Table of Contents
What is Codependency?
Codependency is a term used to describe behavior in relationships where one repeatedly prioritizes the needs of others over theirs.2 In a codependent relationship dynamic, there is usually a giver and a taker. The giver constantly feels like they need to be there for the other person. Meanwhile, the taker may not think the other person has to do those things for them.
The term codependent refers to the giver, who often acts so selflessly that they ignore their needs. Individuals in codependent relationships often lose themselves. They may allow their needs to take a back seat as they seek to meet the needs of others. Doing this overtime can make these individuals frustrated and resentful of those they care for due to a lack of reciprocity.
Codependency does not only occur in romantic relationships but can also manifest in one’s interactions with close friends and family members.
What Behaviors Enable Codependency?
Codependency is not something absolute. It may be challenging to tell when an individual has the trait. Still, some characteristics may suggest codependent behavior.1
Who is at Risk of Being Codependent?
Generally, women are more likely to be codependent than men. The gender dynamic aside, anyone who has experienced the following may become codependent:
Studies also indicate that codependency is common in individuals taking care of those struggling with substance abuse5. A 2016 study found that wives of men addicted to substance abuse scored higher on codependency than their counterparts.3
The behavior also manifests in those taking care of sick parents. Caregiving professions such as nursing can also influence these behavioral patterns. This is because practitioners have to prioritize the needs of parents over their own. Codependency resulting from environmental factors could come along with issues such as low self-esteem.
People with poor communication skills or those with trouble making decisions or establishing boundaries may also show codependent behavior. Being less assertive could make one vulnerable to manipulative individuals.
Signs of Codependency
Codependency is not a preserve of romantic relationships. Codependency can also occur in a family, social and work life. Below are various pointers to codependency in multiple categories;
How to Not be Codependent
It is possible for those affected to overcome codependency by themselves. Learning what codependency entails and the harm it can cause an individual can inspire change. Below are some of the actions that could help in this fight.
Having an Idea of What a Healthy Relationship Looks Like
Knowing what a healthy relationship should feel like is crucial in this journey. This is because it gives the individuals an ideal to aspire to. Knowing the signs of a healthy relationship enables codependent individuals to change their behaviors and take up these healthy ones.
For instance, one might consider being honest and open about their feelings. Instead of trying to be accommodating and going out of their way even when it is against what they truly feel.
A healthy relationship also involves maintaining independence and not defining oneself by what you do for others or their reactions. Healthy relationships also have a semblance of reciprocity and do not have one individual sacrificing for the needs of others.
Codependency includes a failure to impose boundaries in their interactions with others. Relationships can only be healthy when there is a clear distinction between boundaries and what is acceptable and what isn’t.
Declining requests you are uncomfortable fulfilling is one way to enforce these boundaries. While it might feel awkward initially, being direct in your communication leaves little room for misinterpretation. Meaning that people will be less inclined to take advantage of your pleasing, peacekeeping, or diplomatic nature.
Mutual respect should come with practical and diplomatic communication. Being passive often leads to codependency. Individuals’ intentions are subordinate to favor group interests in critical matters such as time allocation.
The challenge could make one less productive, among other problems such as:
A common saying is that one cannot pour from an empty cup. Individuals should fulfill their needs and attend to what is important to them before taking up the issues of others. Helping others is often viewed as kind and acceptable.
However, it can be detrimental at the expense of one’s needs. Sometimes personal needs may not be that clear to someone in a codependent relationship. This is because they may derive their identity from serving the needs of others.
A codependent individual in such a situation can begin the self-care journey by simply doing what makes them happy. They may consider trying to figure out the kind of life they want to live and work towards that.
Some ways to do this include:
Being Less Self-Judgmental
Judging oneself takes away from the ability to be self-compassionate. It is, therefore, advisable that individuals forgive themselves when things do not go according to plan or when they have made a mistake, or are struggling with a particular issue. Acknowledging and approving painful experiences and not beating oneself is key to maintaining healthy self-esteem.
The following tips can help an individual to have a more positive self-image:
Worrying Less About What Other People Think
Ultimately, we are not entirely responsible for what others think of us. Individuals in codependent relationships should therefore think less of other people’s perceptions. They should instead trust people to find ways to help themselves out of problems. Worrying less about people’s perceptions makes it easier, to tell the truth, even when it might go against their wishes.
One can worry less about judgment in society since:
Connecting with Yourself Before Others
Codependent people sometimes go to extreme lengths to service the needs of others. They may do this even when said people have not asked for their help. This codependent person may resort to this behavior due to paranoia that not rendering such assistance leaves the person helpless.
