Functioning

Are you the person people come to when they are in a jam or need advice? Would you consider yourself a “fixer”? 

Are you highly capable? Like sometimes it feels like you’re the only one in your life who knows how to actually get stuff done?

If you are doing more than your share in your relationships and (if you’re honest)  maybe feeling a tad exhausted and/or resentful…this week’s episode is for you. 

I’m breaking down the characteristics of high-functioning codependency because from my personal and professional experience, it might be at the root of the problem.  

I’m giving you some steps you can take to have better boundaries, better self-care, and to over-function less in your relationships! 

As loving, caring people, we are all invested in what goes on in the lives of the people we care about. High-functioning codependents are overly invested.

How can you tell if you’re overly invested? Check your urgency. 

If your partner or friend or sibling comes to you and has an issue, how urgent does their situation feel to you? Does it actually feel like your problem to fix? If you are nodding your head yes, take note. High-functioning codependency might be your current mode of operation. 

I made the distinction years ago and created a new term, “high-functioning codependency,” because my incredibly capable clients did not identify with the old school definition of codependency. Back in the ‘80s, with Melody Beattie’s seminal text, Codependent No More¹ codependency was characterized by enabling behavior and addiction. In my experience, that definition needed an expansion. 

High-functioning codependency is behavior that includes disordered boundaries, where you are overly invested in the feeling states, the decisions, the outcomes, and the circumstances of the people in your life to the detriment of your internal peace and wellbeing. 

A high-functioning codependent is often smart, successful, reliable, and accomplished. They don’t identify with being dependent, because they are likely doing everything for everyone else. In a way, you make it look easy and like you have it all together. 

You might have an amazing career, run a household, care for children or aging parents, juggle all the extracurriculars, doctor’s appointments, plus you’re basically life coaching your friends through all their problems. 

You can do it all and the people in your life look to you to do so. But what is the cost to YOU? Overfunctioning can leave you burnt out and exhausted from trying to maintain an impossible workload and keep all the balls in the air. 

I spent a lot of years feeling overly responsible for everything, constantly jumping into “fix-it” mode, auto-advice giving, and helping anyone and everyone who needed help (even when they didn’t ask for it ?). It left me exhausted and honestly, pretty bitter. 

If this is resonating with you, I want to help you raise your awareness of what optimal functioning looks like in practice. 

What does it mean to function optimally in life? It means you can show up in every area of your life without overpromising or doing more than your share. You get things done, you follow through, you keep your word and you are clear about what is and is not your responsibility. You have enough time to take care of yourself and you know your limits. You know when to ask for help or support and feel comfortable doing so. You are not regularly doing more than what is required to accomplish your goals. 

When we’re stuck in a pattern of over-functioning, we do things people don’t even ask us to do. As a result, we can sometimes end up in a relationship dynamic with people who are under-functioning. This describes those who are not getting their own stuff done. They might not follow through with their obligations to others, keep their word or their commitments. Underfunctioners allow others to take care of things they really should be doing for themselves. 

Both over and under-functioning behavioral patterns are boundary issues. If you identify as an over-functioner, it is important to get really clear about what is your responsibility and what is not. When you are taking responsibility for things that are not on your side of the street (so to speak), you are in actuality overstepping other people’s boundaries. 

When I was very active as a codependent in my twenties, I was the person that everyone came to with their problems. I thought I was being loving. It felt like my purpose in life. I didn’t realize that I was crossing other people’s boundaries. I had no idea how dysfunctional it was. 

I was the quintessential auto advice-giver. From my family and friends to my hairdresser, the mail carrier, and even a stranger on the street! I had this strong compulsion to help anyone who needed it, make sure everyone was OK, and to add value to everyone else’s life.

Can you relate? If this is you, you might feel emotionally and physically exhausted, overwhelmed, and underappreciated. It’s like living and behaving as if we have endless bandwidth which is just not true. We are humans and we have limits. 

This was a very hard-won lesson for me. It took a long time because I’m naturally an extrovert, a lover, an empath, and a helper, and over-functioning was such an ingrained, habituated behavior that I didn’t even consider there was a different way of relating to folks.

Many high-functioning codependents gravitate towards the healing arts. Healthcare workers, social workers, massage therapists, psychologists, yoga teachers, and coaches…I see you. Our natural abilities to connect with others can absolutely be our superpowers, but not if we are drained from over-functioning. 

