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Thread for overcoming co-dependent / fawn / people-pleasing behaviour/ putting other people's needs ahead of your own


So, I was listening to an audiobook the other day that said we really need self-help groups for people who engage in co-dependent behaviour, where like in AA meetings, you can say "Hi, my name is Ecdysis, I messed up today and engaged in people-pleasing behaviour again... damnit! "

So yeah... it's definitely one of the things I learned in childhood - being parentified, "looking after" my ill and dysfunctional parents, trying to be "perfect" so I'd get their approval/ avoid their wrath/ rejection, trying to "help" people to prove I'm a good person and have value, putting other people's needs before my own... it's a long list.

I've done job training to work in a social/ helping job... I do a lot of volunteer work... typical "helper" tasks.

It's actually quite hard to view it as dysfuntional behaviour/ maladaptive coping strategies - I think to a large degree because you get soooo much positive feedback from just about "everyone" for being caring, helping, supportive - just about everyone says it's "good" and that you're being "a good person" for engaging in those tasks/ those behaviours.

But while yes, being pro-social obviously is a "good" thing, I guess like just about anything in life, it's a) a question of degree and b) a question of what motivates it. I think it makes a big difference whether it's simply positive behaviour out of kindness, or whether it's learned co-dependent behaviour from an abusive childhood which taught you that it's "good" to put other people's needs before your own.

I know one pattern I get into is seeing people who "need help". It's like my childhood neglect and abuse taught me to have a sixth sense for that... People who are coping/ seem to be doing fine don't trigger this response... I see them coping and my brain seems to think "Okay, whatever..." But as soon as I see someone who's not coping/ needs help, my brain is like "OMG, OMG, OMG someone needs help...! Can I think of something helpful?? I must help *somehow*. " It's like a compulsion. And my brain seems to give me a dose of dopamine or serotonine or whatever "positive" brain chemicals when I am able to "help" somehow. Sigh...

I'd really like to re-train myself to at least decrease this behaviour pattern.

I don't want to become selfish, mean, putting my own needs ahead of others... That's just falling into the trap of "doing the opposite"... But I want to get to a healthier middle ground of my needs being equally important to those of others.

Anyone else prone to these co-dependent type behaviours and wants to move away from them?

Edit to add: This behaviour is something I've actually been failing at, during my current debilitating episode of depression. Things have gotten so bad, that surviving (covering my own basic needs) is all I'm capable of. Failing at the task of "helping" feels absolutely awful. Everytime I get a small amount of energy during this depression phase.... I find myself not investing it in myself, but going straight back to trying to "help" somehow... Ugh... It's very uncomfortable/ painful.
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important topic in my own therapy sessions, ecdysis. like so many of my psychotic dysfunctions, co-dependency is based on strong, functional ideals which became skewed toward destruction in the chaos of my childhood. i want the bonds which enable me to lean when i'm not doing well, but not so much the whining and bickering of unrealistic expectations. oh, for the love of balance. . .
I'd really like to re-train myself to at least decrease this behaviour pattern.
this is the approach i have been using with the grammar tweak of training myself to do it well. my head knows how to. i listen to my heart for guidance on when to. if my heart is not willing, i am probably not helping. no means no.
Yes, exactly that. When I was a child, I was this shy, calm boy… for most of the time. But then, I also did some crazy/stupid things, and the balance was there. After my “life-changing experience,” it shifted all the way to seeking the acceptance of others, no matter the cost. The best summary was the thing my university friend once said to me: “Dude, I know a lot of people who don’t give a f*ck. But at least they give a f*ck about themselves. You don’t.” And it’s still in my core. Finding the balance back will take some time, I guess.
self-help groups for people who engage in co-dependent behaviour, where like in AA meetings
These exist! Look up CODA, stands for Codependents Anonymous. Makes sense that they would have 12-step programs for codependents because pretty much all addiction dynamics revolve around codepency. So 12-step programs in general focus on stepping out of codependent behavior.
Saying yes is another compulsion...
in my personal recovery, this was my launching point. i was prone to keeping my mind so open that my brain was continually falling out. learning how to use "no." as a complete sentence started in my own noisy headspace. no explanation needed. no means no.
And boundaries... Setting them and defending them
in my own recovery, boundaries remain an ongoing challenge but i am finding peace with that ongoing challenge by accepting their tenuous nature. when i make my boundaries too rigid, i am building walls more than boundaries. these days i am treating my boundaries like a river bed. the boundaries are designed to wiggle and shift with the flows and stows of life. i don't get to control boundaries. i can only work with what's available at any given space and time.

for what it's worth
i'll second @Rose White 's mention of 12 step groups. the 12 steps and support from groups which use them are the best tool i've found for my own co-dependency issues.
Something of a revelation, particularly in the saviour or people pleasing role was that my motivation to make things better for others is more self-centred than it appears on the outside. To ask myself, am I actually doing this for the other? Or am I fulfilling a need in myself? Is helpful.

I do act out of kindness, but a lot of times, I act out of a need to make things better - that's sometimes a projection of a hurt part onto others. Or I act from a need for someone to approve of me or to make someone that's more powerful than me happy - those actions are driven by fear.

I've also been on the receiving end of people who didn't ask what was the matter or ask how they could help, but jumped in without understanding my needs - that was when I first developed PTSD, and that kind of help was quite damaging to my MH. But I think it's made me more aware of the need to evaluate my own desires to help others.
This! Honestly this is such a good thread idea. It's definitely something I struggle with, to the point where I'm learning I often self sabotage my relationships/friendships by placing myself in a position where I dang near teach the other party to walk over me - "because I just want them to be happy". But eventually this always wears me thin, and I get overwhelmed and upset that the other party isn't doing what I told them not to, which is to care for me.

putting my own needs ahead of others...

Though, the biggest thing that my therapist drilled into me that helps me - is that I actually did need to value myself over others. As in, work towards to goals you want to do in your life, take up space because you do, say no - and also 'yes I would like a second slice of cake please, thanks for asking' and don't feel guilty about it.
I still struggle with taking it completely to heart, but considering I've always been terrified of being narcissistic and bend over backwards to avoid it - I know it would take **a lot** for me to actually be a 'mean selfish' to others. If this rings true for you a bit, I hope it helps!