How to Deal With a Codependent Family Member
Codependency is a learned behavior that often runs in families. Since it is learned, it can often be passed down through generations. At its core, codependence is a behavioral condition that impacts an individual’s ability to have healthy, mutually-beneficial relationships. If you have a family member who is codependent, you may feel smothered or manipulated. It may feel hard to break the cycle. You can move past it, though, as long as you can recognize and detach from codependent behaviors.
Recognizing and Handling Codependent Behavior
Interacting with Your Family Member
Read up on codependent behavior.To recognize codependency, you have to know what it looks like. Taking time to educate yourself will not only help you see if your family member fits the description, it will also help you understand their mental state. Only a mental health professional can diagnose codependency, but some telltale symptoms include:
- Low self-esteem
- Constant people-pleasing
- Little to no boundaries
- Caretaking as a means of control
- Painful emotions
Understand that you cannot cure your family member of codependency.Codependency is a mental health condition. Like many other mental health problems, it's not something you can cure or eliminate for your family member. They may not even recognize it as a problem, and instead, think that they are getting along just fine with you and your other family members.
- Don't expect your family member to see their behavior as codependent if they haven't already come to that conclusion on their own. Trying to force your family member to see your perspective may only make matters worse.
- Treatment in the form of psychotherapy is available. However, your family member likely won't seek it until they come to their own conclusion that there are no other options.
Look at where the codependent person is coming from.You should not feel like you need to withstand emotional manipulation in any sense. However, it is also important to understand that a codependent person may not know they are manipulating you. In their mind, they are often being supportive and doing the best possible thing for you. Understanding whether a person is or is not intentionally trying to manipulate you can help you figure out how you want to interact with your family member.
- Do not use this to try and justify their actions in your own mind. Simply remember that a codependent person is not operating in the same frame of mind as you. Their actions are being guided by a mental health problem.
Consider whether you are influencing the codependent behavior.In some cases, codependency can be an overcompensating reaction to another person’s behavior. Think honestly about whether you are engaged in any activities or behaviors that may be feeding a family member’s codependency.
- For example, codependence is often seen in the parents and spouses of addicts. The codependent person may feel an endless obligation to take care of the addict for fear of what would happen if they don’t.
- Think honestly about whether you have behaviors and tendencies that might be feeding into a codependent person’s behaviors. If so, you may be part of a codependent relationship.
Detach from your family member.Detachment doesn’t mean that you will never see or speak to your family member. Instead, detachment means separating your family member from their manipulative behaviors. Respond selectively to only those things that are a part of your family member’s life or personality, and not that which is a part of codependency.
- If, for example, your mother asks for some fashion advice about shoes, this is a normal and healthy interaction. If she comes to your house to replace all of your shoes because she believes you aren’t getting the best arch support, this is a codependent action.
Establish personal boundaries.You may or may not choose to communicate those boundaries to your family member. You should, however, take some time to set boundaries with which you are comfortable. Consider your personal health and ask yourself what do you need to stay physically and mentally healthy on a daily basis. Build your boundaries around that.
- If, for example, it is important for you to have time every evening to wind down and disconnect for the day, make a boundary that says you will not answer calls, texts, or social media after a certain time.
- If you do choose to let your family member know about your boundaries, state them as fact. You don’t need to rationalize them. You can simply tell your family member, “I’ve decided I don’t want to be on my phone or computer after 7 pm anymore.” Then, stay steady on your new policy, even if they argue or disagree.
Removing Yourself from Codependent Situations
Find the right way to say no.Part of codependent relationships is familiarity and "button-pushing."That is why in some situations, it may help to say no and distance yourself from your codependent family members, at least temporarily. Finding the right way to say no will depend on the situation, but it can empower you to walk away when things get rough.
- In some cases, when codependent behaviors are not spiraling or threatening your sense of self, you may use a calm response. These could include, "Sorry, I just wouldn't be comfortable doing that," or "Yes, I see that you don't have the same point of view; we are not communicating.”
- In situations where you feel it is important to disengage quickly, a simple “No,” or “I can’t do that,” will work. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Your family member may develop an emotionally-charged response, but you are not obligated to meet their emotions.
Practice nonviolent communication.Violent communication is a form of communication that causes harm, often through coercive or manipulative language. You can start to remove yourself from a codependent dynamic by practicing nonviolent communication. This can help strip the violent communication of its power, and help you detach from the controls of codependency.
- Nonviolent communication relies on explaining how you feel without blame or criticism and expressing your needs with empathy.
