How To Help Codependent People Create A Healthy Relationship

People who have struggled with intense but unhealthy relationships, especially relationships with people who are addicted to alcohol or other substances, have a tough road ahead of them when it comes to rebuilding their ability to forge healthy intimate relationships. Boundaries are the name of the game when trying to offer codependency help, but for many people struggling with codependency in relationships, suggesting boundaries sounds abstract and impossible. Say no? Just let go? Tough love? For people struggling with codependency, these suggestions don’t make sense.

What Is Codependency?

Some addiction professionals use the terms “codependent” and “enabler” interchangeably. In a family affected by alcoholism or addiction, often one partner does not become addicted to the substance, but instead becomes “addicted” to helping the person who is using the substance. Being codependent or an enabler means:

  • Neglecting yourself, mind, body and spirit (giving others’ needs a higher priority than your own)
  • Protecting your loved one by covering for him or her, lying for him or her or making excuses for him or her
  • Deriving satisfaction and self-esteem from feeling like you rescued or can change the other person

Enablers need support and assistance to break the behavior cycle of codependency. Assistance exists in the form of self-help groups such as Al-Anon, and psychotherapy. However, accepting codependency help can be tricky for people who see themselves as the helper.

What to Do?

If you recognize yourself in these or other descriptions of codependency, help is available. Establishing good boundaries (when to say yes, for example, and when to say no; when to volunteer to help and when to acknowledge that you are already doing enough) can be anxiety-provoking. Therapy and self-help groups can help you learn to tolerate that anxiety and ultimately move past it. Just recognizing when you are engaging in codependent behaviors can be eye-opening. It takes time and practice to develop that self-awareness. Journaling, artwork, and practices such as yoga, meditation and martial arts can help you better understand yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and your limits. Coming to terms with your own codependent behaviors is challenging but so rewarding. Living well, experiencing true intimacy, and enjoying balance in your relationships is what you stand to gain. While it isn’t always easy, it is always worth it.  

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