The truth is, at its core, codependent behavior is an overt or covert bid for control. Even if your heart is in the right place…if your actions are driven by fear, you’re not giving from a place of love and fulfillment. Other people’s pain or discomfort made me very uncomfortable…and automatically jumping into “fix it” mode, temporarily created more comfort but I learned the hard way, it was a short-term strategy.

If you are operating with disordered boundaries as your baseline, it’s going to be difficult to create the life you really want and deserve. The good news is, from one recovering high-functioning codependent to another, it is possible to slowly but surely change your behavior and align yourself with healthier habits. 

Inside this week’s downloadable guide, I’m giving you small steps to take towards ending over-functioning. Inside, you’ll find a self-inventory with questions to raise your awareness of your current patterns and my best tips on how to gently step back so you can stay on your side of the street and begin to take impeccable care of yourself while respecting the boundaries of others.  

Here’s where you can grab your guide. 

You can learn to let go and allow other people to take care of themselves and add value to your life, too. High-functioning codependency isn’t a fatal flaw. You deserve mutuality in your relationships and you have so much power to change these tendencies. If I can do it, so can you. 

I want to hear from you, does this resonate? Let me know! Drop a comment or question for me here or connect with me over on Instagram @terricole. I read each and every comment because you are IT for me and I want you to create the happy, healthy life you want and deserve. 

I hope you feel empowered to claim some of your bandwidth back this week, and as always, take care of you. 

¹https://www.amazon.com/Codependent-No-More-Controlling-Yourself/dp/0894864025

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  1. Thank you for that! I answered YES to all 9 signs! There is not enough room here to tell you how co-dependent I have been all my life. I always chose the same kinda guy that was a narcissist and I was the doormat for them. I have been doing a lot of self examination the last few years and have greatly improved myself. I loved coming across your vids on You Tube and have gotten so strong and full of love for myself that I left my 18 year relationship. Now, I live alone and am flourishing! I create beautiful works of art, garden, take little road trips with my dogs with the wind in our hair, don't cook if I don't want to, filled my horse trough up with water just for me and swim at night. Freedom is the name of the game….did I mention that I am 72, glow with perfect and am radiantly beautiful?

  2. Not only did this resonate but I can’t wait to get that download. It’s become so bad that I was in the psychiatric hospital and had family calling me to solve problems. They have become so used to it, there is basically no boundary. We call it “dry-begging”—when someone tells you something, knowing that you are going to do something about it. It’s out of hand and to the point that the only way I’ll get it to stop is to move away.

  3. You hit the nerve in me with this one! I learned from my mother how to be this “I can do everything every day for everyone” kind of person. Yes, it’s exhausting, yes, I am resentful, and yes, my daughters are not as mature as they should be because I did so much that they should have. This hurts me to no end and it’s so hard to get out of this pattern. I am so looking forward to each of your videos – you woke me up:) Thanks!

  4. Dear Terri,

    I have been listening your videos for many years. I am s greatful you share them with us. I am learning a lot from you.
    I am called egoist by one of my sons because I live my own life
    instead of taking care of my grandchildren. I used to live as a single mother and now when my children grew up I want to have my hobbies, my free time. I go horseback riding, paddling, opera, theatre play and read a lot.

    Love,

    Agota

  5. Terri – You have no idea how your book and podcasts have changed my life! You wrote this book for me, I’ve read it once and I almost feel like I need to read it again just to be sure I master everything you are teaching. I’m 57 years old, divorced and have lived my whole life as an HFC. Your book has taught me to FINALLY set boundaries with the people in my life. Thank you so much for writing this book and teaching me what I needed to learn to live my life the way I want to live it and respecting my authentic self. I heard about your book from your podcast with Mark Groves, mentioned it to my daughter and she bought it for me for Mother’s Day. The book has changed my life and I will be forever grateful to you and Mark for the healing you have provided me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  6. I didn’t know what I was doing was co dependency , but I an a go to person in my family and relationship and I feel overwhelmed frustrated and taken for granted. At the end of relationships I came out with the what if ,did I gave up too soon and feeling broken I’ve been checking out all type of self love ,relationship, and self care stuff but none of it was what I needed.This is the only thing I have found that speaks to me thanks for putting it out there.

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