Codependent relationships are fraught with pain, resentment, anger and criticism, said Kathy Morelli, LPC, a psychotherapist with a marriage and family counseling practice in Wayne, N.J.
Instead of focusing on themselves, people who are codependent focus on others, such as their partner or parent. They don’t function from their “innate self.”
“The codependent person has a diffuse sense of self and operates from a false self that is organized around the ‘other.’”
They respond emotionally, psychologically and behaviorally around the other person’s needs or an addiction, Morelli said.
The codependent person bends over backward to please and accommodate the other person. Yet they feel like they aren’t doing enough, she said. They experience feelings of self-loathing, which the other person only reinforces by being cruel or abusive, she said.
So if you’re in a codependent relationship, what can you do?
“The goal of healing from codependency is to feel like a whole person and to develop true feelings of self-love and self-esteem.” This can take time and work. As Morelli said, there’s no simple 5-step solution.
“Healing is a multi-pronged approach involving developing emotional and psychological self-knowledge through psychotherapy and other introspective processes plus and learning and practicing new social skills.”
However, there are things you can try on your own. You can start by focusing your attention away from the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
Because codependent individuals are wrapped up in the other person’s needs, wants and reactions, practicing separating yourself is an important step. Below, Morelli shared two techniques to try.
1. Focus on the present.
“In a codependent relationship, people continuously create their own internal assumptions about what is going on with another person’s thoughts and feelings,” Morelli said.
Practicing mindfulness — staying focused on the present — helps to reduce thoughts such as “What if?” and “How could I have fixed this?” she said. It helps you focus away from “what might have been and what could be.”
Morelli shared this example: Tim asks Jane where she wants to go for dinner. She gets anxious about answering him as her mind scans a variety of scenarios. If she says Chinese food, Tim might be disappointed in her and that’ll trigger a fight. If she says seafood, this might be too expensive, causing Tim to dislike her.
“Instead of just living in the moment and suggesting a restaurant she might like [‘I’d like Chinese food tonight, how about you?’] or a restaurant they both might like, Jane is struck dumb with anxiety and mumbles, ‘I don’t know, anywhere you want to go.’”
Morelli noted that saying “I really don’t know, whatever you want” isn’t necessarily a codependent response. What is indicative of codependent actions is the confusion, anxiety and fear of rejection and abandonment that underlies them, she said.
2. Remind yourself these aren’t your thoughts or feelings.
Morelli also suggested the “Bubble of Peace exercise” to help readers practice nonattachment to the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
This involves the following: “Consciously take a deep breath, and gather a protective bubble of golden light energy all around you, front and back, like a soft loving protective blanket. This Bubble of Peace only allows positive energy through to your inner being. Say to yourself, ‘…These are not my feelings. These are not my thoughts. I’m a separate person and I’m allowed to have my own thoughts and feelings. My vote counts too.’”
Healing from a codependent relationship is a process. But you can start by detaching yourself from the other person’s thoughts, feelings and reactions.