What is Codependency?

codependency-therapyCodependency can manifest in many different ways and degrees of severity. Generally it is seen as a behavior in which someone makes themselves to assist or even manage the decisions and lifestyle consequences of another person. People who are suffering from codependency usually put aside their own needs in order to try to meet the needs of the other person. We are not talking about situations when someone cares for young children, the elderly, or ill family members.

Codependency is a very complex and pervasive dysfunctional coping mechanism. Codependency is an enmeshment to the point of dysfunction in the life of another. There is a very high probability that codependency issues exist in families in which there were members who were either physically or psychologically unable or unwilling to attend to their own needs. For example, abused or neglected children may develop patterns of sacrificing their own needs and desires in order to survive and thus begin an existence of codependency.

Common characteristics of codependency:

  • Consistently focusing on other’s needs even at the expense of their own needs. In this way they are actually gaining a sense of importance (self-worth), relieving loneliness, and/or avoiding working on their own issues.

  • Being unable to receive help from others and feeling uneasy when they are the focus of attention. Denial is a big part of codependency. The focus is on what others are feeling or needing because they don’t know what they’re feeling or needing.

  • Avoiding being alone and/or needing to be in an intimate relationship.

  • Feeling responsible for the suffering of others.

  • Seeming very competent on the outside but actually feeling quite helpless, numb, and/or needy on the inside.

  • Rarely expressing their true thoughts, needs, or feelings because of a fear they will displease others (possibly even taking pride in this fact).

  • Creating a dependency by making others dependent on them. In this way they feel liked, valued, worthy, and in control. Codependents use control because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. People-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people in order to maintain a false sense of autonomy.

  • Having poor boundaries with significant reactivity to the thoughts and feelings of others.

  • Enabling behavior. It is a natural instinct to reach out and help a loved one; however, by enabling them to avoid experiencing the consequences of their negative actions, enabling prevents psychological growth in the person being enabled and thus harms that loved one. This has the reverse effect of what was intended. Examples include always giving that “one more chance”, accepting and validating their justifications (excuses), repeatedly rescuing them, and joining them in their dysfunctional behavior.

Codependency will get worse if left untreated, but it could be held in check while healthy alternative behavior is substituted in its place. Proper treatment can allow you to enjoy yourself and your relationships. In addition to psychotherapy there are 12-Step programs such as: Codependents Anonymous or Al-Anon which provide great support and should be part of your recovery from codependency.

10 Signs You're in a Codependent Relationship

Relationships bring us our greatest joys and our greatest challenges. From a spiritual perspective, relationships are assignments for the purpose of growth opportunities. It is in the context of a relationship with another individual where we see the places in which we need to heal, based on our triggers, blocks and patterns.

Codependency is perhaps one of the biggest challenges most of us face in relationships — that feeling that we can't exist without the other person, that their existence and validation is required for us to feel happy, even complete. Codependency stops us from accessing our best selves, and also blocks the potential for further growth in the relationship.

Some of us don't even know we're enacting codependent patterns in our relationships. Why? Because they have been taught to believe certain myths about how relationships work, especially romantic relationships. Many of these myths foster codependency.

Some women or men live in codependent relationships for decades and don't even realize it. Some people need to hit a rock-bottom in a breakup to finally reveal and see the pathological patterns; the fears of being alone; deep longing for love and attention outside of the person; the fact that they had placed power in another person making them the source of love and happiness.

But there is a healthy way to do things in a different way, a radical transformation from the inside out, beginning with the relationship with self. First step is usually an awareness — recognizing the ways in which a person had been living in codependent relationships and letting fear run the show, not love.

A lot of the time codependency looks like intense love. Needing another person often stems from fear, not love. Here are ten common ways to identify if you are in a codependent relationship and might not even know it. Take a look and decide for yourself:

  • 1. You can't live without the other person. Some people think that this is supposed to be romantic, but it's not, it is maladaptive attachment which is different from healthy connection. It's not fulfilling. You need to learn how to recognize your wholeness and completeness so that you can truly enjoy the other person in your life rather than being half of a person who is incomplete without someone else.

  • 2. You play a caregiver. A healthy relationship is between two adults, not two children or one child and one parent. When we are mothering or taking care of someone who is not taking care of themselves, it's disempowering for both people. When we spiritually grow up, we learn how to take care of ourselves so someone else doesn't have to do it for us and we can live in our highest truth, not as a child or a victim or helpless. We are all capable.

  • 3. You think your happiness is predicated on the other person. Not at all. Our happiness is within us. We need to stop searching for it in our partner, and instead connect with ourselves, connect to our true source within and that happiness can overflow to the other person, rather than making them our only source.

  • 4. You're waiting to be saved. No, this isn't a conscious choice and yes, it's rampant in our collective psyche. Save yourself. Be your own knight in shining armor, the heroine of your own story and then he can be exactly who he needs to be, without having to rescue you.

  • 5. You think you need to get the love you want. Giving love is more important than getting love. You have an unlimited source within you. It will come back to you tenfold.

  • 6. The other person must behave in a certain way. In order for you to feel loved or for you to love them, the other person must be who we need them to be. This is conditional love (as opposed to unconditional love), which doesn't allow the other person to be who they really are: in other words, your happiness is dependent on them being how you want them to be.

  • 7. You blame others for how you feel. We are actually responsible for how we feel and it's not someone else's responsibility to make us happy. We make ourselves happy first so that others can make us happy.

  • 8. You're controlling outcomes and situations. When we are controlling the other person or how things are unfolding, we are living in fear not in love. Surrender the relationship, surrender the other person's process and what their choices are and trust that everything will unfold perfectly if you allow it to do so.

  • 9. You don't feel free. Love is a freedom. Rules and constrictions are fears. We must do what we want to do, not what other people want us to do.

  • 10. You give from a place of lack. We might be putting ourselves last and focusing on the other person more than we do ourselves and we lose ourselves in the relationship. This pattern comes from a lack of self-love and when we try to give from an empty well, anger and resentment can build because we are not filling ourselves up first and giving from a place of abundance.

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