: 29 January 2013

How to Let Go of Codependency

Codependency is one of those words that gets tossed around a lot, but I’m not sure many people really know what it means. The definition can be both vague and all-encompassing.
Codependency is not a word I use too often because I find that it can come off sounding derogatory–like something is wrong with you if you’re codependent. And I personally like to steer clear from labeling people as flawed.

But another reason I don’t use the word often is because I prefer the phrase “to be human”–because from my experience, we all have codependent tendencies. (So let’s agree to drop the pejorative label right here, shall we?)

The reality is, codependent behavior is quite common in relationships. Therefore it seems appropriate to give it some air-time. In this article I am going to discuss what I know about codependency and give you some suggestions on how to shift this pattern in your life.

Codependency is a word used to describe the process of using another person’s feelings to dictate how you feel.

So this could mean that you are dependent on someone else’s positive attention or positive affect to feel good. And this could mean that someone’s negative attention or negative affect makes you feel bad. (And anything in between)

When you are codependent, you make another person your higher power. Your sense of well-being (and lack-there-of) is dependent on them.

Yikes! When you think about it, that’s really scary. Someone else is dictating how I feel about myself? Not a good position to be in at all. And, not that uncommon either.

What inevitability happens in this codependent predicament is that you find yourself constantly trying to manage other people’s feelings. (Another yikes!) And you do this because they are dictating how you feel.

Now, clearly there are a lot of problems with this.

First, you can’t ultimately control how other people feel. And trying to do so is a lot of work (work that you will eventually feel resentful for doing).

But we still try, don’t we?

We try to manage. We try to arrange. We try to fix. We try to control. And it’s not fun at all! In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster. Because controlling the feelings of others is impossible.

We’re all different; we all have our own agendas and opinions and natures. No one has the power within themselves to direct everything so it goes smoothly. So unfortunately if you try to control how others feel, you will eventually fail. And this feels horrible.

The other obvious problem with trying to control how other people feel is just that–it’s controlling (aka manipulative).

Most people who are acting in a codependent way are not aware that they are being manipulative. In fact, I think usually their intention is to be genuinely helpful and nice. But, when we take a second to look at the real motive of trying to make everyone else feel ok, we see that actually it’s self-centered. It’s about you–you want them to feel ok so you can feel ok! See what I mean? Not so helpful or nice.

The truth is, no one else is in charge of how you feel. And that means, you are also not in charge of how anyone else feels. Feelings belong to the feeler. Period.

If you want to be free, empowered, at ease and peace, then it is necessary for you to take responsibility for your own feelings. And you must also let others have their own feelings too.

This is not a small order. Especially for a codependent (aka human being). But it is very, very important.

It is true that we cannot be completely unaffected by the moods and energies of the people that surround us. We are going to feel the emotional ebbs and flows of others. We are all interconnected–we feel each other (thankfully).

So while we can’t escape feeling other people altogether (nor would we want to), we can begin to shift the amount that we let their experiences dictate ours. And we do this by taking responsibility for our own sense of well-being.

The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” And I’m with him.

Your inner peace is yours. Inside you. That’s where it comes from. Not from him. Not from her. Yours. And when you realize this, you will be on the path to freedom.

For the codependent, it is imperative that you have a very close, very personal relationship with your own sense of self (your soul, your true self, your essence, your higher power).

You have a sanctuary inside of you–a place of refuge; a place for you to restore and come back to your center. In this place, all is well.

When you establish a close relationship with this part of you, you will slowly and surely start to disengage from relying on others to make you feel good or bad. Your sense of worth will come from within.

This is a work in progress. And it starts with consciousness.

When you become conscious of the patterns that are occurring in your life and realize how they are affecting your well-being, then you can start to change them. And as you change them (baby steps) you start to feel your world open up in a new, more empowered way.

It will not shift all at once. However, if you work on it what you’ll find is inch by inch, you’ll get to a place that feels better than where you were. This is growth.

We are all just trying to do the best we can. We all want the same thing, which is to feel loved, accepted, and happy. And the ultimate way to do this is by locating your sense of well-being within.

It is the place you can go to when you feel tossed around by the emotions that surround you. There, you will find a deep knowing that you are ok, no matter what. That is inner peace. And it belongs to you.



  1. Robert on February 2, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I know always depending on others to feel good is not ideal and is a problem when there is no one around to make you feel good. But is it wrong to allow some to make you feel happy when you are down? Is it wrong to want cheer some one up when they are feeling a little blue?

    • Shelly Bullard on February 2, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to love the people we love, and cheer them up when they are down. The key word is “dependency.”

      • Robert on February 3, 2013 at 1:00 am

        Thanks. I get it now. I am actually someone who is learning to become more independent after being in a previous situation where I needed to be dependent on others. Two things that I find very challenging are knowing when to turn down help from others especially when I know it will hurt them and the other is to not let others effect how I feel. In my case I often get angry and preoccupied by other people’s actions which leads to a lot of sadness. I am practicing yoga and beginning to learn how to meditate in hopes of using it as tools to avoid this pattern. I am greatfull for your articles and the articles that I found on the Mind Body Green web site.

        • Shelly Bullard on February 3, 2013 at 1:49 am

          Here’s a couple things to keep in mind: when you are taking care of yourself, you are taking care of others (it’s not either/or; it’s both/and). And know that other people’s feelings are going to affect you, but you have the ability to make your way back to inner peace when that happens. It’s not about not being affected, it’s about knowing that ultimately we will be ok. Thanks for reaching out Robert! Good luck to you!

  2. sarah on April 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    i love your message and writing style– especially when you’re talking about “self-love” matters. your explanations and tone just really speak to me! thanks for sharing your guidance. i return to some of your pieces over and over when i find myself needing to reconnect with myself and you’re so right– it’s definitely a process, but i’ve noticed a pretty strong shift away from relying on others for needs that can be met just by getting in touch with myself! you’re a genius 🙂

    • Shelly Bullard on April 19, 2013 at 4:01 am

      Wow, Sarah. Thank you so much. I am moved that you are able to connect to the message so deeply. Keep doing the work–you are on your path. Lots of love to you. XOXO

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