.

  • Lyra

    I’m glad I found this article today. That was me. I am seeing a therapist to try to cope with depression and anxiety and I feel like this highlights a lot of discoveries I’ve made about myself. I had a narcissistic mother, with a spending problem rather than alcoholism. She’d buy more stuff to make her feel better about all her debt and then blame it on us for letting her spend so much, etc. My whole life everything was based on what she wanted and then when I moved out and went to college, my relationships varied on the same tune. Every motivation was to make someone else happy and when I did things for me I always ended up shaming myself, feeling guilty, depressed, etc. It’s like I punished myself for doing what I wanted. I am now in a healthy relationship, with someone who understands my needs and who has helped me really find myself. It never ends though. I still have to fight the urges to shame and guilt myself and I still have trouble setting boundaries, but I feel like I’ve found my path and now I just have to stay on it. :)

  • Anna Puchalski

    Boundaries are huge! It was the last lesson I learned, yet the most important. Much luck to you Amna, the kindness that you show to yourself will be repaid!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Here here! It’s so amazing that after being trapped in someone else’s world one has the power to break through and blossom into their own, no matter when it happens or how long it takes. Keep practicing what you know Lyra, it seems as though you are on a good path!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Paralleled journeys. I love when that happens! And thank you for reading, best wishes on evolving your own wisdom!

  • Anna Puchalski

    The willingness to change is the main ingredient in healing and changing, I believe, and self-love an excellent method. Thank you and may that light inside grow and grow for you Andrea!

  • Emma Block (Gallucci)

    Very insightful, Anna. I felt like I was reading about myself. I completely relate. Oh, and kinda crazy, I’ve been following this blog for months and you couldn’t believe my surprise when I saw a familiar name. You may not remember me but we worked at V3 together over the summer several years ago. Ahem, I was the shy one… Small world. Hope you’re doing well!

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    hi Anna – thank you for sharing your story and this post. The part that resonates me with most and what I’ve been doing more of in my life is saying ‘no’ more and setting more boundaries in my life. The more “no”s we say to others, the more yes, we say to ourselves. Saying no has brouhgt unlimited joy to my life in a strange way. I no longer do things for others or to make others happy. I ask if it will make me happy first. If I’m happy, everyone around me will see a happier me : ) and will have that happiness rub off on them as well.

    Your journey and insights are inspiring.

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi Emma! I in fact remember being assigned to cattail head cutting duty together at the one big detention basin in the southern burbs and having fun getting lost in the marshes. Indeed small world. :) I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and I hope the very best for you! I also see your last name has changed, congratulations!

  • Anna Puchalski

    I like the way you put that, Vishnu. “The more no’s we say to others, the more yes’s we can say to ourselves.” Interesting. And in turn we create a happy balance. Warm wishes towards your journey also!

  • Marilyn

    Thanks for this! It took me leaving a very long marriage and actually being alone for the last couple of years to realize how much I did all of these things in my relationship. At first, I was mad that I was alone after putting so much of my life into something and then having to leave it. But after being alone for the last 2 years, I realize that I HAD to, and am happier, and more true to myself than I had been the whole time I was in the relationship. Aha moments are the best. Shout out to a fellow nature lovin’ Chi-towner :)

  • Prabha

    I love the sentence “difference between owning others’ problems and giving them support.” It took me a long time to figure out the difference, but when I did , it truly set me free from constant worry! Great article!Thank You !

  • Free2decide

    Wow. I can relate very deeply with this post, as my circumstances were similar growing up. It takes a great deal of courage to break away from these patterns of behavior, especially if they spawn from our family environment. I had my own liberating journey as well, which was a different story from yours, but had the same impact–fostering self-love, self-awareness and the courage to put myself first. It’s always refreshing, interesting and beautiful to me that complete strangers, from different cultures with separate lives and journeys can share similar lessons and life changing breakthroughs. And yes, it is a constant effort in the journey that doesn’t simply end once the breakthroughs are made. Happy journeying and thanks for the post

  • Anna Puchalski

    Sometimes I wish we did have that crystal ball telling us everything will be alright in the future when we are going through the hard times, yet it would not be as fulfilling. The work and happiness is ours! Good to hear that you are in a happy place, Marilyn. Here’s to a gorgeous spring and summer after this wacky winter!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Yes! It really makes this lighter. You are welcome Prahba, here’s to a continued free and light perspective!

