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Codependency can cause you to lose touch with yourself, your life and your entire identity.

Of course it isn’t bad to care about your partner. If you love someone, it’s natural to feel the need to look after them. However, there is a difference between caring for your partner and being codependent. Codependency can cause you to lose touch with yourself, your life and your entire identity

It’s true; relationships are about compromise. We give and we take. We care and are cared for in return. But how much is too much?

A couple with anchor tattoos

What is codependency?

In simple terms, codependency involves caring for another to the point where it becomes unhealthy. In a codependent relationship, an individual sacrifices their own needs in order to meet the needs of their partner. One party takes on the role of the ‘giver’ and the other, the ‘taker’. The ‘giver’ often loses their own identity while trying to heal or ‘fix’ their partner’s illness, addiction or dysfunctional personality. Eventually, the two begin to rely on one another for relief of insecurity and loneliness, rather than love.

What causes codependency?

More often than not, codependency stems from childhood. It appears in those who grew up in unstable households, where they were exposed to abuse, emotional neglect, family issues, and lack of communication. A dysfunctional upbringing can cause people to develop an insecure attachment style, which can lead to further difficulty in relationships. A person with an insecure attachment style is more likely to become jealous, clingy and constantly seek reassurance from a partner.

Individuals with low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, or trust issues, may enter a codependent relationship in order to feel wanted or needed. If an individual feels they are being relied upon, they are less likely to worry about being abandoned.

But I care about my partner. Why is that bad?

Of course, it isn’t bad to care about your partner. If you love someone, it’s natural for you to feel the need to protect and look after them. However, there’s a difference between caring for your partner and being codependent. Codependency can cause you to lose touch with yourself, your life and your entire identity. A Codependent’s life revolves around their partner’s needs and emotions, leaving them with little time for themselves. This leads to isolation and loss of connection to friends and family. If your partner struggles with addiction or mental illness, your codependency may be enabling them and preventing them from seeking help. This may have negative, and potentially deadly consequences.

Codependency warning signs

  • You justify your partner’s bad behaviour.
  • You want to ‘fix’ them.
  • You can’t enjoy yourself when they’re not around.
  • You feel like your world would crumble without them.
  • You can’t perform daily tasks, like driving or going to work, without constantly thinking about them.
  • You have no boundaries.
  • You constantly seek their approval.
  • Your self-worth depends on them needing you.

Healing a codependent relationship

If you’ve lived in a codependent relationship for a long time, it can become difficult to notice or accept it, let alone change it. Though it is possible to overcome codependency on your own, many couples require professional treatment or counselling. If both parties are willing to make a change, they can work towards a healthier relationship.

As codependency is complicated, it’s important to find a therapist with experience in dealing with them. A professional can help you to:

  • Identify codependent behaviour and take steps to address it.
  • Work through unsolved childhood trauma.
  • Work on increasing self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Help with anxiety and fear of abandonment.
  • Challenge negative thought patterns.
  • Help you develop an identity beyond your relationship with your partner.

Remember, in a healthy relationship, it’s important to:

  • Take breaks

In a healthy relationship, people are able to function away from their partner. Spend time with your friends and family, go to the beach, out to dinner, to a movie or a solo outing… maybe that shopping spree you’ve been dreaming of!

  • Set yourself boundaries
    • If your partner is constantly texting you, decide that you’ll no longer answer while at work or after a certain time.
    • Don’t cancel plans to spend time with them. If you planned a day out with friends, don’t cancel it just to be with them.
    • Don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t feel like spending time with them. If you’re sick, busy, or tired after a long day at work, tell them.
    • Organise a ‘date night’ with them, or plan time you always spend together. That way, you have time to yourself, while still having a scheduled time to spend time with them.

When you have become used to giving and giving, spending time on yourself can feel selfish and wrong. However, self-care is vital in relieving stress and anxiety, strengthening coping skills, and increasing resilience. Whether it’s putting on a face mask, taking a warm bath, or going on a peaceful walk in the woods, self-care can help revitalise your mind and body, leading to a calmer and healthier you.

  • Embrace positive communication.

Be open with your partner and express your feelings. If they do something to upset you, tell them. If they aren’t respecting your boundaries, talk to them. The more open you are with them, the easier it will be for them to open up in return.

  • Trust that your emotions are valid.

In a codependent relationship, it’s common to ignore or hide your emotions in fear of causing an argument. However, in a healthy relationship, both parties should feel comfortable sharing how they feel, without fearing the outcome. Regardless of whether you deem an emotion as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you are entitled to feel it.

