It’s a word used to describe unhealthy relationships time and time again, but few truly understand what codependency is and how it impacts those involved. Where does codependency come from? It’s not something only those in romantic relationships experience. Friendships and familial relationships can fall into this category as well.
To learn how to stop being codependent, you must first understand what it is and determine if your relationships fall into this category. A relationship may be toxic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s codependent. Learn to recognize its signs and how to end codependency so you can create a healthier relationship with yourself and others.
What Is Codependency
Codependency, or what is sometimes called a relationship addiction, is a learned emotional and behavioral condition that prevents people from forming healthy relationships. While it’s natural for people to rely on each other for support, those in codependent relationships have an imbalanced relationship where one relies on the other financially, physically, or emotionally.
In every codependent relationship, there is a giver who offers the support and a taker. The giver often measures their worth by their ability to support the taker. Problems will usually arise if the taker starts to make decisions that will get them to a place where they no longer need to rely on the giver. The giver will begin to feel inadequate and abandoned.
A taker in a codependent relationship will often suffer from an underlying issue such as a mental health disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, health condition, or victim of abuse. Both the giver and the taker won’t end a codependent relationship as they fear what will happen to the other person.
Theresa Ford, Ph.D., LPC of Creative Counseling and Coaching Services, LLC gives a take on codependency. “One way to describe codependency is if your partner has a headache and you take an aspirin. The two individuals are emotionally fused so that they can’t tell where one ends and the other one begins.”
Where Does Codependency Come From
Codependency is a learned condition that often develops in childhood. When a kid is raised in a home where their emotions are disregarded or punished, it can lead to low self-confidence and shame. When this is combined with taking on adult responsibilities at a young age, codependent behaviors begin to form.
Carrie C. Mead, LCPC describes it best. “Codependent tendencies often develop as a result of dysfunction within the childhood home whereby the child had to care for the parent because a parent was chronically ill or addicted to drugs, for example.” In a society where the conversation has only just begun to explore the concept of generational trauma, it’s important to keep in mind how our childhoods are so formative.
Mead continues with a solid example. “The child then internalizes the idea that their parents cannot function without them and the child develops some pride in being able to care for someone. As an adult, this person now looks to ‘rescue’ their partners. They will be drawn to people who they can help such as an addict. Now each partner depends, in an unhealthy and severe way, on each other. One person is ‘sick’ and one person is the ‘savior’.” Sound like anyone familiar?
What Does Codependency Look Like
To avoid codependent people or determine if you’re stuck in a codependent relationship, you must first know what signs to look for. There are plenty of ways to recognize these behaviors. Check to see if any of this sounds familiar.
Signs of a codependent person:
- a constant need for approval
- self-worth measured by what others think about them
- a habit of dodging conflict
- tendency to apologize or accept blame to keep the peace
- extreme interest in the routine or behaviors of others
- an inclination to ignore the needs of others
- makes or manages decisions for others
- excessive caretaking to the point of being controlling
- take on too much to earn praise or relieve a burden from others
- taking on things they don’t want to so others are happy
- having overwhelming fears of rejection or abandonment
- feeling guilty or anxious when they do something for themself
- idealizing others to extreme measures
- regularly trying to rescue those incapable of taking care of themself
Signs you’re in a codependent relationship:
- difficulties recognizing, respecting, and reinforcing boundaries
- inability to make decisions in a relationship
- having poor self-esteem
- having an excessive sense of responsibility for others
- you walk on eggshells to avoid conflict
- feel obligated to check in with the other person regularly
- you can’t make decisions or go anywhere without feeling like you must request permission
- apologizing when you shouldn’t
- putting them on a pedestal
- you go above and beyond for them even if you don’t want to or you’re uncomfortable
- losing your sense of self
- you can’t seem to find time for yourself
Here is a common example of codependency in relationships. The giver does everything for an adult who should be able to care for themself. They may be suffering from a weight problem, health condition, mental illness, alcoholism, or drug addiction which the giver facilitates. In this case, the giver finds purpose in being an enabler.
An example of codependency in a romantic relationship is the giver neglecting self-care, their job, or friendships to be with their partner. The giver invests all of their time and energy into their relationship, leaving nothing left for themselves. They may be manipulated by the taker in the relationship, likely unintentionally.
How To Stop Being Codependent
Once you’ve realized you’re in a codependent relationship, there are various steps you can take to break the cycle. One of the first things you should do is learn what a healthy relationship should look like. Signs include trust, respect, support, honesty, and equality. You should feel comfortable expressing your emotions, showing affection, and maintaining your individuality.
Take back your independence by getting back into your interests or taking on new hobbies that will widen your circle of friends. Take time for yourself, even if it means spending a few hours walking around a shopping mall or seeing a movie. Self-care is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship. Cynthia Halow, the founder of Personality Max, recommends that you should, “find a hobby or interest.” A lot of couples avoid this but Halow points out that, “doing something that you enjoy and take your time will allow you to explore, find yourself, and make your own decisions.” We couldn’t agree more.
Get Back In Touch
Often being in a codependent relationship puts other relationships on the backburner. When you’re trying to get back your independence, it’s essential to reconnect with the important people in your life. These can be old friends, coworkers, family members, or anyone you’ve lost touch with. Halow suggests that you should, “engage in activities that don’t involve your partner.” What does this mean? She explains, “You should also do things alone like, go to the museum, see a movie, or go for a walk daily. Basically, just participate in activities regularly that don’t involve your relationship or partner.” Even taking yourself on a self-date to the movies can be a great step forward.
Learn To Set Boundaries
Boundaries are an essential part of any healthy relationship. To achieve them, one must encourage honest and open communication. Not only do you need to verbalize your needs, but you need to listen to their needs as well.
Being in a healthy relationship is more than just carving out some time for yourself. You need to be selfish at times and turn down the things you don’t want to do, even if it makes someone unhappy. When asked what this might mean, Halow recommended that you should, “stop doing things to your detriment. Put yourself first, be selfish. When something doesn’t make you happy, turn it down or don’t do it. Do more things that make you happy and don’t hurt you or anyone else.” Time to cancel that night out and take more naps!
Often overcoming codependency requires therapy. Depending on your specific circumstances, you may want to look into group therapy, family therapy, relationship therapy, or cognitive therapy. Therapy will be different for those who are the giver and those who are the taker in the relationship. All parties will likely require individual therapy in addition to joint therapy sessions to address specific issues in the relationship.