Many of my clients who identify as helpers, caretakers, or “group moms” struggle with excessive stress and anxiety in times of crisis, often due to worry and fears for those around them. Maybe you noticed yourself buying out the local stock of hand-sanitizer for everyone you know and saving none for yourself, or engaging in a stream of check-ins with those around you without taking the time to ask yourself how you were coping with the stress. Noticing that our giving and caring for others is coming at the expense of our own needs is typically a sign of underlying codependency issues.
What is Codependence?
Codependence is defined an emotional over-reliance on external sources for sense of self. Codependency can emerge as dynamics in relationships, but individual people can struggle with patterns of codependency and codependent behavior in different parts of their lives. Codependency, as explained by expert Pia Mellody, is characterized by five core symptoms— difficulty with self-esteem, setting boundaries, owning our own reality, experiencing our own reality moderately, and acknowledging and meeting our own needs. My caretaker clients often struggle with the final symptom, putting the needs of others above their own.
Individuals who struggle with codependence will often turn to care-taking of others as a coping mechanism to distance themselves from their own wants and needs. Sometimes this stems from not knowing what our own needs are, other times it is from a place of wanting to establish and maintain emotional distance and control from those around us.
In times of crisis, when stress and anxiety are on high, we rely on established coping mechanisms to help us deal. Living through troubling and difficult times, when we are naturally fearful for those around us, can be especially triggering for people who struggle with patterns of codependence, and you may see codependent care-taking coping mechanisms heightened and intensified. Here are some steps you can take to challenging your own codependent care-taking habits to make space to meet your own needs
Check in with yourself and acknowledge the behavior
Take a moment to really check in with yourself and take stock of how you are feeling. If you notice that you’re feeling depleted and overwhelmed by the needs of others, then you are probably giving too much and taking on too much care-taking responsibility for those in your life. Remember that you cannot give with an empty cup. Acknowledge this feeling and try to recognize the role your own behavior may be playing int his dynamic. Ask yourself if the behavior is best serving you. Which leads us to step two…
Reality test your situation and allow others to step in
A common narrative I hear from clients when I ask them to challenge their codependent care-taking is, “if I don’t do this no one else will.” When investigating this narrative I often ask clients, “have you given anyone the opportunity to help?” The answer is typically no. When we withhold our needs from others, we are actually depriving the people around us from the opportunity to meet them. Additionally, making effort to meet the needs of others when they come at the expense of our own often breeds feelings of resentment and frustration in our relationships. Give yourself a hard reality test and ask if some of these things apply to you. Be honest in recognizing if there are others who can step in and help. If you are unwilling to let go of certain tasks, ask yourself which ones you would realistically feel comfortable having someone else take over.
Make intentional space for your own needs
Once you have carved out space and time for you, try to tune in to what will feel energetically fulfilling to you. This could be taking intentional time doing something that feels good, reaching out to trusted people in our lives for support, or even just taking the time to meet simple physical needs (sleeping, eating, etc.). Give yourself permission to engage in these things and help yourself recharge.
Samantha Waldman (she/her) is a NYC-based psychotherapist and a Bridges Co-Founder. One of her passions in her work and education has been exploring biracial or multiracial identity, multiethnic identity, transracial adoption, and Asian-diaspora identity. Samantha was trained at Teachers College, Columbia University, and currently works as a member of the Intuitive Healing Psychotherapy team and