Are you the go-to person for your friends, colleagues, and family?

Do you over-give, over-function, over-feel, or put other people’s needs above your own?

Do you sometimes say “yes” when you want to say “no” to avoid conflict?

Or are you in the healing arts?

I know many of you are natural-born healers who struggle to balance it all without burning out. I’ve been there, too.

In this episode, I share how being a healer impacts our ability to have healthy boundaries and how to identify if you’re a high-functioning codependent (many healers are!). Raising your awareness around these behaviors will help you avoid burning out.

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

The Weight of Responsibility

How often do you feel exhausted by the weight of responsibility, professional or otherwise?

As a young therapist, I did.

I remember talking to my supervisor (also a therapist), asking her why I felt so burnt out just a few years in.

She shared this with me:

“Visualize it as though you are a doctor leaving the hospital for the evening. You take off your white coat and, instead of heading for the door, you begin loading a large backpack with each of your client’s heavy charts. You pull the backpack over your shoulder and then walk out the door.”

I was walking around with the weight of my clients’ stories, their pain, their issues, their conflicts, their original injuries, and their families of origin, all because I had poor emotional boundaries.

In some ways, I was also relating to my clients codependently. I wasn’t acting it out with them, but I was acting it out in my internal life because I couldn’t turn it off.

What Is Codependency?

Let’s look at what codependency is and what it means to relate to others in this way.

My definition of codependency is being overly invested in the feeling states, the outcomes, the situations, and the circumstances of the people in your life, to the detriment of your own internal peace and (or) your emotional, financial, spiritual, and mental well-being.

But aren’t we all invested in the people we love? 

Of course. We all want our loved ones to be happy and get what they want.

The difference here is being overly invested to our detriment.

If you don’t relate to the term “codependent,” you’re not alone.

Many years ago in my therapy practice, I began to see a specific set of codependent behavioral patterns in my clients who were very capable, high-functioning, and intelligent.

When I pointed this out to them, they said, “No way. Everyone depends on me. I make all the decisions and do everything for everyone else.”

This disconnect is why I coined the term high-functioning codependent (and why I have a whole book about it coming in October called Too Much).

High-functioning codependents, or HFCs, make it all look easy.

The people in their lives may not even know the extent to which they’re suffering, frustrated, or seething with resentment, because HFCs don’t let anything get in the way.

Their mindset is: the show must go on.

If this sounds like you, think about how often people check in on you compared to how often you regularly check in on others.

As high-functioning codependents, we often have a stadium full of information about the people in our lives, but we don’t let them know us in the same way. We’re too busy flipping the script and saying, “I got it!”

Your High-Functioning Codependency Blueprint

Developing awareness of our codependent behavioral patterns can help us understand their origin.

Figuring out our downloaded relational blueprint can help.

All of us have downloaded blueprints in our subconscious minds of how things work in all areas of life.

I use the term “blueprint” because a downloaded belief system is like the architectural blueprint for a house that someone else designed.

Factors like how you were raised, what you observed growing up, your culture, and family norms influence our blueprints.

We often learn how to relate to others from the modeled behavior we saw growing up, and societal structures play a part, too.

Indoctrination into the School of Nice (so to speak) is common. Be a good girl. Turn that frown around. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.

These messages taught us not to complain. To “keep on keeping on,” which is exactly what many of us learn to do.

For journal prompts to help you uncover your high-functioning codependency blueprint, download the guide.

How High-Functioning Codependency Shows Up

Beyond being overly invested in others to the detriment of your wellbeing, how else does being a high-functioning codependent show up?

I find there’s a tendency for HFCs to minimize their childhood experiences rather than honor them.

They often say, “I don’t want to blame my parents. It happened so long ago. I should be able to handle it.”

By talking about it, you are handling it.

Healing first requires telling the truth to ourselves. There’s no need to involve parents or caregivers at the beginning of our healing process or ever, for many of us.

High-functioning codependency also looks like hyper-responsibility and hyper-independence. HFCs often feel overly responsible and don’t want to rely on others to do things for them.

This might look like regularly tallying up the bill when dining with friends, being the point person for work problems, or planning all the events and vacations in your family.

HFCs are usually auto-fixers and auto-advice givers, too.

Hyper-independence might be rooted in not wanting to be a burden to others. This was true for me. While I desired close relationships, being vulnerable with others was scary.

HFCs also do a lot of anticipatory planning, scanning for potential trouble while thinking 20 steps ahead.

If a challenging family member is attending a gathering, you might go out of your way to grab their favorite food and sit them far away from someone they dislike to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

The problem with being 20 steps ahead and thinking about what might go wrong is you’re not present.

I call this living life “lite,” where everything just feels half.

Half as juicy, half as impactful, half as sweet, and even half as painful, because only half of our mind and attention is in any one place at one time.

We can’t multitask, even if we think we can.

We are not fully present when we’re talking to someone and planning for the future or scanning for trouble.

Finally, HFCs often have disordered boundaries. (Remember my story about having poor emotional boundaries?)

I define boundaries as your personal rules of engagement. It’s letting others know what is okay with you and what is not okay with you.