  • Anna Puchalski

    That liberation is incredibly powerful! I once hear the line “People are people are people” and it resonated with me so much. Truly liberates one from the thoughts that we are alone. Happy to read that your journey has taken you to happiness, may it be filled with joy to come!

  • http://relationship-consciousness.webs.com/ Claude Lagang

    Being authentic to yourself. Love and accept the person you are in and out and the love of other people will just follow :)

    Thanks for posting this!

  • Anna Puchalski

    It is truly the best formula. You are welcome and best wishes for you!

  • Ruth Snow

    Enlightening and gives hope to all of us. May all beings be happy and free of distress xx

  • Kiki

    I loved this article! I am definitely taking these suggestions to heart and thank you for writing such a fantastic article on self-esteem. It was helpful to see those words in print. (Also, “Lost in Translation”–great movie!)

  • Anna Puchalski

    Thank you and best to you also Ruth!

  • Anna Puchalski

    It great to know that we are not alone in our journey and can find inspiration everywhere, may it also find you Kiki. And yes, what a gem of a film!

  • Ruth Snow

    Namaste _()_

  • Kelsey

    What an amazing article, and so well written! You have a great talent and way of communicating your ideas. I really need to snap out of my all-consuming, people-pleasing mind frame sometimes to remember that I’m a person, not just a shell or a mask that should constantly do what I think others desire for me to do. I’m working on this whole self-love thing. It’s a hard and slow process but I am really trying to get there. Thank you so much.

  • Anna Puchalski

    Thank you for your kind words Kelsey! Knowledge is power and is also the first and very important step. This awareness and self-love can really build confidence in the practice. Best of luck!

  • Dominique

    Thank you for this amazing article. It hit so many points perfectly and fit me almost to a T. Seeing that I’m not alone and also your description of it all was so helpful and encouraging. Reading this made it easier to make sense of it all (all the things currently going on in my relationship/life). I’ve read a few things and this article is def the best. Thank you!!!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Dominique, thank you for your dear comment, glad to have helped! There are plenty of us out there and what a joy it is to begin to share, learn, and grow!

  • Todd Lohenry

    To this I would add study and practice self-compassion…

  • Tales G. Magno

    Amazing, is some steps ahead of me right now, but i am in this frequency. I can totally relate to this kind of behavior and know the facts helps to understand what is there to be changed. Your post reinforced my current belief and dedication to be more of my self, so, great! And thank you!

  • Aoife Florence McDonnell

    I’m young, just turned 19, and having finally been convinced by my boyfriend that I have codependency issues. I want to get better so badly to make my life fuller and fix my relationships, and this article was a great wake up call and beginning of my search for help.

  • Anna Puchalski

    You are welcome Tales! Looking back on when I even wrote this article, the same ideas ring true but we get deeper in them, there is so much to learn and experience through growth and hope. Best to you!

  • Anna Puchalski

    The hardest part is getting started yet so many things make sense there after. It is truly an incredible journey, full of ups and downs, that many do even take have a chance to take. It takes courgae, Aoife, god for you!

  • ellen

    Anna, this is such an inspiring article. Thanks for sharing your perspective and life. I’ve been up and down since being dumped after trying my best in a 9-year long relationship. I’ve read and practiced everything under the moon in the past 5 months trying to move on in a healthy way and learn as much as possible so that I can try and love myself more, and in turn love others the way that I want to love them. Your words made everything much clearer. Much appreciated. <3

  • Maile

    Lyra, When I read that you had found someone who understands your needs and helped you find yourself, I started to cry. This is the first I’ve heard of such thing… I’ve been overwhelmed with others’ stories about how they never could find someone who could support them and help them cope with their lessons. You’ve given me hope… that I too can find someone who will be on my team. Thank you!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Understanding a new perspective, and creation of that new perspective through much practice is a much helpful tool to better things. I totally get it on loving yourself first, one truly carries that with them forever. Hope this time of healing brings you on a great path, thank you and best to you Ellen!

  • M

    I am very glad I found this article.. I am going through this as we speak. I find it hard to be alone and feel like I cannot break free from the codependent thinking. I am always thinking and trying to help, fix or be there for others. However, they always just leave me high and dry. I basically have no family or support system, they do not want to help me in this regard at all. I find myself self-destructing and alone in my thoughts. This article gives me a glimmer of hope, i dont however know how to like or love me. I feel stuck.

