Oftentimes the habits that we form (good or bad) are learned in our formative years and carried into adulthood. When you enter your early 20s these habits make themselves known to you and are mirrored in the relationships that you form with others. Habits can be formed in early childhood or as you get older. These habits determine how you treat others and reflect how you feel about yourself. 

Habits are rituals and behaviors that we knowingly and unknowingly perform that help us carry out everyday activities such as brushing our teeth, taking a bath or a shower, fixing our hair in the morning, and unwittingly following the same routines every day without much thought put in.

There are three subcategories habits fall into. The first category is the habits that we don’t pay much attention to because they are a part of our daily life, such as tying shoelaces or brushing teeth. The category is habits that we have worked hard at establishing and are beneficial to our wellbeing like exercising, following a healthy diet, or sleeping early to get your 8 hours of sleep! The third category of habits are the habits that are not good for us, these are habits such as smoking, procrastination, overspending and finally the habits you form of codependency 

Codependency is the mental, physical, emotional or spiritual reliance on a partner, friend, or family member.

The word codependency was first forged in the 1950s, by members of the Anonymous Alcoholics as a way to support the partners of individuals who were involved in substance abused. 

However today, the term covers a much broader topic.

Codependency is a learned behavior. When we observe the behaviors of our parents (good and bad) as children, we make them our own. They can stem from having a parent or guardian who had difficulty with setting boundaries, could never say ‘no’ to others, was the martyr, had poor or unhealthy communication skills. These behaviors are learned early on and brought into our close and intimate relationships. 

Adults who grow up with parents that were emotionally unavailable are more likely to become codependent adults. And as adults, they will mostly find themselves in relationships with partners that are emotionally unavailable , exhibiting the wound that stems from their childhood. At first, you may excuse this behavior from the other person, in hopes that they will change or believe that you can be the one to change them. 

Our subconscious may hope to dream that one day the other person will acknowledge the love that we give and be inspired to change. And maybe if we give them more time, they will finally return all the love that we so desire. This kind of reasoning is harmful. It is more so when the other person displays abusive behavior. Codependency does not only exist in romantic relationships but can be seen in platonic relationships and friendships. In trying navigate relationships in my, I have found that I too have some codependent habits that have been not only harmful to the relationship but harmful to my wellbeing. Before starting my journey of healing I was unaware of these habits and I would find myself repeating the same unhealthy cycles when it came to my friendships and relationships. This all came to an end once I started becoming more self aware of myself and how my own behavior contributed to having to repeat these cycles.  Being aware of my codependent habits was the start of my healing process.

If you believe you are in a relationship where you carry out habits of being codependent, the first thing in becoming independent is to take a look at yourself first and not at others. Signs that you be codependent include feeling responsible for the actions of others, doing more than you should in your relationships to keep the peace, being afraid of being alone, needing the approval of others to attain your self-worth, challenges with adapting to change or making decisions for yourself, and having your own emotions determined by the thoughts and feelings of those around you.  

But here is the good news, codependency is a behavior you can unlearn. In order to hold space for all healthy relationships in your life, you need to heal yourself first. Start with being honest with yourself and others, in your communication and in expressing your needs and desires. Practice having positive thoughts and higher expectations to counteract the negative ones. Learn to not take things personally, not everything is yours to fix or change. Take breaks! Taking breaks is important in grounding yourself and remembering who you are. And last but not least establish boundaries. Establishing boundaries is one of my favorite things to do lately, not only with others but with yourself as well. Having boundaries has taught me where my needs begin and where the other person’s needs end.

As you navigate your way in trying to break the cycle of codependency, it may seem as though you are being selfish and unfair. You’re not. Putting yourself first is not selfish but rather self-care. Unlearning unhealthy habits needs one to be patient with themselves and allow for mistakes along the way, as you won’t always get it right. If you start to experience feelings of guilt when you make the initiative to put yourself first, know that it is okay and that you are still learning.  

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  • Esihle Faltein is a Journalism and Media Studies Honours graduate, who is a lively and passionate writer, and has an appreciation for art, storytelling and photography. She believes in the power of spreading knowledge and awareness to others, through her writing. Esihle's pursuit is to share narratives African both on local and international platforms. When she is not engrossed in this goal, she enjoys attending art galleries, painting and listening to podcasts.

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