Mental Health & Relationships: Overcoming Codependency

By Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Deprogramming Codependent Brainwashing

Codependency is based on false, dysfunctional beliefs that are learned from our parents and environment. Recovery entails changing those beliefs, the most damaging of which is that we’re not worthy of love and respect – that we’re somehow inadequate, inferior, or just not enough. This is internalized shame. Last year, I published a blog, “Codependency is based on Fake Facts,” explaining the effects of this programming, which squelches our true self.

Identify your beliefs

We must separate damaging beliefs from reality and from our truth. Most of us find it difficult to identify our core beliefs. They’re often unconscious. However, we can discover our beliefs from our behavior, our thoughts and feelings. Beliefs generate thoughts, feelings, and actions. (Sometimes feelings come before thoughts.)

Beliefs → Thoughts → Feelings→ Actions

Examining thoughts and feelings provides clues to underlying beliefs. Your thoughts might reveal a belief that something is bad or shameful. When feel we should or shouldn’t do something, it indicates a belief. Also notice how you judge others. We usually judge other for the same things we would judge ourselves.

Criticism and devaluing statements we heard growing up create insecurity and a belief of unlovability. List parental statements that impacted your self-esteem. (See Codependency for Dummies.) Examples are:

“You’re too sensitive,”

“You can’t do anything right.”

“I sacrificed for you.”

“You’re good for nothing.”

“Who do you think you are?”

Beliefs also come from experiences with siblings and peers, as well as other authority figures and cultural, societal, and religious influences. In all, our beliefs are a conglomerate of other people’s opinions. Usually, they’re not based on facts, and they may be challenged.

Over-reactions to people when we’re triggered are opportunities to analyze and challenge the thoughts, feelings, and the beliefs that are being activated. For example, if someone doesn’t return your call, do you feel hurt, guilty, ashamed, or angry? Do you assume they don’t like you, are angry at you, that you did something wrong, or that they’re inconsiderate? What is the story you weave, and what is the underlying belief?

A few of the common beliefs codependents hold are:

  • Other people’s criticisms are true
  • People won’t like me if I make a mistake.
  • Love must be earned.
  • I don’t deserve love and success.
  • My wants and needs should be sacrificed for others.
  • I must be loved and approved of to feel okay.
  • Other people’s opinions carry more weight than mine.
  • I’m only lovable if a partner loves me (or at least needs )

Many codependents are perfectionists and hold false, perfectionistic beliefs that make them feel inferior or a failure. See I’m Not Perfect, I’m Only Human” – How to Beat Perfectionism.)

Challenge your beliefs

Once you’ve identified your beliefs, challenge them.

  • Ask yourself what evidence you have to support your beliefs and thoughts?
  • Might you be mistaken or biased?
  • Are you certain your interpretations of events are accurate?
  • Check out your assumptions by asking people questions.
  • Is there any evidence for another point-of-view?
  • Are there instances in your experience or in the experience of others that even occasionally contradict your assumptions? Survey people to find out.
  • Do people disagree with your conclusions? Find out.
  • What would you say to someone else who thought and felt as you did?
  • What would a caring friend say to you?
  • Do you feel pressured to believe as you do? Why?
  • Are you free to change your mind?
  • What are the consequences of remaining rigid in your thinking?
  • What would be the consequences of changing your mind?

Practice recovery

It’s not enough to read about codependency. Real change requires that you risk behaving differently. Instead of being your codependent self, start “Affirming Your True, Authentic Self.”

Think good thoughts about yourself. Change how you talk to yourself. Start noticing what you like about yourself. Instead of saying, “I can’t,” say “I won’t,” or “I can.” Follow the steps in 10 Steps to Self-Esteem: The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism and webinar, How to Raise Your Self-Esteem.

Authenticity is a powerful antidote for shame. Express who you really are. Speak up, being authentic, and share your thoughts and feelings. Set boundaries. (See How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits and the webinar, How to Be Assertive)

Take action to do what you really want. Try new things, even though you don’t believe you’re good at it! Discover you can learn and improve. Then you know you can learn anything. That’s empowerment!

©Darlene Lancer 2018

This article was originally published here, and is reprinted with the author’s kind permission.

Author Image

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People and Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness, also available on Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought after speaker in media and at professional conferences. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own,, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”