But I’m Not Codependent!

But I’m Not Codependent!
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Let’s admit it. Society still has a big problem with mental health.

Even though more people are open about their mental health concerns, there are still huge stigmas around mental health and especially around certain mental health buzzwords.

Codependency is one of those buzzwords.

It is thrown around pop culture and blogs, often portrayed in a negative light. The media lens paints codependent people as needy, clingy, whiney, manipulative, weak, and spineless. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

First of all, codependency is not a diagnosis. There are no official criteria to define it, no brain scan or blood test to detect it. Codependency is a collection of traits and patterns that show up repeatedly, and usually unconsciously, in people’s relationships. Codependency orients others’ needs before one’s own, even at one’s own expense. Codependency is a coping mechanism that tries to maintain feelings of safety and peace, by attempting to influence other people’s actions and emotions. Like any coping mechanism, codependent behavior is not 100% problematic. Caring for others, putting their needs first, and being concerned about their happiness is a good quality to have- sometimes. Too much of a good thing is still a bad thing, however, and when codependency becomes the dominant relational stance, it causes people far more suffering than they are trying to prevent in the first place.

The good news is that, just like any other pattern or habit, codependent thinking and acting can be changed. 

One of the first steps is recognizing where codependent patterns exist in a relationship or attitude. No person behaves in a completely codependent way. In fact, almost everyone makes some codependent choices. Remember, this is a good thing! The extreme opposite of codependent is around the anti-social spectrum, and that is not a good relational stance either! Ask yourself what relationships and interactions bring up anxiety for you. Are you reacting to that anxiety by always “going with the flow” or doing what others want/expect? Are there ways that you could show up for yourself more but are uncertain about how? Do you find yourself sometimes bending over backward to please or placate or protect someone even without being directly asked to do so? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, take a minute to reflect on these situations further. Talk to a trusted friend or counselor if you need guidance and perspective.

If there are codependent patterns in your life that you are ready to reframe, that’s great! Start thinking about ways to put your needs first sometimes. Think about places you could set boundaries and let go of responsibility for how others feel. Find ways to let your ideas and interests shine bright!

Unpacking codependency and the issues that caused it in the first place can be challenging. Setting boundaries, taking responsibility for yourself, and letting others worry about themselves can feel scary. There are times it could even truly be threatening, as in abusive or volatile relationships. I encourage everyone who wants to work through codependency to reach out for help. Friends and family can be enormously helpful, but a trained counselor is your best resource.

Remember, there is no “one size fits all” approach to mental wellness. Take what feels beneficial and leave everything else behind.

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