If you feel as though you can’t separate your identity from your partner’s, setting boundaries and cultivating your inner dialogue can help you learn how not to be codependent.

Codependency is excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who’s controlling and requires support on account of substance use and addiction.

While a codependent relationship involves two people, being codependent describes a person who frequently compromises their wants and needs to support a loved one experiencing addiction.

Codependency in a relationship can look like:

  • keeping quiet to avoid arguments
  • volunteering to sacrifice your wants and needs for your partner’s
  • feeling rejected when your partner does things without you
  • being unable to tell others “no”

You can also have codependent traits even when you’re not in a relationship. Consider the following tips to discover how you can engage in healthy relationships that support your well-being.

Codependency isn’t a personal choice. As a learned behavior, it can be challenging to break these relationship patterns.

Awareness of certain behaviors as well as intentional efforts to improve them can make a big difference.

Codependence is often linked to a sense of low self-esteem.

Dr. Isabelle Morley, a licensed clinical psychologist from Boston, says knowing what you deserve is a big step toward breaking codependency. You can build self-esteem through:

  • using positive self-talk
  • writing down your positive traits
  • putting a list of your positive qualities where you can see it everyday
  • learning new skills

Being codependent can mean ignoring your boundaries if it means pleasing your partner, often leaving you feeling taken for granted.

“State what is OK and not OK with you; and, follow-through with consequences when your mate treats you in a way that’s not acceptable,” suggests Dr. Cortney Warren, a board-certified clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, Chicago.

You can discover your boundaries by asking yourself questions like:

  • What actions make me feel unhappy?
  • What did I do today that I didn’t want to?

“Codependency requires silence, so find your voice in your relationship,” advises Morley.

You can practice assertive communication by:

  • using “I” statements (ex: I feel…)
  • being clear and direct
  • explaining your thoughts ( I feel this way because…)
  • keeping eye contact
  • being willing to keep up the discussion until a solution is found

Sometimes learning how to not be codependent means learning about yourself and what it means to be codependent.

Introspection, says Melissa Bennett-Heinz, a psychotherapist from Ramseur, North Carolina, can come in the form of asking yourself questions like:

  • How do you take care of yourself?
  • Do you find yourself saying yes to things you often regret later?
  • Do you feel drained either emotionally, physically, or financially?
  • Are you resentful of a friend, loved one, or partner for your giving/helping?
  • Have you neglected yourself self and put yourself second to someone else?

Codependency can make you feel as though you’re just an extension of your partner. By creating your own independent hobbies, goals, and interests, you can start to regain you identity, says Warren.

“Maintain a life and identity apart from your lover,” she suggests. “Remember that you can meet your own needs and have a life apart from them.”

If you aren’t sure where to start, you can sift through your thoughts by journaling about:

  • things that interest you
  • goals you’d have if you weren’t in a relationship
  • independent projects you might enjoy (ex: painting the cabinets)
  • friends you can connect with for coffee/lunch dates

Mindfulness is the ability to be “in the moment.” Bennete-Heinz indicates this is a beneficial way of observing what’s happening around you without allowing it to rule your emotions.

If you notice your partner is upset after work, for example, practicing mindfulness can help you be supportive without jumping into a pattern of appeasement.

Another way of setting yourself up for success, says Bennett-Heinz, is working on an overall sense of calm to help you maintain that mindset when impulses of codependency present.

“There are a lot of apps — paid and free — that offer guided meditations, relaxation, and breathwork,” she says. “Even just doing this for 5-10 minutes a day will help bring some calm to your system that can have lasting effects throughout the day.”

What causes codependency?

According to Warren, codependency is strongly rooted in painful and traumatic childhood learning.

“As children, we literally need our parents or adult caregivers to meet our needs—to feed us, love us, keep us safe from harm—or we won’t survive or thrive,” she explains. “When we don’t get our needs met from our parents in healthy ways, we’re more likely to struggle to trust and be close to others as adults.”

Situations that may lead to adult codependency can include:

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Codependency and attachment style

You attachment style describes how securely or insecurely you form relationships with others.

Codependency is associated with insecure attachment styles that come as a result of unmet needs in childhood.

Warren says, “Being anxiously or insecurely attached to your parents as children makes you more likely to be codependent because you’ll doubt people’s ability to love you, your self-worth, and the reliability of people in your life.”

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What is interdependence in a relationship?

Interdependence is another form of emotional reliance in a relationship, where both partners’ actions and feelings impact one another.

Interdependence implies both partners are equally emotionally invested in a relationship, whereas in a codependent relationship, one person is always giving more of themselves than their partner.

Interdependence is associated with closeness and well-being in a relationship.

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When to seek help

Being codependent is often seen in relationships that are one-sided or abusive.

If you’re experiencing abuse, help is always available by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

If you feel codependent traits are keeping you stuck in unhelpful relationship cycles, are contributing to low self-esteem and a lack of identity, or are related to early childhood experiences, speaking with a mental health professional can help.

If you find that you typically sacrifice your wants and needs to help someone with higher support needs, such as substance use disorder, you may be codependent.

Setting boundaries, discovering self-worth, and practicing assertive communication can all help you learn to move from codependent to interdependent in your relationships.

You may also consider online therapy options to speak with a mental health professional who can help you through recovery or support groups. Recovery is a journey. You’re not alone.