Ending a relationship in which you get a lot of your value from helping someone who does not necessarily want help is a huge challenge. You believe this person would fall apart without you. They might tell you things like, “I will kill myself if you ever break up with me,” or “The only reason I don’t use drugs again is because you keep me sober.” However, their behavior is still very unhealthy and you are completely caught in it.
When you finally decide it’s time to get out of the relationship you need to realize 6 very, very important things:
1. You have value to this world whether or not you are associating with this person. There are many, many people who love you and think you are worth a million bucks just because you’re you. You don’t have to earn their love.
2. When you end the codependent relationship, whatever actions the other person takes are not your fault. If the person goes on a bender and then blows up your phone with texts that tell you it’s your fault, you HAVE to remember that it isn’t your fault. You are never, ever responsible for what someone else chooses to do. You didn’t hold a gun to their head.
3. You’ve been manipulated for a long time. You are so used to hearing that you’re a piece of garbage when you don’t do whatever the other person wants, and then that you are a savior whenever you show up and save them from themselves. It’s really hard to get used to just being responsible for yourself.
4. It is imperative that you cut off contact for awhile, and maybe indefinitely. Even though you are making a healthy choice for yourself, if you get a call that they are thinking about suicide, your heartstrings will be pulled, forcefully. You will want to rush into the situation and save them again. It is really hard to resist. However, if you give in you will be completely entrapped again.
5. Focus on what you mean to do with your life. Write down the ways you have given up things you shouldn’t have just to keep this other person sane. Write down money you shouldn’t have spent, lies you shouldn’t have told, friend you shouldn’t have lost, trust you shouldn’t have broken, etc. On the other side of the paper write down who you were before this person affected you so deeply. This is who you can be again if you stay away from the toxicity of a codependent relationship.
6. Most threats are idle threats just to get you back. For the most part if you stop responding to these desperate pleas for help, someone else will step in. This person has always come to you because you have had poor boundaries with them.
There are two really good, emotionally safe places to go if you struggle with codependent thinking and behavior. The first is Alanon. This is a great place to go if someone you are close with is addicted to drugs or alcohol, and you have helped enable their addiction. The second is CODA, which stands for Codependents Anonymous. This is for anyone with any codependent behavior, whether it is being “too” helpful to someone with a drug problem or “too” helpful to someone with mental illness, etc.
If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, give your child a lot of support. It’s very difficult for your teenager to recognize what you can see so clearly.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT