What Is Codependency?
Codependency means much more than “clinginess.” Some regard codependency therapy as a disorder or a disease, an ailment of the mind, body, and spirit, much like an addiction. For people who are living with codependency, the addiction is primarily to people and relationships with people. However, the way that their codependency manifests can be extremely different.
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Codependency is a set of behaviors that cause an unhealthy attachment between one person, a codependent, and someone with whom they have become codependent. Rather than be independent or even interdependent, someone who is struggling with codependency needs to depend on someone else to create their sense of self.
- Can be between friends, romantic partners, or family members
- Can include emotional or physical abuse
- May be recognized as such by friends and family of the codependent person
- May require the time and effort for treatment to be effective as with any mental or emotional health issue.
Through a series of thought processes, feelings, and behaviors, people who are codependent lose themselves in relationships with others and struggle to care for or be themselves. Unfortunately, this can often mean staying in abusive relationships. In the context of substance use, codependency can mean one person abuses a substance and depends on the other person to supply money, food, or shelter.
In essence, codependency means a relationship where the two people become so invested in one another that they fail to function independently. Their mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person.
Oftentimes there is one person in the relationship who is more passive and cannot make decisions on their own, and a more dominant person who gains some type of reward or satisfaction from controlling the other person and making their decisions.
A common sign of an unhealthy codependent relationship is the presence of enabling—a behavior used to ease tension in the relationship caused by one partner’s problematic lifestyle such as continually giving them another chance, ignoring the problem, accepting excuses, or constantly coming to the rescue. There signs are generally absent in healthy relationships.
Where Does Codependency Come From?
Our codependent behaviors are modeled for us from someone else, in a variety of capacities. Typically, a primary person in our life who we have had a close relationship with has codependent behaviors with us, teaching us that this is the way love is supposed to look.
Oftentimes, codependency is born out of a household where abuse, neglect, addiction, or alcoholism play a primary role in family dynamics. In an effort to be seen, be heard, be loved, be noticed, feel important, or try to navigate the pain of abuse, we develop codependent behaviors.
Those codependent relationships can in some cases stem from childhood if there were problems with a parent where they were taught their own needs were less important than their parents’ needs. Children in these situations can be taught to focus on the parent’s needs rather than ever thinking of themselves. Parents who are needy may impart to their children that they are being selfish or greedy if they want anything for themselves.
We caretake, we people-please, and we put our needs beneath someone else’s, all the while losing our sense of self-worth, as well as the foundation of our identity.
Why Our Codependent Behaviors Continue
If our codependent behaviors cause us pain and turmoil or contribute to problematic relationships, shouldn’t we be able to identify these issues and remedy them?
The way we learn how to be in a relationship with ourselves and others is the way we are taught is ‘normal’. We don’t know any other way to be in a healthy relationship. Moreover, we often don’t understand that we deserve different treatment. As the saying goes, we accept the love we believe we deserve.
Without believing we are worth a different kind of love or relationship, or knowing any other kind, we don’t have the awareness that our dynamics need to change.
Common Codependent Behaviors
How codependency manifests will look different for each of us depending on our personality and our personal experiences, as well as our personal relationships.
Common codependent behaviors can include:
- Emotional bullying
- Caretaking to the detriment of our own wellness
- People-pleasing (ignoring your own needs, then getting frustrated or angry)
- Obsession with a partner
- Excusing bad or abusive behavior
- Feeling like you need to change but can’t
- Not knowing who you are without them
- Having a hard time setting boundaries
- Spending all of your time with or focused on them
- An overwhelming fear of being abandoned
- Being unable to think about life without the other person
- Being unable to believe or accept that someone loves you
- Having your partner or one person as your only close relationship
- A need for constant assurance
- Making excuses for each other
- Giving up what matters to you or makes you happy
- An inability to remember how to be alone
- Tolerating harmful behavior
Change Codependent Behaviors, Change Your Life
Though it can feel as if there is no answer for codependency, there are solutions. Many books have been written about codependency, offering intimate insights into personal lives, stories of struggles, and stories of recovery.
Understanding the subconscious motivations behind partners in a codependent relationship is the key to remedying the situation. When the meaning and purpose of our life is dependent upon the existence of another person, the answer for our recovery is to place the meaning and purpose of our lives in the appropriate place. For many, this can mean having faith, believing in a Higher Power, or finding a new sense of direction and meaning. Changing codependent behaviors changes the way we live our lives, how we relate to others, and most importantly, how we relate to ourselves.
First, we get to know ourselves by taking a look at our needs, wants, and desires. Developing a basic understanding of who we are as individuals enables us to take action to nurture these small parts of ourselves through boundaries. Healthy boundaries are the firm lines we draw between ourselves and others, demonstrating what we are and what we are not willing to tolerate.
Self-care for Fixing Codependency
Outside of our relationship with others, we can foster a relationship with ourselves through self-care. This can look like many things, including the following:
Reconnecting with friends and family: codependency can mean isolating yourself, fueling the loss of self. Get in touch with those people you’ve distanced yourself from and begin to rebuild those relationships.
Make time for yourself: get back to those things you once enjoyed doing before you became entangled in the other person’s life.
Pursue counseling: a mental health provider can help you find your sense of self and understand why you came to rely so much on the other person. Therapy can help you learn to build personal boundaries which is key to avoiding codependent relationships. Couples counseling may even be able to help or save the relationship by reducing the level of codependency.
Find substance use disorder treatment: talk to a reputable healthcare institution about mental health and addiction treatment programs.
Some describe the journey of self-care in codependency recovery like tending to a toddler. Thinking about how we have allowed ourselves to be treated or how we have treated others, we think about whether or not we would allow such treatment toward a young child. Most often, the answer is a resounding “No!”
Thus, we embark on a journey of re-parenting the young child within us and showing ourselves all of the “perfect” love we have been missing in our lives.
Get the Help You Need at Hanley
Hanley is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance abuse, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.
For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.