The term “codependent” is one that most people have heard, as it’s commonly thrown around today. There are codependent friends, codependent couples, and even codependent caretakers. And contrary to what some believe, it’s much more than just a “clingy” relationship, they can actually enable drug addiction and alcoholism. So, what is codependency, and is it really that bad? Today we’ll dive into this topic and discuss everything you should know about it.
What is Codependency?
Codependency occurs when one person plans their entire existence around pleasing another person or “enabler.”
The easiest way to explain it is that the codependent’s self-worth comes from the sacrifices they make for their partner. The partner is very “happy” to receive the sacrifices. Essentially both people “need” each other, just in different ways. These situations can occur between romantic couples, family members, or even friends.
Such relationships generally include physical or emotional abuse, and other loved ones may even recognize that something’s not quite right. Someone who is codependent can often enable another’s substance abuse, drug addiction, or alcoholism. Unfortunately, codependency is not considered a mental health condition, but it sometimes leads to a person developing mental health problems such as anxiety. Therapy is a great way to overcome codependency and learn how to create healthier relationships.
Symptoms of Codependent Behavior
Codependent relationships feature an unequal balance of power that allows the enabler’s needs to become more important than the personal needs of the codependent. Here are some signs and symptoms of codependency:
Lack Self Confidence
Codependency can leave someone with feelings of worthlessness and shame. He or she may believe that they don’t deserve to be happy, and the feeling of being needed gives them internal gratification. When people don’t value themselves, they want others to value them.
Need to “Save” People
Many of those who are codependent feel it’s their responsibility to protect those close to them from harm. So, if a loved one engages in dangerous behaviors, they may try to step in and fix the situation. While the person thinks they’re helping, this behavior can prevent another from gaining independence or learning from mistakes. Furthermore, it can enable the addiction or abuse to continue unchallenged.
Lack Of Boundaries
Since codependency leaves people feeling responsible for the happiness of others, they usually have a hard time putting their needs first and saying “no” to others. They may also bury their true feelings and thoughts to prevent upsetting other people.
Though they have a lot going on inside, codependent people actually project the image of competency and self-reliance. It’s even common for them to try taking on more than they can handle. Yet when they make a mistake or get criticized, they become insecure.
Since codependency involves people putting the needs and well-being of others ahead of their own, they may end up denying their own needs for self-care, rest, and emotional support. In fact, they may even feel anxiety or guilt when doing something for themselves. When other people offer support to a codependent person, it makes them uneasy as if they don’t deserve support.
The attempts of a codependent person to make other people’s lives better can eventually turn into possessive or controlling behavior.
Possible Causes of Codependency
Most experts agree that codependency usually begins in childhood. It occurs when a child’s emotions are punished or ignored as they mature. Neglecting a child’s emotions will lead to feelings of shame and low self-esteem. Some may even believe their needs aren’t worth anyone’s time.
Generally, codependency occurs when children have parents or caretakers who are too protective or not protective enough. It can also be traced back to children who grew up in homes where alcohol or drug addiction was present. Either way, children who grow up in these types of households more easily end up in codependent relationships than those who don’t. This is because they repeat the pattern of neglecting their own needs for someone else’s.
Addiction and Codependency
Not only can those who grew up with drug addicts and alcoholics find themselves in codependent relationships. So can those who are in relationships with someone who has a drug addiction. This can include when a partner is addicted to shopping, gambling, or substances such as alcohol and drugs.
In this situation, the codependent person takes over as the sole “caretaker” for their partner. The partner may even rely on the person with codependency to handle the household chores or personal finances. When the drug addiction causes problems in the outside world, the caretaker will cover for their loved one. For example, when someone with a substance abuse problem skips work, the codependent will call into work and report that the person is ill.
While the caretaker engages in this behavior because they sincerely want to help their partner, it usually does more harm than good. In reality, it enables the partner’s addiction and reduces the partner’s motivation to want to change.
This type of relationship is bad for both partners, and if it’s to continue on and become healthy, professional help should be attained.
The bottom line is that codependency often results in a vicious cycle that’s hard to stop without professional help. Seeking therapy is the best measure to ensure you’re able to not only get out of a codependent situation but also avoid them in the future.