Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
– Oscar Wilde
Have you heard the word “codependent” before? Were unsure of what that means or if it could apply to you or someone you know? What is codependency? Codependency is a type of behavior that affects our relationship with others and with ourselves. Its roots stem from childhood and the relationship with our parents or caregivers. This blog will define what codependency is and provide some characteristics and origins of this type of behavior.
What is codependency?
Codependency is a pattern or behavior where you’re focusing on the needs of others at your own expense. Because a person with codependency (often referred to as “a codependent”) may not know how to provide validation and approval to themselves, it must come from others. Often codependent relationships appear one-sided. One person may believe that they are doing all the heavy lifting. As a result, they are left feeling burnt out, resentful, and powerless to change. It is not exclusive to romantic relationships. In fact, codependency can emerge in a relationship with one’s kids, adult kids, parents, friends, etc.
Characteristics of codependency
What are the signs of codependency? In a codependent relationship, the codependent person is often the “people-pleasing” type. A codependent person excels at being the caretaker. This means they are so aware of the other’s problems and needs that they ignore their own by suppressing, avoiding, or numbing their feelings. As a result, a codependent person may feel a sense of euphoria because they are helping and taking care of another. Now, there is nothing wrong with taking care of or helping others. The problem for the codependent is that they often do not know when or how to put on the brakes to the detriment of their own mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
In a codependent relationship, the codependent person struggles to create healthy boundaries. They will often want to avoid conflict at all cost, and will blame and shame themselves when conflict erupts. In the mind of a codependent person, one of the worst things they can do is hurt the other’s feelings. If the other is angry, the codependent finds themselves anxious and focused on improving the other’s mood. Therefore, it’s not unusual that a codependent person will allow people to mistreat them and take advantage of their kindness.
Another example of signs of codependency is the tendency of the codependent person to self-criticize and build high expectations of themselves. Ironically, the codependent person is fearful of anger and criticism from the other person. The unforgiving self-talk is harsh, often even for the slightest mistakes and imperfections. While this self-criticism may appear to help on the surface, as it distracts from low self esteem and painful emotions, it also creates a pattern of overwork and overscheduling. As a result, the codependent person has difficulty with intimacy and open communication in relationships.
Where does it come from?
In a nutshell, attachment theory states that your relationships today are based on how you learned to form intimate and emotional bonds as a child. When we are babies, we need our parents or caregivers to take care of our basic needs. Babies will cry, look for, or cling onto their caregiver to prevent separation in order to ensure their safety. As we get older, we develop attachment styles based on our experiences, good or bad, with our parents or caregivers.
Codependency is rooted in early experiences where the parents or caregivers are physically and/or emotionally inconsistent or unavailable. This is very common in families that experience addiction, when the parents or caregivers struggle with certain mental health challenges, or are neglectful or abusive. In the best circumstances, the parent or caregiver focuses their time and attention on the child as much as possible. In the case of a codependent, that focus is reversed, and it is the child who has to give their time and attention to the parent to prevent separation or rupture in the relationship. Therefore, the child learns that they need to practice these behaviors to keep the people they care about in their lives. Eventually, this is morphed into adult relationships.
What can I do if I am codependent?
Some tips to consider are:
Take the time to identify, give permission to, and express your emotional needs. For example, make space to sit down and ask yourself, “What do I need physically (air, exercise, a nourishing meal, etc.) or emotionally (space, acceptance, etc.)?”
Pick one need and go after it. For example, if you identify exercise as your need, consider what it would look like to incorporate it into your life?
Practice self-compassion. One way to practice self-compassion is to notice when you are engaging in self-criticism. Take time to notice your self-talk. One strategy to change critical self-talk is to ask yourself, “Is this how I would talk to my best friend, child, etc.? What would I say to them in this case?”
Find a therapist and/or a support group. Co-Dependents Anonymous offers groups and resources.
For more tips, listen to this podcast.
To summarize, codependency is a behavioral pattern that habitually elevates the needs of others at the expense of the self. If you find yourself unsupported, prone to burnout, or the people pleaser in your relationships, then understanding codependency may be a good place to start.
Do you think you may struggle with codependency in relationships? Reach out to myTherapyNYC today to learn more about codependency and how to develop more secure relationships.
Have you struggled with codependency or attachment issues in your relationship? What experiences have you had that relates to codependency? Join the conversation in the comments below!