Professional treatment

If you and your partner both decide to make a change, a therapist who specialises in relationships may be able to help you. A professional can assist you in establishing healthy boundaries, work on self-esteem and self-worth issues, and help you to recognise unhealthy thought patterns. Since codependency often stems from childhood, a therapist may also work through any traumas or unresolved feelings that may be related to your need for codependency. Overall, the goal of treatment is to allow an individual to regain their sense of emotions and identify which, in turn, leads to a healthier relationship.

Remember: it’s not your job to ‘fix’ your partner.

We all want to support the ones we love. But remember, you are not your partner’s therapist. It is important to love them without hurting yourself in the process.

Can we simply obtain Self Love from a beauty makeover, buying a new outfit or reading an inspirational self help book? Is Self Love is not simply just “loving yourself more” or a state of “feeling good”?

Some may say that without loving yourself, you will never be able to genuinely love others.

Popular singer, Lizzo, who regularly refers to her own process of loving herself, recently told fans to “give your growth time – it took me 10 years and I’m still not 100 per cent there.”

Whilst Queer Eye’s, Jonathan Van Ness, said on Channel 10’s The Project “Everyone is always on a journey to Self Love and self-acceptance” and it’s a continued relationship we have with ourselves. Here are some simple ways we can incorporate more self love into our daily routine.

Face masks

We should all take the time to do a face mask at least one a week, because we’re worth it. There are all sorts of face masks on the market from cucumber to charcoal, clay and mud varieties, to the sheet and creme options, but what are the actual benefits? Tyler Hollmig, MD, Director of Aesthetic and Laser Dermatology at Stanford Health Care suggests face masks are good are moisturising the skin saying “even if you were to just put a mask on top of the skin with nothing in it, it would naturally moisturise the skin”.

A rule of thumb from Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, “Just because a product is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s better.” Some do-it-yourself at-home masks can deliver great results too, she says. Ingredients like milk and yogurt for example, contain lactic acid, which exfoliates the skin and can make it appear brighter. Aloe vera contains antioxidants that can brighten skin, too. And coffee, because of the caffeine, can minimise the appearance of pores by drying out the skin.

Lighting a scented candle can boost energy, relieve stress and even enhance mental clarity.

Take a Nice Bath

Signs that we can be depressed are that we stop showering regularly. Draw yourself a nice hot bath and pour in some Epsom salts, you might like to also add some sort of bubble bath soap or a bath bomb and light some candles. You can also add some drops of your favourite essential oils. Essential oils can improve our physical and emotional wellbeing, for example relief from anxiety and depression, improved quality of life, particularly for people with chronic health conditions and improved sleep.

10 popular essential oils:

Peppermint: boost energy and aid digestion

Lavender: relieve stress and reduce pain

Sandalwood: calm nerves and help with focus

Bergamot: reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema

Rose: improve mood and reduce anxiety

Chamomile: improve mood and relaxation

Ylang-Ylang: treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions

Tea Tree: fight infections and boost immunity

Jasmine: help with depression, childbirth, and libido

Lemon: aid digestion, mood, headaches, and more

Eating Well
There is a strong link between what we eat and how we feel. Eating well can help improve sleep, energy levels, concentration and you are also less likely to crave sugar, salt or fat. New research suggests if you eat Colourful fruits and vegetables, Wholegrains, Fermented foods and Fish whilst cutting back on Sugar, Alcohol and Saturated fat, you will feel good. – Headspace

Drinking Two Litres of Water Every Day
Minor dehydration can have effects on our mental and physical performance. The body is made up of between 50 per cent and 80 per cent water and relies on water to function properly. We need water to absorb nutrients, for digestion, to lubricate our joints to help us move, get rid of waste products and to regulate our body temperature. Drink around two litres of water everyday.

Meditate
Mindfulness meditation often takes just a few minutes and there are a wide range of apps available. Meditation is one way to help manage anxiety and depression. Sadhbh Joyce, Senior Psychologist and PhD Candidate at the Black Dog Institute, says “When freed from the task of processing so much external stimuli, the brain has the opportunity to focus its resources differently. For this reason, meditation can often lead to us to experience greater creativity. Meditation allows us to take advantage of our brains’ neuroplasticity and effectively rewire it to enhance things such as concentration, focus and memory.”

Light a Scented Candle
Lighting a scented candle can boost energy, relieve stress and even enhance mental clarity. The smell of the scented candle is said to stimulate the part of your brain which is connected to memory and mood.

Lavender: relaxes instantly both mind and body

Clary sage: lifts mood

Cinnamon: makes you feel refreshed
Pine: relaxes

Orange: reduces stress

Lemon: improves mood

Apple: controls anxiety

Peppermint: wakes up your mind and enhances focus

Frankincense: helps battle anxiety and gives a great stress relief

Sandalwood: relaxes and calms body and mind

Vanilla: increases happiness levels, uplifts your mood and stimulates feelings of relaxation and joy
Rose: makes you more likely to have happy dreams

Get a Massage
Getting a massage is one of life’s many pleasures and has so many physical and emotional benefits. Studies of the benefits of massage show that it is an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. Studies have also found massage may be helpful for anxiety, headaches and insomnia related to stress. Take time out for yourself a book a massage.

