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What is Codependency?

In today’s day and age, with the rise of technology and all that is ever-growing and changing in the world, it is so important now, more than ever, to have strong, healthy, and fulfilling relationships. Connection and expression are the highlights of our lives. When we are able to be our authentic selves in the presence of others while practicing giving and receiving, we are able to grow and experience joy.

Connecting with others through healthy relationships and friendships is our natural way of finding a sense of belonging and purpose. Having a friend, significant other, or family member in your corner can make the days all that much easier to bear no matter what we may be facing.

But what happens when we give too much of ourselves in a relationship? When don’t we set boundaries, or stay honest, or take time for ourselves?

Codependency is a struggle for many people in relationships where mental health and addiction are present. Addressing codependency issues within interpersonal relationships and the family unit can be essential to an addict or alcoholic achieving long-term recovery.

What is Codependency?

Codependency is a concept used to characterize imbalanced relationship patterns where one person assumes a high-cost “giver” role and the other a taker” victim role’. In these relationships, the giver or enabler is depleting their resources to attempt to fix the other partner’s problems. At the same time, the dependent in the relationship often feels guilty and gives in to the other person’s needs. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects individuals from having healthy, mutually satisfying relationships.

Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down through generations. Codependency is also known as “relationship addiction” because people often remain in destructive relationships. Codependency typically affects family members, spouses, friends, and individuals affected by substance abuse and mental health conditions.

What does Codependent Behavior Look Like?

Those who find themselves in codependent relationships often have low self-esteem and seek constant validation from outside sources. They struggle with authenticity and function in their own personality. To deflect from their own inadequacies, the codependent will attempt to take care of a person or other person.

The main problem in codependent relationships is that the repeated caretaking and rescuing behavior shown by the enabler allows the needy individual to continue making bad choices and cause destruction, leading them to become less stable and more dependent on the caretaking of the enabler. Although they may have good intentions, the caretaking often becomes compulsive, controlling, and defeating.

Another tendency of individuals struggling with codependency is to lose and mold their sense of self to fit another person’s needs. A codependent person will plan their life around pleasing another, exhibiting a high level of sacrifice of their own needs and emotions.

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Characteristics of Codependent People and Relationships

  • Finding no satisfaction or happiness in life outside of doing things with or for the other person
  • Remaining in the relationship when the other person does and says hurtful things.
  • Constant anxiety and worry about the relationship.
  • Extreme need for approval and recognition
  • Lack of trust in self and others
  • Difficulty identifying feelings.
  • Poor communication skills
  • Feelings of guilt when asking for what they need.
  • Issues with intimacy and setting personal boundaries.
  • Fear of abandonment

Causes of Codependency

According to Medical News Today, codependency is a learned behavior that usually stems from past behavioral patterns and emotional difficulties. Codependency can result from a range of different situations and experiences.

Damaging Parental Relationships: people who are codependent in adulthood often had relational issues with their own parents in childhood and adolescence. They may have received messages that their needs were less important or selfish or greedy by asking for things they wanted. As a result, this child learns to ignore their own needs and continues to search out ways to meet the needs of others at all times. In situations like these, the parent may have struggled with alcohol addiction, drug addiction, or mental health problems. Another cause is a parent possessing a lack of emotional development resulting in self-centered behavior in parenting.

Abuse: Any person who has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse is prone to struggle with physiological problems that can have a long-lasting effect. Many issues can arise from past abuse, with one of them being codependency. Children and teenagers who have experienced abuse will often express their feelings as a defense mechanism against the pain of abuse. On the other hand, sometimes a person who has been abused will seek out abusive relationships later because they are only familiar with this kind of relationship.

Codependency Treatment

The goal of receiving treatment for Codependency is to learn how to function effectively in a healthy relationship. The first step may be for the codependent relationship to step back and take time for separation. Individuals should then try to surround themselves with a support system conducive to their growth and recovery. If a person is struggling with codependency and a substance use disorder seeking help from a provider that treats dial diagnosis is recommended.

Therapeutic Services: Participating in individual and group therapy can be highly effective in helping individuals take steps towards healing. Marriage and family therapists and other addiction treatment professionals can help them find ways to express their feelings and acknowledge emotions they have been burying for an elongated period. Professionals will work with clients to identify specific patterns of behaviors and build a new set of coping skills and tools to make different choices. Other behavioral therapies such as DBT and CBT can be effective in helping individuals to regain a sense of self reconnect to their value system. In some cases, family therapy sessions or couples counseling for romantic relationships can help mend and heal family systems.

The Healing: Although it can be scary to open about past trauma and have the courage to make necessary changes, the beauty on the other side of the work is what makes it all worth it. Knowing your worth and being able to have trust and open and honest communication with the others in your life is powerful and something you deserve. Having shared respect and good boundaries with the ones you love and showing yourself and others affection without causing harm are the fantastic feats of being in healthy relationships.

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