- For example, instead of saying, “You always try to control me! Stop!” you may say, “When I hear you telling me that, I feel like I don’t have personal autonomy. I value being able to make that kind of decision for myself. Would you be willing to let me do so?” Using "I" statements helps communicate your point without assigning blame or causing your family member to get defensive.
Detach for a longer period of time.If your family member’s codependency is dictating or dominating your life, you may not want to selectively detach. Instead, you may find it more beneficial to detach completely for a longer period of time. This could be anywhere from a day to a period of years, depending on their behavior and your needs.
- In these situations, you may choose how detached you want to be. For example, you could decide you don’t want to be around your family member without other people around, or you may decide you don’t want to be around them period.
- Always leave a situation if you feel it is potentially dangerous.
Maintaining Healthy Relationships
Expect change to be slow.Change in codependent behavior comes slowly, but believe that your attitude can help encourage change. Remember, though, that change often involves dealing with big emotions and overcoming large personal fears. These are not easy, and they will take time.
- Initially, codependent individuals may react with anger or aggressive outbreaks. Try your best to not react to these outbursts. These are fear-driven reactions that you should not indulge or let impact you.
- If there are moments where you are frustrated, try not to engage in anger. Instead, take a deep breath and think about what you are going to say before you say it. If you need to, you can even excuse yourself for a minute until you feel calm enough to return to the situation.
Focus on your personal health and wellbeing.When you’re dealing with a codependent family member, it can sometimes be easy to lose track of your own wellbeing. Try to not let your family member’s actions distract you from your daily duties such as work and school. Beyond your daily duties, pick a few things each day that you do just for you, and stick to them.
- For example, you may make an evening routine out of going for a run, then taking a hot bath afterward. Look for things that both prioritize your personal health, and help you relax and detach from the stress of your codependent family member.
- These practices will become a type of self-care, which is critical for coping with and moving on from codependency.
Treat other family members as if they are emotionally mature.Just because one family member is codependent does not mean that everyone in your family will be. Try not to let your codependent family member’s behavior dictate how you interact with the rest of your family. Treat them as if they are emotionally mature unless they give you a reason not to do so.
- For example, this could mean simply asking someone directly for the thing you want, instead of going through a process of detachment to avoid manipulation.
QuestionHow do I know if I am the giver or the taker? Can someone be both?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you feel like you are being drained, then you're normally the giver. But, yes, you can be both.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I make my adult child become more independent?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThanks!
QuestionI just started seeing a very codependent person, I see it clearly, but he insists that everything is just "normal," that pleasing others is just the thing to do to be a good person. I feel like running.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYour instincts are completely correct. If you're seeing red flags very early in a relationship, you should listen to your gut and get out of there. It will only get harder if you wait.Thanks!
QuestionAfter verbal abuse to myself and my partner, my mum and I no longer communicate. She is a counselor, and I want her to know that she is codependent, any suggestions?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt sounds like you already know some of the first steps to take. Ceasing communication, at least for a time, is a good first step. It is unlikely you will be able to make her see that she is codependent. All you can do is keep your boundaries intact and keep yourself healthy. The positive energy from your health will inevitably have an affect on everyone around you.Thanks!
QuestionMy brother just divorced his wife who has BPD and was abusive in their relationship. He is now thinking of taking her back. How do I separate myself from him?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThanks!
QuestionThe techniques mentioned in the article are not working for me. Any other suggestions?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerFamily therapy with a certified therapist who specializes in codependent relationships.Thanks!
QuestionI know a couple where the husband calls his codependent wife a bitch all the time. Thoughts?Community AnswerSo hubby is codependent, too, and "bitch" should be seen as manipulative and denigrating. Finding a group that will call them on their codependent behaviors is a likely best step, recognizing that confrontation will be emotionally painful at first, and lots of justifiable reasons to stop going will present themselves.Thanks!
QuestionMy older brother refuses to work and is draining my father's mental and physical health. What can I do to help?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTell him what is at stake concerning your father. Then, tell him to grow up and start doing something with his life before issues erupt around the initial issue. Tell him to straighten up and get a job, and include your father in the discussion of what should be done.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I find co-dependency support groups in my area?Top AnswererThis type of specific question is best answered by an online search.Thanks!
QuestionI have a friend who has a very codependent relationship of 14 years with her roommate. She has been complaining to me about verbal abuse. I took a break from her and now she is not responding to me.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTrying to help someone who is codependent can be difficult because they can pull you into their codependency and expect unrealistic things from you. Give the relationship a break. Don't let HER silent treatment affect you. If you must send a message, let it be this: "When you are ready to talk, I'll be here." This puts the ball in her court and lets you be helpful without being sucked in.Thanks!
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