Codependency makes it feel uncomfortable to set boundaries with others. Guilt and shame kick in, leading to an endless task of meeting the needs of others. Sometimes codependency is related to a need to prevent rejection and abandonment. Attempting to control others and maintain perfection can sometimes help relieve the anxiety that often accompanies codependency.
The problem is that codependency makes self-compassion and feeling like you’re “enough” seem like far-fetched concepts. Not taking care of one’s mental or physical health can really take a toll on your overall well-being. This worksheet discusses what codependency triggers are, how anxiety plays a role, and how to overcome missteps by listening to your anxiety.
Internal Codependency Triggers
Everybody has their inner critic that tells them that they are not good enough or don’t measure up to the high standards they’ve established for themselves. This inner critic comes from learned dysfunctional beliefs we have about ourselves, often triggering shame if these beliefs are not maintained.
As a codependent, you can get triggered when you feel like you’re being too selfish, which may push you towards offering help even when it might harm you. Another common codependent trigger is being told that you are “overly sensitive” or dramatic because your parents or caregivers convinced you of that when you were little.
External Codependency Triggers
Triggers can also be signs of impending danger you experienced before being hurt in the past. You have learned to react to these warning signs in order to save yourself from harm. Although it can be helpful to react to such warnings in certain situations, you might have a dysfunctional reaction when you are reminded of a hurtful experience. Codependents generally come from abusive or dysfunctional families, and may overreact to situations that mirror the relationship they had with their parents or caregivers.
Anxiety is an emotion we experience when fear or worry is present about a situation we are already experiencing or about a situation we anticipate occurring. For example, we might experience anxiety during a stressful event such as a job interview, or when we anticipate an upcoming new or stressful situation, such as meeting new people at a party.
Anxiety is oftentimes connected to the messages or rules that we hold about ourselves, others, and the world. We call these our unconscious or automatic messages. These messages are often created and based upon past experiences including experiences we have had with others in a family and other social settings (e.g., school, friends, work).
These messages often start with a “don’t.”
Don’t express your feelings
Don’t be yourself since that is not enough
Don’t speak-up or offer your suggestion(s)
Don’t be selfish, and care for others instead
Don’t trust your judgment
Don’t hurt or upset others
Don’t make mistakes
Listening To Your Anxiety
The process of listening to your anxiety is an essential step in learning about your unique struggles with codependency and paving the path towards recovery. The series of steps below, can be utilized to understand your anxiety and its unique functions. Examples will be provided at each step to help you understand how that step can be applied to your life. However, keep in mind that these are general examples related to codependency; thus, it is important to take time to consider what specific examples may apply to your unique circumstances.
#1 IDENTIFY ANXIETY TRIGGERS
What circumstances, situations, and events trigger your anxiety? These triggers usually occur within our relationship with others. Oftentimes, the triggers include circumstances that you feel may violate or activate your automatic messages in some way. For example, you may experience anxiety when a friend tells you to help with a favor that you do not want to do. Not wanting to do the favor is a violation of your message, which states that you must care for others at the expense of your own needs in order to keep others from abandoning you. As a result, you may experience anxiety over the idea of not doing the favor for a friend.
#2 PAY ATTENTION TO ANXIETY IN YOUR BODY
How do you know when you are anxious? What changes do you notice within yourself? Examples of physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety include:
Increased heart rate
Nausea or stomach aches
#3 NOTE ANY MESSAGES THAT CROSS YOUR MIND
What messages cross your mind when you are anxious? These messages are our automatic or unconscious messages. For example, we may tell ourselves that we are weak if we feel and express our emotions. Or we may think that others will leave us if we express what we need or how we feel. Start being aware and taking a mental inventory of the thoughts that first come to mind when you begin to feel anxiety set in. Reflect on these moments and analyze them for patterns. This knowledge will be of great benefit for setting meaningful boundaries based on your situational awareness.
#4 NOTICE HOW YOU REACT
How do you react when worried? How do you interact with others? Do you withdraw, react, and/or attack? Some people attempt to self-cope by engaging in substance use or over-eating. Others isolate and become passive towards others. Sometimes, a person will attack through blaming statements, passive-aggressive comments, or physical aggression. These are a few ways that some people may behave when they are anxious. How do you behave and react?
#5 LISTEN TO YOUR ANXIETY
What are you looking for in moments when you experience anxiety? Some examples may include: wanting to be heard and validated; wanting to prove that you are enough; attempting to avoid rejection, abandonment, and disapproval; seeking self-love, self-acceptance, and happiness; desiring inner peace and relief from the fears and worries; and ultimately freedom to just be yourself.
When you have identified what you are looking for in moments when you experience anxiety, you have also identified what you need. This is an essential step in recovery of codependency because oftentimes your needs are dismissed or pushed aside in the context of your codependent relationships in order to meet the needs of others.
And when your needs are pushed aside, it can leave you feeling worthless, lonely, resentful, angry, and anxious. You then spiral into anxious attempts at controlling others and events around you in order to get rid of your anxiety.
By taking the five steps listed, you can begin listening to your anxiety and start moving towards making room to care for the person that matters the most…you! As you learn more about your anxiety and the messages it holds, you can begin to challenge the parts of your messages that no longer serve you in a healthy way, and begin to develop new messages that can help you create a secure sense of self and healthier relationships. Within this process, you are also determining your needs, which brings you one step closer towards self-care by effectively communicating your needs and feelings to others, and seeking healthy ways to care for yourself!