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Breaking the Cycle of Co-dependency

Dear Dr. Frankie,

 I just got out of a 9 yr relationship. This woman cheated so much that I became a drug addict to cope and ended up in rehab and a psych ward because I tried to take my own life. I’m not proud of this and since then, we have been together whenever she feels lonely. In the mean time I’m destroying myself. I can’t get away from her and move on with my life to find someone I deserve.

How do I break myself away from her? She’s damaging me psychologically and I can’t stop myself. Please help. We live in a small town and have a lot of the same friends. I feel like she’s become an addiction herself.

-Co-dependency

Dear Co-dependency,

Sometimes relationships can leave us feeling powerless, pushing our wants and needs to the side to keep hanging onto that special person, despite the emotional pain it brings us.  This experience is very common in co-dependent relationships that turn unhealthy.  If you feel that you’re destroying yourself by giving into your urge to be with her, unable to say no and set a boundary for yourself and are wondering how to break away and end the vicious cycle of dependence, I would start by seeing a therapist who is familiar with working with folks in the LGBT community.

In the meantime schedule activities daily to keep yourself busy and distracted in a healthy way.  Increase self care by doing kind things for yourself.  Engaging in activities that usually positively impact your mood such as meeting a friend who makes you feel supported, eating a good meal, taking a bath and so on.

Some people will reward themselves for their healthy behavior. For example, if you’re able to refrain from calling her for three days, then reward yourself with something that will boost your self esteem and improve your mood.

Make your goals for changing your co-dependency behavior practical and small.  When you create your plan, anticipate the obstacles that may present themselves. These obstacles invariably make it difficult for you to be successful at following through with your commitment to yourself which is to maintain a healthy boundary between you and her. Planning ahead and being prepared will help to increases your chances of being successful at changing your behavior.

For example, most people who are going through a break-up tend to feel more emotional pain at night. As a result they may find themselves calling their ex and regretting it afterwards at a time of vulnerability. Instead of falling into the cycle, plan for feeling lonely at night and instead of calling her, write a journal entry or write a letter without ever sending it. Calling a friend who you trust can be a healthy distraction. Ride out the urge like a wave in the ocean. Reminding yourself that it’s an emotion that will pass with time.

By doing this, you start to teach yourself your emotions do not run your life and that you don’t have to act on your emotions. When we allow another person’s actions to dictate how we react, we can feel powerless.  When we own our own behavior and choices in reaction to what others do, we feel more in control.

I suggest you focus on your own thoughts and behaviors, while giving yourself credit for changing this cycle.  The most salient point made here is the need to increase positive support in your life starting with increasing your support system by engaging in a support group or seeing a therapist. Rehab should have provided you some tools in that department and I encourage you to use them.

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