What Is Codependency?
The term codependency, also known as "relationship addiction," started as a way to define the relationship of people who lived with alcoholics or substance abusers. This definition has expanded to include any person who is not in a healthy, mutually satisfactory relationship.
There are many definitions of codependency, but the most common definition describes an individual who has learned a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors in order to survive in a family which is experiencing great emotional pain and stress.
Maladaptive refers to a person's inability to develop behaviors that get his/her needs met. Compulsive describes the individual's psychological state when acting against his/her own will or conscious desires in order to behave.
Sources of great emotional pain and stress for a family can include, but are not limited to:
- hypercritical or non-loving environment
- lack of emotional validation
- military deployment
- chemical dependency
- chronic mental illness
- chronic physical illness
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
People with codependency tend to seek or maintain relationships which are one-sided, and emotionally destructive or abusive. Codependent individuals usually exhibit low self-esteem and look for ways to "feel better," outside of themselves, in ways that are not always healthy, such as substance abuse.
What Causes Codependency?
A widely accepted belief is that codependency is caused by familial relationships that hamper the development of healthy relationships. Some rules, spoken or unspoken, within these families may include:
- It’s not okay to talk about problems or feelings. Feelings should be kept to yourself.
- Open communication is not encouraged; messengers between two people are best (also known as triangulation)
- Be strong/good/right/perfect and make us proud beyond a realistic expectation.
- Don’t be selfish.
- Do as I say, not as I do.
- It’s not okay to be playful.
- Don’t rock the boat.
- Act for the "greater good" of the family.
Characteristics of Codependent Individuals:
There are certain characteristics that a codependent person may exhibit. These fall into groupings of characteristics that include, low self-esteem, denial, compliance, control and avoidance.
Patterns of Low Self-Esteem in Codependents:
- Do not see oneself as "loveable" or "worthwhile."
- Seek recognition the individual feels he or she deserves
- Have trouble admitting mistakes.
- Uses others as gauge of safety.
- Need to appear right in the eyes of other people - even going as far as lying to look good.
- Inability to ask others to meet needs or desires.
- Difficulty starting, meeting deadlines, or finishing projects
- Difficulties setting healthy priorities.
- Trouble with decision-making
- Judging own thoughts and actions harshly, or "not good enough."
- Embarrassed by gifts, praise or recognition
- Places higher value upon the way others approve of thoughts, feelings, behavior.
Patterns of Denial in Codependents:
- Great difficulty identifying true feelings
- Refusal to recognize unavailability of the people one is attracted to.
- Going so far as to alter - or deny - the way the individual truly feels.
- Lack empathy for feelings and needs of other people.
- Label others with own negative traits and qualities
- Perception of self as unselfish and dedicated toward well-being of other people.
- Belief that he/she can care for self WITHOUT help from others.
- Mask pain with indirect ways, such as anger, humor or isolation.
- Negativity or aggression is expressed indirectly or passively.
Patterns of Controlling Behaviors in Codependents:
- Strong-held belief that most people are unable to care for themselves.
- Lavishes gifts and favors upon those who he or she wants to influence
- Attempts to convince others what to do, think, or feel.
- Offer advice and direction without being asked, and become resentful when others don't follow the given advice or direction.
- Uses sexual attention for approval and/or acceptance
- Need to be needed to have a relationship with another person.
- Demanding that needs be met by others.
- Uses blame and shame to emotionally exploit others.
- Displays charm and charisma to assure others of his or her capacity to be compassionate and caring.
- Refuses to cooperate, negotiate, or compromise with others.
- Adopts attitudes of helplessness, authority, indifference, or rage to manipulate the outcomes of a situation.
- Uses terms of recovery in an attempt to control behaviors of others.
- Pretends to agree with others to get what he or she desires.
Patterns of Compliance in Codependents:
- Is extremely loyal, remains in harmful, unhealthy situations for far too long.
- Compromises values and integrity in hopes of avoiding rejection and/or anger.
- Puts aside own interests to do what others want.
- Hypervigilant about the feelings of others - may take on those feelings.
- Fearful to express beliefs, opinions, and feelings IF they differ from others.
- When looking for love, will accept sexual attention instead.
- Makes decisions without regard for consequences.
- Give up own truth to gain approval of others as well as to avoid change.
Patterns of Avoidance in Codependents:
- Act in manner that invites others to shame, reject or express feelings of anger toward the individual.
- Harsh judge of what others think, say or do.
- Avoids emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy to maintain distance.
- Suppresses feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
- Pulls people toward him or her, then pushes them away when they get "too close."
- Withholds expressions of appreciation
- Believes displays of emotions are signs of weakness.
- Allows addictions to people, places, and things to distract him or her from actual intimacy in relationships.
- Uses indirect or evasive patterns of communication to avoid conflicts or confrontations.
Signs and Symptoms of Codependency:
Codependent behaviors are often self-destructive.
Codependent individuals react to people who are destroying themselves, with the erroneous belief that they are helping them. However, these codependent individuals are putting themselves in relationships that are toxic and dysfunctional. It is impossible for a codependent person to find inner peace or happiness within themselves because all of their energy is put towards fueling a relationship that is destructive.
Codependents often have very low self-esteem, self-image, and may be depressed or anxious. They will blame themselves for everything that goes wrong in a relationship and feel a lot of guilt. Their appearance may seem rigid and controlled because they are afraid of letting someone see who they really are inside.
How Is Codependency Treated?
Counseling is an effective way to learn to break the codependent cycle. With counseling, a person can learn the tools needed to change the behaviors of being codependent. A caveat to counseling is the patient may develop a codependent relationship with the counselor.
How Do I Practice Interdependence?
Interdependence is building healthy relationships, forming partnerships and giving someone else power over our feelings and well-being. In order to have a happy and healthy life, interdependence is necessary. We must share our feelings and our thoughts with others in order to be made happy.
It's a give-take type of relationship. You must give some of yourself and turn over some of your feelings in order to be able to take love and support in. Only giving or only taking is a big sign of codependency.
Interdependence takes practice to learn if you've been in a codependent relationship for years but it can be learned.
Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together
Additional Codependents Resources:
CoDA (Codependents Anonymous): Links to find a meeting closest to you, as well as buy literature; sign up for email lists and learn of news and events.
All About Counseling's Codependency page: A site with many resources for all types of emotional and behavioral issues.
Mental Health America: Wonderful site with a questionnaire for identifying whether or not you, or someone you love, is codependent.
Healthy Relationships: Great information on codependency and interdependency and how to have healthy relationships, romantic or otherwise.