However, this is a significant burden, and focusing on the worst-case scenario only cements codependent traits. Therefore, codependent people must acknowledge that those around them can survive without such help and instead focus this energy on connecting with themselves.
Not Being Attached to the Outcome
The need to control the outcomes of relationships can be an obsessive trait. This trait may deny one the chance to enjoy fulfilling interactions with those around them. Codependent people seeking to do no wrong and preserve relationships should desist from such efforts. They should instead work on being themselves when interacting with others.
At one point or another, we are all bound to disappoint someone whose opinion matters in our lives. Mostly, these are things that one can improve on. Thus it is prudent to enjoy the relationships as they are by being true to self. Rather than being too cautious and worrying that the relationship will end if we behave a certain way.
Spending Time Alone
You are most likely to portray codependent behavior when in the company of others. If possible, it is wise to take a step back and spend some time alone.
Spending some time by yourself will give your time to:
Spending time alone could generate the following benefits:
Spending some time could also mean permanently breaking off from social dynamics, such as romantic relationships that make you feel overwhelmed.
Support for Codependency
Sometimes, personal efforts may prove inadequate to help one pull away from codependent behavioral patterns. Professional intervention may come in handy in assisting the codependent individual in stopping the trait. Establishing healthy patterns of interaction is paramount. Below are some ways to achieve this desirable outcome.
Group therapy is an intervention that involves one therapist working with several people simultaneously. Joining a support group of peers who face the same problem can influence behavioral change. This is because these individuals hold each other accountable with the help of a trained professional.
Group therapy can help one learn to express their feelings more openly, become self-aware and build self-esteem. The safe space accorded to individuals is an excellent opportunity to learn from peers and professionals such as therapists. One can also develop social skills, such as effective communication, besides learning how to manage unwanted thoughts better. Skills such as being assertive can also improve in support groups.
Suppose codependency is a result of a dysfunctional family. In that case, this therapy can help identify the happenings that trigger the behavior. As well as equip the family with tools to improve their interactions.
Family therapy can be beneficial when members are keen to delve into and tackle issues they do not usually discuss. It might also inspire the dependent individual to change their behavior, thus eliminating the need for others to become codependent.
Getting the best out of family therapy includes techniques such as:
The approach focuses mainly on skills and psychological education. Therapists can help families better understand certain members and resolve issues such as poor communication.
The technique focuses on problem-solving. The therapist can help members to develop healthy ways of communicating and handling problems in a family. The emotional insights collected using the method can lead to a better understanding of one another and more support in conflicts.
This method can be most effective in families with significant boundaries and power dynamics. The approach aims to establish routines that improve cooperation and mutual respect.
This therapy seeks to tackle the thought patterns that lead to codependency. For instance, thoughts that trigger fear of abandonment may make one go to extreme lengths to maintain relationships. This even includes relationships that are detrimental to their well-being. Cognitive therapy can help one process these thoughts without resulting in behaviors that negatively affect their well-being.
By getting in touch with one’s thoughts and emotions through the help of cognitive therapy, a codependent person will be able to recognize irrational patterns and deal with them.
Help with Codependency
Codependency is placing someone else’s needs before yours. It may be natural to support people close to you, such as family members and spouses. It is paramount to set clear boundaries.
Focusing on others’ needs may not give one the fulfillment they need in life. Supporting others may be more accessible when one prioritizes self-care. Many people have trouble recognizing their needs. Some individuals may also fail to ask for help when needed or refuse to accept their offers.
Healthy Life Recovery offers a refuge for those dealing with addictions by providing personalized care. The team of addiction treatment professionals at our San Diego Outpatient Rehab Center is compassionate and offers a variety of therapies to help you recover from codependency. We help people struggling with codependency with evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and family therapy.
Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Sanjai Thankachen
Dr. Sanjai Thankachen graduated from Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medicine in 2000. He completed his residency in psychiatry in 2008 at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York. Dr. Thankachen is currently working with Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists in an outpatient practice, as well as working at multiple in-patient psychiatric and medical units bringing his patients the most advanced healthcare treatment in psychiatry. Dr. Thankachen sees patients with an array of disorders, including depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, anxiety, and dementia-related problems.
Edited for Clinical Accuracy By:
Sean Leonard is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. He received his master’s degree in adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner from Walden University and a second postmaster specialty in psychiatry mental health nurse practitioner from Rocky Mountain University. Sean has experience working in various diverse settings, including an outpatient clinic, inpatient detox and rehab, psychiatric emergency, and dual diagnosis programs. His specialty areas include substance abuse, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, ADHD, and OCD.
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