How would you define “codependent”? We learn behaviors from our parents that we pass down to our children. But what if there are some negative behaviors we do not want to pass down? We want to deal with them and ensure our children do not have to. Codependency is one of these.
The good news is that co-dependency is a learned behavior. And it requires someone to teach it for another to learn it. This article will help you understand whether or not you are codependent and, if you are, discuss your next steps.
When we define codependent, we could describe it as an emotional and behavioral condition that impacts someone’s ability to enjoy a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. It is a sociology theory that looks to explain how imbalanced relationships originate where one person enables addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, underachievement, and other self-destructive behavior.
The relationship is typically characterized by a high level of self-sacrificial behavior that focuses on the other person’s needs, the suppression of their own emotions, and attempts to fix or control other people’s problems. While many people who self-identify as codependent display low self-esteem, researchers are not sure whether it is a cause or an effect of codependency.
Those who suffer from codependency will recognize it as a type of addiction as they will form or maintain associations that are unbalanced. Things are often emotionally harmful and abusive across all types of relationships and are not limited to marriage or romantic partnerships. They can be displayed in the way they relate to co-workers, friends, and family members.
Today we associate the term codependence with Alcoholics Anonymous. It was in that research that it was discovered that alcoholism was enabled by the social network of the alcoholic. This included their family and friends. Codependent is similar to the term co-alcoholic which was used to describe people with alcoholism and other drug dependencies at the time.
Today the definition of codependency has expanded to describe any codependent person from any dysfunctional family.
Can knowing about family dysfunction help?
A consistent characteristic of dysfunctional families, and something that is used to identify them, is that members suffer from but ignore or deny fear, pain, anger, or shame. Problems that lie beneath the surface within these families may be an addiction by a family member, the reality of emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, or a member suffering from chronic mental or physical illness.
By never acknowledging that problems exist, family members escape from confronting them or having to discuss them. To cope, these members then quash their feelings and ignore their own needs.
They then adopt behavior that helps them survive these circumstances, becoming better at denying, ignoring, or avoiding their own complex emotions. By becoming detached they psychologically slow down the formation of their identity and emotional development.
In many cases the attention and focus of the family centers around the member who is ill or addicted. This constant sacrifice to take care of the dependent person leaves a mark. When you consistently place the safety, happiness, and health of others ahead of your own, then you run the risk of losing contact with your sense of self, and the needs and desires that you feel.
Understanding the behavior of codependent people.
When looking to define codependent behavior for yourself, it is useful to understand the behavior of codependent people. Low self-esteem is paired with a constant awareness of opportunities outside of themselves to improve this.
This opportunity may be gained through various means such as drinking, substance abuse, or smoking cigarettes which can lead to addiction. Compulsive behaviors are also known to develop as individuals seek to find themselves and these can be in the form of promiscuity, gaming, or becoming addicted to work and career success.
Codependent people work extremely hard to take care of someone whose circumstances and experiences are difficult. Commonly, this care benefits both people in the relationship, such as a father making excuses for a truant child or a wife who helps her husband hide his dependency on alcohol.
While the intentions behind the codependent’s actions are honorable, problems arise when repeated rescues pave the way for the addicted or needy individual to maintain their destructive course. This can result in them becoming increasingly dependent on the imbalanced unhealthy relationship and the actions of their sponsor.
In return for this increased sense of need the codependent develops a sense of acknowledgment and fulfillment. However, their enabling behavior almost always spirals downwards and becomes compulsive.
In this stage, the codependent feels trapped and unable to break the cycle of behavior that has led the relationship to this point. Almost every codependent will believe themselves to be victims and tragically attracted to the same weakness in future relationships.
How can characteristics of codependent people be identified?
To recognize the behavior and emotional state of someone who is codependent, look out for these tell-tale signs:
- Inability to assert themselves without feeling guilty.
- A strong sense of compulsion to control other people.
- Is very often dishonest.
- Not good at communicating.
- Avoids feelings of being left on their own.
- Very low levels of trust in themselves or other people.
- Fear of being left all alone.
- Feeling responsible for the actions of others.
- A consistent anger.
- Finding it difficult not to pity people in need of rescue, and identifying this pity as love.
- Consistently doing more than is required of them.
- Being overly sensitive when others do not credit their effort.
- Highly dependent on relationships where they will do anything to remain in relationships.
- Lack of boundaries.
- A very high need to be recognized and approved of.
- Emotionally immature and unable to identify their feelings.
- Prefers a very set structure and has difficulty coming to terms with changes.
What questions to ask when looking for signs of codependency?
It is difficult to define codependent when the condition can be present at a range of intensity levels and is not something that just is or is not present. As with any online questionnaire, a qualified professional is best placed to make any diagnostic analysis. And it may bear repeating that not everyone who experiences these symptoms suffer from codependency.
Read through these ten questions and see if you or someone you love identifies with them:
1. Are your opinions less important than others?
2. Is it hard to be adjustable when there are changes at home or work?
3. Did you ever live with someone who derides you, makes you feel insignificant, and may hit you?
4. Do you express your true feelings to others freely, or are you uncomfortable doing so?
5. When your spouse or child makes a mistake, do you feel humiliated?
6. Have you got doubts about your ability to be who you want to be?
7. Is talking to people in authority like the police or your boss easy or difficult for you?
8. Is asking for help an easy or difficult thing for you to do?
9. When you make a mistake, do you feel like it is an accurate reflection of your true identity?
10. Do you keep quiet to stay out of arguments?
Can a licensed counselor help define “codependent”?
If a few of these questions struck a chord with you or are dissatisfied or disappointed with yourself or the relationships you have, then it is advisable to seek professional help. You can easily arrange for an evaluation with a registered counselor who has expertise and experience in treating codependency.
Please browse our online counselor directory or contact our office to schedule an appointment. We would be honored to walk with you toward a place of healing and hope.
“Glacier National Park”, Courtesy of Radu Lin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Logging Road”, Courtesy of Michal Bielejewski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Night Lights”, Courtesy of Matthew Ball, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Dock”, Courtesy of Andrey K, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.