Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship.
It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.
Co-dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or drug dependence.
The simple definition most known for codependency refers to a dysfunctional relationship in which case one person is helping or enabling another person in poor habits or behaviors.
Originally, co-dependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person.
What Is Codependent Relationship
A codependent relationship is one where the person looks for the partner’s approval for their self-worth and identity. A codependent person feels inadequate and, therefore, depends on the partner for their fulfillment.
Codependent relationships often arise inside of dating and marriage where the partners are in an unhealthy arrangement with each other where one may be engaging in substance abuse, addiction of any kind such as sex or gambling, poor mental health, procrastinating, underachievement or harmful physical health habits.
When someone is codependent or involved in a codependent relationship, it is a double-sided relationship where reliance develops on each other for a multitude of reasons.
Experts say that codependency originates from dysfunctional families where the person had experienced an emotionally unhealthy or abusive childhood and grew up trying to satisfy an abusive parent. Such children, when grown up, try to please their partner even at the cost of their own needs and self-esteem.
Signs And Symptoms Of Codependency
People in a codependent relationship can be in a state of denial about their condition. But if you find the following warning signs in your partner or yourself, then it is time for you to act.
Here are the list of symptoms of codependency and being in a codependent relationship. You don’t need to have them all to qualify as codependent.
1. Poor Boundaries
Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what is yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. That is especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries between themselves and others. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else. Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them.
2. Communication Dysfunction
Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Most times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You are afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it is okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear.
Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. Often, they try to decipher what someone else is thinking or feeling and why. This is caused by dependency on others and anxieties along side fears about being rejected due to shame. For the same reason, they can become obsessed when they think they have made or might make a “mistake.” Sometimes they can lapse into fantasy about how you will like things to be or about someone you love as a way to avoid the pain of the present. But it keeps you from living your life.
Codependents need other people to like or love them to feel okay about themselves. They are afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Yet they still need others to compliment them most especially in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they are by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
5. Problems With Intimacy
Not referring to sex, even though sexual dysfunction is often a reflection of an intimacy problem. But here we are referring to the openness in intimate relationship. This often happen because of shame and weak boundaries, The fear that they will be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy. You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you are unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.
6. Painful Emotions
Codependency creates stress that leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.
It is fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.
Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control.
Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.
9. Living In Denial
One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they deny it, meaning that they don’t want to create the impression that their is problem so as not to face it. Usually they think the problem or situation is for someone else. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem.
Codependents also deny their feelings and needs. Often times, they don’t know what they are feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs. They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own. Although some codependents seem needy, while others act like they are self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.
Talking about reactivity, we mean responsiveness to stimulation or susceptibility to chemical reaction (i.e how one react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings). As a co-dependent person you might take things personally and get easily triggered by people words or utterances. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there is no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and you don’t feel threatened by disagreements.
Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, they want to help them to the point that they might feel guilty if they don’t and in the process they give up on themselves. It is natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice. For some codependents, their self-worth is dependent upon being needed.
12. Low Self-Esteem
Not feeling that you are good enough or comparing yourself to others is a sign of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it is only a camouflage for really feeling unlovable or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame. Some of the things that go along with low self-esteem are guilt feelings and perfectionism. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself. See my blogs on shame and perfectionism.
13. Reacting Irrationally
Some people with poor boundaries are easily affected by the actions of others. They tend to be quick to anger. It is common for them to take things too personally. Often, they cause unnecessary arguments. Usually, they become very defensive. This is all the result of a lack of boundaries. Opinions of others are seen as threats because they are taken to heart.
14. Depending On Approval
Codependent people need to feel accepted in order to accept themselves. Many suffer from a fear of rejection or abandonment. Individuals of any age can struggle with this. Some only feel fulfilled while in a relationship. When alone, they quickly become depressed and lonely. Often, their sense of identity revolves around others. This can lead people to become trapped in abusive relationships.
15. You Feel Trapped
At some point during your relationship, you most likely had a moment of clarity where the idea of leaving crossed your mind just as quickly as the fear of being alone wiped it away. From not wanting to start over to not wanting to let your partner down, your reasons to stay in this relationship are surrounded by the idea that being with someone is better than not being with anyone.
While it is terrifying to take a step into the unknown, it is even more terrifying to live your life within the fences that someone else created for you. Some of our greatest moments come from our boldest decisions your life is meant for you to control because you are the one person who is guaranteed to never leave.
