Originally posted by Sharon Martin, LCSW Any long-standing pattern of behavior can be hard to change. We’re creatures of habit and tend to repeat the same behaviors over and over, often without even thinking about them — and sometimes we continue even when these behaviors create problems for us. This is the case with codependent behaviors.
What are codependent behaviors?When I talk about codependent behaviors, I’m referring to things like enabling, perfectionism, self-sacrificing or martyrdom, obsessing about other people’s problems, trying to fix, change, or rescue others – even if they don’t seem very interested in changing. As codependents, we struggle to ask for help, we don’t prioritize our needs (so we get tired, irritable, resentful, and stressed out).
How do you change codependent behaviors?Even though these behaviors are second-nature to us, we can change! The challenge, of course, is figuring out how to change. What do we do instead of these codependent behaviors? And how do we stick with the new behaviors long enough to see a difference? The answer is lots of practice and lots of self-compassion. Like any new behavior, we need to do the new behavior many times before we master it and feel comfortable doing it. At first, it will feel awkward, scary, guilt-ridden, and uncomfortable. In short, you’re not going to do it well! That’s where the self-compassion comes in. Give yourself credit for trying. Praise yourself for taking baby steps even if they don’t seem to accomplish much at first. Encourage yourself by saying things like, “You can do this!” Don’t expect perfection and try not to criticize yourself if you slide back into old behavior. This is all part of the process – I promise. So, let’s get started with some ideas for changing codependent behaviors.
People-pleasingInstead of saying yes to every request, doing things you don’t want to do, or doing things out of obligation, consider what you need and want. Ask yourself:
- Am I interested in doing this?
- Why am I saying yes?
- Do I have time for this?
- Can I afford to do this?
- Does this align with my values and priorities?
Identity and self-worth issuesDo you feel like you’ve lost your identity or you’re not sure who you are? Often, codependents don’t fully differentiate themselves from others. We don’t have a strong sense of who we are, what we like or want, or we’re quick to give up our goals, ideas, and what matters to us to please others. We also get our identity and sense of worth from what we do rather than who we are. In part, this is why we get our sense of worth from pleasing others, self-sacrificing – and why we feel so terrible when others are upset or disappointed with us. We don’t have a strong sense of who we are or that we matter without external validation. Action: The remedy for identity issues can start with some of these activities.
- Get to know yourself better. Practice with these questions.
- Share your opinions, ideas, and feeling. Try sharing a differing opinion or idea with someone who will be receptive, such as suggest a different activity for Girls Night Out or politely let someone know that you disagree with their point of view.
- Do one thing this week because it interests you. It could be something new that you’re curious to try or something you’ve enjoyed in the past but haven’t prioritized recently.
- Validate your feelings at least once per day. When you notice that you’re seeking validation from someone else or disappointed that someone didn’t validate you, try to give yourself the validation that you need. To get started, you can use some of these self-validating phrases.