Dr. Kevin Boll
Codependency goes beyond clinginess and is often characterized by an excessive need for another person. If you’re in a codependent relationship, you might find that you or your partner have a number of unhealthy tendencies when it comes to relating to each other and other people.
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
- Do you or your partner go out of your way to get people to like you?
- Are you or your partner constantly going out of your way to help people or do you have a hard time saying no, even if you don’t want to do something?
- Do you or your partner feel important when you’re needed and find yourself wanting to rescue or save people?
- Do you or your partner struggle with feelings of loneliness or worthiness?
- Do you or your partner constantly rescue, initiate interaction with, or appease the other person? Do you keep your real feelings to yourself for fear of hurting or upsetting your partner, not wanting to rock the boat or cause conflict?
- Do you or your partner make decisions based mostly on how you think the other person will respond, not based on whether it is the good or right thing to do?
Definition of Codependency
If you’re looking for a definition of codependency, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition as codependency is nuanced and varied. Codependency is described in a number of ways. It can be defined as excessive reliance on a partner to meet all emotional and psychological needs.Codependency is often characterized by someone having a significant focus outside of themselves or being involved in a relationship that is dysfunctional or one-sided. Codependency is often prevalent in relationships where addiction occurs.
Perhaps, one of the most insightful definitions of codependency comes from Barry and Jane Weinhold in their book Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap where codependency is defined as “two half persons attempting to create one whole person.”
A codependent relationship may be one where an individual enables his or her partner’s addictive or irresponsible behavior. It may also be one where the individual sacrifices all of his or her personal needs to meet the needs of his or her partner. Part of being codependent is not understanding the difference between healthy self-interest and selfishness. Being self-sacrificial is a biblical trait and good quality to have, but it can become extreme and result in abuse and neglect.
Signs of Codependency
If you’re wondering whether you’re a codependent individual or are in a codependent relationship, here are some signs of codependency:
Need to Rescue Others
Codependent individuals often have a need to rescue others and save them. They jump in to fix their partners mistakes or behavior out of an extreme sense of duty and responsibility. This can often result in their partners not maturing, growing, or learning from their mistakes.
People-PleasingCodependent individuals often go out of their way to please people out of fear of hurting others or being disliked. They often get their validation and affirmation from others and if that is their only source of validation and affirmation, one can see why it’s difficult for them to stop. Until that validation comes from within and an individual learns not to look to other people for their worth or identity, people-pleasing and codependency often continue.
Codependent individuals often have low self-worth and feel bad about themselves, because they’re constantly comparing themselves to others or an idealized version of themselves in a perfect world.
Low self-esteem can be characterized by feelings of shame or worthlessness. Perfectionism is often a culprit for low self-esteem. As an individual perpetually strives for perfect behavior or performance and fails to meet impossible standards, it can deteriorate how he or she feels about himself or herself.
Lack of Boundaries
Codependent individuals often struggle drawing the imaginary line between what is theirs and what is other peoples. They take on other people’s burdens, problems, feelings, and responsibilities to such a degree that it causes physical and emotional stress on them. They feel responsible for others’ behaviors, thoughts, and emotions so they allow other people to take advantage of their belongings, personal items, kindness, or space in order to make the other person happy or better.
Control IssuesBecause codependent individuals often link their worth to other people or link other people’s success or happiness to their worth, they often try exceptionally hard to control other people’s opinions. They might try to control their external environment in an effort to protect a partner or try to control what they share or don’t share in an effort to protect their image.
Because codependents often have low self-esteem and find their validation and worth through performance or behavior, they often have extreme tendencies for perfectionism. They put tremendous pressure on themselves to have perfect thoughts, actions, and performance and when they fail to meet their own standards or the standards of others, they become extremely self-critical, which further lowers their self-esteem.
Individuals with codependency often over-react to people’s thoughts, feelings, or opinions and personalize them. They feel threatened when people disagree with them or offer constructive criticism because they absorb their words and see it as a reflection of something wrong within them rather than merely an opinion, thought, or feeling of the other person.
Persistent Negative Emotions
Codependent individuals often live with persistent negative emotions such as shame, fear, anxiety, and depression. They’re often stressed or afraid of being left out, rejected, misunderstood, or disliked.
If you’re in a codependent relationship, you might find:
- You need immense approval or recognition and often get your feelings hurt when you’re not recognized
- You’re the one going the extra mile in your relationship to schedule date nights, buy gifts, or make sure your relationship is okay. These efforts are often not reciprocated by your partner.
- You’re always apologizing or overcompensating to keep the peace or avoid arguments or conflict
- You feel like you have to walk on eggshells with your partner for fear of how he or she will respond
- You’re not honest with your feelings or opinions for fear of hurting your partner or upsetting him or her
- You go out of your way to eliminate problems from your partner’s life or to keep “bad things” from happening
- You feel guilty when you take care of yourself or say no
- You’re obsessed with your partner or are always worried about him or her
- You struggle to trust your partner or have an unhealthy fear of abandonment or infidelity
What Causes a Person to Become Codependent?
Now that you know the symptoms of codependency, what actually causes codependent behavior? Codependency often stems from childhood. It can be the result of a child having his or her emotions punished or ignored or having to fulfill a role that a parent is not fulfilling.
A child might be expected to perform adult duties beyond their age or maturity or to become the primary caregiver for a younger sibling. A child might even be expected to care for a parent or provide praise, affirmation, or comfort to the parent.
Codependents often come from homes where there is alcoholism, substance abuse, mental health issues, toxic shaming, child abuse or some sort of dysfunction and codependency becomes a survival mechanism. However, you may have grown up in a codependent household, not knowing that your “normal” was abnormal and that imprinting has been passed on to you.
Codependency can often be caused by a relationship with a partner who has an addiction, whether that addiction is to substances, gambling, or even shopping. An April 2016 study in the Journal of Addict Health entitled Living with Addicted Men and Codependency: The Moderating Effect of Personality Traits found that of 140 women (70 married to addicted men and 70 married to non-addicted men), codependency scores were significantly higher in women married to addicts.
Codependents are often searching for fulfillment, love, and happiness outside of themselves.
How Can A Person Overcome Codependency?
By looking at some of the experiences you may have faced in early life, you may find insight into what contributed to unhealthy patterns of relating to others.
Codependency can definitely be overcome and a Christian counselor can help you identify contributing factors so that you can transform behaviors and habits that may be deeply ingrained and difficult to change on your own. For counseling for a codependent relationship or to overcome your own codependent tendencies, click here to reach out to a Christian counselor.
“Engaged”, Courtesy of Izabelle Acheson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Shy”, Courtesy of Ardalan Hamedani, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “I bring the weather with me”, Courtesy of Ian Espinosa, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Let’s go to war”, Courtesy of Ian Espinosa, Unsplash.com, CC0 License