How to Boost Your Self-Esteem if You’re Codependent

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Codependent No More" by Melody Beattie. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you suffer from codependency traits? What steps can you take to nurture your confidence?

If you have a codependent personality, then you likely suffer from self-esteem issues as well. In her book Codependent No More, Melody Beattie provides advice for codependents to boost their self-esteem and explains why they may be lacking confidence in the first place.

Here’s how to boost self-esteem.

Nurture Your Self-Esteem

As a codependent suffering from self-esteem issues, you need to learn to trust and love yourself, even when other people won’t. In this article, we’ll look at some strategies for how to boost self-esteem.

Trust Yourself and Your Mind

Beattie explains that many codependents were taught that they can’t trust their own minds. They don’t believe they can assess a situation or make decisions. This doubt paralyzes them from making even minor decisions. They cope with this anxiety by ignoring or passing off decisions, hoping someone will rescue them.

Beattie adds that this self-doubt also inspires perfectionism. If you believe you shouldn’t be trusted to make decisions, then every time someone trusts you anyway, you feel pressured to be perfect so they don’t regret their trust. Impossible standards further increase anxiety and self-doubt.

Gaslighting and Perfectionism

While Beattie doesn’t put a name to it, being taught that you can’t trust your own mind is gaslighting, a form of emotional control. Robert Greene identifies gaslighting as a form of passive aggression in The Laws of Human Nature. By being passive-aggressive, the aggressor can pretend you’re being irrational if you’re upset. Overt aggression is much harder to ignore. Greene suggests keeping a journal of your experiences so that you have a record when you start doubting yourself.

Beattie argues that gaslighting causes perfectionism. Amy Marlow-MaCoy acknowledges that there is a connection between perfectionism and being made to doubt your mind. She maintains that imposter syndrome is a type of self-gaslighting, where you don’t believe you are as talented or successful as you are. When suffering from imposter syndrome, you convince yourself that other people are seeing you incorrectly, and you ignore evidence to the contrary. You’re also terrified of people seeing “the real you” and strive to be perfect. However, she does not make a connection between traditional gaslighting by another person and perfectionism.

Learn to Trust Yourself

Let’s look at a few strategies for learning to trust yourself: (Shortform note: We have synthesized Beattie’s ideas into internal and external strategies for finding peace.)

Seek peace internally by detaching from the situation that is causing you to doubt yourself. Remind yourself of your skills and positive attributes. This self-validation will help combat doubt and remind you of times you have made good decisions in the past.

Seek peace externally by making small, enjoyable decisions. This will help you trust your decision-making skills. Gather the information you need to make good decisions, and then express those decisions to others without worrying about being perfect. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other people or your higher power.

Seeking Peace Internally and Externally

Research supports Beattie’s suggestion to self-validate to find internal peace. In addition to increasing your confidence, remembering your skills and past good decisions increases resilience (the ability to heal and learn from difficult situations): If you’ve been in a difficult situation and survived it, or made good decisions before, you can do so again.

Beattie’s strategies for external peace are also supported by modern advice, as making low-stakes “micro-decisions” gradually builds your confidence. However, some writers disagree with her suggestion to ask for help: They argue that asking for help is delegating your decisions, which means you’re not making them yourself. In addition, they add a caveat to Beattie’s advice to collect information: Don’t include other people’s opinions in that information.

Another writer who advocates the use of both internal and external strategies is Brené Brown. In Dare to Lead, Brown has a few other suggestions for increasing confidence and trust in yourself. Let’s look at a few examples:

1. Be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and reactions towards other people. This is an internal act that helps you to accurately judge your decisions and determine for yourself if they were good or not.
2. Put your values into practice. This is an external act that lets you find peace and confidence in your convictions.
3. Approach life with curiosity rather than fear. This is an internal mindset that changes the way you act externally, and it allows you to face uncertainty and errors with greater confidence.

Stand Your Ground

Beattie maintains that trusting your mind also means standing your ground and doing what you think is best, even if it means refusing to forgive and forget, withholding your trust from a person, or finding a new therapist when you feel you’re not benefiting from your current treatment.

Forgiving and forgetting is something many codependents feel pressured into doing, Beattie explains. Forgiveness is good and healing, but you shouldn’t forget how others mistreated you, because it can play into denial of how bad a situation really was.

Forgive, But Don’t Forget

Forgiving and forgetting are often conflated, as Beattie explains, but you don’t have to forget someone’s transgressions to forgive them. Forgiveness is an act of healing where you accept what happened and allow yourself to release any anger you have about the situation.

Forgetting, on the other hand, can harm your relationships and well-being. Remembering past hurts lets you protect yourself, and keeping track of red flags helps you determine whether the relationship should continue.

In addition, remembering past arguments and disagreements can strengthen your relationships: If you and the other person both improved since that argument, you’ve proven how much you care about the other and shown the effort you’re willing to put into your relationship.

Don’t Trust Blindly

In the same vein, codependents struggle to trust others, Beattie adds. Their loved ones have betrayed them and behaved badly for so long that trust is impossible. And yet, codependents’ loved ones sometimes use this lack of trust to levy unearned guilt. You don’t have to trust anyone over your own judgment. Accept that you don’t trust the other person and it’s a reasonable reaction to their past behavior. Withhold trust until they back up their promises of good behavior with action.

(Shortform note: Talking about change is a classic manipulation technique used by people who have no intention of actually improving their behavior. It works by stalling you: The manipulator knows what you want to hear, and they give you hope that they will change. While you wait, the manipulator avoids consequences. This behavior will not change as long as you keep giving them your trust. You must demand they change their behavior, and hold them accountable.)

Beattie points out that many codependents have the tendency to trust their doctors over themselves. They might stay in unhelpful and even unhealthy situations because of this trust. Don’t doubt yourself: There are many kinds of therapy, and it’s okay to explore your options until you find a good fit. Remember, your therapist might have more psychological knowledge, but you know yourself best.

Sometimes Your Doctor Is Wrong

The urge to trust the expert over yourself that Beattie discusses gets codependents in trouble, but they’re not the only ones who experience it. Overweight individuals experience similar pressure when interacting with medical professionals. Bias is still present in the medical field, and doctors have the tendency to ignore any symptoms an overweight patient reports in favor of telling them to lose weight.

Besides being rude and unhelpful, this advice becomes dangerous when the ignored symptoms stem from a disease or genetic condition. When experts won’t take their problems seriously, patients are more likely to dismiss those problems themselves. Even when patients continue seeking treatment, the delay can cause complications. A problem the first doctor could have fixed if they looked past their own bias can progress into a dangerous condition that affects a patient’s entire life.

For the codependent, this means being your own advocate and trusting yourself. If you feel that your therapist isn’t helping you, find one you can trust and who will listen to you. 
How to Boost Your Self-Esteem if You’re Codependent

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  • What inspired codependency 12 Step Programs around the country
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  • How to practice detachment, self-care, and personal responsibility

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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