Do you find yourself consistently feeling unfulfilled in your step family relationships or not asserting yourself enough? Perhaps you have difficulty figuring out where your responsibility for someone else ends? Issues like these and others, such as perfectionism, low self-esteem, distrust, and even physical illness related to stress can indicate that you have some codependent behavior.
Codependency commonly occurs when a loved one needs support because of an addiction or an illness and we take care of that person at the expense of ourselves. In a step family the desire to have a successful, harmonious second or third family can push us to the point of sacrificing our own needs in an attempt to create a happy home. Codependents can also attempt to control everything within a relationship, again, without addressing their own needs, setting themselves up for unfulfilling interactions and even sometimes unintentionally discouraging the loved one from seeking outside help.
We learn codependency by watching and imitating people in our family and in society who display the behavior. Often, codependency passed down from generation to generation.
Not everyone is codependent but many of us have been taught codependent behaviors, such as not being assertive, or we simply don’t know how to directly ask for our needs to be met. Women are sometimes taught that codependent behavior is how all women should behave.
Since codependency is a learned emotional and behavioral condition, that means it can also be unlearned. Here are some ways to begin:
- Recognize where it comes from. Many things we were taught as children set us up to become codependent. For example, sayings like: “Don’t rock the boat” teach us to be passive and keep the peace at all costs.
- Begin to understand where the boundary is between yourself and other people. Although this can be confusing for the codependent at first, when you start to realize that you are not responsible for your partner’s depression or anger, for example, it will become an easier concept to grasp. Learning what is your responsibility as the step-parent as well as having open dialogue with your spouse about the challenges in the household will help release you from undue stress and compromising your health. You have to take care of yourself first. Remember the air travel admonition to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs? You can’t truly help someone else until you’ve taken care of your own needs.
- Learn when and how to say ‘no.’ As you become more self-reliant, you will have to learn to say ‘no.’ That can be challenging, but understand that your ‘no’ is usually expressed anyway, often through resentment. It’s empowering to say ‘no’ when you want to. You’ll also find that standing up for your needs and expressing yourself more frequently will improve your well-being and even your relationships.
The cycle of codependency can be broken as you find freedom and self-esteem in the process of recovering your own voice and expressing it. In time and with practice, you won’t worry so much about what others think of you, and you won’t feel the need to control others or their response to you. Healing is possible, and it can start today.
You’ll find that it’s okay to talk openly about problems; you won’t worry so much about others and you won’t feel the need to keep feelings to yourself. At The Center for Family Unity, we specialize in helping Step families create the relational success and harmony they desire.
To learn more about our process, download our FREE e-book, A Good Blend: Seven Steps To Blended Family Success, now!
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