Codependency is a pattern of behavioral interactions within a dysfunctional relationship. It can sometimes be referred to as “relationship addiction,” because people with codependency often form or maintain one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive relationships. I really wanted to shed some light on this topic as it is one I struggle with myself. So here is what I have learned:
- What is codependency?
- Symptoms of Codependency
What is codependency?
Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects a person’s ability to have a healthy and a satisfying relationship. It is a learned behavior.
The term codependency originally applied to a person living with or in a relationship with an addicted or abusive person. The term has broadened to describe any codependent person from a dysfunctional family. A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain or shame that is ignored or denied. Underlying problems may include:
- An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex or gambling.
- The existence of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
- The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.
Because dysfunctional families do not talk about or confront issues, members can learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They can detach themselves and shy away from talking, touching, confronting issues, feeling emotions or trusting others.
Symptoms of Codependency
Codependent people may have low self-worth and look for things outside of themselves to make them feel better, such as alcohol, drugs or nicotine. They can also develop compulsive behaviors, such as workaholic-ism, gambling or indiscriminate sexual activity.
Symptoms of codependency can include:
- Low self-esteem: People with low self-esteem feel as if they are not good enough. They may display feelings of shame, guilt or perfectionism.
- People-pleasing: People-pleasing can feel that they have no choice but to satisfy the needs of others. Saying “no” can lead them to experience anxiety. People-pleaser’s often go out of their way to accommodate other people.
- Poor boundaries: Those who have weak boundaries feel responsible for others’ feelings and problems or blame their own difficulties on someone else. People with rigid boundaries are closed off or withdrawn, making it hard for people to get close to them. Some people can switch back and forth between weak and rigid boundaries.
- Reactivity: If poor boundaries are set, it is easier for people to be affected by others’ thoughts and feelings, to feel defensive, and to feel threatened by disagreements.
- Care-taking: Caretakers want to help others with their problems – to the point that they give up part of themselves. Feeling empathy and sympathy are natural, but putting someone else’s needs before one’s own can be destructive, especially if the other person does not want the help.
- Control: People with control issues need control in their lives to feel safe and secure, but it can limit their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they use a substance such as alcohol to relax, or they can become workaholics. They also need to control those close to them, because if others behave in a certain way, they will feel more in control.
- Poor communication: People with poor communication skills have a hard time expressing their thoughts, feelings and needs. They have difficulties with identifying their own feelings, or they can be fearful of expressing their feelings because they do not want to upset anyone.
- Obsessions: Obsessions are caused by fears and anxieties. People can spend their time constantly thinking about other people or relationships. They can obsess when they make a mistake or make a decision. Obsessing about people or things can be a way to avoid the present and can keep a person in denial; therefore, it can keep a person from living life to their fullest ability.
- Dependency: Dependent people need others to like them in order for them to like themselves. They are afraid of being rejected or abandoned; they need to be in a relationship, and they can stay in an unhealthy relationship to avoid loneliness.
- Problems with intimacy: People with intimacy problems fear being open and close with others. They can be afraid of being judged, rejected or abandoned. They can also fear losing autonomy if they are in a relationship.
- Painful emotions: Codependency creates stress, which can lead to shame; low self-esteem; anxiety; fear of being judged, rejected or abandoned; fear of making mistakes; or fear of being a failure. Codependency can lead to depression, anger and resentment, hopelessness, and despair.
- Denial: Codependents are usually not aware that they are codependent. They typically are not accountable, or do not take responsibility for their actions. They can jump from one relationship or job to the next without owning up to the fact that they have a problem. They can also deny their own feelings and needs and concentrate on the feelings and needs of others. Some codependents are attention-seeking, while others act as if they are self-sufficient and deny their own vulnerability.
Characteristics of codependent people can include:
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
- A tendency to “love” people they can rescue
- A tendency to do more than their share
- A tendency to become hurt when people do not recognize their efforts
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships
- An extreme need for approval and recognition
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- A lack of trust in themselves and/or others
- A fear of being abandoned or alone
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Rigidity or difficulty with adjusting to change
- Problems with intimacy and boundaries
- Chronic anger
- Lying, dishonesty and exaggeration
- Poor communication
- Difficulty making decisions.
The first step in changing any behavior is to recognize it. The more codependents understand their behavior, the easier it is for them to ask for help.
Because codependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration of childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment can include education, experiential groups, individual therapy or group therapy. Treatment involves helping codependents become aware of their feelings and examining family dynamics.
- Mental Health America: mentalhealthamerica.net
- Co-Dependents Anonymous: coda.org
- Psych Central: http://psychcentral.com