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Understanding Codependency

I didn't understand what codependency was until I had healed it.

Doesn't that sound odd? Well not really, because one thing I did know what as I was an empath.

If you're like me and you are a highly sensitive, empathic person who cares deeply about people, our caring nature can stretch a little too far to the point where we cross our own boundaries.

The truth is that we never got to learn about healthy boundaries in the first place!

I knew that I had a tendency to take on the problems of others as if they were my own, especially in my work place and with family members.

I knew that I could feel the emotions of other people as if they were my own.

I knew that to feel better about who I was, meant that I needed the people around me to feel good too.

All of that speaks to being codependent.

An important lesson I had to learn along the way was that I am not responsible for other people's feelings and to truly honour that meant I'd have to start implementing healthier boundaries to protect myself from unnecessary suffering and pain.

I had an emotional addiction and a hyper awareness to other people's feelings and problems that were mine to fix which was what I'd come to learn was codependency.

In this blog post I'm going to highlight three key areas:

  1. How we develop codependent behaviours

  2. How to know if you've become codependent

  3. How to heal codependency


Below are a few characteristics that codependent people often report experiencing in their family of origin.

  • Born into a family that ignores problems

In my family of origin recall my parents taking a back seat to my emotional wellbeing and instead would concern themselves with just getting the basic needs met. Your parents may have delegated tasks that were not age appropriate in lieu of their own emotional immaturity or addictive patterns.

What you learned is that your problems are not important, and to take care of other people was how you developed your sense of self worth.

  • Have family members who repress emotions

It's common for parents to either be overly emotional and struggle with their emotional boundaries, or to be emotionally unavailable, repressing their emotions. You might have been raised without being told "I love you"

What you learned was that you were unloveable and to be loved was rare and something you would cling on to and be needy for.

  • Have parents who disregard their own needs

You may have been raised by a parent that struggled with addiction, treated themselves recklessly, were victims of domestic violence or found themselves in conflict with the law. On the other end of things they could have been overly involved in their community, church organizations, clubs, volunteering exceessive amounts of time in service for others to the detriment of the needs of themselves and their own family.

What you learned was that your needs don't matter, you don't matter and to be worthy meant that you must sacrifice yourself and be a people pleaser.

  • Experience intense shame from bullying and belittling

This could have been from the kids at school, your siblings, your parents, extended family, teachers, or even from people you considered to be your close friends.

What you learned was that you didn't matter and you were not enough. You felt that nothing you ever did was good enough and as such you may have coped by seeking perfectionism, people pleasing, or overworking, overachieving behaviours.


  • You will have an exaggerated sense of responsibility for other people’s behaviour

  • You have pity the people you love

  • You always do more than is required, or more than your “share”

  • You are bitter and resentful when people don’t accept or recognize your help or good deeds

  • You hang onto relationships that are unhealthy because it’s better then feeling abandoned and alone. 

  • You feel guilty when you express your own needs, or stand up for yourself

  • You’ve lost trust in other people because you’ve lost trust in yourself

  • You can’t take a compliment, and you don’t like to receive gifts

  • You experience difficulty receiving feedback and take it as criticism

  • Other peoples failures or mistakes feel like  your failures and mistakes

  • You are concerned about the feelings of others to the point that you’ve lost touch with your own

  • You are a perfectionist and have become overly self reliant (Hyper-Independent)


#1 Start to face your own reality head on, instead of sticking your head in the sand

It's likely that you've been living your life avoiding conflict and finding ways to keep yourself safe but as a result you've become passive and have likely lost a sense of your true self.

To understand this a bit better, it's important to be familiar with the 4 Trauma Responses:


This is likely how it all began. Fawning means to "tend and befriend" and it sounds like "I will give you whatever you want because I want you to be happy with me". "I will admit error and fault even when it’s not mine" What this does in the long term is it makes you a door mat and an easy target for people to take advantage of because they know they can always say things to disappoint you or even criticise you and you won’t get mad. 

But watch out if you do get mad!


This response will likely come out of no where. You might erupt like a volcano and people will look at you like you have some sort of problem, and well…. You do! You don't know how to handle conflict because you’ve been stuffing it all in with your “nicey nice” behaviours and now they see this complete 180 degree turn in you which is probably quite confusing to them. Like the whole crying over spilled milk. It’s disproportionate to what you’re actually experiencing in that moment.

The times you really did need to get upset you didn’t and now, you’re upset and people can’t understand what’s the big deal.

This is when we’re most prone to our feelings being invalidated which leaves us feeling the most guilty for standing up for ourselves because we’ve done it in a way that wasn't at all effective. Now we feel like we’ve created a bigger problem.


