Liberation from Codependency
Usually, when people think of codependency they think of it in relation to the symptoms of individuals who are connected with a spouse, partner, or family member who struggles with some drug or alcohol addiction. This article challenges you to consider codependency as a relationship addiction. Addiction can be defined as a strong and harmful need to have or to do something regularly. This can include the need for approval, or to engage in people pleasing. My idea of relationship addiction speaks to the various ways in which codependency issues frame themselves around the compulsive need for approval from others in order to feel whole. In addition, codependent people have a habit of tolerating behavior from others that demonstrates poor boundaries and dysfunctional communication skills.
My clients who experience codependency seem trapped in relationships with verbally or physically abusive spouses, parents, or partners. Individuals with a history of dysfunction or prolonged illness will often exhibit codependent relationship addiction. A recent client stated, “I have a great job. I’m highly successful in my social life, yet my mom will call me and totally guilt me into paying for something I never should have paid for. I feel shame and disappointment at this overwhelming obligation to comply. Something must be wrong.” Research shows that the symptoms of relationship addiction will get worse if individuals do not seek help. As with any other addiction, the blessing is around the corner. You need to find relief by addressing the pain associated with your dysfunctional relationship.
Symptoms of Relationship Addiction
Often individuals with relationship addictions struggle to admit that their behavior is dysfunctional. Imagine spending most of your life living with a controlling and manipulative parent. And then ask yourself whether you should really be surprised that most of your intimate relationships are unsuccessful because your mom does not approve of them. In confronting the symptoms of your problems, you need to struggle with your own self-reflection. Here are a few symptoms to consider when seeking to identify whether you are experiencing relationship addiction:
- Your boundary expectations are extremely poor. You have a hard time separating the individual issues that you need to address from your partner’s challenges.
- Low self-esteem is often camouflaged by high self-regard and this can be seen when your behavior is ruled by guilt and perfectionism.
- You are a people pleaser who feels anxious when you tell others “No.” Some codependents simply cannot say “No” to people, even when it means sacrificing their own happiness.
- You feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems. You may have rigid boundaries and feel upset when you give directions that are ignored.
- Your behaviors are reactive and you do not allow time or space in which to evaluate your opinions or consider those of others.
- You experience control issues as control helps codependents to feel safe and secure. While some need for control is normal, workaholics use it to help them manage their emotions by controlling their environment. Caregivers may use control in order to manipulate others and violate their boundaries.
Codependency encourages the idea that others would be fine if only they would just comply. Codependent people experience feelings of anger, anxiety, pity, and guilt when their efforts are not welcomed by others. My clients have often complained that they do not want the conflict that comes with expressing what they need or want in the moment. “I have an overwhelming need to please my parents, to the point that I no longer feel valued or respected by others or myself, a client recently said in my office. This mindset encourages the codependent to feel victimized or used by others, all the while believing that they do not deserve good things to happen to them. Relationship addiction is an expression of an overwhelming need to be loved and accepted by others, in which the individual loses sight of who they are without the assistance of validation from others.
Pursuing Happiness through Other People
Codependent people cannot find happiness within themselves and so they pursue happiness through other people ? only to feel miserable when those people leave the relationship. Young adults who seek their parents’ approval will struggle with feeling loved by their parents. The struggles that a codependent experiences encourage poor ways of communicating wants and needs.
Liberating yourself from relationship addiction requires courage and involves self-confrontation. As in any other addiction, it is important to know what triggers dysfunctional behavior in your relationships. Ask yourself the following questions.
- 1. Do you feel overly anxious when people do not approve of your decisions?
- 2. Do you wait to express your opinion until after you have heard the opinions of others?
- 3. Do you feel compelled to lie in order to protect or cover up for a loved one?
- 4. Is it difficult for you to express how you feel and what you need in a non-manipulative manner?
- 5. Have you learned to tolerate things over time that go against your core values?
- 6. Have you found yourself unable to trust people or have faith in God?
- 7. Do you live with people who are often scared, hurt, and angry?
Christian Counseling to Overcome Codependent Behavior
Individuals with codependent behavior often feel lost and alone and miss a solid concept of their authentic self. As a Christian counselor, I help such individuals to confront their dysfunctional thought processes. I have witnessed my clients finding relief by challenging the “automatic negative thoughts” that keep them in a stuck space. Christian counseling provides a safe space in which we can explore some of the possible excuses that feed fear and disrupt the motivation to move forward. The counseling room allows clients to make peace with themselves without judgment, while promoting resilience under the pressures of life. You can free yourself from the codependency.