What is Codependency?
What is codependency and why is it dangerous? While it might seem simple on the surface, this is actually a tough question to answer. Continue reading to learn more about codependency and the dangers that accompany it.
At its core, codependency is an addiction to relationships or love. It manifests is as an unhealthy fixation on other people. Codependents often ignore their own needs in order to try to help the people they care about the most. Anyone who is destructively concerned with the people in their lives could be codependent.
It is helpful to note codependency most commonly occurs in people who have close relationships with addicts. These people are often referred to as “enablers.” Anyone who has been raised in a home with an addict or are the parent of an addict often fall into this category.
Though the terms “codependent” and “enabler” have certain stigma attached to them, it is important to know that there is no shame in being one of those who struggle with this issue.
How to Spot Codependency
Codependency can be difficult to identify. This is because it can look like love. It is also frequently hidden due to the destructive addictions of people around the codependent.
Where codependency differs from normal love is the sufferer harms themselves to help others.
Here are some signs of codependency:
- Taking responsibility for the actions of others.
- Blaming themselves for problems in a relationship.
- Trouble maintaining healthy boundaries.
- Compulsively taking care of people.
- Feelings of worthlessness.
- Feeling a need to be liked by everyone.
- Constantly seeking a relationship or feeling incomplete when not romantically involved.
- Fearing abandonment.
- Attempting to control or manipulate others.
- Sacrificing happiness in order to please others.
- Poor sense of self outside of relationships.
- Inability to express needs or desires in order to have them met.
- Frequent feelings of shame.
- Obsession with changing the feelings or behaviors of other people.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Anyone who is preoccupied with the relationships in their life likely has some measure of codependency. Those who try to please others rather than being true to themselves might also suffer from codependency.
What Codependency Isn’t
Though codependency is called “relationship addiction” it is not an addiction in the same way that Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Alcohol Use Disorder
(AUD) are addictions. Instead, it is a learned behavior. This behavior is caused by the base human need to love and be loved. Where it becomes a destructive addiction is when those desires cause the codependent to harm themselves in the pursuit of love.
The problem isn’t the love itself. It isn’t even the desire of love. It is the actions being taken in service to love. When people injure themselves in order to get love, maintain love or acquire self-esteem, that is when love turns to codependency.
Where Codependency Comes From
Codependency almost always begins in childhood. It starts with a chaotic household. Children raised with abuse or neglect come to believe they are the cause of the problems in the home. They also tend to think they have no value. Frequently the child doesn’t receive the love they need from their parents. This causes them to seek out love elsewhere. This becomes a lifelong quest for affection and value. Codependents then end up recreating the chaos of their childhood. Then they blame themselves when things don’t go the way they want and their needs continue to suffer.
Codependency and Addiction
Codependency is most prevalent in relationships where there is an addiction. This can include romantic relationships, family or friendships. These relationships are typically marked by enabling behaviors. They are called “enabling” because they enable the substance abuser to continue in their addiction.
These are some common behaviors of codependents close to substance users:
- Rescuing the user from financial or legal trouble.
- Cleaning up after the user.
- Helping the user hide their addiction from friends, family and loved ones.
- Lying to cover for the user.
- Protecting the user from the consequences of their actions.
- Allowing the user to continue using in the enabler’s presence or home.
- Agreeing with justifications made by the user for their continued substance use.
- Adopting the responsibilities of the user.
Whenever someone is doing anything to assist an addict in using, they are enabling. Likewise, when they prevent the addict from facing consequences from their addiction, they are also enabling. Though this is done out of love, it actually injures the addict. It permits the addict to continue on a path of self-destruction. Without feeling the pain of consequences, addicts rarely get better.
This pattern also injures the codependent. They become trapped in the chaos that addiction causes. In many ways, they are a willing participant to the destruction.
The Dangers of Codependency
Many people live a codependent lifestyle until the day they die. Unlike other addictions, there’s rarely legal ramifications. When there are, they usually come about because of attachment to an addict. Because they are typically so reliable, codependents are model employees. This reduces financial difficulties. As a result, there’s few factors that can provide evidence that something is wrong.
The hazards of codependency often arise only in the health of the individual. These are caused by stress. Codependents often have reduced immunity to disease, higher blood pressure, poorer sleep patterns and develop harmful habits. It’s common for codependents to eat poorly to cope with the strain. They may also overspend to assuage their negative feelings. Acting out sexually is possible. Anxiety and depression are nearly constant companions.
One of the worst problems with codependency is abuse within the relationship. This can be physical, mental, emotional or sexual. Because codependents ignore their needs, they often tolerate pain caused by their partners or family. Their desire for love is so great that they will accept it from those who treat them in a way that is decidedly unloving.
Fortunately, there’s help for anyone battling this condition.
Recovering from Codependency
The bad news about codependency is that it is a lifelong problem. As such it will require ongoing treatment and constant vigilance.
The great news about recovering from codependency is it is liberating. People in recovery from codependency get their lives back. They no longer live for others, but wholly for themselves.
Seeking out a mental health professional is always a good first step. These people provide perspective. They can help show the line between love and codependency lie.
There are also many support groups for codependency. Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and Gam-Anon are intended for those in a relationship with various addicts. CoDA
and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Help treat those who feel they’re addicted to relationships.
If possible, inpatient treatment at a recovery center can be extremely helpful. A codependent person often has their life inextricably entwined into many harmful relationships. Being able to get some distance from these can help. A strong sense of relief comes from merely being away from the people who help perpetuate this problem.