WHAT IS IT
Codependency is a condition where the natural caring process has become dysfunctional. It is caring gone awry. The codependent will engage in repetitive enabling compulsions in order to get an emotional reward. Codependency has long been associated with spouses and family members who have an alcoholic or drug addicted family member.
Depending on who you talk to codependency is described as a disease, but not directly addressed in the DSM-5, or it is described as a relationship dynamic. Proponents of the anti-disease definition consider it an abusive, unhealthy relationship dynamic often driven by mental health issues.
Regardless of what school of thought you subscribe to, codependency has somewhat recognizable patterns of behavior. Once you know what to look out for, you can make positive change.
WHERE DID IT COME FROM
Codependency didn’t exist until the recovery industry needed a label for family members of alcoholics and addicts. Originally associated with wives of alcoholics, according to some codependency is a widespread concept without clear clinical criteria.
The latest version of the DSM-5 is the industry bible for diagnosing mental health conditions. It does not list codependency. The closest diagnosis is dependent personality disorder which, “is a pattern of submissive and clinging behavior related to an excessive need to be taken care of.”
This has the medical community jumping with glee because now they can garner income from treating patients with a condition without clear clinical criteria, but with the disease label, which is necessary for reimbursement
WHAT DOES CODEPENDENCY LOOK LIKE
Codependency is a maladaptive method of dealing with everyday problems. Codependents essentially try and please others, all the time, at your own expense.
Your happiness is based on the contentment of those around you. You will go to extraordinary measures to do things for other people, whether you want to or not. It becomes a compulsion.
Commonly codependents take on the role of personalizing other people’s feelings and emotions. The codependent is a caretaker. You feel responsible for another person’s happiness and wellbeing.
You will absorb positive and negative emotions from other people as if they are your own. You will anticipate others needs and feel angry when your actions miss the mark.
You will lose the ability to recognize what makes you happy, and base your self-worth on the people you help. You will stop caring about yourself as you get lost in the cycle of repetitive behavior.
If you don’t have a crisis to deal with, you will feel lost and uncomfortable. The only way to feel good is by fixing someone else’s problems, all the while projecting your own feelings and emotions onto that person.
Feelings of anger, resentment, overwhelming stress, and inability to cope is blamed on others, especially if your feelings are not reciprocated. You play the victim role well, and are a master of passive aggressive displeasure.
Denial runs strong in the codependent. You refuse to look at yourself or your action from a different perspective. This denial can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.
Low self-esteem, the feeling of not meeting the standards of others, or the fear of rejection drives a codependent to over-schedule, never say no, and go to any lengths to prove you are worthy.
When you do take the time to do something for yourself you feel guilty because you don’t believe you deserve good things.
Molding yourself into the image of someone else’s idea of perfection is your identity. You are not able to be yourself because you don’t know who that it. You are the main actor in a very bad play.
Manipulation is also the hallmark of a codependent. You will twist a situation around to suit your idea of how you think it should be. You try to control people and situations using any means necessary.
Suffering from one form of maladaptive behavior can lead to other destructive behaviors. Substance abuse and behavioral addictions can become coping mechanisms.
You will seek out people who need ‘saving’ and enter into relationships with these people with the idea that you can fix them or make them change. This will not end well.
One of the core issues you face is your lack of boundaries. You cannot fathom disappointing someone by saying no. You allow others to annihilate your boundaries in order to meet their expectations.
THOUGHTS TO PONDER
In a healthy family or personal relationship, if your actions are preventing a person from experiencing the natural consequences of their actions, you might want to step back.
Making excuses for other people’s bad behavior is not helping them deal with it. Anything that the other person can conceivably do for themselves, you should let them. Do not cover for or make excuses for other people.
There is no harm in loving and helping those closest to you. But you have to set boundaries. You cannot control anyone except yourself. Loving and supporting other people needs to be healthy for all of you.
Your actions should not be hurting you. Your actions should be benefiting both to you and the person you are caring for. Relationships are give and take. Imbalance occurs, conflict is resolved, or right themselves. We are after all human, and we all have flaws.
If you find your self upset, angry, acting out, or in tears on a regular basis, take a look at why this is. If you are basing your own self-worth on the outcomes of others, you should seek help. This is maladaptive and self-destructive.
If people walk all over you, and you let them, time and time again, this needs to stop. No one deserves to be used as a door mat for another person’s crap.
If you are constantly seeking the approval of others by being indispensable, and then getting upset when your efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated, find way to boost your own self-esteem and confidence. Base your own happiness on you. Address the barriers that are preventing you from accepting yourself as being good enough.
If you spend all your time walking on eggshells while always trying to please others, it is not a healthy relationship. You shouldn’t be afraid of being you or voicing your own frustrations. There should not be reprisals of violence or abuse when you share an opinion, want or need.
