Codependency 101

Do you feel trapped in your relationship?

Do you ever wonder if your relationships are healthy? Whether they are with family, friends or more intimate, if you feel like your relationship is one sided and not mutually satisfying, perhaps codependency is causing difficulty for you.

So what is it? Codependency can also be known as a relationship addiction, because when it happens, it appears in the form of a once-sided, abusive and/or emotionally destructive relationship. It happens when one person relies on another for almost all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. One quick check in would be to ask yourself the following questions:

Do you expend all of your energy in meeting your partner’s needs?

Do you feel trapped in your relationship?

Are you the one that is constantly making sacrifices in your relationship?

If you answered yes to all of these, then you may be in a codependent relationship. When someone remains in a relationship like this, the symptoms continue to spiral and get worse until you are able to safely get away from that relationship or identify your true feelings.

Here are some symptoms to watch for:

Low self-esteem. Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. Guilt, shame and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.

People-pleasing. It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.

Poor boundaries. Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. When you have blurry or weak boundaries, you feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else.

Reactivity. A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.

Caretaking. Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves.

Control. Control helps codependents feel safe and secure, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up or hold feelings in place. Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.

Dysfunctional communication. Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear.

Obsessions. Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears. They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”

Dependency. Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long.

Denial. One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem. Codependents also deny their feelings and needs.

Problems with intimacy. By this I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem. I’m talking about being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy.

Painful emotions. Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.

Symptoms of codependency can be reversed, if you ever feel like you are stuck in a codependent relationship please seek out guidance and support. Being codependent is something that digs in very deep and becomes like an addiction, making it very difficult to understand and change on your own. If you don’t have a friend or family member to ask for help, please contact a local support group or seek counseling.

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