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  • Writer's pictureAlayna Dorfman

Codependency: How to Find your Inner Advocate

Updated: May 23, 2023

Most of us at some point in our lives strive to care for others. It feels good to let someone we love feel cared for and loved. Giving to others provides us a greater sense of purpose and connection; it is very normal and natural for human beings to want to give to one another.



But what happens when this drive takes over and we are excessively giving to others to the point that there is nothing left for ourselves? This is what is commonly known as codependency. Some symptoms of codependency can include, Individuals feeling bitter or resentful, feeling guilty frequently and like they don’t have any control over their lives. Sometimes they may even feel hopeless. And over time, if left unattended, codependent behaviors can lead to more chronic issues like anxiety and/or depression.


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What is codependency exactly?

Codependency can be defined at the most basic level as a behavior in which you are consistently prioritizing someone else over you (think: their needs and wants are always your first concern). Codependency also refers to what clinicians call “enmeshed” relationships, which is defined as partners becoming dependent on each other to feel whole. When we are in these kinds of relationships, we can lose our sense of identity - it becomes part of a unit with the other person rather than its own individual entity. This quality can be sometimes confused with caring for others, but there is a huge difference. It is important to be able to nurture your own values, desires, and goals while also still caring about the experience of others in your life.

Codependency can stem from a variety of factors, including personality traits, family dynamics, and physical/emotional health history. Self-awareness is therefore key. The more we understand the root of our behaviors, the easier it is to change them. As discussed above, it is therefore very important to be able to distinguish between codependency and caring for others with appropriate boundaries. You don’t have to stop being empathic, but you do need to learn how to nurture your own needs and wants.


How do I know if I am codependent?

To start here is a list of some of the most common examples of behaviors and symptoms that exhibit codependent qualities:

  • You heavily rely on the opinions of others (think: you consistently trust everyone’s judgment over your own)

  • You don’t have “control” of your life (you let others choose for you)

  • You feel guilt and/or anxiety when making a decision that benefits yourself (if the feeling is extreme, you may feel nauseous as well)

  • You idealize your partners/loved ones to an extreme, often to the point of feeling unfulfilled in your relationships (think: you are filling everyone else’s cups before your own)

  • You experience overwhelming fears of abandonment and rejection

  • You have a strong tendency to minimize or ignore your own desires and goals in life

  • You have a consistent tendency to apologize or take blame in order to preserve the peace (think: you take responsibility for situations that weren’t your fault and you’re doing it as a form of sacrifice to protect the peace)


If this resonates for you, know that we see you. We have worked with many people who have struggled with codependency traits, ranging from mild to severe. We can help you let go of these unhealthy habits so that you can feel more confident, calm, and in control of your life again.



Codependent vs Healthy Relationship: An Example


To further demonstrate the differences between health relationship dynamics and codependent qualities, here’s a simple scenario that can help juxtapose the two:


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Codependency

Let’s say your partner dislikes sushi, but it’s your favorite food. You don’t want to make your partner feel bad for not enjoying it the way that you do, so you decide to cut it out of your food pallet altogether. You make the choice to sacrifice something that brings enjoyment to your taste buds in order to adhere to your partner’s conditions. You may miss eating your favorite food from time to time, but you are adamant about cutting it out of your life for good. This is an example of filling other’s cups while leaving yours empty. You may feel that “rewarding” feeling from your body after honoring your partner’s desires, but you may also end up feeling resentful and upset that your interests aren’t being acknowledged. The codependent partner doesn’t voice their own preferences, but deeply care about their partner’s, and always takes action to fulfill their partner’s voiced preferences. You’re caring for your partner here, but you are also neglecting your own personal interests/preferences.


Caring

Your partner still dislikes sushi, but this time you assert that it’s your favorite food and share your recent craving for sushi. You and your partner work together as a team to find a restaurant that adheres to both of your food preferences, or choose to rotate preferences - one restaurant one night and another on a different night. You feel good that you cared for your partner's needs/preferences, while also caring for your own. You are equally honoring each other’s needs as you work together as one caring and supportive team. In this scenario, both partners in this balanced relationship are left feeling heard and acknowledged.


How to Overcome Codependency


Whether you can or can’t relate to the qualities listed above, it is still important to learn how to practice autonomy (autonomy: the ability to make choices for yourself rather than having them made for you by other people a.k.a: independence!) When you learn to develop that inner confidence, you become certain of your self-produced ideas, beliefs, and actions. You begin to find your inner advocate and trust yourself rather than waiting for others’ approval. You gain control of the life that you want to live.



For empaths and emotionally sensitives, it can be particularly easy to think of others before yourself, and it can be easy to “sacrifice” your own needs in order to help a respected loved one. This is why it is so important to maintain healthy boundaries.


