What is codependency? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? How do I know I am codependent? Veronica answers questions on codependency.
Listen to the episode now:
I’d never heard the term codependency until I got sober and when I finally did, I had no idea what it meant.
Codependency can be hard to understand because people can’t exist in isolation. We need our friends, family, or other people to survive.
Where it becomes codependence is when that need gets out of balance.
In today’s episode, I’m answering community questions about codependency.
Like so many other areas, it all stems from what we learned as children about our relationships and where we are in them.
Before I got sober, alcohol was the tool I used to meet my needs. In early sobriety, without alcohol, I didn’t know how to meet my needs.
The end result of that was a lot of dysfunctional romantic relationships and friendships until I started doing the work to deal with my codependent behaviors.
Symptoms of Codependency
Codependency can be characterized by five core symptoms which I recognize a lot in myself when I started the work on my sobriety over 20 years ago. The symptoms are:
Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem.
This shows up when my self-esteem – what I think about myself – is dependent on what you think of me.
“When we tie ourselves to other people’s opinions, we will constantly feel devastated.”
When our worth is tied up with what we think other people think about us, then we are chained to them.
Growing up, the messaging I received a lot was that I never did anything right (which really meant, the way my mother would have done it).
As an adult, whenever something happened in my job where I messed up or did things my way and my boss or co-worker was disappointed, I would be absolutely crushed and believe I had no worth.
Difficulty setting and holding boundaries.
“Boundaries keep the good in and the bad out. Without boundaries, we’re open to manipulation.”
Boundaries are a cornerstone of personal development. That’s why I teach them in nearly every program that I do.
Good boundaries mean that you are clear about your responsibilities and the other persons’ responsibilities.
Here’s an example: If I say, “No, I can’t help you out this Saturday” and you’re upset about that, I am not responsible for how you feel. I’ve responded very appropriately and it’s not my responsibility to fix your feelings about it.
Boundaries define where I end and where you start.
Difficulty in owning your own reality.
How this looks in our day-to-day lives is that we don’t trust ourselves or that what we see and feel is true. We think that other people’s perception of us or what is happening carries more weight than ours.
I’ve been in relationships in the past where the other person tells me that my feelings are wrong, that I shouldn’t feel that way, or tells me how I should feel. When that happened, I started not to trust myself.
That’s a massive red flag.
Difficulty acknowledging and meeting our needs and wants.
“The rule of thumb for responding to a request for help from another is to do so only if you do not enable the person’s dysfunctional behaviour or provoke resentment in yourself.” – Pia Mellody, Facing Codependence
As adults, we’re responsible for meeting our own needs for food, shelter, clothing, etc. At the same time, we still need other people to meet some of those needs. That’s called interdependence and it’s totally healthy.
It’s about not rugged individualism, it’s all about balance.
The critical element here is that it’s our responsibility to recognize our needs and ask for help when we need it.
Difficulty expressing our reality moderately
“When we are codependent we don’t know how to be moderate” – Pia Mellody, Facing Codependence
When we’re in the throes of codependency we tend to be at one extreme or the other. We’re either oversharing or completely guarded, ecstatic or miserable. There’s no moderation.
For me, I remember meeting people and sharing very detailed and private parts of my history way too soon.
Once again, the key here is finding balance and learning how to meet our needs in a healthy way in our relationships.
Now that we have a clear idea of what codependency looks like, let’s get some of your questions.
At what point does a healthy relationship/partnership cross the line into codependency? My marriage certainly has elements of codependency to it and I’m proud of this and wouldn’t want it not to them.
Whatever the question, balance is always the answer.
Relationships ebb and flow. There will be periods where you need to offer or receive extra support above and beyond but this should not continue forever.
Healthy boundaries need to be in place.
If we stick to the principles I shared above, we can navigate relationships more easily and recognize the boundaries between you and your partner and where they should be.
I don’t know how not to be at least a little codependent with my children. As a mom, it’s hard not to be.
“Untangling ourselves from our children is a lifetime’s work.” – Veronica Valli
I completely identify with this!
The only way to do it is through trial and error. I don’t think can do it perfectly and get it right 100% of the time.
Once we’re able to learn from our mistakes and clear them up, that’s how we learn, grow, and develop as human beings.
As a parent, it’s so hard to go from having this little baby whose wellbeing and happiness and safety are completely entwined with us to having an older child and understanding that your job has become knowing when to stop parenting.
Allow them to have their feelings, make mistakes, and do things their own way.
The most important thing is that you are there as a solid rock for them to feel safe to have whatever feelings they have so they can process them.
Knowing which is right in a given circumstance is where trial and error comes into play.
How can I manage the shift from codependency to trusting myself?
Moving away from codependency is about trusting ourselves.
It’s about trusting how I feel, trusting my thoughts, and knowing that sometimes my thoughts and feelings will be mistaken but not just relying on other people to tell me what to think and feel.
Bringing It All Together
Ultimately, what I’ve seen, what’s happened with me, is that when we get lost in other people, we just lose ourselves.
That’s the core of codependency.
I lost myself so many times. I was so dependent on what others thought, whether they liked me, completely open to manipulation and abuse, and when we’re in that place, we lose ourselves.
With sobriety, we get the bandwidth and the self-awareness to begin to look at this and to begin to change it.
At first, it can be very scary but this is the way out of this dysfunctional behavior that keeps us stuck.
The first step is having the information and the tools and the second step is beginning to practice and change your behavior.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this and whether you feel you are codependent or you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself. Reach out to me on social media, I’m @VeronicaJValli on Instagram or Facebook.
We answer your questions every month. If you’d like us to answer your questions, plus a lot more, become a member of Soberful Life where you’ll find community, support, and a path towards thriving, lasting, and fun sobriety.
- Order my book | Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol
- Join our Soberful FREE private Facebook group for community and support.
- Have you signed up for our sober tips yet? Join our free newsletter to get sober nuggets straight from us to your inbox every week.
- Submit Your Questions to Us
- We love hearing from you! Share your comments and feedback with us on our Instagram page @VeronicaJValli
Never miss another episode!
Get the sober life you've been longing for. Start by subscribing and we will deliver new podcast episodes as soon as they are released.