How To Embrace Self-care When You're Codependent

Self-care for codependents article

Self-care is a struggle for codependent people because they can’t prioritize their own needs. Because they’re natural givers (and give too much), they struggle with feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated.

In this blog you will learn how to prioritize self-care when you are codependent.

A core symptom of codependency is sacrificing your needs for someone else’s. Life becomes more about care-taking than attending to one’s own life.

Prioritizing self-care is the first step in recovering from codependency. Taking care of yourself means attending to your physical, emotional and spiritual needs without delay.

Without good self-care, the codependent becomes increasingly overwhelmed. They have trouble getting their needs met because asking for things makes them feel guilty.

Pleasing others makes them feel valued in relationships. They feel compelled to give advice and rescue others without being asked which leaves very little room for practicing self-care.

The Codependents Struggle to Be Themselves

Because codependent people are people pleasers, they struggle with being authentic. Acknowledging their needs is difficult because they’re afraid of being judged or labeled self-centered.

They ignore their needs for the sake of others and become “human doings” by not letting themselves ask for help.

Eventually their health to begins to suffer physically and emotionally. Codependent people convince themselves that self-care is unnecessary but they pay a steep price by feeling anxious and overwhelmed much of the time.

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How Recovery Starts

Over time, feeling sick and tired of doing everything for everybody else makes them finally hit bottom and seek help.

Attending Al-Anon, or CODA, 12 step programs that help with codependency, provide the structure, mentorship and support needed for healing.

In recovery, there are different strategies for practicing self-care. Though it may feel like a foreign concept at first, learning how to create a healthy balance between giving and self-care will provide much needed relief. Sayings like “One day at a time”, “Easy does it” and This too shall pass” can be calming in moments of stress.

Here are some ways to start practicing self-care:

  • Develop a daily routine of nurturing self-care.

  • Let your opinions count by expressing them to trusted friends and family.

  • Start expressing smaller wants and needs instead of minimizing them.

  • Find activities that you love and start engaging in them.

  • Look for a community such a Al-Anon to support your growth.

Becoming Your Own Advocate

Advocating for yourself is another part of self-care. Although codependent people don’t like conflict, speaking up doesn’t have to be confrontational. It can be as simple as letting someone know how you feel, or expressing what really matters to you.

Using “I” statements to express how you feel is a helpful tool. It looks like this:

I feel uncomfortable when you laughed at me in front of my family last night.

When you didn’t respond to my texts last night, I feel really hurt.

When Others Don’t Like It

Recovery means embracing your own needs in order to live a happier life.

However, this doesn't guarantee that others are going to like it. Family and friends get used to the benefits of people-pleasing and always saying yes, so they’ll need time to adjust.

When others don't support your new found self-care, it may be time to adjust expectations. For instance, some relationships are more suited for hanging out but not emotional support. Not everyone is going to be a close, intimate friend. Finding a new tribe in 12 step programs will help a lot!

Setting Boundaries is Part of Self-care

As people pleasers, offering help happens in a millisecond. The codependent person so badly wants to contribute because it makes them feel like they matter.

But setting boundaries triggers guilt for the codependent because they don’t want to risk upsetting someone they love. Instead, they say yes when they mean no, which puts their needs last - again.

Here are some simple responses to help the codependent say no, nicely:

  • Let me get back to you on that.

  • I'm so glad you asked but that’s not going to work.

  • Unfortunately, I'm not able to do that.

  • I can help you think of another option.

  • Here’s what is going to work for me.

  • Oh I wish I could! Thanks for thinking of me.

Saying no is a huge challenge because the codependent’s self-worth is wrapped up in giving. Being the hero becomes an addictive cycle since they define themselves only by what they have to offer. Click here to read What are Healthy Boundaries?

Practicing Self-care Changes Things

When you struggle with codependency, putting yourself first seems like a daunting task but consider what it could do for you.

  • How would your stress decrease if you put yourself first?

  • How much time would you get for yourself by saying no sometimes?

  • How would setting boundaries change your relationships with those who really love you?

  • If taking better care of yourself hurts your relationships, it’s time to rethink them.

Act As If - Because You Can Do This

Whenever you’re practicing a new skill, it feels uncomfortable. “Act as if" is great slogan in 12 step recovery that reminds us to act like everything's okay - even if you’re scared to death.

This doesn't mean denying your feelings but don’t assume the worst. Developing an attitude that focuses on the positive helps to minimize anxiety. There may be some guilt at first, especially if helping others has defined how you see yourself. Just keep at it!

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt like you would a friend. Codependent people need to stop worrying about what others think of them. They assume that they know how people feel but they really don’t!

Finally, It’s Okay to Be Happy

If you aren't enjoying life, that’s a red flag that something needs to change. Life isn't meant to be a mountain of pain and obligations. For codependents, feeling happy comes from other people instead of their own life. Click here to read When Happiness Is a Problem.

Codependent people need to think about what makes them happy whether it is working out, cooking, getting out in nature, or doing whatever they really enjoy. Taking steps towards making those activities happen is what recovery is all about.

When you are willing to work past your fears, you are well on your way to better self-care. Recovering from codependency and practicing self-care takes practice. Every day provides opportunities to speak up, set boundaries, or fulfill your own needs. It starts and ends with you.

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