Codependent relationships, are defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.
Codependency can occur in any type of relationship. Among the core characteristics of codependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. Codependents are addicted to a destructive pattern of relating to others.
*While codependency most often refers to unhealthy personal relationships, it is also used to describe an addict’s relationship with his or her drug or behavior of choice. In its broadest definition, a codependent is one who cannot function from his or her core self and whose thinking and behavior is centered around another person or substance. Some codependents often find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante. *
Symptoms and behaviors of Codependency:
- Intense and unstable interpersonal relationships.
- Inability to tolerate being alone, accompanied by frantic efforts to avoid being alone.
- Chronic feelings of boredom and emptiness.
- Subordinating one’s own needs to those of the person with whom one is involved.
- Reactivity-you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings.
- Control-the codependent needs to control people and situations to feel safe and secure.
- Overwhelming desire for acceptance and affection.
- External referencing (relying upon other people or possessions for happiness.)
- Dishonesty and denial.
- Low self-worth.
- Low self-esteem.
- People pleasing- a difficult time saying no.
- Poor or nonexistent boundaries.
- Dysfunctional communication-difficulty communicating their thoughts, feelings, and needs.
It takes time to overcome life long patterns of codependency. The process often involves “two steps forward, and one step back.” The recovery process is exactly that… a process; and many people are only learning how to live life independent from addiction along the journey. However, there are several specific steps you can take to break out of ingrained codependent* habits.
THE FIRST STEP is to break through your denial. Face the problem honestly. Chances are, the problem has been rationalized, justified, or even spiritualized-as being helpful and caring about the needs of others. Now is the time to face it head on. Support groups consisting of other people on a similar road to recovery often provide more understanding and support than family and friends.
Detach from unhealthy involvements. Detachment refers to separating ourselves from whatever we are obsessed with so we can begin working on ourself. Growth must involve giving up that over-involvement or preoccupation with trying to change, control, or please someone else. This requires letting go of the energy you are expending on worry over the other person. This is not hostile withdrawal, indifference, or avoiding your responsibilities to others. Instead, it is giving up your efforts to take other people’s responsibilities so that they can learn to take responsibility for themselves just as you are learning to take responsibility for yourself. We cannot fix problems that are not ours to fix; and all of our worrying, obsessing, and trying to help only perpetuate the problem.
THE SECOND STEP is to grow in relationships and genuine love. Having a healthy sense of one’s self is not being selfish-it goes hand in hand with being able to enter into loving relationships. Every codependent needs relationships where they can work on relating in new and healthier ways. Seek relationships with mature people with healthy boundaries. Then work on developing a mature, mutual relationship instead of a dependent one. Make sure that you and your friends communicate honestly. Share your thoughts, wishes, and feelings mutually. Learn to make mutual decisions and to give and take and compromise equally. This may be initially difficult since you may have developed a “sixth sense” for finding people with poor boundaries who need rescuing. In a mature relationship, neither party is demanding or controlling and each opens up his inner self to being loved and being truly loving.
THE THIRD STEP is learning how to exercise your “no” muscle. A very practical step is starting to set boundaries that you are comfortably able to live with. You simply cannot learn to care and give of yourself in a healthy manner until you have a basic place of safety for yourself. This includes having the ability to set clear boundaries and to say no. At times, saying no is more important to our spiritual growth than saying yes to another activity.