For recovering codependents: tools to successfully say no
If you are codependent, your sense of safety and identity rely on your ability to please and be liked by others. Codependents are also emotionally dependent because they use other people to regulate negative feelings and emotions. Because of their history of relational trauma, they often feel anxious in the context of relationships. In order to ease that emotional discomfort, they turn their attention outside their selves and focus on making others feel good. When codependents’ perceptions of others in relation to them is one of approval, they feel worthy and lovable, which makes their state of unease more manageable.
This tendency makes it almost impossible for codependents to feel at peace with themselves when saying no. For that reason, they avoid it as much as they can. This turns them into “Yes men and women” who sacrifice their happiness and wellbeing for others, not necessarily because they are “nice”, “kind”, “helpful” and “friendly”, but because their behaviour is greatly motivated by insecurity and a fear of rejection and abandonment.
So how can a recovering codependent break that habit and start prioritising their own needs, wants and interests without feeling guilty, afraid and ashamed? By saying no and tolerating the discomfort. Tolerating inadequacy and just sitting with it, feeling it while observing it without judgement and, most importantly, resisting the urge to act, is one of the greatest skills of the emotionally autonomous. The emotionally mature can say no also because of their understanding that affecting others in negative ways – even when unintentionally – is human and unavoidable. Safe in that knowledge, they tolerate their own discomfort as well as others’, while freeing themselves of the incoherent burden of making others’ existence pain free.
Due to our ability to feel and process negative feelings and emotions, we are equipped to handle the disappointment that might arise from being refused or denied something we want. Therefore, if you are trying to overcome your codependency by not agreeing with everyone and everything that is asked of you, start saying no and practicing sitting with the discomfort that that behaviour tends to trigger. Resist the urge to go back on what you have said, change your mind, explain your reasons for acting the way you do, apologise and compromise, and just accept that your body needs time to adjust to a new attitude. With patience and perseverance, your assertiveness will enable the authentic self to flourish, which once fully felt and experienced, revolutionises – in a much healthier and functional way – your ability to think, act and feel independently.