If your consistent effort to please someone else ends in verbal, physical or emotional abuse, get out. Easier said than done, but saving your life should be a priority.
As with any other labeled condition, the symptoms of codependency overlap many other conditions. Just because you meet certain criteria, doesn’t mean that is a complete diagnosis. You can only get a diagnosis by seeing a professional.
Often having a label for maladaptive coping skills gives you an excuse to continue the behavior because ‘it’s a disease.’ It gives you permission to stay in situations that are harmful to you, and you don’t have to be accountable for your actions. Using a disease concept as an excuse to act out in maladaptive ways serves no purpose.
The medical treatment industry began by associating codependency with alcoholism and addiction. They assert that the wives and significant others were the chief enablers.
Anything that created a situation where the alcoholic or addict could drink or use safely, have money in their pocket, a roof over their head, a meal put in front of them… was codependent and enabling.
Given that codependency now has a loose disease designation, entire inpatient and outpatient, and peer group support programs have been developed to break the person of the habit.
Generally, like any other disease, treatment begins with a conservative and less invasive method. Treatment usually follows a tiered system. If one treatment fails, you go onto the next one.
There are 12-step programs based on the original steps of alcoholics anonymous. Step 1 of Co-dependency anonymous is “we admitted we were powerless over others – that our lives had become unmanageable.” Basically, the first step is any 12-step program is admitting there is a problem!
The unfortunate thing about treatment is that it tends to besmirch any caring thoughts or actions. The general instruction is to cut people out of your life. Change people places and things.
People are being advised to lock people out of their lives in order to get well. If codependency is nurturing tendencies gone awry, shouldn’t other family members and significant others be involved?
Isn’t this a matter of teaching people what healthy boundaries look like, communications skills to support assertiveness, and a roadmap to behavioral changes?
Any sort of abusive situation or relationship needs to stop immediately. Repeatedly choosing the wrong partners is a pattern and should be dealt with in therapy.
Replacing low self-esteem with positive coping skills is foundational. Everyone is important; everyone has something positive to offer. It is a matter of learning how to accept and love yourself enough to want to care for yourself as much as you have cared for others.
Cognitive Behavioral therapy assists to reframe thoughts. How you perceive a situation and think about it affects what emotion you feel. This in turn drives how you act. Learning how to identify negative thought patterns and replace them with positive coping skills is imperative.
Whatever route you choose, and however you end up in treatment, receiving help from professionals can help immensely. Developing a system of support is also helpful. If you join a peer group support system, you will be around people who understand what you are going through.
Remember, you cannot change another person. You can only work on yourself, build your boundaries, and change your own behaviors.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT
The self-help movement is huge. It is growing on a daily basis. There is always a new diagnosis, a new condition a new treatment, a new something.
Getting help for any behavior that impacts your ability to lead a normal, happy life should be examined. Habits can soon get out of control and become compulsions. Then you will be unable to stop.
Compulsions make you repeat certain actions, over, and over and over in order to meet the need of reward circuits in your brain. But, after the first time… you will never get the same pleasure as you did the first time. This is one of the primary drivers of addiction.
Caring in itself is not a character flaw. If you do not have empathy for others you are in danger of having another type of disorder. Caring is a personality trait based on your own belief and value system. How you treat others in a good indicator of who you are.
Caring is part of a healthy relationship. Caring for a child, a spouse, a parent, a friend, a coworker is part of our roles in each area of your life.
There are different schools of thinking on the topic of codependency. There are several codependency self-help books floating around that are considered industry must-reads. The books tend to reflect the authors point of view more than clinical standards or studies.
When caring for others becomes more important than caring for yourself, you could be on the road to codependency.
If you base your self-worth and confidence on how others perceive you and your actions, then you should look into it.
If you have lost your own identity, are fearful of having an opinion, or don’t know what makes you happy any more, it’s time to focus on you.
Any behavior that becomes necessary for you to feel good about yourself, or you suffer emotional, or physical consequences from is not healthy.
Any time you feel off balance, not well, irrational, or are acting out of character, and people close to you are commenting on it, stop and think about it.
Seeking help is always an option and is advisable before you become completely miserable.
Read about the ways addiction will kill you.
Is your life unmanageable? How many ways?
Need to identify and rid yourself of toxic people?
How to rid yourself of negative self-talk.
You absolutely need to be setting goals.
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- Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency
- Codependency Anonymous: http://coda.org/index.cfm/newcomers/
- Online CoDa forum: https://coda.activeboard.com/
- Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better. Profound Self-Help Therapy for Your Emotions. Albert Ellis, Ph.D.
- Understanding Codependency. The Science Behind It and How to Break the Cycle. Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse & Joseph Cruse, M.D.
- Codependent No More. How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself. Melody Beattie.