For a codependent in a relationship, there comes that inevitable moment where you realize that you have done too much, cared too much and sacrificed too much time, energy, money and emotion. All of it, just to be loved and appreciated, but instead what you’re left feeling is disrespected, foolish, taken advantage of and used.

If enough time goes by you’ll minimize, make excuses and forget about these feelings, but for a brief moment, you’re sitting there wondering, “What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I giving so much and getting so little in return?” And those thoughts will make you damn angry.

Because you’re so used to being a pleaser those angry feelings will dissipate rather quickly, you’ll explain it away by saying, “I don’t hang on to anger for very long,” and you’ll be back to the same old pattern and the cycle will continue.

Those angry feelings come because we have an innate sense of right and wrong and injustice bothers all of us to our core and it is something that we cannot ignore even when it’s happening to lil’, ole, unworthy us. A big key to breaking this pattern is to hang on to that angry feeling when it comes. When most codependents talk about making the break from their narcissistic partners it’s during one of these angry episodes.

I always say that anger is the catalyst for change. It motivates action because it’s uncomfortable and when we’re uncomfortable that’s the time we will actually do something about it. The problem for most codependents is that we’ve been programmed to disconnect from our feelings, tuck them away and carry on as if nothing untoward has happened and that’s just what we do.

Those angry feelings need to become our gage that directs us to our self-care meter. We need to get real about when we are being disrespected and what it really means. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I being disrespected? Am I engaging in something that is harmful to my wellbeing?” And if the answers are yes then that’s where we need to stake our boundary, take a stand and take massive action.

The Emergence of Self-Respect

When those alarm bells go off pay attention. When an emotionally healthy person is feeling those feelings in relation to how they are being treated by their partner, it’s like a switch goes off and they start to look at their relationship through a different lens. It doesn’t necessarily mean they end it, but their behaviors following those feelings differ from those of codependents. They lack the fear of being alone, so they are fully capable of taking massive action – like sticking up for themselves, making plans to break and eventually walking away. When you are the recipient of disrespectful behavior be mindful of the following:

When the emotional alarm goes off – don’t hit the snooze button and go back to sleep: Get up and be prepared to do battle. Acknowledge that these feelings serve a purpose, that they are real and they are important. They are trying to tell you that change is necessary here. Pay attention.

Don’t disregard your feelings – feel your feelings: The coping mechanism learned by most codependents in childhood was to disconnect from their feelings, tuck them away and render them unimportant. This time don’t do that. Create a new coping mechanism that screams, “My feelings are important. This time I’m paying attention to them. This time I’m going to act on them,” and allow yourself to experience them. Sit with your feelings and let them flow through you. Allow them to be whatever they are. Examine them. Be mindful of how your mind tries to minimize bad behavior and also how it tries to diminish your right to react appropriately. Challenge these notions and don’t allow yourself to replay your old tapes of minimizing and accepting responsibility.

Repetition is key: Keep reminding yourself that you are going to think and behave differently. The subconscious mind learns through repetition so use post-it notes, ask friends to keep reminding you, leave yourself little reminders all over the place that the behavior has happened and how you initially felt about it, to keep you on track.

Be direct and don’t avoid conflict: Codependents love to keep the peace and smooth things over. Stop doing that. When you’re in a relationship with someone and they are ignoring you, cheating on you, or any other number of disrespectful behaviors – speak up. What they are doing is not ok and you have every right to express yourself. Remember if you have been conditioned to expect very little from someone – that’s a problem. If you’ve been trained not to react or rock the boat, then you need to react and rock that damn boat. You don’t have to get into a screaming match, but you need to learn how to say, “This is not ok. I’m done.” You teach people how to treat you and when you say nothing to disrespectful behavior, it’s the same as giving it a thumbs up.

Learn where to insert and enforce your boundaries: When it doesn’t feel good it’s very likely a boundary has been busted. Remember that negative behavior A always gets Consequence B. Consistency is key. It really is that simple.

Detach from the outcome: This is the most important action on this list. If you having boundaries makes them walk away – then let them walk away. If you speaking up for yourself makes them leave – hold the door for them. If you demanding to be treated with respect makes them flip out, blame you and threaten to leave the relationship – beat them to the punch and end it yourself. Don’t ever let a fear of being alone, fear of abandonment, or a need to please and be loved, make you abandon yourself. You are responsible for your self-care. Only you. Let your self-respect emerge by following these behaviors and never back down from doing right by you. Remember if someone is ok, or acts like they are just fine without you, then they are not for you.

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