Posts Tagged: codependent

If You Can’t Change Them…

One of the most important skills I have learned in life, is letting go of trying to control other people’s emotions. Many people believe that they are responsible for other people’s feelings. They believe that they need to protect others from their feelings, change other’s feelings from bad to good, or control them completely. But I’ve found that this is an impossible task. One that leaves people feelings anxious, depressed and more stressed than they need to be. When people are raised to feel responsible for other people’s feelings, they may not know that they have the option to do otherwise.
Most people don’t recognize they are doing it. They don’t recognize that this codependent way of life is causing harm to themselves and others. Feeling responsible to make other people happy or ok is an unwinnable game.

So why do we try?

How do folks learn to be responsible for other people’s feelings? You may have been raised in a family where people convinced you that you were responsible for their well being. In a healthy family, a child is made responsible for things appropriate to their age and stage of development. A healthy family instills the acceptance of personal boundaries, and behavior respectful of others’ boundaries. However, in some less-than-healthy families, children are made responsible for things far beyond their control, resulting in their developing into adults with poor or no boundaries.


  • A father working on a broken car engine becomes angry with a stuck and rusted part wont budge. The child nearby playing in the sprinklers is yelled at and shamed when the splash reaches the father. The child leaves that interaction feeling like he did something to deserve the outrageous anger, even though the father’s anger has nothing to do with the boy. This child may either grow up being conflict avoidant or an angry person blaming others for his anger.
  • A mother struggling with depression feels abandoned by her husband.  In her grief, she looks to her daughter for comfort, communicating to the daughter that she is powerful enough to help her mother’s depression. But there’s a downside. When the daughter inevitably cannot sooth the mother’s depression, she will feel powerless, helpless and shame for not being a “helpful enough” daughter. This girl will likely grow up abandoning her own feelings in order to take care of everyone else’s feelings. She will not be able to address her own needs.
  • A daughter who sits secretively listening to her parent’s fighting intervenes just before it comes to blows. The father slams the door shut and the mother begins to cry, while the child tries to make her parent’s marriage better. The daughter grows up to believe she has the responsibility to mediate, to protect and to keep peace. This girl may grow up to believe that her role in life is to abandon her own needs, and keep other people from their painful feelings.

Is it Really OK to stop trying to make other people happy?

I know it’s hard, but you have to do it. Letting other people have, own and manage their own emotions is good for you and good for them. When you allow others to have their own feelings, you:

  1. empower them to self sooth and to learn self control.
  2. reinforce the necessary boundary between you and them.
  3. turn your attention back to yourself for greater self awareness.
  4. grow your ego strength.
  5. attend to your own needs and emotions…. yay!!! and sometimes for the first time in a long time!

Steps to letting go.

  • When you notice that the other person is experiencing a strong emotion like anger, fear or sadness, look inside yourself and see what you’re experiencing. Is it agitation, stress or compulsion? Is it dread, guilt, or fear? Is it a temptation to jump in to “fix it or make it better?” Or is it “Run! far far away!”  Notice what you’re feeling and make a quick plan to address it.
  • When someone is expressing their emotion (anger, fear, sadness, happiness) learn what it means to empathize without fixing or avoiding. this is not a skill learned easily or quickly, but it is a skill that can be learned. Say things to yourself like, “He is angry, and he can have his anger. I won’t try to talk him out of it. But I don’t have to fix it, control it, or excuse it.”
  • When you believe someone is “dumping” their feelings on you and wants you to fix them, you can practice saying things like, “that sounds so hard, I’m sorry you’re going through that. What are you going to do about it?” Once you ask this question, refrain from answering it for them or helping them solve their problem. Remember, it is for them to solve. (Yay! it’s not your responsibility!)

Letting other people have their own emotions is scary and freeing all at the same time. If you’re a mother, try it with your kids. If you’re a daughter or son, try it with your parent. Little by little, you will be the boss of your own emotions, and you’ll empower others to do the same. So, if you can’t change them (and you can’t) then let go. It feels way better.



