Codependency is a common but often overlooked problem that can affect all types of relationships. While supporting and seeking support from family, friends, and romantic partners is normal and healthy, allowing your entire sense of self-worth to depend on your role as a caretaker is problematic and could cause you to develop codependent relationships.
Codependency can affect anyone, and many people are unaware that they have this issue. You should understand what codependency is and why it happens so that you can recognize and address it in your own relationships.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is a learned behavior that affects how people function in their relationships. An individual with a codependency problem relies on their partner to meet all or almost all of their emotional needs. They go to great lengths to please their partner even when it requires them to enable irresponsible behavior. If someone with codependency doesn’t feel needed by their partner, they may feel useless or worthless.
In codependent relationships, the other partner often needs to be needed. The relationship can become dysfunctional on both sides, and both partners can encourage these unhealthy behaviors as the problem gets worse and worse.
Someone with codependency problems may feel such a strong need to take care of their partner that they forget to take care of themselves. In trying so hard to fix, cure, or support the other person, they completely drain their energy.
Low self-esteem is very common in people with codependency issues. They also are usually intense people-pleasers. Being disliked or rejected is a terrifying idea to people with codependency, so they avoid conflict by never saying no or disagreeing with others.
Here are some of the most common characteristics of people who struggle with codependency:
- Inflated sense of responsibility over others
- Unhealthy need to do more than their share in a relationship
- Extreme fear of being abandoned
- Intense need for approval
- Fear of asserting oneself
- Inability to identify or accept feelings
- Defensive reactions to criticism
- Lack of boundaries
The term “codependency” was originally used to describe spouses of alcohols. Over time, the term has broadened to include anyone who struggles with these issues. Although it’s common for the other partner in a codependent relationship to have an addiction, mental health problem, or other issue, codependency can affect anyone.
Codependency can also occur in any type of relationship. Romantic partnerships, friendships, and family relationships can all be codependent.
What Causes Codependent Relationships?
Codependency is a learned behavior. It develops over time, and the behaviors get stronger and more deeply ingrained the longer the unhealthy relationship dynamic continues.
There isn’t one clear cause of codependency. Many people who struggle with this problem have other emotional difficulties or mental health disorders. Family dynamics during childhood can affect people’s relationships into adulthood as well.
People in codependent relationships may have had a strained relationship with their parents when they were younger. They may have had to sacrifice their own needs to appease their parents, so they have learned to believe that their needs are unimportant. This is especially common for people whose parents had substance use disorders or other mental health disorders.
Growing up in an abusive home can contribute to codependency, too. Individuals may repress their feelings as a coping mechanism for the abuse, so they have a hard time acknowledging their own needs.
Another cause of codependency is being a caretaker for a chronically ill family member. When kids are responsible for taking care of a parent or other family member, the caregiver role may become a central part of their identity. Without this responsibility, they may have an unstable sense of self, so they cling to the caretaker identity in their relationships as an adult.
Starting the Recovery Process
It can take a long time for codependent people to realize that they need to change. When the behavior is so ingrained in their personality and sense of self, they may not realize that it is causing problems. Unfortunately, some people have to reach a very painful place before they are ready to start the recovery process.
If you’re struggling with codependency, here are some steps you can take toward recovery:
Put yourself first
You cannot recover from codependency while continuing to sacrifice your needs for others. Practice speaking up about what you want, and make sure you’re taking care of your needs.
Say what you mean
Speaking up can be tough, but it’s important to express your opinions and let people know if they’ve hurt you. Don’t avoid confrontation for the sake of sparing someone’s feelings. Ask for what you need, and take an active role in solving interpersonal problems.
Your partner, friends, and family may expect you to do anything for them, especially if the relationship dynamic has been this way for a long time. Setting boundaries and saying “no” when you can’t do something is one of the most important steps you can take toward recovering from codependency. This allows you to prioritize your time and energy and develop a healthier balance in your life.
Some codependent people feel the need to control everything in their environment, which is one of the reasons they assume so much responsibility. Accept that you can’t control everything, and stop worrying about what’s outside of your control.
It isn’t selfish to develop habits and engage in activities that improve your mental and physical health. Practicing self-care allows you to enjoy your life and offer better support to your loved ones when it’s really needed. Make a conscious effort to incorporate self-care into your daily life with hobbies, quality time with friends, exercise, or other healthy activities that improve your mental health.
All of these steps are achievable for codependent people, but recovery takes time and work. Therapy is a great tool for recovering from codependency and strengthening your relationships. When a learned behavior has been a part of your life for so long, unlearning it on your own can be difficult. Working through these issues in therapy can help you gain more insight into your feelings and behaviors and learn how to take actionable steps toward recovery.
Individual therapy and couples or family therapy can be beneficial for people with codependency problems. In individual counseling, you can get to the root of your behavior and learn how to set boundaries. In couples therapy, you and your partner can learn how to strengthen the relationship and dismantle the unhealthy habits together.
If you’re looking for a therapist in Los Angeles, reach out to Dr. Howard Samuels. Dr. Samuels is a licensed therapist with years of experience treating a wide variety of mental health and relationship problems. You don’t have to recover from codependency on your own. To connect with an experienced therapist in Los Angeles, contact Dr. Howard Samuels today.