Everyone needs a supportive circle, but there's a fine line between leaning on your loved ones in times of need and relying on them to completely fulfill you emotionally — which can often lead to one-sided, dysfunctional, and ultimately codependent relationships. And while the latter of these characteristics is common, you don't have to live that way. Forming healthier bonds, with boundaries, is possible, but it can take work. In particular, therapists recommend a few different types of exercises to overcome relationship codependency if you're looking to break free from a toxic dynamic.
Before diving into what you should do if you've found yourself in a codependent relationship, it might be worth defining what such behavior looks like, so you can determine if it describes your situation. Among the most common signs of codependency are constant feelings of anxiety with your partner (in an attempt to please and/or be perfect), not being able to set healthy boundaries, or changing to meet his or her expectations.
Seeing a therapist — even if only virtually — can be hugely beneficial to getting to the root of this behavior and learning ways to not only free yourself of relationships (romantic, platonic, or otherwise) that trigger those feelings, but also to create a habit of more healthy, self-serving practices. If you believe those are things you can benefit from, see ahead for four expert-approved exercises you can start today for balanced, fulfilling, and supportive relationships moving forward — including the one you have with yourself.
Exercise For Overcoming Codependency: Practice Self -Care
It's a buzzy phrase you've probably been hearing a lot lately, but there's good reason for you to prioritize your self-care, especially if you're someone with codependent tendencies. "An important element in breaking the codependent cycle is learning you are whole and enough on your own," says Rachel Thomasian, therapist at Playa Vista Counseling and co-author of BreakUp & BreakOut Helping You Gracefully Navigate Your Breakup in Order to Live Your Best Life. "When you practice the kind of self-care that helps you tap into yourself and nourish yourself, your independence is really empowered." Some ideas to try include meditation, starting a fitness routine that makes you feel good inside and out, or taking up a hobby or enrolling in a class to learn something new.
Exercise For Overcoming Codependency: Develop Decision Making Skills
Thomasian shares that those trapped in a codependent cycle likely have trouble making their own decisions, as they're fearful of doing something "wrong." As a result, they continue to lose self-confidence and self-worth. In an effort to break out of this behavior, start to identify the moments when you're relying on someone else to make a decision, then look inward instead. "Check in with yourself to determine what you think the best choice is and go with your gut," she suggests. "You might find that you went with the choice that wasn't best, that's okay — this is how you develop your decision making skills."
Exercise For Overcoming Codependency: Cultivate Independence
This can feel impossible to someone who's used to a codependent dynamic, but continuing to exercise your independence — even in small ways — can start to make a big difference. "This means doing things on your own that you normally would need someone to be with you to feel comfortable doing," says Thomasian. "Some great examples are going to the movies, dining at a restaurant and going for a hike. When you learn that you can do things on your own and be comfortable with your own thoughts and without any distractions, you'll rediscover your relationship with yourself."
Exercise For Overcoming Codependency: Explore Therapy For Past Trauma
You don't need a "reason" to start seeing a therapist or counselor, but noticing that your codependent relationship is not serving you — and is very likely affecting your ability to grow and build self confidence — it could be a good time to check in with one. "The greatest tool for anyone who has ever found themselves in a codependent relationship is therapy," Thomasian explains. "I don't think people engage in codependent relationships by accident, but instead they choose these patterns as a result of some other unhealthy relationships in their past. A therapist can also help you work through past relationship traumas that could be potentially causing you to engage in codependent behavior as well as identify appropriate boundaries and relationship patterns going forward."