Balancing Codependent Tendencies: Improving Relationships through Self-Care

Contributed by Yvonne Sinclair, MA, MFCC

Are you a person who takes care of everyone else before yourself? Do you believe you should put yourself last? If you routinely take care of others’ needs before your own, then you may have codependent tendencies. In a relationship, codependent behaviors can potentially sabotage your relationship success. If you neglect your personal needs and wishes and care for others instead, then you may begin to feel resentful and empty. Taking care of yourself enables you to then be available to take care of others.

Codependent Behaviors

Let’s explore some codependent behaviors. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When you are criticized, do you become defensive and angry because your behavior was questioned?
  • Do you feel better about yourself when you are helping (and only when you are helping) others?
  • Do you settle for being needed when you really want to be truly loved?
  • If you are a caretaker, do you anticipate others’ needs?
  • Do you feel responsible for others’ feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being or their lack of the aforementioned topics?
  • Do you find it easy to change your plans for another person’s needs?
  • Do you often feel angry and used even though you choose to ignore yourself?
  • Do you always say “yes” even when you want to say “no?”
  • Do you say “yes” even when it is not in your best interest?
  • Do you feel you do more than your fair share?

f you tell yourself that your circumstance will improve later, get depressed or sick without understanding the reason why, over-eat, feel overextended, or if you stay busy to keep from addressing the issues you need to address, you may be in a state of denial.

Do you find it difficult to feel joy, to have fun, or to do something at the spur of the moment? Do you find it hard to enjoy sex? Do you have sex when you really don’t want to have sex? Do you make up reasons to avoid having sex? Do you have sex when you really just want to be held and loved? Do you look for happiness in others and not within yourself? Do you choose partners who are not available (physically or emotionally) to love you? Do you stay in a relationship long after it is clear it is not working? Do you think you are not loveable? Is your communication poor? Do you blame, threaten, or beg for your needs to be met? Do you ask for your needs and wants indirectly, thinking people will just know what your needs are because they love you enough? Do you think what you have to say is unimportant? Do you avoid talking about yourself, thoughts, or dreams? Do you ignore your thoughts without voicing them? Do you fail to voice your opinions for fear of being rejected or put down?

From an early age, women are usually taught about the importance of nurturing and taking care of others. Mothers generally focus on meeting the needs of the children, husband, and household before addressing their own needs. Simultaneously, society and the media send women the message that they must be perfect. They are given the message they need to be thin, beautiful, young, perfectly dressed, and in all ways flawless. Men are taught to be outwardly strong. They are taught it is acceptable to be angry, but not sad, vulnerable, or outwardly emotional. These incorrect, constant messages will destroy us if we allow them to.

Do you often feel overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious? Are there times where you feel like an empty shell wanting to isolate yourself from the world? Do you also find it difficult to connect with others? If so, it may indicate that certain needs aren’t being addressed. Addressing neglected aspects of your inner and outer world is related to self-care.

What is “Self-Care?”

Self-care can have a different meaning for each of us. Essentially, self-care is associated with taking care of your needs, asserting yourself to increase the possibility of those needs being met, and monitoring your time and energy given to others. To feel balanced in today’s world, we must address both our inner and outer needs. Taking care of yourself will allow you to be there for your relationship. It will allow you to feel the Goddess or God you truly are inside. Your partner will respond to you in a more positive manner, and emotional intimacy will be more easily deepened when your needs are satisfied.

As parents, we get caught up in the family fast track. We are consumed by school, homework, little league, karate, dance class, and on and on. There is little time left to focus on self-care. Parents get caught in this cycle, leaving little to no energy left to meet their own physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual needs. There is no time left for themselves, much less their intimate relationships.

When we neglect self-care by focusing on trying to meet the needs of others before taking care of ourselves, we can lose our identity and power. We also harvest a great amount of resentment and self-hatred when we neglect ourselves. Ultimately, it is when we connect and address our needs that we can find balance and happiness. When this happens, we can give to others from a full heart. In other words, we can enhance our relationships by taking care of ourselves.

The list of things you can do to develop a self-care practice is endless! Learning to respond to your needs with acceptance, compassion, and a willingness to make healthy changes can begin to bring balance into your life and allow you to connect with joy. Self-care does not mean spending money. A spa day or week is great, but self-care can mean much more than having services performed.

Make a list of your needs: spiritual, emotional, physical, intellectual, and relationship intimacy needs. Under each heading, record activities that will support self-care in that area. Keep space for additions as you think of them.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Journaling, meditating, yoga class, moving to your favorite music, taking time to enjoy your favorite music, lunch with the girls/guys, overnight romantic time with your honey, walk in the rain, bubble bath with candles and music, taking a lunch to the river, reading a book, or anything you enjoy. Search your soul for those things that really nurture you.
  • Make a list of things that nourish your spirit and make you come alive. Is it music, art, writing, cooking, or dancing? If you’re not sure what would be on this list, then explore new activities or hobbies.
  • Connecting with nature can be extremely nurturing. Take a walk on the beach or in a park and really listen to the surrounding sounds and sights. Allow your senses to open and let yourself be nourished by nature. “Taking time to smell the roses” is good advice after all.
  • Laughter can be the best medicine. Play. Play with your partner. Find ways to put humor and playfulness into your everyday living. Let that “inner child” out often. Allow yourself to be silly. Allow yourself to enjoy. Allow yourself JOY.When you are filled with joy, even part of the time, all of your relationships will benefit, not just your romantic relationship.

Accept the fact that the road of life will have bumps. Instead of resisting or personalizing these bumps, accept that there are things you cannot change. Realize that the only thing you truly have control over is yourself. Be present in what is happening in your life. Reflect on whether you’re responding to your emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical needs. Are you taking good care of both outer and inner needs? Are you listening to your inner voice when it tells you to slow down, set boundaries, take care of your body, rest, or exercise?

Take care of yourself. Have fun. Life is short, so enjoy every moment. May your day be interspersed with joy.

© Copyright 2011 by Yvonne Sinclair, MA, therapist in Lincoln, California

 The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org

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