Is people-pleasing codependency? 5 Ways ADHD Adults Can Heal People Pleasing
If you identify as a people-pleaser, and live with Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), chances are good that you’re exhausted. People pleasing is an expression of codependency. Many ADHD adults engage in people-pleasing and land in codependent relationships. Here are five skills to try to keep it in check.
Research shows that there is a heavily-implied link between ADHD and codependency. Codependency can develop from adverse childhood experiences of maltreatment like abuse or neglect, and those with ADHD are far more likely to experience early maltreatment than their neurotypical peers. So it’s no surprise that codependency and ADHD often go hand in hand.
APA Codependency Definition
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines codependency, in part, as “the state of being mutually reliant” and “a dysfunctional relationship pattern in which an individual is psychologically dependent on (or controlled by) a person who has a pathological condition (e.g., alcohol, gambling).”
Codependency is defined as an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.
Codependency simply is understood as losing your sense of self in someone else. Although it occurs most frequently in romantic relationships, it can also exist within friendships, at work, or even between a parent and child. Codependency is the dark side of people-pleasing.
In a healthy relationship, both sides depend on each other. You work together toward common goals, make compromises when necessary, and support each other. But a healthy relationship also means you’re able to live lives independently of each other. Healthy independence helps you realize that you don’t need to be joined at the hip. When couples differentiate from one another, they are successfully and happily able to maintain different hobbies, friend groups, interests, etc.
How People-Pleasing Disrupts ADHD Relationships
In a codependent relationship, however, you’re constantly putting the other person’s wants and needs above your own. This sounds a lot like people-pleasing. It can drive you to prioritize them at the expense of yourself. Your happiness is dependent on your partner’s happiness. You need to feel needed, and you’re afraid of doing anything that might upset them. Their hobbies have now become your hobbies. Your circle of friends is now comprised of theirs. You’ve allowed their interests to become your interests. This pattern leads to enmeshment which can become the kiss of death for a healthy relationship.
Along the way, people-pleasing drives you to sacrifice everything that made you “you,” while the other person loses the ability/desire to think, act, and feel for themselves since you’re doing it all for them.
Codependency can look very different, depending on your individual relationships and the level of enmeshment. For example:
- You do all of the household chores because your partner works hard all day – even though your job is equally as taxing.
- You don’t go out to your favorite Chinese restaurant anymore because your partner prefers steak.
- You bail on social obligations if your partner doesn’t want to go.
- You miss out on your best friend’s bachelor/bachelorette party because it’s out of town and you don’t think your partner can handle the kids alone.
- You continue to lend money to your brother, even though he never pays it back and you really don’t have it to lose.
- You cancel a much-anticipated lunch date because your friend needs a last-minute babysitter.
Once in a while, engaging in these types of people-pleasing behaviors is okay. It’s nice to do the dishes so your partner can relax, let the other person choose the restaurant, or help out friends and family. But when it becomes something you feel you have to do rather than something you feel you want to do, that’s when you begin edging toward codependency.
Combatting Codependency: Strategies To Stop People-Pleasing And Put Yourself First
1. Talk about people-pleasing with your partner
If your partner is used to you doing everything for them, it can be quite a shock when you stop suddenly. The first step to ending your people-pleasing tendency is to start articulating your needs. “I’m finding it really difficult to find time for myself because I’m so busy trying to make sure all your needs are being met. Can we talk about how we can handle XYZ in a way that works better for both of us?” Talking is the first step in getting your needs met. You may need to prepare before you have difficult conversations.
2. Learn your own boundaries and practice setting and holding them
Every healthy relationship needs firm boundaries. If you’re stuck in people-pleasing behavior, it’s time to spend some time thinking about yours. Maybe it’s telling your friend that you’re no longer available to babysit on short notice, refusing to loan your brother money until he pays back what he owes, or informing your spouse that you’re going to go out with your friends once a month whether they want to come along or not. Whatever boundaries you set, stick to them! Write them down, if you need to. And remember, “no” is a complete sentence.
3. Schedule time by yourself
When you’ve spent so long being codependent, “alone” might not be a feeling that you’re comfortable with. Do it anyway. Think about things you used to enjoy and revisit them. Do you love yoga? Join a weekly class. Has it been a while since you listened to your favorite musician? Download their new album and see what you’ve been missing. The more you spend time with yourself, the easier it will be to enjoy it.
4. Nix the negative self-talk
As you begin to unravel your people-pleasing behaviors, you’ll naturally need to address your internal codependency, it’s natural to reflect on what you went through and how you got there. But negative self-talk isn’t the way to do it. Thoughts like “You’re so stupid,” “How did you let it get this bad?” or “Wow, you’ve been a real doormat,” are unhelpful and unnecessary. Instead, give yourself grace and celebrate how far you’ve come!
5. Talk to your doctor
For adults with ADHD, doing things for others is just one more way to get the dopamine hit that your brain is constantly requesting. Being everything to everyone has kept that dopamine flowing. But as you taper back your people-pleasing prowess, you’re also tapering back the “feel good” chemicals. Talk to your doctor about your journey out of codependency. A med change, dosage increase, or some additional therapy sessions may be useful.
For adults with ADHD, codependency can be a struggle, but there’s hope
It’s incredibly common for adults living with ADHD to be people pleasers and eventually find themselves in codependent relationships. It’s not your fault, and it doesn’t have to be this way. The path to healthy relationships is waiting!
Is your people-pleasing negatively affecting your relationships? As a certified ADHD coach, I’d love to talk about it with you and see if I can. help. Book your free Discovery Call with me today.