What is Codependency?
The term codependency has been around for almost 40 years. Originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, researchers have shown that the qualities of codependents are also very common in the general population. In fact, if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had a sick (physically or mentally) parent, you are likely codependent to some degree, as most American families are dysfunctional.
Codependents have difficulty:
- Experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem. This can bounce from “better than” – a sense of arrogance to “less than” – the worst of the worst, but underlying the façade is a real feeling of shame, inadequacy, and not feeling “good enough.” Many codependents rely on their own “human doing” – what they accomplish or on the opinions or beliefs of others.
- Setting Appropriate Boundaries. People who have been raised in dysfunctional homes can struggle with no boundaries, damaged boundaries or have a system of walls they put up. Those with no boundaries tend to have great difficulty saying “No” and are overly concerned about the responses of others. People pleasing becomes a focus and they often absorb others thoughts and feelings. They allow others to take advantage of them but they also don’t recognize that others have boundaries as well and can step over their boundaries. Those with damaged boundaries can set boundaries with some but not all of the people in their lives. Walls can show up as a wall of anger, fear, words or silence to keep people away.
- Owning their personal reality. To experience, know and take care of ourselves we need to be aware of our own reality. Being aware of our own body, thinking, emotions, and behavior are our reality. Some codependents feel they need to make up a personal identity out of what they might be thinking or feeling or look to others on how they “should be.” This can contribute to dishonest communication because they either don’t know what they think or feel or don’t want to admit it for fear of upsetting the other.
- Knowing and Meeting Their Own Needs and Wants. It can be painful to be aware of wants and needs for fear that they won’t be met, so many become “needless and wantless.” Some expect others to take care of all their needs and wait, expecting “them” to know, while others refuse to be vulnerable and ask for help. There is a sense of shame in having needs and wants based on the reactions received as a child, so many adult codependents feel selfish for having any needs or wants no matter how legitimate.
- Experiencing and Expressing Personal Reality Moderately. A codependent is usually one of extremes. All is “just fine” until the rage hits. They can be totally involved or completely detached. Many think in terms of black or white, there is rarely any grey area. There is difficulty knowing what their feelings are and sharing them. They feel little or no emotions or explosive, painful ones. There is also extreme reactions to problem solving; if you don’t agree with me completely than you are totally against me. (based on the work of Pia Mellody’s Facing Codepenence)
Codependent patterns include being concerned with the needs of others (usually one person in particular), regarding one’s own needs as less significant, letting others be in charge of our behavior, thoughts, and feelings, and agreeing to others’ versions of reality over our own.
They also need to control those close to them (though it is difficult to admit), because codependents need other people to act in a certain ways so that they feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people
People who have traits of codependency often find themselves in relationships with partners who may be very controlling or demanding, self-centered, verbally abusive, or addicted to substances. These relationships often are very unbalanced and lopsided.. However, despite how upsetting and difficult they can be, codependent people have a very tough time ending these relationships or taking care of their own needs within the relationship.
This can be an exhausting way to live and many think that if the other person would just……. Get sober, be happy, finally see all that I do for them, change, etc than I would finally feel ok. This is not true and your happiness does not rely on them doing anything.
The answer to this is to understand that we are all only responsible for our own lives. We can only focus on changing what we have control of (ourselves), and give up the difficulty of trying to make others okay at our own expense. This is difficult to do. However, it is very attainable with the proper treatment and support.
You are Precious and Valuable - You Matter
Codependency treatment can help people comprehend why they give too much, fulfill everyone’s needs but their own, or put themselves last. I can help you identify codependent tendencies, understand why you do what you do, and develop self-compassion in order to heal and change old patterns. You can learn new tools that will shift your relationships to healthy patterns.
You might be ready for codependency treatment but still have some questions or concerns.
What if my partner never gets help?
There is much healing that can be done in individual work. In fact, many relationships can make dramatic shifts when one person gets help. If your partner does want to come in, we can certainly do couples counseling. The truth is though, that whether you are with this partner or not, it is your tendencies that need to be accessed, your happiness that needs attention and your self-care that needs improvement.
It seems like I won’t even be a caring person if I think of myself?
There is a difference between caretaking and caregiving. Caretaking is a characteristic of codependency and is deep-seated in insecurity and a need to be in control. Caregiving is an expression of kindness and love. When we care take we often are doing for others what they could do for themselves out of a need to be needed. We think we know what’s best for others and if they would only listen to us, they would be better off. Caregiving is giving from a full place. When we care give, we wait to be asked for help or advice. We empathize with the other’s emotions and let them figure out how they will handle their problems.