Crystal Andrus said it best when she said, “Imagine saying this: I love you so much I will no longer disable you by enabling you. I am letting go of trying to fix, rescue, or save you. That is not my job. Never was. Never will be. Besides, maybe it’s me who needed my help after all.”
Mental Health America defines Codependency as “an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.”
As a therapist, I have worked with many clients who have been codependent. The codependent client normally has low self-esteem, does not know how to maintain good boundaries or healthy intimate relationships. They are often stuck in the same patterns and continually choose wrong partners.
They express that they lack the ability to leave relationships and often have the mindset that they cannot live without their partner. Individuals who are codependent stay in situations that often do not make sense to others looking in. They continually run back to the same unhealthy relationship or allow the person who hurt them to enter back into their lives. They are continual fearful of being abandoned and have an unrealistic and unhealthy dependency on their partner as well as in other relationships.
You might wonder how someone becomes codependent. Codependency is modeled and therefore a learned behavior. It is very common that a person struggling with codependency issues grew up in an environment where dysfunction and dependency were mirrored in their family dynamic.
Codependency is a reflection of childhood trauma. Meaning that often times people with codependency issues have fathers or mothers who were addicts, alcoholics or codependent themselves. The unpredictability in their childhood environment shaped them into insecure, anxious and unhealthy adults.
These children often felt neglected and abandoned by at least one of their parents or caretakers and as these children grew into adults they decided they never wanted to feel that again. As a child, this uneasiness in their family molded them to play a role of a peacekeeper to not think about themselves but of others around them.
It was for their own sanity that they took control and decided they would give up some of themselves to have and maintain a less chaotic environment. They learned the need to sacrifice their own feelings in an effort to keep the peace – lesson that would stay with them into their adulthood.
In addition to denying the importance of their internal feelings, poor attachment with their parental figure also restricted their ability to be mentally and emotionally close with others in future relationships. As children, they were exposed to one-sided relationships. Because of this, they mirror this same behavior as adults.
The abandonment they felt as children still lingers with them as adults. They make efforts and choose behaviors that they think will prevent them from experiencing this abandonment again. Because they were modeled poor behaviors they are unsure how to have healthy ones. They long for that feeling to be fulfilled through an intimate relationship hoping that this will fix their hurt. Keep in mind it was this intimate relationship they lacked as a child.
A person who is codependent often experiences low self-esteem, often is known as a people pleaser, does not have healthy boundaries in relationships, may have high reactivity to problems that may arise, has poor and dysfunctional communication, and is dependent in relationships. Codependents often focus on others problems and habits to avoid thinking about their own.
How does a codependent individual learn how to have and maintain a healthy relationship? In therapy, clients identify where they learned their behaviors and identify the unhealthy observations they have seen and recreated in their current relationships. Clients begin to see how their actions and behaviors have sabotaged a long lasting and healthy intimate relationship.
Clients learn how to create boundaries for themselves and become confident in themselves. They start to realize the hurts their relationships have caused them and begin to realize they deserve more than what they have experienced. Clients begin to learn the ability to say no to things they normally would always say yes too.
MentalHealthAmerica.net provides a questionnaire to help individuals identify if they are experiencing symptoms of codependency, they are as follows:
- 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?
- Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?
- Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?
- Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
- Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
- Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
- Do you have difficulties talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
- Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
- Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
- Do you have trouble asking for help?
- Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?
The questionnaire above is not a determinant of whether an individual is codependent but it is instead a guide in distinguishing if an individual has codependent traits. If you feel you are struggling with maintaining a healthy relationship and are dependent on others in relationships please consider seeking professional help.
I believe codependency begins to change drastically when a client is able to pinpoint how their past has shaped their unhealthy belief system. When a client is able to see how their past has dictated the present and prevented them from having a happy long lasting healthy relationship they are then able to identify the patterns that need to be broken.
Clients who struggle with codependency issues need to realize their worth and allow themselves to break old patterns before entering into new relationships. The problem that I find is the most difficult for clients who are codependent is their strong desire to always be in an intimate relationship. They often bounce from one relationship to another.
A client may decide they are not able to be with their partner but will quickly find someone to take their partner’s place. This just creates a continual unhealthy pattern and therefore baggage to be transferred into the new relationship making it impossible to ever have a positive and healthy relationship.
Clients who are codependent need to feel comfortable with themselves, they need to learn to love who they are and become confident in themselves. Until the codependent individual finds their worth and learns healthy communication and boundaries a positive relationship will be nearly impossible.
Often times individuals who are codependent are not capable of building healthy self-esteem. Their past experiences have told them they are unlovable and they believe it. They are unable to identify the good in themselves and to see the things that are unhealthy in their relationship. As adults, we repeat the same patterns, environments, and experiences that we are exposed to as children.
The same types of relationships we experience as children we often seek these same types of relationships as adults. It is common that what we are exposed to is what we are comfortable with and that becomes our normal. We have to break this pattern of repeating dysfunction.
As a therapist, my goal is to provide you with those necessary solutions. I desire for you to see the beauty in yourself and the worth that God has created in you. I desire for your life to be different, for relationships to be healthy, beneficial and meaningful. I crave positivity to be the center of your relationships.
I desire for you to know the unhealthy relationships you have had in your past is not what you deserve. I want to be your cheerleader in helping you see the excitement a healthy relationship can bring. I want your life to be different than what you have known. You deserve to experience healthy and fulfilling intimacy. Your past does not have to dictate and control your present.
“The past should be left in the past, otherwise it can destroy your future. Live your life for what tomorrow has to offer, not for what yesterday has taken away.”