When we speak about co-dependency, we almost automatically assume that we are talking about someone who is in a relationship with an alcoholic or a drug addict. The term conjures up the image of someone constantly caring for another person who is completely wrapped up in their addiction, but that is not necessarily the case.
What Is Co-Dependency?
When we consider what co-dependency actually means, we realise that someone can be in a co-dependent relationship without their partner being an addict, or having any particular issues of their own. In fact, the co-dependent person may end up causing their partner to behave in a more selfish manner because of their enabling behaviour.
Co-dependency is defined as ‘excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction who requires support.’ So although co-dependency does often involve a partner with an addiction, it does not always. Looking at the characteristics of co-dependency, we can see how a co-dependent relationship could occur without addiction being part of it.
What Does Co-Dependency Look Like?
Someone who is suffering from co-dependency will show characteristic behaviours and thought patterns, which can include:
- Low self-esteem: a co-dependent person will often think less of themselves compared to others, feeling as though they are inadequate, and not worthy of being loved. They may also be a bit of a perfectionist – if things are perfect, at least on the outside, then that gives them some sense of worth. Of course, if they do not manage to do things perfectly, then that will make them feel even worse about themselves.
- Inability to say ‘no’: the co-dependent personality wants to please others at all costs, so they will find it extremely difficult to refuse any request, even if it causes great inconvenience and/or stress to them. Saying ‘no’ to someone will actually cause them anxiety, and they will worry that the person making the request will think less of them if they do say no.
- Mixed up emotional boundaries: boundaries are important, but for a co-dependent person they are often unclear. Co-dependents may feel responsible for someone else’s feelings, feeling guilty that they cannot ‘make’ them feel better or be happy, and they may hold someone else responsible for their own feelings, ‘needing’ that other person to be there for their own happiness. On the opposite side of this, some co-dependent people have unnecessarily rigid boundaries, closing themselves off from others and making it very difficult for other people to become close.
A consequence of this can be overreacting to things that others say or do. The poor emotional boundaries mean that co-dependents can become very defensive when someone expresses an opinion they disagree with. Rather than realising it is simply that other person’s opinion, they take things personally.
- Feeling the need to help: a co-dependent person will tend to put the needs of others before their own. They ‘want to help’, and will often feel rejected or unwanted, usually irrationally so, if their help is not needed.
- Poor communication: a co-dependent will rarely tell the truth about how they are feeling. They will say they are ‘fine’, when they are not, or will pretend that something is okay when really they do not like it at all. This stems from their fear that they might upset people, particularly those who are important to them.
- Dependency on others: co-dependent people have an almost overwhelming need to be liked. The approval of others is very important to them, partly because they have such a low opinion of their own worth. They are constantly afraid that other people, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, do not like them, and will go out of their way to try and make other people like them. Some co-dependent people ‘need’ to be in a relationship to feel good about themselves, which can result in them becoming trapped in abusive relationships as they simply cannot bring themselves to end the relationship and walk away.
Most of us will experience one, or more, of these for ourselves at some point in our lives. But for a co-dependent, he or she will experience some, or possibly even all, of these symptoms all the time. Unfortunately, the affected person will often not recognise that their behaviour is unhealthy and damaging and is likely to deny that they have a problem. Living with these feelings on a daily basis is incredibly tiring, and co-dependents will often develop feelings of anger or despair; many people suffering from co-dependency become clinically depressed.
How Can Co-Dependents Get Help?
Co-dependency is very similar to addiction in that the co-dependent person needs help and support in order to change their habits and behaviours. At Addiction Helper, we can advise you on where to go next, and what sort of treatment would be suitable. For more information, please call us today.
Sources: (PsychCentral) Symptoms of Codependency