Eat a Cinnamon Scroll
Danes are the happiest people on earth, and experts think a philosophy called Hygge that encourages the savouring of everyday pleasures could be the secret. One thing Danes like to do is eat baked goods, especially cinnamon scrolls. There’s something special about the smell of the cinnamon, the warmth of the dough and its delicious sticky goodness.

Call a Loved One
When were feeling depressed we tend to withdraw from close family and friends and we don’t want to go out anymore. Usually we’re left feeling overwhelmed, guilty, frustrated and unhappy and what we really need is to reach out to someone. If you’re feeling down or distressed, call a friend or family member or alternatively you can see a psychologist or call lifeline on 13 11 14.

Listen to Music
Make an empowering playlist on Spotify, with music that really uplifts you, something upbeat for example a track by Lizzo. Although one song that might calm a person down may irritate another. So you may choose something sombre for example have you ever felt better after crying to a breakup song? Or maybe a happy song brings you a sad memory? Go with what makes you feel most comfortable.

Parenting is hard. Parenting kids without a partner to help can be grueling. From finding the right support to setting realistic limits, you can feel more in control and less overwhelmed. Here’s how.

        Tap emotional support. A positive support network is instrumental for stress management. If you don’t have access to close family or friends, seek support from single parent or mothers’ groups.

“We have discussion groups that discuss topics pertinent to single parents,” says Janet Gallinati, president of Parents without Partners, an international non-profit organization, with chapters across North America. “Sometimes all you need to do is talk about it, but there may be someone in the group who has gone through something similar.”

   

        Manage your finances. Many hardworking single parents struggle to make ends meet. If you qualify, numerous non-profit and government organizations are available to provide assistance. Also, eliminate unnecessary bills or contact the company to see if refinancing is an option.

“One of the worst things to do is to let the kids think that the only thing that has changed is that mommy or daddy has left,” Gallinati says. “Explain that this is now a one-income family and cuts need to be made.”

        Set limits. Say no to requests that will cause undue strain on your wallet or your time. Also, resist the urge to say yes to every activity your child wants to participate in. Make reasonable choices according to what works with your hours and available support.

         Seek flexibility. If possible, negotiate work hours or find a job that better accommodates you and your children’s needs.

“Finding flexible work is realistic if you are clear about what you need, how you can be successful and matching that with the business need,” says Laura Wildman, a staffing consultant with Mom Corps, which helps match professionals who are raising young families with companies that offer flexible work conditions.

As president of Mothers & More, a national organization that provides community, support and programming for mothers, single mom Jill Gaikowski, says she works in the evenings and on the weekends when she doesn’t have her child.

“I’m happy to make the trade-off because before becoming a single parent, I was a stay-at-home mom. I am lucky to have this option,” Gaikowski says.

         Resolve guilt. Are you haunted by feelings of guilt, inadequacy and resentment in the midst of juggling parenthood and a career? Realize that you are doing your best and focus on remaining optimistic.

“You will get that important email that comes while you are at your kids’ game and you will get that call from school when you are working, but your mindset and flexibility can make it all work,” Wildman says.

         Ask for help. Without adequate emotional and practical support, caregiving can deplete your energy making you more susceptible to illness and depression. Utilize available resources and take advantage of any help that is offered by family and friends, says life coach Kristin Dunn, owner of From the Ground Up Life Coaching.

Also, find a reliable sitter, trade babysitting with a friend or check out area drop-in day cares.

         Commit to self-care. Engage in activities that nurture and energize you like meditation, reading or exercise, even if that means waking up a few minutes earlier than usual. Use your lunch hour to connect with a friend.

“Don’t underestimate the power of human touch,” Dunn says. “Schedule a massage or a pedicure. Human contact is really helpful in releasing bottled up energy and emotion that may not otherwise have an outlet for release.”

         Plan ahead. Include personal time on the calendar. “Do something for yourself once a week. You will see how it makes you better in all other areas of your life,” Gaikowski says.

         Integrate fun. Spend time with your kids cooking meals together, playing board games, bike-riding or watching a movie. Also plan playdates or outings with other families to build a sense of community.

         Involve your kids. Assign age-appropriate responsibilities which helps children grow more self-confident and independent.

“If you over-function by doing things for your children they could be doing for themselves, you’re teaching them to have unrealistic expectations for themselves and others,” Dunn says.

Although single parenting isn’t easy, remember that when you manage your stress and focus on creating a stable, loving home for your kids, you’ll not only survive, you and your family will thrive.