What is codependency?
You may have heard of the term “clingy” or “needy” in a relationship. That is codependency, but with much more serious symptoms that may stem from past trauma in other relationships.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, codependency is “Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.”
Being in a codependent relationship is unhealthy for both people involved. A co-dependent person’s self-worth and self-esteem come from sacrificing their own needs and happiness for the other person. The “enabler” may also rely on them for help, making them both co-dependent on each other.
Who is affected by codependency?
This disorder was first found in people who came from families with an alcoholic parent. Today, we know that people are more likely to suffer from codependency if:
- Family members were alcoholics or had some addiction (Gambling, drugs, sex, etc.)
- There was a mentally or chronically ill person that the codependent person was responsible for.
- There was family trauma in the form of physical, mental, or sexual abuse.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), the disorder has broadened to refer to any codependent person from a dysfunctional family.
What is a dysfunctional family?
According to MHA, a dysfunctional family is “one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied.” In the case of an alcoholic or addicted parent, nobody in the family will acknowledge a problem or try to fix anything.
This leads to a learned behavior by the codependent person to repress feelings and emotions. When the person is responsible for taking care of another family member, they learn to sacrifice their own needs and emotional health for the other sick or ill individual.
Codependency vs. Dependency
There is a difference between being codependent and being dependent on someone. Codependency is unhealthy and stems from past trauma, while dependency can be healthy and desirable in a relationship.
- Dependent relationship examples:
- Both partners find joy in helping each other.
- Both partners make their relationship a priority but are not consumed by it. They are still able to function without one another and be happy.
- Both partners can communicate in a way that they both feel heard or understood. Neither one has to make a big sacrifice in their well-being for the other to be happy.
- Co-dependent relationship examples:
- One partner feels that they need to help the other by making extreme sacrifices affecting their well-being. The enabler of the relationship feels joy or happiness about the other helping them.
- The codependent partner sacrifices everything for the relationship at the expense of other areas of their life. They feel anxious, guilty, or angry when they are not with the other person.
- One partner feels that they are worthless. Their emotions do not matter in the relationship. They do not share how they feel with the other partner.
Do I have codependency?
Symptoms of codependency
Different symptoms and characteristics of someone who is codependent include:
- Extreme need for approval
- Need for approval from others
- Sense of responsibility for somebody else’s actions or behaviors
- Feelings of guilt when trying to share feelings with others
- Exaggerated feelings of fear, anger, or jealousy
- Lack of self-esteem or self-worth
- Feelings of worthlessness
It may be hard to distinguish between somebody who is suffering from codependency and someone who is clingy or needy. That is why talking with a health care professional is vital to see if you or someone you know is suffering from codependency.
A licensed physician or psychologist can help determine and diagnose codependency. Usually, this is through a series of questions and interviews. Note that there are different severity levels of codependency. Not everyone experiences the same patterns, symptoms, or characteristics.
Here are ten questions from Mental Health America (MHA) from their questionnaire to help identify signs of codependency:
- Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
- Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?
- Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
- Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
- Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
- Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?
- Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?
- Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
- Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
- Have you ever felt inadequate?
How do I treat codependency?
Codependency usually stems from trauma and problems from one’s childhood and teenage years. Because of this, therapy that involves talking about your childhood experiences can be helpful.
Therapy can include different forms of education on codependency, group and family therapy, and individual therapy. Through therapy and time, one can learn to identify and change negative patterns and behaviors that regularly hurt oneself.
If in a codependent relationship, both individuals can attend therapy to learn how to communicate better. Codependent individuals might be encouraged to find other hobbies or mingle in different social groups.
The “enabler” in the relationship can learn how to identify negative behaviors and learn better ways towards functioning in a healthy relationship where they don’t feel like they need someone to depend upon them.