Here you are being avoidant and you might be ghosting people or ignoring the problems like your parents did. If you have kids this is a dangerous one to be caught in because it removes the opportunity for you to form a close relationship with your family and instead it stays surface. You're keeping yourself busy with work, or volunteering, always on the go and doing for others, but when it comes to conflict, you're running from that as well.


You may be coping by completely giving up. t’s a very hard place to be because essentially what has crumbled is the relationship with yourself. This is actually a great place to be because it allows you to shut down, turn everything off and reevaluate what’s really happening here. This is a much better place to reevaluate yourself

#2 Learn how to be assertive and face conflicts as an opportunity to strengthen and grow your relationships. 

So now you’re fighting for yourself, you’re showing up for yourself, you’re learning that the way you communicated to certain people wasn’t effective and you might even be learning that regardless of how you communicate with certain people it will never be effective, because certain people in your life do not respond to assertive communication. You will learn that no matter how well you communicate with certain people they will twist your words and manipulate your intentions regardless. 

What i’ve come to learn at least for myself is that i’m an excellent communicator, I’ve just chosen relationships with people who don’t communicate, don’t care and who only have their own agenda in mind. 

This brings us to the #1 way to break codependency, is to buckle up and get some boundaries in place, and yes these are going to be very rigid boundaries at first because you’ve been letting people walk all over you.

This is finally your turn to empower yourself, step into your confidence and show up as authentically and real as you can. It’s time for you to be your real self. 

Oof I know it sounds scary! But if you’re someone who is serious about being true to yourself and you value authenticity then you will get yourself ready to gear up for what’s ahead.

You have to know that this means removing the people that enabled your codependent behaviours which are the same people that were benefitting from having you in their life but you were not benefitting from being in theirs.

Those relationships that kept your codependency habits in place are gonna have to end. I mean you can keep them around if you want but the relationship dynamic is going to change because YOU are changing. They’re staying the same while you are shedding an old skin and showing up more of who you really are, and they may not like that

#4 Learn how to process your emotions

This one is tied with boundaries and as a sensitive person, i’m not telling you to go out there and get a thick skin . No i don’t want you to lose that beautiful empathic side of  yourself, but it does need some boundaries in place and as you do that you’ll need to learn ways to comfort yourself and give yourself compassion so you’re not sitting with toxic shame and guilt.

People often ask me how do I remove the toxic shame and guilt?

Well it’s not something you necessarily focus on removing and getting rid of instead you’re learning ways to comfort it and that’s done through the practice of showing yourself compassion

I recommend working with someone, like myself or a therapist that is familiar with inner child work. Find someone you trust who will  lead you through the practice together since it’s something that needs to be role modelled (video how to show up for your emotions), you'll need someone to hold you through that process.

When I take care of my own feelings and can validate myself and that makes setting boundaries so much easier especially when they have to be the rigid ones that most of us are very hesitant about doing.

#5. Learn about your own needs and ways in which you can fulfill them

Overcoming codependency means you’re no longer catering to other people’s needs in the same way anymore. You’re learning what you like, and maybe bringing back to life some of your childhood interests that got pushed to the side and forgotten about.

As you want to become more real and authentic knowing what unique qualities you have and how to honour and tend to them is how you relearn that YOU MATTER!

You learn that self care is not selfish, and you stop calling yourself selfish because subscribing to that belief was what held you back in tending to your own needs in the first place.

Find a way to check in with yourself every day. Ask yourself, "what do I need today?"

At the end of the day ask yourself, "what needs did I fulfill for myself today?"

It might be I woke up and went for a walk, I fed myself a healthy breakfast, I got really good rest and I said no to going out so i could stay home and relax. I got some cleaning and housework done. I did a few things that i’d been putting off. I decided not to spend money on that thing I thought I wanted, cause I realized it wasn’t a need.

Another aspect of this process is deciphering the difference between a want and a need. This may have become clouded because you’d been "SHOULDING" on yourself or  being SHOULDED on by others.

Shoulding creates guilt.

Instead ask yourself, "Do I want to?"

Well I might want to , but more importantly as yourself, "Do I NEED to??"

And that’s when things will become even clearer.

#6. Build self trust so you can become more open and vulnerable with your emotions. 

Think of a trust fall. You can trust yourself that if you mess up, you’ve got your own back. Trust that it’s ok if you start to cry and you don’t think you’ll ever stop


Fraya Mortensen

Fraya Mortensen is a Canadian based Transformational Mindset Coach who helps empathic and highly sensitive people to build their self-awareness, self-compassion and set healthy boundaries without the guilt.

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