Recovering from Codependency: The Truth About People-Pleasing

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The term “codependency” can mean different things to
different people. Over the years, a number of authors
have offered a variety of definitions for this difficult
dynamic that seems to affect more people than we can

My definition is a very simple one: “codependency”
occurs when we put other people’s needs ahead of our
own on a fairly consistent basis. In truth, when we are
codependent, we are also people-pleasers who will
go to virtually any lengths to avoid unpleasant conflict
with others.

<strong>DOES THIS SOUND LIKE YOU?</strong>

You are tired of giving and giving to other people,
without getting much in return.

You are concerned about the pain and /or abuse that
you are experiencing in your relationships.

You feel sorry for yourself, baffled about why this is
happening to you but not knowing what to do about

You try to convince yourself that the problems you are
experiencing aren’t really that bad.


Because codependents consistently put others’ needs
ahead of their own, they often believe that they are
“nice” people.

“I’m doing what everybody wants me to do,” you tell
yourself, “so why do I get mistreated so much of the
time?” Indeed, this will be a real dilemma for you as a
people-pleaser. If you are codependent, it probably
doesn’t make sense to you that you are being treated
abusively by the very people you are trying so hard to

But the truth may be that you are not really as “nice” as
you would like to believe you are, because you are not
saying yes to everyone else just to be kind to them. Nor
do you do more than your fair share of tasks because
you truly want to be of service over and over without
any kind of reciprocal arrangement.

When you say yes (especially when you really want
to say NO), you are actually protecting yourself from
having to face the potentially painful consequences
that can result when someone is angry or disappointed
with you for not agreeing to do what they want you to

Even though you are really trying to look out for yourself
by side-stepping these negative outcomes, which
could be seen as a self-caring intention, it is unfortunately
not a healthy form of self-care when it is done
out of resistance to unpleasantness.


In order for codependence to be part of any relationship,
two things have to happen ~ the people-pleaser
has to say yes a lot more often than no, and the other
person has to not only accept this but also begin to
expect it in the relationship. Once that dynamic is in
place, it is difficult to break the cycle.

When you say yes consistently to another person, and
when you accept any form of abuse as part of any of
your relationships, you are essentially teaching the other
people that it is all right for them to treat you that
way. Although you might not be aware of it, you actually
do have as much power and control as the other
person does, because all of us can really only control

It is only when you choose to give your power and control
to another person that you begin to feel the sting
of codependency, because the truth is that no one can
disrespect you without
your permission.

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If you are experiencing codependency and people-
pleasing in any of your significant relationships
(which can include those with parents, children,
siblings, spouses, partners, friends, bosses or co-workers),
then there has likely been a cycle established in
which you have been reacting in a “passive” manner
while the other person has been acting “aggressively”
toward you.

The healthy balance is one of “assertiveness.” This
occurs when both people speak and behave toward
each other in respectful ways, taking full responsibility
for themselves and their own choices without resorting
to blaming, shaming or threatening each other in any

But change always has to start with oneself. If you are
in relationships that are already entrenched in codependent
dynamics, you will need to make some important
changes within yourself before you can expect
to see any change in the behaviour of those around

You can begin by deciding that it is time to learn new
ways of being in relationship with yourself, such as
treating yourself more respectfully and saying yes to
yourself more often. You will also need to become
willing to learn how to deal with the negative reactions
you might encounter when you stop being so accommodating
and available to the others in your life. This
will prevent you from reacting from a place of fear in
your relationships.

When you are starting the journey away from people-
pleasing and seeking a new level of emotional health,
you may find that self-help books about codependency
can be a great aid. You may also want to check out some
self-help groups such as Codependents Anonymous
or 16 Steps for Discovery and Empowerment, to find others
who are on the same journey as you are. As well, you might
want to reach out to a skilled counselor for help, as you
begin to test out new boundaries and healthier ways of
relating to others.


Becoming more real and genuine in your relationships is a
gift you give to both yourself and to the others in your life. Learning how to tell people
the truth about how you feel, as well as about what
you are (and aren’t) willing to do for them is an act of
love, honesty and personal integrity.
As you learn how to deal with potentially unpleasant
reactions from others, you can begin to change your
people-pleasing patterns. This is the key to unlocking a
whole new world of being a self-respecting, authentic
and genuine person in your relationships.

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