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Life Beyond Therapy: Codependence - when friendship goes bad

Dear Michael,

For several years I was friends with someone. He ended it abruptly and refuses to talk to me. It’s no problem with me that he ended the friendship, but it’s been almost a year now and he’s still angry and hateful to me. Every chance he gets he says untrue things about me to anyone who will listen. How can I get him to move on with his life? The weird thing is that I still care about him and feel like this is killing him.

— Confused in North Park

Dear Confused,

I can appreciate your concern about your former friend, but the bottom line is that it isn’t your problem. If it’s “no problem” for you that the friendship is over, why do you ask, “How can I get him to move on with his life?” It sounds to me that you assume you have the power to make him move on with his life.

Saying “I feel like this is killing him,” is focusing way too much on him; where are you in all of this?

From your email, it sounds to me like you have an inability to let go of him. It’s great to be kind to people, but it sounds like you still feel responsible for him. This is the essence of codependence, behavior and feelings that go beyond healthy ideas of friendship and other relationships.

In my private practice, I’ve noticed that codependent people are more likely to attract abuse from aggressive individuals, more likely to stay in stressful jobs or relationships, less likely to seek medical attention when needed, less likely to ask for (and get) promotions, and tend to earn less money than those without codependency patterns.

I know it sounds pretty bad, but don’t give up hope. All of us have a bit of codependence in us, and putting your friends’ needs before your own occasionally is part of a healthy friendship. But putting your friends’ needs before your own repeatedly is a sign of codependence.

None of us have any control over what our friends do; we only have control over what we do. If you have codependent tendencies, notice them and be willing to change, e.g, take a look at your relationship with your former friend: if he’s harassing you, you can talk with a lawyer and get a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) if that’s appropriate. If he’s slandering you, you can consider legal action. But if he’s doing neither of these things and is simply a very unhappy person, then stop trying to fix HIM. Focus on yourself.

Ending codependency doesn’t mean being cold-hearted; it does mean letting go of feeling overly responsible for other people and not putting your own needs at a lower priority than theirs.

Codependency can occur in any type of relationship: families, at work, friendships, and also in romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependent folks typically have some of the following characteristics:

• A strong need to feel in control (If I’m taking care of you, then I get to call the shots.)

• Denial of their own needs (No, go ahead and have the last piece of cake, I’m fine. Really, it’s okay.)

• Low self-esteem (My needs aren’t as important as yours are.)

• Illusions of their own superiority (I am much more together than you are, so let me help you.)

• Excessive people-pleasing tendencies (I can’t stand it if people don’t like me.)

If you know that you have codependent tendencies, it’s time to take a good, hard look at yourself. Is this a pattern for you? Have you always felt hyper-responsible for others? If so, Melody Beattie’s book “Codependent No More” is a good place to start. There are 12-step based meetings for people who want to become less codependent. Google “CODA” (Codependents Anonymous) for meeting times and locations near you.

As this new year unfolds, it’s the perfect time to look at any codependent behavior and consider changing old patterns. Why not focus on your own needs and begin to take better care of yourself? I’ll bet that you’ll soon start attracting new friends who will treat you better, too.

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Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Michael is currently accepting new clients. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit.

(Editor's note: This post was originally published by SDGLN content partner Gay San Diego.)