What Is Codependency?
According to experts, we all have some codependent tendencies in relationships, but codependents have a much larger need to save others or are attracted to people who struggle with a substance use disorder, addictive personalities, may be emotionally unavailable, or emotionally wounded.
Psychology Today defines codependency as, “a term used to describe a relationship in which, by being caring, highly-functional, and helpful, one is said to support, perpetuate, or enable a loved one’s irresponsible or destructive behavior.” While caretaking or helping a loved one seems kind and normal, codependent people can enter into relationships with abusive personalities, or people with an addiction.
Some codependents may feel that taking care of people who need it most gives them a sense of worth and they can feel secure from the validation that such relationships give them. Furthermore, codependents may be motivated by a lack of self-love, hoping to get the love they pour into others back in return. Like many types of challenging relational dynamics, codependency can be rooted in a childhood filled with dysfunction. Perhaps children learned their only value was in how much they gave to others or received attention when being around family in times of need.
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What Does Codependency Look Like?
Codependency is characterized by martyrdom, resentment, frustration, and poor boundaries. Because of this, codependency has distinctive traits and recognizable behaviors. Typically, one can notice if someone is codependent by a combination of the following characteristics:
- Becoming upset when people try to set boundaries.
- Feeling as if you need to submit to your partner’s demands or they’ll leave.
- An inability to set boundaries or declare needs in a relationship.
- Manipulating others into taking care of them (acting helpless).
- Rationalizing poor behaviors or lack of responsibility.
- Taking advantage of people who care about the codependent’s wellbeing.
- Denial in relationships (justifying poor behavior).
- Low self-esteem in relationships.
- Making one’s self responsible for the problems of others.
- Attempts to control others.
- Feeling anxiety or depression due to relationships problems.
Codependents may have weak boundaries, taking on their loved one’s pain, enabling their addiction and excusing poor behavior. As a result, the codependent individual may become depressed and anxious if they are unable to save their loved one from harm.
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Codependent Relationship Dynamics
Codependent people’s belief that they can take someone’s pain away may be a mentality some codependents have. Furthermore, this idea can unconsciously encourage codependents to enable threatening behavior in the lives of their loved ones, while feeding into unhealthy relationship dynamics to feed their self-esteem and self-worth. Lastly, the codependent caregiver may become affected by the lifestyle of their partner, and can be overly enmeshed, becoming resentful.
If codependents enter into a relationship with someone who enables the codependent’s caretaking or excuse making actions, both parties cannot grow or maintain healthy relationships dynamics or healthy identities. Typically, there are 3 main types of codependents. These include:
- Codependent relationships with people with addictions.
- Codependent relationships with people who are abusive.
- Codependent relationships with people based on peer pressure.
Codependent relationships with people addicted to substances and codependent relationships with abusive types can be especially challenging. Codependents may provide money to enable a loved one’s addictions, let them stay with them rather than attend rehab, or supply them with drugs or alcohol. This keeps the person addicted to drugs from recovering in a healthy manner and keeps the codependent person bound to this relationship.
In the case of codependent relationships with people who abuse others or abuse their power, the codependent has to comply with orders to keep the abuser in control. This could range from making excuses for poor treatment as the codependent functions from insecurity and the need to please. Lastly, the codependent who is more of a people pleaser folds under the pressure to accommodate the demands of their partner.
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12-Steps For Codependents
Codependency can mirror a disease to please and can put people in dysfunctional dynamics. As a result, a group called Codependents Anonymous (CODA) helps codependent men and women recover from unhealthy relationships, building their self-esteem and practicing being assertive. Codependents can access 12-Step support groups to help them become healthier and have better relationships. These 12-Steps for codependents include:
- We admit we are powerless over others—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn over our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we harmed and became willing to make amends with them all.
- Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us to and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other codependents, and to practice these principals in all of our affairs.
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Take Control And Become Empowered
Codependency can be treated with a variety of methods. If you or a love one is codependent, has become depressed or anxious due to codependency, or enables a loved with battling substance abuse, know that you have options to recover. Codependent individuals who have a family history of substance abuse may need counseling and support to gain strength. If combined with anxiety or depression, they may need hands-on treatment medications and stability to feel empowered in their lives. Change is possible. Contact a treatment provider to discuss your options.