Breaking Free from CoDependent People Pleasing

We all do it from time to time- say something we don’t mean, just to keep the peace. Keep quiet, when we should really speak up. Worry too much what other people think. Unfortunately, people-pleasing can create more trouble than it solves in the long run. Relationships can often get stuck in destructive patterns that leave you feeling the thing you were trying the hardest to avoid- rejection and loneliness. In marriage relationships, these patterns usually look like one person trying really hard, but in ineffective ways, and the other person hardly trying at all. Does that sound familiar? Really annoying, right? This pattern leaves one (maybe you?) exhausted and lonely, and the other annoyed and frustrated. Maybe you feel like you keep trying to make him love you, but end up feeling rejected instead.

LOVE letter in New York

If this is you, you may find yourself defaulting to the People-Pleasing mechanism called, Co-dependency. You may have heard this term used in treating addiction or alcoholism, but co-dependency is found in many non-addictive relationships, too.

What is Co-dependent People Pleasing?

Codependency, simply put, is being dependent on someone else to be okay.

This may sound harmless at first glance, but when co-dependent people-pleasers marry un-pleasable people, relationship breakdown is easily predicted.

Mary’s Story

For example, Mary fell in love with Robert early on in their relationships. Robert, the strong silent type, was confident and emotionally withdrawn. But Mary could look past his hard exterior and see the caring side of Robert few others could see. Mary, though unconscious of it at first, made it her mission to draw him out, expose him to new experiences, and make him laugh. Once they were married, she found Robert to be even more sullen than before. He would even become angry at her efforts to make him happy, or to share his feelings. She tried to cook the things he liked, wear the things he liked, and do the things he liked. But no matter what, she always seemed to miss the mark and fall short of his silent expectations. It’s not that he was mean or rude to Mary, he was just closed off and critical. She knew that Robert’s childhood was unhappy and harsh, so she made excuses for him and filled the emptiness with meaningless chatter.

Years into the marriage, Mary found herself feeling depressed and lonely. She often second guessed herself and had trouble making decisions. Marriage wasn’t the intimate friendship she thought it would be. She sometimes badgered Robert just to get a rise from him. Then she poured on the guilt after he exploded. He reacted to her with harsh judgments, and she dissolved into tears. She mistakenly thought that if she could just make him happy, then mayble she would finally feel loved.

Codependent People Pleasers rely on external forces for internal value.

Because they don’t have a solid sense of who they are, they gravitate toward those with ego-centered entitlement issues. Often co-dependent people pleasers take responsibility for others’ feelings of happiness, rage, depression, or fear. They are the perfect match for a partner who won’t take responsibility for his own life, and blames his unhappiness or misfortune on others. Rosenburg says, “Codependents are attracted to individuals who are either narcissistic or addicted and who neither want nor are able to fulfill their personal and emotional needs.” [1] Oh, ouch. So what’s a girl to do?fear not

How to Break Free

Breaking free of codependent people-pleasing in your relationship is not easy, but it is ESSENTIAL to your own growth and happiness. If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know what I’m going to say. You MUST show your love-starved self a little love before you can effectively love someone else. Talk with a counselor about what you need and what you want. Identify your core needs, and make a plan to get those met. Let God fill you up, so you don’t feel so empty and lonely. Join a support group that will hold you accountable to your goals. Breaking free from co-dependent living is possible, and you can do it!

I developed the following graph so you can start concentrating on what a Healthy Relationship Paradigm looks like, and ways you can make small changes that produce big results in your relationship. You’ll see that the Prideful Paradigm people attract the People-Pleasing Paradigm People, and their relationship just reinforces their abandonment fears. However, healthy living results in a sense of belonging, togetherness and love.

Pride and Codependence

Recognizing the dynamic in your relationship is often the first step in breaking free and experiencing new energy and hopefulness.  Responding to your relationship from God’s love and strength will change the entire relationship system. Let me know how the shifts you make change the relationship dynamic. I’d love to hear your story!

[1] Ross Rosenberg, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us (Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing and Media, 2013), 100.


My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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