The term “codependency” is often thrown around loosely, and it always brings with it a negative stigma. This term may seem straightforward, but it’s actually more complex than it appears.
What is Codependency?
According to Psychology Today, “codependency” is a term used to describe a relationship, by “being caring, highly functional, and helpful, one person is said to support, perpetuate, or ‘enable’ a loved one’s irresponsible or destructive behaviour.”
It is important to note that codependency is known as “relationship addiction” because those exhibiting codependency often have emotional, destructive, one-sided relationships.
Examples include enabling a drug addict or alcoholic by covering up for them out of fear of losing them or saying “yes” even when you want to say “no,” out of fear of others’ disapproval.
What are Codependency Traits?
Extensive research has been done, and books and articles have been written on the extensive list of codependency traits. Sharon Martin, LCSW from PsychCentral and Dr Shawna Freshwater, a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist from Spacious Therapy, provide a myriad of codependent traits, and while these lists are far from exhaustive, here they are in categories:
Poor Emotional and Physical Boundaries
Codependents struggle with poor emotional and physical boundaries, which can cause problems in relationships. This can unfold in ways like the following:
- Oversharing in new relationships or putting walls up to keep others out
- Tolerating abusive behaviour
- Not being able to say “no” to others for fear of disappointing others
- Taking on other people’s issues and problems as one’s own
Unhealthy Emotional Dependency on Others
Codependents feel a strong need to take care of others because they need to feel needed.
They frequently befriend people who have ongoing problems in order to help, but really, this “helping” is unhealthy for the codependent.
This emotional dependency manifests in the following ways:
- Having a strong need to take care of and extensively worry about others’ problems.
- Sacrificing their own needs to take care of others
- Feeling responsible for other people’s happiness
- Enabling others, so they don’t suffer the consequences of their own actions
- Accepting blame for things they didn’t do
The codependent doesn’t realise that because they so deeply need others’ approval, they are exhibiting controlling behaviour. They often possess perfectionistic tendencies and stress when their expectations are not met. Codependents often:
- Give advice to others, even when that advice is not wanted
- Are “all” or “nothing” thinkers, and their behavior reflects this
- Are extremely critical when high expectations are not met
- Use manipulation or guilt to control others
- Exhibit passive-aggressive tendencies
Weak Sense of Self
Codependency behaviour results from a weak sense of self, which causes emotional pain and the need to control others. This means that codependents often:
- Doesn’t know what they believe, like, don’t like, value, etc.
- Feels inferior to others
- Has low self-worth and self-esteem
- Loses themselves in relationships
- Bases their self-worth on others’ validation or achievements
When you lack a sense of self, emotional pain is sure to be present. Codependents often struggle with understanding and expressing their true feelings, which causes the following:
- Excessive self-criticism
- Guilt and shame
- Depression and anxiety
- Unresolved anger
- Feeling “on edge” all the time
- Addictive behaviour
How are Codependency Traits Formed?
Like many human traits, codependency forms in infancy and through childhood. The core of personality is formed by age five, and the years that follow are adaptations to supplement the already established personality.
Codependency is formed early on in one’s life as a way to cope with trauma of any kind. This is a good time to define trauma, as while it could mean growing up in an alcoholic and abusive home, it doesn’t have to be. Trauma is the Greek word for “wound,” and it encompasses physical, mental, and emotional wounds.
Perhaps you grew up with a sick family member who was everyone’s primary focus, and you felt neglected. Maybe there were serious issues in your family dynamics, but no one addressed them. Maybe you felt unloved or misunderstood. All of these examples can create long-term effects.
Recovery Connection mentions that research has shown that codependency is generational, meaning it is learned from the family of origin.
One important point is that many times codependents will turn to addictive behaviours to “negotiate their unsolved feelings,” according to Recovery Connection. Codependents may begin a pattern of addiction with alcohol, drugs, food, or other risky behaviours, quickly causing a downward spiral.
How Do You Get Help For Codependency?
If you are reading this article and seeing that you exhibit codependent traits, first know that codependency is not a biological illness. Rather, it is a learned behaviour used as a coping mechanism.
It is quite common, and the first step is realising it’s an issue in your life. BetterHelp, the world’s largest online counselling program, gives this advice for getting help for codependency:
Research: Learn more about codependency and understand how it starts. Read self-help books, research online, talk with others about it. The more you understand, the better.
Recognise: Recognising means that you are not in control of others, their reactions, their happiness, etc. When you think thoughts that foster codependency, recognise and reframe them. For example, My friend is not returning my calls, but that doesn’t mean she is upset with me. She may be busy or having a hard day, but I cannot control her thoughts, feelings, or behaviours.
Regroup: Once you identify a codependent thought, replace it with a healthy one. This will seem unnatural at first, but it gets easier with practice.
You may also want to seek out professional therapy or codependent support groups, as these can be an enormous step in the right direction and facilitate healing.
This entire article could be summed up in one sentence: Codependency traits stem from a root issue of one’s difficulty loving, accepting, trusting, and being true to self.
Once this key point is identified, healing can begin.
You cannot change others, but you can change you.
We’re here to help. Contact us today for a free and confidential chat with one of our clinical team.