When the love you depended on is gone, your whole world may feel upside down. These therapist-backed tips can help you get back on solid ground.
Breakups stink. But for codependent relationships? Breakups can be downright debilitating.
“Unfortunately, breakups can be utterly devastating for codependents as their sense of self is often completely tied up in the other person and how the other person views and treats them,” says Sheenie Ambarda, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist based in Los Angeles.
Perhaps you’ve depended on your partner’s love for so long that you may have no idea what to do without them. But, at the same time, maybe there’s a part of you — deep down — that knows you haven’t been happy for a long time.
That part of you can help get you through.
After a codependent breakup, you may feel alone, sad, and like no one will love you the same way.
And it can physically hurt.
“As part of a reaction to a breakup, our brain experiences the departure of an attachment figure in a similar way to that in which it registers physical pain,” says Dr. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist, and neuroscientist, in his book, “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love.”
Many people in codependent relationships:
- seek validation from their partners
- put all their energy toward pleasing people
- have low self-esteem
So, without a partner to get validation from or please, you could feel unsure of who you are without them.
You may constantly replay your relationship and question if you could’ve done something differently. But, while it may be challenging, the key is to do something different now. And that begins with healing.
How can codependent folks recover from a breakup? With time — and a few expert tips.
1. Lean on someone
To mental health therapist Tiarra Faulkner-McKinney, of Chicago, it’s important for you to see and feel loved from outside sources and lean on friends and family.
“It can be really helpful in your healing to have a community around you when you’re experiencing a breakup,” explains Faulkner-McKinney.
2. Set boundaries
Poor boundaries are often synonymous with people pleasing, which makes learning to set boundaries critical to recovery.
You can “learn to own your needs and practice saying no to others,” urges Celeste Labadie, a licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship expert in Louisville, Colorado. (It’s natural if putting your needs first feels uncomfortable — give it time.)
3. Work with a therapist
“You may find yourself questioning yourself and your needs, and it can be helpful to work with a relationship therapist or coach to uncover your limiting beliefs and change your internal dialogue,” explains Labadie.
4. Find a support group
You can also try support groups and see if you connect with other people’s experiences. Whatever you choose, try not to isolate yourself.
“Breakups can make us feel unworthy and lonely, so isolation is only going to make the healing that much harder,” says Jennifer Vincent, a licensed mental health counselor in Indianapolis.
5. Expand your perspective
“There are many resources for breakups and codependency that can help you learn more about yourself and relationships,” says Vincent.
“When going through a breakup, most people want to know ‘why,’ so learning about others’ experiences and relationship education can be healing.” She suggests resources like:
6. Reexamine your expectations
“Look back at your past and ask what often disappointed you in your relationships with other people like friends and family,” suggests Lauren Cook-McKay, VP of Marketing at Divorce Answers and previous marriage and family therapist.
“It helps you realize certain patterns and behaviors you exhibit in your codependent cycle.”
7. Practice self-compassion
Cook-McKay suggests treating yourself the way you would a dear friend and practicing acknowledging (and meeting) your needs. “Seeking validation in others can mean you are overly critical of yourself and have less self-esteem,” says Cook-McKay.
“It’s not easy to revert to this mindset, but you can be kinder to yourself for a start.”
8. Embrace singledom
“Try to avoid jumping into another relationship too quickly just to fill the emptiness or loneliness,” says Ambarda.
“While there is nothing wrong with being ready to date again, learning how to develop an internal source of strength that is independent of anyone else is a priceless life skill.” (Plus, it’s a chance to get to know yourself again.)
9. Avoid your ex
This one may be the hardest, but you can do it.
“Since codependency can lead to wanting to appease another person’s point of view over your own (your ex in this case), try to limit contact with the person,” suggests Simone Koger, licensed marriage and family therapist in Seattle.
“Breakups are hard enough, and adding the opportunity [for your ex] to steer your wants or needs will not support you in the long run.”
It may feel hard now, but by trying some of these recovery techniques, you can go from a series of unhealthy relationships to finding a healthier relationship. And that starts with improving the relationship you have with yourself.
You can do your best to bolster your strength, and give yourself grace when you don’t feel strong. (It happens.) Healing takes time and taking your time as you rebuild yourself is OK.