The Codependency Trap
Codependency is a learned behavioral condition in a relationship where one person is psychologically dependent on and enables another person’s addiction or poor mental health.
Codependency is in many contexts, often understating its effects it can have on someone’s life and wellbeing. Codependency is most often found in addiction because relationships with alcoholics were ground zero for the first identified cases of codependency. Today, codependency begins with a dysfunctional family but presents in several different relationships.
How Does Codependency Develop?
Unlike addiction, there is no genetic marker for codependency. It is passed down from one generation to another through learned behaviors. Dysfunctional familial patterns dictate the survival of codependency from parent to child and so on.
Most people would agree that every family has its issues, and that is true, but there are certain dysfunctions in families that create an environment ripe for codependency.
- Don’t Talk About It
- This dysfunction spreads throughout the entire family as no one acknowledges that a problem exists. Whether the problem is an addiction, abuse, mental health issues, or physical illness, the family does not discuss it and buries all acknowledgment of its existence.
- Build Walls
- It is not natural, nor is it at all healthy to ignore the presence of trauma or problem. The truth always tries to come to the surface, so the family members have to adjust to keep the issue buried. This leads to families that don’t talk, don’t let anyone else in, and certainly never confront any issues from fear that the issue will come up.
- Repress and Redirect
- As new family members grow up in the dysfunctional family, they have emotionally unavailable parents. Since children rely on their parents being available to them, they naturally do whatever they can to keep their parents close and happy. This is the making of a codependent person as the children begin to disregard their feelings and focus on the needs of their emotionally unavailable parents.
- When the child grows up after spending years repressing his feelings and needs, the same pattern continues with adult relationships. Resentment is only natural, but most codependent adults who grew up in a dysfunction family have no conscious awareness of it, which flows int their relationship. The grown child is now emotionally unavailable to his partner and kids, and the pattern of codependency in a dysfunctional family repeats itself from one generation to another.
Codependent people become adults with no identity or self-esteem because they’ve spent a lifetime seeking acceptance from their emotionally unavailable parents. This has taught them that their happiness can only come from catering to, and pleasing outside sources, so when they get into a relationship with someone who has his or her own set of issues, the codependent sees a huge opportunity for fulfillment.
Characteristics of a Codependent
Codependency is not a condition exclusive to loved ones of addicts and alcoholics. Codependent people can be found in all kinds of relationships, including
- romantic relationships
Codependents present a complicated group of behavioral patterns that stem from a combination of early childhood trauma and experiences they create as a result.
There is no exact standard for codependent people. Some may come across as rigid and regimented and others are easily confused and disheveled.
Often, codependents exhibit a complete spectrum of emotions and behaviors, prompted by an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the feelings of others. Some examples of codependent behaviors include:
- low self-worth
- feel responsible for other people’s actions and behaviors
- saying things they do not mean
- try to solve others’ problems, even when their help is unwanted
- obsession over other’s deeds to the point of disrupting their own lives
- try to control other people and events through manipulation
- minimize or ignore problems
- look for their happiness in other people
- stay in dysfunctional or abusive relationships
- don’t hold boundaries
- scared of their own and other people’s anger
There is a reason codependency first emerged in relationships with alcoholics at a time when we knew much less about how to treat addiction.
Considering all illnesses that can affect a family, addiction may be the most insidious and dangerous.
Virtually every one of the above characteristics can easily describe the relationship millions of people have with their addicted loved one.
Codependency is Dangerous
Codependency is not just an unhealthy relationship with a troubled person; it is dangerous to you and to whomever with whom you have a codependent relationship.
One of the most dangerous effects of codependency is that the codependent person loses sight of his or her health and safety. When a codependent person spends so much time and energy focused on the subject of his or her codependency, there is no time for the codependent person to care for him or herself.
The longer the pattern if codependency continues, the more a person becomes lost in the other half of the relationship. This can be dangerous, and even deadly for both parties.
Codependency disallows independence for either party in the relationship, so whether it is at the hands of physical abuse, addiction, or a child who never grew up because codependent parents never let him, the condition of codependency robs people of their independence and the natural progression of life.
Are You Codependent?
Codependent people are not all the same, and the severity of codependency varies depending on the individual, his or her experiences, trauma, and awareness of codependency.
Codependency can be quite subtle for some people while the signs are glaring for others.
- Do you avoid confrontation or arguments at all costs?
- Do have difficulty adjusting to change at home or work
- Do you believe that chaos would ensue without your attention and help?
- Do you frequently say there aren’t enough hours in a day?
- Do you fail to take time for yourself?
- Are you unsure of who you are?
- Are you afraid to “be yourself” around others?
- Do you feel embarrassed by the behaviors of those around you?
- Are you staying in a relationship with an addict or abusive person?
A “yes” response to several or all of the above questions is an indicator of codependency, and you should seek some help.
Since codependency is usually the result of deep-rooted childhood experiences and traumas, psychotherapy that can help you access your childhood is the most effective approach. There are other resources such as Codependents Anonymous (CoDA).
If you need help with codependency, personal therapy is a great place to start the journey of uncovering your childhood patterns, family dynamic, and how those things have affected your thoughts and behaviors in life.
There is a better way of life that allows you to walk away from unhealthy relationships, say “no” when you mean no, take time for yourself, and find your happiness from within.