The difference between being caring and codependent

The difference between being caring and codependent

Imagine this: You have a friend with a life-altering problem. Do you listen and offer support and advice? Or do you tell them how to solve the problem?

It turns out one way is being caring. The other? It’s being codependent.

The latter, unfortunately, can lead to toxic dynamics in relationships where the need to “fix” overshadows genuine connection and mutual respect. Knowing which one is which and understanding what the differences are can be the “make it or break it” when it comes to fostering healthy connections.

“Codependency is really, in some ways, it’s us inserting ourselves in the middle of someone else’s situation, whatever that situation might be,” explains Terri Cole, a licensed psychotherapist and the author of Boundary Boss. “It’s auto advice-giving.”

However, by steering clear, you not only safeguard your well-being but also pave the way for more authentic, fulfilling relationships rooted in mutual support rather than dependency.

The Difference Between Being Caring and Codependent, According to Terri Cole

We’re familiar with the concept of being caring. However, what does codependent mean? 

Terri explains that it’s when you’re overly invested in the feelings and problems of others, to the point where it harms your peace of mind. 

For example, caring could be a parent encouraging their child’s independence, allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them. However, a codependent parent would constantly intervene in their child’s life, making decisions for them and rescuing them from all consequences.

Here’s a comparison between the two:

Desire to support and help others, respecting their autonomy.Desire to be needed or to control others’ decisions and outcomes.
Clear and healthy boundaries; understanding your limits in helping others.Blurred or nonexistent boundaries; over-involvement in others’ issues.
Self-esteem not solely based on helping others.Self-worth heavily tied to being needed or involved in others’ lives.
Offers support and advice when asked; encourages others’ independence and decision-making abilities.Tends to give unsolicited advice and take over situations, often hindering others’ independence.
Fosters healthy, balanced relationships with mutual respect and independence.Leads to unbalanced relationships with dependency and control, often causing stress and resentment.

The thing is, it feels good to be needed, right? Having a friend or family member (or anyone, really) turn to you for help can be a real ego boost.

In fact, research shows that feeling important to others is… well, very important. A 2022 study reveals that a sense of mattering is crucial for mental well-being, with its absence potentially leading to depression and relationship discord.

When you’re trying to be the hero in someone else’s life, it not only prevents them from growing from their own experiences, but it also encourages you to neglect your own needs and development.

How to Truly Be Caring—Terri Cole Shares Her Top Tips

Transitioning from codependency can be transformative. In her sit-down with Kristina, Terri offers insightful guidance to help you make this shift. 

Below are her top tips, elaborated with her expertise.

1. Understand and Heal From Past Relationship Injuries

Looking at your past relationships can help you learn how to stop being codependent. Terri suggests asking yourself: “Who does my partner remind me of?” and “Where have I felt like this before?”

By doing this, you can find out why you act the way you do in relationships. Maybe you’re trying to fix things for your partner because you’ve seen similar things in the past. 

Healing from these old hurts helps you not fall into the same patterns again. This means you can have healthier relationships without feeling the need to always take care of or control your partner, which is often seen in codependent relationships. 

It’s a way to learn about yourself and live a more heart-centered life.

2. Encouraging Others to Make Their Own Decisions and Solve Their Problems

It’s not your responsibility to fix problems for others. Instead, support them in finding their solutions, promoting their independence and self-reliance. 

You say, “Hey, this is what I’m observing, and it’s concerning to me because I love you and I don’t want someone treating you badly.” And then, as Terri advises, you have to “let the chips fall where they may.” 

“I feel like it’s totally unrealistic to be like, never give anyone your opinion or advice, never tell anyone about your concerns,” she points out. “But what we want to stop is, we want to stop auto advice-giving; we want to stop this Miss Fix It or Mr. Fix It vibe from the second someone has a problem.”

This approach involves managing your own anxiety and the tendency to over-involve yourself in others’ issues. By asking permission before offering advice and respecting others’ decisions, you practice mindfulness in interpersonal situations and foster healthier dynamics. 

3. Create Boundaries With Kindness and Respect

Setting boundaries means deciding what you are comfortable with and what you are not in your relationships and daily life. It’s like making rules for how you want to be treated and what you will accept from others. 

“The actual problem is so a lot of times people think that someone with good boundaries is someone with rigid boundaries,” says Terri. Essentially, it’s the “my way or the highway” approach.

However, that’s not what creating healthy, conscious boundaries is about. “If you have healthy boundaries, there’s a certain amount of flexibility in your ability to see it from someone else’s point of view.”

Becoming fluent in the language of boundaries requires self-knowledge and gradual practice. So start with low-priority situations and work your way up to more significant relationships.

Nurture Your Caring-capacity

Remember, being caring doesn’t mean losing yourself in others’ needs. It’s about balance, understanding, and respect—both for yourself and for those around you. 

To discover more insights like these, tune in to Kristina’s Honest Conversations. It’s a space where experts, like Terri Cole, share valuable guidance for building a fulfilling life and stronger relationships.

Episode resources:

• Terri Cole | ⁠Instagram⁠

• Terri Cole | ⁠Facebook⁠

• Terri Cole | ⁠LinkedIn⁠

• Terri Cole | ⁠Website

Watch the full episode:

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is a content writer for Mindvalley and a Certified Life Coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as being a cancer survivor, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.

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