Do you spend a lot of time and energy trying to make others happy? Of course, it’s natural to want our loved ones to feel cared for. If that often comes at your own expense though, or your efforts to please someone else are actually enabling more of their bad behaviour, you may be straying into the territory of co-dependence.
How do I know if I’m co-dependent?
Some symptoms to look out for are:
- You’re usually more concerned with taking caring of someone else’s needs rather than your own
- You find yourself trying to compensate for, or “fix”, another person
- You struggle to say “No”, even when the way someone is behaving or treating you is not ok
What causes it?
Co-dependence is often a result of growing up in a family where someone else’s needs were always more important. Perhaps someone was ill or addicted and needed to be taken care of, or you experienced emotional, physical and mental abuse. As a coping mechanism, you may have learned that it was better or safer to keep others happy.
If this pattern of people pleasing continues into adulthood, it can lead to low self-esteem and/or the need to be in control at all times. Other people may experience this as needy or smothering, or you may attract friends and partners into your life who don’t take responsibility for their own behaviour. As a result, you could find yourself in some very unhealthy relationships, and potentially feeling resentful, rejected, guilty or depressed.
How to deal with it
If you see elements of this in yourself, it’s time to start taking your power back:
- Pay attention to what it is you really want in any given situation – your feelings and thoughts will give you clues here
- Then express those feelings and thoughts to others
- Don’t be afraid to say “No” when something doesn’t feel right
- Practise taking care of your needs first
- Focus on supporting people, rather than rescuing or trying to “fix” them
In any healthy relationship, the other person will be interested in your preferences. If they aren’t, you may want to consider spending less time with them, and more with others who do care about your needs.
As you start to take back your power, begin with baby steps. Then work your way up to bigger ones, until eventually you have your life back.