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi M, sorry to hear that you are going through it, I have been there before. The truth is, the codependent condition is something that we can work on and with much practice, learning, and awareness things become much better with a little patience and time. I have myself experienced success, even from the time this article was published. After all, this is our life, and it is all we have! Much blessing to you on your journey!

  • Ebs

    I’m recovering from codpendency too and sometimes it’s just so hard! Or maybe i get frustrated and wonder if/when i’ll ever really feel healthy and at peace and with healthy, good relationships in my life. I still isolate quite a lot to cope but I have made a lot of gains and notice healthy, subtle changes in my behaviour.I sometimes wish i knew that good times were coming. I guess they are if i’m learning to be healthier – they have to!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi Ebs! I agree, it is very hard- but also very worth it. I myself also going through a time of withdrawal. It was comforting and that time is needed for one self, especially in the codependent’s case when we are learning to listen, give, and care for ourselves. Focusing the on positives and gains is a great way to go!

  • Abe7

    I looked for this article today to help a friend who I identified as codependent. Reading through this and other articles I realise I am also. I had suspected this. I surround myself with people who are too. I have fallen prey to a number of narcissists and the like. And I have just re-established a relationship with my partner. I am hesitant about this and need to be sure that this will be different. We both seemed to have thrived in our time apart. This makes me feel awful because he left when I brought up some issues. It felt like his decision to get his life together after this, to do things he wanted, accused me of having prevented them. He did the things for himself I would happily have seen him do while we were together. (Except the tattoo, yuck!)
    I understand now that it is not really an indication that I was controlling but that he is super-sensitive to any indication of what someone else wants. It was about his need to please. I am having this same difficulty with my current housemate. His new girlfriend is a whole other post!
    I know in general what I need to do and what attitudes and such have created my badly constructed relationships. So I need to set boundaries. But what are the boundaries? I have never seen a healthy relationship. I don’t know what’s normal.: (

  • hj

    Hi there,
    Finding this post has come about during some serious soul searching and life realizations as of lately, but it almost feels reminiscent right now of the phrase “ignorance is bliss.” I am so in love with every ounce of my partner and have been enjoying a very fun, vibrant, life-changing relationship for the past 10 months. She has recently been experiencing some reoccurring mental health challenges of her own, to which my response has been an outpour and bombardment of support, contact, reminders of my love, etc etc. I have exhibited this same characteristic in the past, and have come to recognize it basically at sabotaging my relationships by hyper-focusing on the other person.

    Only this time around has it ever been pointed out to me by my partner as something I need to work on. Thus given my nerdy ways and reassurance in finding “proof” such as this to what is going on inside me, my research began, and now I’m here- completely identifying as a co-dependent person, and completely, completely wanting to transcend this barrier. While a part of me feels encouraged by the fact that there is a coined ‘term’ to the characteristics i’m displaying, I also feel paralyzed as how to move forward. I don’t want to be codependent in general, and I do not want to mess up the best love I’ve been exposed to in my life….but I thought I was being myself. I thought that making others happy truly did make myself happy. I thought I was self-confident with my choices, physical looks, and career decisions. I felt like the “compromises” or “sacrifices” I contributed to were things I genuinely felt okay to meet in the middle on, and not disregarding of my needs.

    My relationship has been pretty amazing thus far, but with this trigger as of late, I’ve become consumed with the thought that I am co-dependent, and could be doing things differently. But what? I thought I was respecting myself…until I started hyper concentrating on her….but why? I care and love her, but can’t seem to come up with an alternative. What tangible steps, mental mantras, or other words of advice does the internet world have for me? Research on the term identifies me, my feelings, my current highlighted mental state, and I don’t want to be co-dependent. Lol…is me posting this ask for thoughts and help being co-dependent as well?

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi HJ. I remember thinking one of the reasons that I will begin this journey is to strengthen my relationships with others since we build the foundation of strength within ourselves. The practice continues to this day, exploring all the different facets, and with so much more to gain it is an exciting journey. Always show compassion towards your thoughts and questions throughout. Be gentle. Best of luck to you and here is to continued wisdom!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi Abe. Thanks for the comment, there are plenty of people who go trough the same thing, at all different stages of their journey. We are just as worthy of connection and love as anyone else. And we create what love is by strarting to give it to ourselves. I would reccomend finding different sources online or other print on codependency and boundaries. My next article I am working on is about boundaries since they are so important. Take care!

