Codependency is psychological concept that refers to people who feel extreme amounts of dependence on certain loved ones their lives, and who feel responsible for the feelings and actions of those loved ones. It doesn’t qualify as a mental health diagnosis yet can cause severe distress. It can lead to developing mental health concerns, such as anxiety. In other words, it involves sacrificing one’s personal needs to meet the needs of others. Someone who is codependent has an extreme focus outside of themselves. Their thoughts and actions revolve around other people, such as parents, spouses, or relatives.
What causes Codependency?
• It is usually rooted in childhood. Often a child grows up in a home where their emotions are ignored or punished. This emotional neglect can give the child low self-esteem and shame. They may believe their needs are not worth attending to.
• It may arise when someone is in a relationship with a person who has an addiction. The person with codependency may take on the role of a caretaker.
• It can also develop from living in an abusive household or relationship. Emotional abuse can make feel small or unimportant. Codependent behaviors can develop to counteract those feelings.
• Parents with codependency may try to live vicariously through their children. Some parents may try to protect a child from all hardships in life, others may try to control a child, so they grow up to meet the parent’s definition of success and obedience. This behavior increases the risk of codependency in children and continues into adulthood. When children are allowed to explore the world and make their own plans, they develop a sense of independence. When parents make all the decisions, children may learn to ignore their own desires. They can also learn to place others’ approval above their own needs. These effects can last for years. A codependent child may lack confidence and struggle to make decisions as an adult. They may also be unable to make any decisions of their own even as an adult without the validation and approval of their parents. An adult child may also not have an opinion of their own, mind of their own, their opinions, goals, and desires would be extremely influenced by their parents. Without help the cycle of codependency may continue from one generation to another.
Common Symptoms of Codependency:
• Low self-esteem: it may cause feelings of shame and worthlessness. A person may believe they do deserve happiness. If a person does not value them, they may try to get others to value them. The sense of “being needed” can prompt internal gratification, even if the recipient of care does not show gratitude.
• Poor boundaries: Codependent people often feel responsible for others’ happiness. They can also have a hard time saying “no” or putting their needs first. They might hide their true thoughts and feelings to avoid upsetting others.
• A need to save others: Codependent people may feel it is their duty to always protect their loved ones from all harm. If a loved one does something wrong, they will likely try to fix the situation on their behalf.
• Self-denial: A codependent person often prioritizes others well-being over their own. They may deny their own needs for rest, emotional support, and self-care. They may feel guilt or anxiety when asserting their own desires. Codependent people can feel uneasy when others offer support.
• Perfectionism: Codependent people often project as image of self-reliance and competence. It is common for people to take on more responsibilities than they can handle. When they make errors or receive criticism, they may grow insecure.
• Control issues: A codependent person may link their own self-worth to others well-being. If a loved one fails a codependent person may as if they failed themselves. This attempts to make others’ lives better by shifting control or indulging in possessive behaviors.
How to Overcome Codependency?
• Healing from codependency means rebalancing ourselves. Instead of focusing on what others need, we must consider their own needs and make them a priority. This doesn’t mean that you should never consider others’ needs or take care of them, it just means that your needs are as important as other people’s needs and that if you don’t take care of yourself, you will end up depleted, resentful, and unfulfilled.
• Healing from codependency included not only knowing what you need but asking for it. We can’t continue to act like victims or martyrs. We must learn to communicate assertively, stand up for ourselves, set boundaries to protect ourselves from mistreated and create relationships where we give as receive.
• Get to know yourself. Often codependent thinking about and trying to take care of or appease others they lose touch with themselves. So, we need to intentionally explore who we are- what we like, what’s important to us, what our goals are so forth.
• Self-forgiveness and self-compassion. Codependents tend to be hard on themselves, self-critical, and unforgiving. This is both unwanted and unhelpful. Instead, we should offer ourselves kindness, acceptance, and support and treat ourselves as we would to a dear friend. Self-Compassion is another way to value and care for us and it’s been shown to increase resilience and motivation while decreasing stress.
• A therapist can help reduce codependent behaviors and develop healthier relationships.