Codependency is a pattern of behavior
where someone depends on approval from another person for self-worth. To gain this approval, the codependent will go to any lengths to “help” the other person, leading to a type of dysfunctional helping that supports or “enables” negative behavior such as addiction, underachievement, immaturity, irresponsibility, etc.
In a codependent relationship, there is no identity apart from the relationship. In other words, the codependent person’s identity is solely built around the other person; specifically, around helping them. This is because a codependent person “needs to be needed” in order to feel good about themselves. They are dependent on the other person’s dependency on them! The codependent will go to any lengths to help or rescue the other person, not allowing them to take responsibility for their own actions or develop normal competencies and coping skills.
One key sign of being in a codependent relationship is when someone’s main purpose in life involves making sacrifices to make the other person in the relationship happy and satisfy their needs. The codependent person will sacrifice his or her own physical and emotional needs for the other person. Other characteristics of codependency may include:
- Low self-esteem
- Denial of personal problems
- Feelings of being unloved or unlovable
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Fear of failure; perfectionism
- People-pleasing and need for approval from other people to validate their worthiness
- Difficulty setting boundaries – trouble saying “no” to requests of others or allowing people to take advantage of them
- Uncomfortable with receiving attention or help from others
- A relationship causes feelings of anxiety more than any other emotion
- Staying in a relationship despite seeing unhealthy behaviors in the other person such as dishonesty, possessiveness or jealousy
- Unable to find satisfaction in life outside of a specific person
- Desiring independence, but unable to separate from the other person without extreme anxiety
- Physical symptoms such as stomach problems, migraines or skin issues
Codependents may not seem dependent; they can disguise their need for approval and reliance on others to confirm their identity and self-worth by saying and doing things that make them appear in control and confident. They may even seem controlling as they hide the fact that their own lives feel out of control.
Anyone can become codependent, but codependency is usually rooted in childhood. Also, research suggests that people whose parents emotionally abused or neglected them in their teens could be more likely to enter codependent relationships. Codependence and dysfunctional helping can be a family issue caused by:
- Parental absence, indifference, or neglect
- One or both parents were codependent
- One or both parents were alcoholics or drug addicts
- As a child, the codependent was made to feel like his or her own needs were not legitimate and had to be subordinated in order for him or her be accepted and loved.
- Lack of true nurturing by caretakers
- Codependency Treatment
Family and individual therapy can help address the self-esteem and attachment issues that can lead to codependency.
- Behavioral therapy – A therapist can help the codependent person identify their codependent tendencies and understand why codependent behavior was adopted. The codependent can learn to change his or her behavior by redefining emotional boundaries and rebuilding self-esteem.
- Self-help groups – Groups such as Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) can provide support and reinforce messages learned in treatment.
The most important thing in dealing with codependency is to know that behavioral patterns can be broken and codependent symptoms are reversible.
Effective treatments and actions can be taken to help deal with codependency. For example, learning how to find happiness as an individual and changing behaviors can allow patients to attract others (friends, bosses, companions) who are emotionally healthy. We’ve supported many clients as they have transformed their lives and their relationships!