  • vic

    I love this post so much I have written parts of it out to keep with me on “my journey to living an authentic life”. Thank you! I have only just recently “woken up” to the fact that I have lived my whole life making it my mission to keep other people happy (mostly boyfriends, but family too) and that I have not enjoyed being me – but there is so much to enjoy! Also if I enjoy being me then I enjoy others around me much more too, and vice versa. I found particularly helpful the part above about making mistakes and learning from them. I was so worried about “getting it right” I was using it as an excuse to stay stuck. After all, who would be good at something (being myself) if they had not done much practice?! I am now experiencing the most wonderful love affair with myself – which is healthy and sustainable. My benchmark question now: “If I have already filled myself up with as much love as I need, then how would I respond to this person’s request?” It works! Thanks for letting me post x

  • Jenny

    I also have been tripping over my feet for a year, but am getting there. Ending co dependency and finding yourself and standing on your own is exhilarating but scary. I just wish I knew what I know now 15 years ago…can thing of 3 relationships that wouldn’t get past the second date and ended up being a marriage with one and a engagement with another. Lessons learned!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Relationships are definitely one aspect of life that changed for me dramatically after my big a-ha moment. I read today actually… relationships are when we take our recovery show on the road. Glad to hear you are gaining strength through the process, Jenny!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Thank you for sharing your nice words Vic! It is really nice and comforting to know that so much empowerment can come from the inside and not trying to control the outside. And who knew so much growth can come from self love and compassion and not beating oneself up for unreachable expectations, like being “perfect”. It is an illusion. But still when you reach for the stars, you get your feet of the ground- all we can do is try and love through the process. It seems as if you are enjoying yourself, best to you in the future!

  • Turning Leaf

    First off, I have found so many constructive thoughts through the Tiny Buddha website. Wow! It’s been difficult to explain my feelings to others and you were able to encompass so much of what I feel in many aspects of this article. I’ve searched for all types of reasonings as to why I’ve had difficulty in most situations and have come upon codependency as an option but no other article or explanation has as clearly and constructively touched me. I thank you for sharing. It IS a journey and takes time. My “it” has appeared :)

  • willm999

    My wife left me without a word and I came home to note and almost empty house. I went from what I thought was happily married to alone in 1 day. After about three weeks of no sleep I talked to a counselor (our marriage counselor actually) and he mentioned that I was codependent and I was always trying to fix our relationship. I really didn’t understand what he meant by codependent so I had to Google the subject and came upon your blog/site. It really helped define for me what being codependent is and what I was doing. I will be working on this for some time but it feels like i am finally pointed in the right direction.

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi Will. So sorry to hear about your loss and grief. It must be hard to go through it. Time will heal some wounds and glad to hear that this article has helped you. From my experience relationships post working on codependency are truly different and much healthier than before. Here is too healing and moving forward!

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi there Turning Leaf, so happy to hear that you have found your “it”! :) Working towards ending codependency is a challenge but a it is a possible one. Enjoy the love that you will bring to yourself!

  • Carol

    Thanks so much for your article. I am the beginning of the journey and I look forward to the day when I give myself the love I’ve spent my life giving to others. I look forward to changing my life and career without fearing failure and appreciating all the lessons life has taught me.

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi Carol. Thank you and good for you! The more love we give ourselves the more we know what it feels like and looks are and are able to give and receive in return. Best of luck!

  • Casey

    Dear Anna,

    I’ve done a ton of work through all matter of counseling, experiential, making huge changes, etc in my life. and yet still struggle terribly with the codependency within me, at times engulfing me and directing my every action, thought and deed.

    Today after an extremely long 6 day work week, traveling to 4 different towns through massive thunder and lightning storms and trying to appear professional at all turns anyways, I was in need of something. I did not know exactly what the something was, but I needed it, so I let my thoughts drift and the film “Runaway Bride” sprang to the forefront of my brain. I queued it up on Netflix and went to the computer to look at co-dependency self help threads or guides and voila”, here was yours.

    Imagine my amazement when I came to the portion where you speak directly in reference to that exact scene that I have long used as an example of reclamation in Runaway Bride!

    Thanks Anna, good stuff, well written and hopefully resetting to me as I pull my train cars back up off the trestle and back on the tracks.

    Casey

  • Anna Puchalski

    Hi Casey! So glad the article was helpful. Even after some time I still go back and reread through the items myself since part of moving forward is practicing and reminding ourselves to love ourselves. And yes, I saw that movie awhile ago but I never forgot that scene. Makes so much sense now with the different perspective! Best of luck to you and keep chugging along! :o)