Being constantly dialed into how others feel makes setting boundaries difficult because we’re likely afraid to upset or disappoint people. Disordered boundaries in HFCs can show up as people-pleasing or seeking external validation.

New to boundaries? Take my 13-question quiz to discover your boundary style.

Prioritize Yourself

The most important thing you can do to heal from high-functioning codependency is to raise your awareness about the behaviors that aren’t getting you what you want.

One of those behaviors is self-abandonment, where you often “take one for the team” even though the team didn’t ask you to.

You can get on the path to healing by holding yourself in high regard and prioritizing how you feel.

Start believing that what you think, how you feel, and what you want matters- more than what anyone else thinks, feels, and wants (aside from minor children).

This belief is the epitome of putting your oxygen mask on first.

It might feel uncomfortable in the beginning. If you’ve been taught to put everyone else first your entire life, it will feel unnatural for you to come first. But you must because your relationship with yourself sets the bar for all the other relationships in your life. Aim high!

Don’t forget to download the guide for a high-functioning codependency blueprint to raise your awareness of the origin of these relational behaviors.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you a healer? Do you feel exhausted? Let me know in the comments or on Instagram (@terricole), and please share how you’re navigating it.

I hope you have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.

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  1. Hi Terri,
    Thanks so much for all your empathetic and enlightening articles and videos. I’ve read your book and it was a great help to understanding my codependency and boundary issues. I have recommended it to two friends who also loved it.
    I never thought that my narcissistic mother was having such an effect on me and my other relationships. I am now dealing with her as an aging parent and with an adult narcissistic daughter, who I decided to move in with to help care for my grandchild. I am working on improving boundaries with both of them, but know I still have much more to work on.
    I think one of my biggest challenges is over feeling. I internalize every conversation and even their mood. It determines how I’m feeling and it’s so difficult for me to distance and separate myself.
    Unfortunately with my daughter, I also blame myself for somehow contributing to her narcissistic personality during her upbringing. My adult son is nothing like her, but it still makes me question myself.
    I look forward to reading your next book. You have been such a great help in understanding my issues and how to work on them, so that I can move forward in my present and new relationships. I rarely leave reviews or comments, but like to read all of yours. Every comment I read reminds me that I’m not alone in how I’m feeling.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, Amy. I am witnessing you with compassion and sending you strength as you navigate caregiving with your mother and daughter. 💕 I’m glad Boundary Boss was helpful for you, and I hope my upcoming book can be just as insightful for you. You might want to try energy work to help with internalizing the conversations and their moods. I love recommending my pal, Lara Riggio. She has so many videos and exercises for different situations.

  2. Thank you Terri! I have been living with and caring for my narcissistic mother for over two years. It took me years to even acknowledge my caring role as she kept telling me I did nothing for her. Several months ago I found I was totally bereft of energy and took off for a stress relief retreat at a yoga centre where I had the insight to recognize I was in the ‘red zone’ and had no safe space or privacy to recover and rebalance in my own home. Recently my husband and I moved out of the house we shared with my mother, and I’m finally establishing some boundaries and learning to look after my wellbeing first so I have capacity to continue. Currently struggling through the narcissistic rage and retaliation this has provoked, but with some distance and a place to recover (and a whole lot of therapies), I feel I can survive the transition.
    Thank you so much for your work which has helped me to have insights around why I must take this important step to establish boundaries and start to put my own wellbeing (and the health of my marriage!) before another person’s endless needs and demands.

  3. Terri, You wrote my life here! I have reached the brink of insanity with everyone and everything now. I am trying to pare down my responsibilities, but the more I try, the more requests come in. I was a therapist for over 40 years and I finally had to quit since I absolutely could not listen to another story. I was completely overwhelmed and now my husband is experiencing the early stages of dementia and I am trying to go on as if life is normal…whatever that is these days. Your book can't come soon enough for me, and I will be in your Father Wound class. I am crying out for support, and I am someone who you describe as a high-functioning codependent who has always been the ultimate independent woman and others came to for help, not vice versa! Thank you for being here!

    1. I am witnessing you with so much compassion and sending you lots of love and strength as you navigate this time, Marilynn ❤️ I’m glad to have you in the father wound course and I hope it’s helpful. I’ll be talking more about high-functioning codependency as October (and the book release) gets closer, but you can also check out this two-part series I did earlier in the year on HFC: The High Price of High-Functioning Codependency & How to Liberate Yourself From Over-Giving.

  4. Hi.. Terri!!! As always.. this article was SPOT ON!!! I am one of those Healers who is a high-functioning co-dependent. I have read about women who give too much decades ago..( don’t remember who the author was)but knowing the pitfalls of a co-dependent personality.. didn’t save me from becoming one😗

    Since reading THAT book.. and countless other self- help books to self-heal.. and to really understand what my own needs are.. I have learned to pull myself back.. and can often catch myself when I am about to over give.

    I know I am still on this personal journey to healing my co-dependency issues.. and I am very excited and am looking forward to reading your new book on this topic!!!

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