Are You Stuck In A Codependent Relationship?
Do you constantly worry about another person, try to solve his or her problems, and in the process, neglect to take care of yourself?
You may be caught in a codependent relationship. You may think the idea of codependency is passé or only relates to a relationship with an addict, but that’s not the case.
It’s true, the term “codependent” was originally used to describe a person in a relationship with an addict. But we now understand codependency as a set of behaviors that revolve around preoccupation with and dependence upon another person.
People with codependent personalities tend to get involved with troubled or needy individuals. They often attach to a partner, a child, parent, relative, neighbor, client or client(s) who struggles with:
An addiction to drugs (including marijuana), alcohol, gambling, sex (including pornography or extramarital affairs), or work.
Challenges like an eating disorder, mental illness, chronic illness, serious illness, criminal behavior, behavioral problems, or their own codependent inclinations.
But codependent behavior can also manifest in a relationship with an emotionally healthy person who has no particular troubles.
Codependency occurs across a spectrum from extreme to mild. Drama characterizes many codependent relationships, but in others the entangled behaviors may present in far more quiet, subtle, or hidden ways.
A codependent person usually considers their partner (or other connection) the source of their woes. But a troubled or challenged partner doesn’t make a relationship co-dependent. It’s the set of attitudes and behavior that a co-dependent brings into a relationship that creates codependency.
Leaving a relationship with a troubled person won’t automatically solve your problems. You may unconsciously bring the same attitudes and behaviors into the next relationship unless you intentionally work them out.
Common Characteristics of Codependent People
Let’s look at some of the most common denominators found in co-dependents.
But first, a word of warning.
If you find yourself nodding “yes” to many of these characteristics, you may feel shocked, embarrassed, overwhelmed or bowled over by another intense emotion. Please be gentle with yourself. You’re not alone, thousands of people are caught in codependent patterns.
Recognizing codependent behaviors is the first step to positive change. Instead of judging yourself, know you can release these patterns and create a brighter future for yourself.
Codependents most often think of others before themselves, even to the point of anticipating another’s needs.
They feel compelled to take care of others, solve their problems, and give unsolicited advice. They feel responsible for another person - for their wellbeing and the person’s thoughts, actions, feelings, needs, and decisions. Needy people are drawn to them, and they are drawn to needy people.
A codependent often feels anxiety, concern, and guilt when another person faces a problems. They also feel restless or worthless if there’s no one to help.
In the midst of all this excessive caretaking, they wish someone would reach out and take care of them. They’re puzzled as to why this never happens, and secretly believe others are responsible for them.
Unrestrained caretaking and the repression of their own needs, at some point, will likely lead a codependent to feel anger, resentment, lack of appreciation, or victimization. They may also blame others for the situation they find themselves in.
A codependent may confuse caretaking with compassion, and even pride themselves on being a compassionate person. But over-caretaking is not the same thing as compassion. Real compassion comes from a healthy place. It’s not an unconscious or conscious bargaining chip used to get love.
Codependents think they’re not good enough, and constantly try to prove otherwise. Shame functions as one of their core feelings.
Their active inner critic points out their every flaw, mistake, or hiccup, and they blame themselves for everything, including things that happen to other people. They may feel terrified of making a mistake or getting things wrong, so many tend toward perfectionism.
Of course, they long to be liked and loved too, but they believe themselves to be unlikable and unlovable. Naturally, as a result, they fear rejection. Because they feel undeserving, they may not spend money on themselves or allow themselves to have fun.
Codependents take things personally. And so, they may get angry, defensive or go into denial when others blame them.
Codependents didn’t feel loved or approved of as a child. As an adult, they feel desperate for love and attention. They look to someone outside of themselves for happiness, approval, affirmation, and love.
They may jump into a relationship without taking the time to see who the other person really is and whether that person is capable of loving in a healthy way. In fact, they may be drawn to people who are unable to love.
Because of their desperate need for love, they may find it hard to leave a bad relationship or even tolerate abuse. At the same time, they fear other people will leave them, and feel devastated if they do.
Codependents have weak boundaries, they are classic people pleasers. They almost always say, “Yes,” and even do so when they want to say, “No.” They usually don’t know what they want or need. Or if they do, they put their needs last. Because of this, they overcommit themselves and live a harried life.
They say they won’t accept a certain behavior from another, but are unable to maintain their boundary. So they find themselves tolerating the behavior more and more. This includes allowing others to hurt them again and again.
Melody Beattie, the foremost expert on codependency, describes how it can be paradoxical:
“Codependency is many things. It is a dependence on people — on their moods, behaviors, sickness or wellbeing, and their love. It is a paradoxical dependency. Codependents appear to be depended upon, but they are dependent. They look strong but feel helpless. They appear controlling but in reality are controlled themselves, sometimes by an illness such as alcoholism.”
These are just some of the characteristics of codependent people. Not every characteristic applied to every person.
Much more could be said about their issues with control, denial, anger, trust, obsession, communication and other challenges. Entire books have been written about codependency. If you see yourself in the behaviors listed above, I suggest you read some of those books. Knowledge can empower you to move forward in a new and different way.
Going Beyond Codependency
If you find yourself involved in codependent behaviors, don’t blame or judge yourself. These patterns surfaced early on to help you survive childhood in the midst of dysfunctional family dynamics or relational trauma. They’ve been reinforced again and again both in your childhood and in your adult relationships. Right now, you may not know any other way to be. But please know that it is possible to move beyond codependency.
Make a commitment to positive change. Educate yourself (look at the resource list below). See a therapist or join a support circle. Move forward, even if it means taking just one tiny step at a time. Realize you’ll have relapses and engage in codependent behaviors again, but learn from the experience and keep moving forward.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who is abusive or violent, you’ll need to proceed cautiously, but know that there are many resources and support systems available for you too.
You deserve to be happy, to be safe, and to be in a healthy relationship. And you can make it happen.
Your Turn: Did you identify with any of the characteristics shared above? How have your worked with these tendencies? What do you plan to do now? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Sources and Resources
I plan to write future articles on how to heal the various patterns of codependency. But as I looked back, I found I’ve already written a number of articles that address these issues. I’ve inserted the links in the relevant places in the above article.
These are some of the books and resources that have helped me address codependency. Some of them are affiliate links, meaning I will receive a small commission if you use my link and purchase. This is one way you can support my writing while benefiting yourself at the same time. Thank you!
Better Boundaries, Owning and Treasuring Your Life by Jan Black
Melody Beattie’s website - Melody Beattie is the foremost expert on codependency.
Cathy Taughinbaugh (Treatment Talk) website - Support for parents of struggling teens or young adults
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