So we created a list of 3 ways to boost your confidence and foster more independence:


Identify your top core values

One of our favorite ways of building self-awareness is exploring our values in life. You have to know what you value in order to advocate for your needs, wants, and beliefs. Think of this as the “first step” to finding and strengthening your inner advocate. What do you believe is important? What is non-negotiable for you in relationships? What concepts drive the actions you take each day and the decisions you make? It’s important to identify these values so that you can use them as a shield: a form of protection that preserves your well-being. Knowing your core values will also help strengthen those healthy boundaries with your loved ones, as you will become more aware when a decision may “harm” one of these values with which you strongly resonate. We wanted to keep it easy, so here is a list of values to get you started.

VALUES LIST (1)
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Spend alone (& quality) time with yourself

If you aren’t totally comfortable with your own thoughts, this may sound intimidating or out of your comfort zone, but the more time you can spend alone, the more you will learn to become your own best friend. You will become in-tune with what your body, mind, and spirit need from you. Spending alone time with yourself limits distractions (external stimuli) and helps you learn your preferences, your needs/wants, when you feel uncomfortable versus comfortable, etc. That alone time allows you to become an expert on YOU. Friends and loved ones may come and go, but someone you will always be guaranteed is yourself. When you learn to prioritize and care for yourself first, you will see how easy it can be to balance caring for others with your own needs and wants.


Share Your Story

Look, it can take time to find your inner advocate, learn how to consider your own needs/wants when making decisions, and learn how to stop being easily influenced by opinions outside of your own. It can take time to undo the habits you’ve practiced in your mind for years. And sometimes, it takes a little guidance to find your inner voice and learn how to advocate for your self-worth. What better way to do that than with other women experiencing the same thing as you!


At BYBS, we believe in the power of shared stories, so we created a group to foster just that.


This group will be led by our trauma and codependency expert, Hall Birdsong.


Here are his thoughts on why this group will be so helpful for you:


“I’m so excited to start this group, because codependency is something I often see in my work with clients, especially those with a history of trauma. Clients who have experienced trauma are incredibly resilient and brave and the healing I’ve

headshot of hall birdsong at be your best self and thrive in st petersburg, fl, lgbtq counselor, counseling for codependency

witnessed is inspiring. But one thing that tends to come up along the way is difficulty navigating relationships with others. This often comes up after tremendous progress has been made, which makes it particularly frustrating and confusing to navigate. Here’s what we know about trauma: it makes our nervous system hyper-aware of danger in the environment (real or perceived) and of other people’s emotions. This is our body’s survival system - the one that got us through the initial trauma, so it’s ultimately a good thing we have it. But what can happen is once we’re safe and the danger has passed, we continue to be incredibly sensitive to the needs of others and prioritize their needs above our own. Taken too far, this can create a codependent relationship. Trauma can make us believe we aren’t good enough- like we don’t deserve to be happy or to have a healthy relationship. Although this is a


natural reaction, it couldn’t be further from the truth. My goal is for our group to help people truly feel they are deserving of happiness. We will help teach clients what a healthy relationship looks and feels like, and ways to set boundaries and prioritize their own needs. Everyone has their own unique journey, but this group will help people know that they aren’t alone and there is a way through this.”

Schedule your 15-minute consultation to learn more about the group and how Hall can help you get started!




Frequently Asked Questions About Codependency

How would a Codependency Group help Me?

Once you learn ways that help challenge codependent habits, you will learn how to naturally set up healthy boundaries; you will notice positive changes:

  1. You will learn how to respectfully say “no” and won’t feel pressured to do something that goes against your own beliefs

  2. You will learn how to address what’s on your mind assertively, without the fear of potential conflict.

  3. You will learn how to be comfortable with your own company.

  4. You learn how to decide for yourself, without feeling guilty or shameful.

  5. You will learn how to live a fulfilled life that’s focused on your goals, desires, and preferences.

Gaining that independence will give you the golden opportunity to take the reins of how you want to run your life; you will become the official author of your own story. Whether you can practice this on your own, or you decide that you would like some assistance to strengthen your self-advocacy, we want to write this final message to you: finding your inner advocate can feel mentally draining, and the process can feel overwhelming, but we can promise you will feel liberated once you can find that independence, find that inner voice, and find the life you want to happily live. This is your life, and you deserve to run it the way you please.


What are the signs and symptoms of codependency?

Signs and symptoms of codependency may include heavily relying on others' opinions, feeling a lack of control over one's life, experiencing guilt or anxiety when prioritizing oneself, idealizing partners to an extreme, fearing abandonment and rejection, minimizing one's own desires and goals, and frequently taking blame or apologizing unnecessarily to preserve peace.


How can I differentiate between caring for someone and being codependent?

Differentiating between caring for someone and being codependent involves understanding healthy boundaries. While caring for others involves empathy and support, codependency goes beyond that, prioritizing the needs and wants of others at the expense of one's own well-being. It is important to nurture your own values, desires, and goals while still caring about others.


Can codependency stem from past trauma or family dynamics?

Yes, codependency can stem from a variety of factors, including past trauma and family dynamics. Trauma can create a heightened sensitivity to the needs of others as a survival mechanism. It can lead individuals to prioritize others' needs over their own and believe they are not deserving of happiness or healthy relationships. Understanding these underlying factors is crucial in overcoming codependent behaviors and establishing healthier patterns of relating to others.



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