Mental Health Sophia Pollalis

Saying Yes and No in Codependency

by Sophia Pollalis LAT, ATC, CSCS

This article has been a long time coming. It’s been on my list since I first heard about Cassandra’s dream of Positively Balanced and bringing resources and content to women far and wide. I haven’t created enough space in my soul for it to expand and be shared until now. I’ve started a few times and closed my laptop without saving on PURPOSE because I didn’t feel like I was ready and my writing was garbage. Today, I sit at my keyboard ready to admit a truth to someone more than myself and my closest circle of trusted people.

Hi, my name is Sophia, and I am a recovering codependent. I am one year and three months into recovery and learning new things about myself and my codependency every day.

That felt amazing to type. I said it out loud to myself as affirmation. Codependency is a sincere struggle to me. I have realized how it has controlled much of my life to this point, as well as how it is shaping who I will become and how I will make decisions to get there.

Melody Beattie is one of the most prominent writers on codependency to date, writing her first book “Codependent No More” in 1986, which I have linked below. In this book she defines codependency as “one who lets another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” This is her definition, but she encourages those exploring codependency to come up with their own definition of how codependency affects them personally. I define codependency as a progressive disorder related to a person’s reactionary behavior toward another person’s behaviors and/or habits. The obsession to control, change, or manipulate the other person’s habits often creates no actual change and results in neutral or negative effects in the codependent’s life.

thoughtful black woman near wildflowers
Photo by Gabby K on

Codependency is multifaceted and definitely can’t be wholly addressed in one article. I’d like to start with a simple aspect that has a big impact on me personally. One of the things I struggle with in my codependency is saying yes and no to different opportunities that present themselves. When someone asks for my help on a project or to move something, I almost always say yes. I mean, there is no filter I just say yes because that is what is expected of me. This has been hard to teach myself to think about the task being asked of me and ask questions like “am I genuinely doing this because I want to? Is there any benefit to me? Is this part of my job? Do I have time? Is this person trying to take advantage of me?” If I can respond positively to questions like these, I say yes to the person. Sometimes it takes me a long time to process my response and it looks like I am stalling, but I’m just doing what’s best for me. This is hardest with people I’m closest with, like my mom. Do you know what it’s like to process a question like “can you stop at the store and grab milk on your way over” just because your mom asked you to? It’s a ridiculous feeling because I am not going to tell my mom no to that. But it IS a good space to practice your filtering questions.

For me, saying no is a different problem entirely. After a lifetime of saying “no” to things because I wanted to meet OTHER PEOPLE’S expectations of what I should be and look like, I have wrestled with myself to do the things I want. I have waited for permission to do things because heaven forbid, I have a mind of my own. I have walked on eggshells around people to not offend with my voice, telling myself “no, it’s better for you to remain uncomfortable than make other people uncomfortable.” And of course, my personal favorite and one I am most guilty of on the daily, “no, this is fine.” I have never sent food back at a restaurant in my life. I know on paper and in conversations in my head that these situations are ridiculous, but when I am actually experiencing them, my brain reverts back to its lizard self and it’s fight or flight ONLY. No rationalization or relating to previous experience, only run.

I write this as we are in the holiday season. The season of giving to others and meeting expectations can be very trying to codependents. I have seen several posts on social media about how COVID-19 is a great excuse to tell people “no” this year. Being more mindful of my actions and words, I know this is not the best thing to do because, well, it’s an excuse. Take time to reflect on your responses as we come into a new year, a new season, and a new perspective of yourself.

In the past year or so of knowledge digging, reading copious amounts of books, therapy, and reflection, I have taken steps forward and steps backward. I have changed my perspective in several relationships and habits. I have worked on putting the focus of my response to what should be easy “yes” and “no” questions on me instead of the other person. It is still a daily effort for me. There are a lot of things I haven’t even addressed yet and haven’t found the courage to do so. If you’re looking for your “thing” today to help you say no, or yes, or complete the task, or get out of a situation, let this be it.