Codependency: not as bad as we are made to feel
Are you Codependent?
Historically there has been a buzz around the word codependency, looping it into something negative and problematic. This can often lead to denial for us that we may even be showing patterns of it. Gasp! But what does it really mean to be codependent and is it really still that 1950s version we’ve grown accustomed to?
What is Codependency?
When someone relies on another person or people either physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or even financially - in an imbalanced way - this is known as codependency. It can often be a mix of one or more and for some, they’re not even aware that they are codependent or allowing someone to be codependent on them. Think of it as less of a mutual dependence and more of an over dependence. A person who exhibits codependency typically will feel or assume responsibility for anticipating and meeting their partner’s needs - to the detriment of their own. It can be one-sided or symbiotic - this may or may not be indicative of the health of the relationship. Clear as mud, right?
In the mid century, codependency was coined as the often toxic relationships between a spouse or family members of a person who used drugs or alcohol. It’s evolved quite a bit since then, however it has kept its “bad rap.” We know now it can develop between two people, even where one is absent due to work or suffering from a chronic physical or mental health concern. We’ve thrown the term “codependent” around for so long, associating it with being weak, dependent, or problematic. In many ways being dependent can be a good thing because we all want to feel needed at one point or another. It’s when it becomes unhealthy, affecting our emotional, mental, or behavioural health, that we need to become aware of these feelings and attempt to change our habits. Interdependence - the mutual dependence of two parties - is the goal.
Why do we become codependent?
Codependency is a coping skill and it’s often a learned behaviour to get our needs met - not always from our childhood, but likely. As children, we tried to caretake, over-give, anticipate needs, and please parents in an attempt to ease our own feelings of disconnection and desire for what we have missed having given to us as children. We may have been caregivers as children where we had to “grow up too fast” and become responsible for the welfare of others (parents/siblings) in order to restore feelings of comfort or safety or to develop a solid sense of self.
Our historical perspective was that this only happened when one grew up in a dysfunctional family - now, we know that this may occur too when a parent had a chronic physical or mental illness, traveled a lot, or was a "workaholic". Essentially, any experience or situation that could make one not feel emotionally connected or emotionally unsafe - in an ongoing and unpredictable manner.
What are codependent patterns I should look out for?
It’s not unusual to not recognize the codependent patterns within ourselves because we don’t think we align with those negative connotations. However, those of us who are codependent are often uber-independent. They would rather give help to anyone and everyone rather than ask for help, they try to problem solve for others, they are super high-functioning, and may struggle with establishing or holding boundaries. Guilt is a familiar feeling.
If you think we’ve begun to describe you even slightly, you wouldn’t be alone. Take a look at the following patterns and signs of codependency. As you respond, take notes about how you’re feeling and the thoughts that come to mind.
Denial patterns such as:
perceiving yourself as unselfish and completely dedicated to helping others;
Masking pain through humour and/or anger.
Low self-esteem patterns such as:
Valuing other people's approval over your own thoughts and feelings;
Not seeing yourself as a lovable and worthy person.
People-pleasing patterns such as:
Compromising your own values to avoid rejection from others;
Afraid to express your own feelings and beliefs if they are different from others.
Control patterns such as:
Attempting to convince others what to think or feel;
Attempting to problem solve for others when not solicited;
Adopting an attitude of indifference, helplessness, anger to manipulate outcomes.
Avoidance patterns such as:
Act in ways that invite people to reject, shame, or express anger towards you;
Suppress your feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
What does it mean to be interdependent instead of codependent?
In codependent relationships, there is an emphasis on an imbalance of power. It doesn’t mean that you “need” them more than they need you, but you may be putting a giant effort into maintaining their needs, ensuring they are happy, while forgetting about your own needs. The feeling of needing to be needed.
Ideally, two partners in a relationship are interdependent with each other without being codependent on each other.
Interdependence means that you’re choosing how much you want to be involved in your relationship with another person and they are too with you. Instead of a driving need to be with one another each day, you intentionally choose to spend time with them because you enjoy their company. You stay true to yourself and your wants and express your emotions. You can be vulnerable to those around you. This includes expressing your own needs from the other person; feeling comfortable with boundaries, saying no, and feeling secure in the relationship. All without taking on your partner’s own emotions or problems as your own.
You can heal from codependent patterns
If you’ve recognized yourself as being codependent, please know you’re not stuck in this cycle. There are ways you can heal and move away from these patterns. Many take the first step of making time for themselves and the discovery of what it is that brings joy when you’re alone. Know that you don’t need to fix someone else and you’re not going to be less of who you are if you don’t. You can say no. It is healthier for both of you.
Developing boundaries and detaching from your codependent patterns is huge to growing with yourself. Stay tuned for our October blog that will give you a step-by-step guide on when and how to say no!
If you’d like the full experience about codependency and how to recover, learn more about the Authentically You course which covers the subject much more deeply than we can in this short blog post.
Darrell & Amanda Hammond are Registered Psychotherapists in the Kingston and Napanee areas. Their roles are simple; to help you figure your shit out. In whatever that looks like you for you.
We got you.