All of these codependent behaviors may lead to a painful emotional state. Codependency can make people feel like failures. They often feel trapped and alone. It can lead to anger, resentment, depression, loneliness, and despair. It is important to remember that feeling numb is not a healthy way to cope. With the right help, symptoms can be treated correctly.
What Happens In A Codependent Relationship?
Many codependent relationships are rarely acknowledged because society has allowed us to think that some things are expected in every relationship. The clinginess and the prerequisite attention are only two of those. When a person has been in a relationship for a very long time, they fail to realize that these aspects need to slowly dissolve in order for both people to grow.
At some point, couples need to re-establish their individuality. This is supposed to happen after the honeymoon phase. For codependent relationships, it almost always never happens. Because the codependency is not recognized, couples tend to push through thinking that the situation is supposed to be that way.
Sooner or later, they start to develop resentment, disappointment and intense depression when the enabler fails to provide and the dependent person fails to thrive. Simply breaking up, however, is nearly impossible for these couples since they unhealthily rely on each other. The most effective course of action in this case would be to consult a professional.
Reasons Couples Become Codependent?
A person becomes codependent because of a recurring pattern in their life. Most people who become codependent have been in unfulfilling situations like a dysfunctional family, a deteriorating career or a past bad relationship.
The Dependent Party
Because they failed to achieve some level of accomplishment or achievement in maintaining these past relationships and situations, they become emotional, clingy and dependent. They start to feel that only their partner can fill in the void left by their negative past experiences.
They feel insecure because they think that they are not good enough, which then leads them to think that only their partners can validate their strengths. They see their partner as their beacon of hope or even their savior. They would then place their partners at the center of their world.
The enabler has a sense of duty towards his or her partner. Their primary obligation in the relationship is to meet their partner’s needs, no matter how unreasonable these needs may be. When these needs are not met, they can develop a disturbing attitude of frustration towards both their partner and themselves.
This frustration towards their partner stems from the fact that their partner is too dependent and too demanding, and yet impossible to refuse. The frustration towards themselves, on the other hand, comes from a sense that they have failed in their primary duty of providing what their partner needs.
Treatment For Codependent Relationship
Breaking up isn’t necessarily the best or only solution. To repair a codependent relationship, it is important to set boundaries and find happiness as an individual. Here are few things that can help toward forming a positive, balanced relationship.
However, codependency itself isn’t the best type of relationship to be in, so you should consider working together with a therapist, coach, or religious leader to help you manage your relationship.”
It is advisable and very important for partners to talk about it and set relationship goals that satisfy them both.
People in codependent relationships may need to take small steps toward some separation in the relationship. They may need to find a hobby or activity they enjoy outside of the relationship.
A codependent person should try to spend time with supportive family members or friends in order to broaden the circle of support,
The enabler must decide that they are not helping their codependent partner by allowing them to make extreme sacrifices.
Individual or group therapy is very helpful for people who are in codependent relationships. An expert can help them find ways to acknowledge and express their feelings that may have been buried since childhood.
Finally, both parties in a codependent relationship must learn to acknowledge specific patterns of behavior, such as “needing to be needed” and expecting the other person to center their life around them.
Codependent And Interdependent Relationships
Codependent people are often intensely possessive. They change their behavior in order to keep a relationship together. Interdependent relationships offer freedom of choice. They encourage growth and individuality. Both people act in each other’s best interest.
Codependent partners tend to identify strongly with one another. Often, individual feelings can become blurred. They feel threatened if the other disagrees with them. Interdependent partners are comfortable having separate identities. Differences are appreciated and welcome. This is mostly a result of good self-esteem.
Codependent relationships show severe ups and downs. In some cases, behavior can become violent. Those involved may be a victim, abuser, or rescuer. Sometimes, it changes from day to day. Interdependent relationships are predictable and consistent. Proper boundaries and respect are maintained. Partners can trust each other for support.
Codependent relationships don’t encourage a healthy support system. Many times one partner may feel pressured to isolate themselves. This could even be from other family. Interdependent partners allow each other a broad support system. Trust is the basis for making this work.
Codependency often leads to people pleasing. This causes one person to act a certain way because of the other. They may also begin to mimic the other person’s feelings. Interdependent partners don’t rely on each other’s approval. It’s possible for them to feel empathy without any guilt.
Codependent people often live in denial. Many times, they refuse to admit to mistakes. This can lead to an unhealthy cycle of behavior. It’s common for them to lie to themselves. They have a hard time recognizing their faults. Interdependency allows people to see clearly. When in the wrong, they apologize from the heart. Their motives are honest and trustworthy.