What is Codependency?

The term codependency is used generally to apply to someone who has a pattern of dysfunctional relationships involving focusing on the needs and behaviours of others more than your own.  I see these types of issues a lot in my work and have found that generally these codependent traits will be reflected in two key areas of a clients life: The relationship they have with themselves and their relationships with others.  In this post, I’d like to explore how codependent behaviours are developed, some of the common traits of codependency and how you can start working on these often unconscious patterns.

So how can codependency develop?

Imagine a child growing up in an alcoholic household.  When they wake up in the morning how do they feel, what are they thinking about?

They go to school, they have a great time, they come back home full of energy from the day, but as soon as they get to the front door, what do they do?

They curb their energy and enthusiasm and open the door in trepidation.  They know through past experience that at times when they are excited or full of energy, they’ve made mistakes and knocked things over which resulted in what kind of result from the parents?

These children learn quickly to focus on the needs of others before their own as a means of survival and so unconsciously bring this with them into adulthood.

They may also be very good at something we call the ‘chameleon effect’ whereby they are so good at reading people they unconsciously change themselves to please whatever group they seem to be with at the time.  They lose sight of who they are, what they want what they need.

So for clarity some common traits of codependency are:

  • Addictions or Obsessions
  • Painful emotions such as shame, anxiety, fear, guilt, depression
  • Low self esteem, not particular liking yourself, thinking you’re not good enough or overly concerned about what people think of you
  • Taking care of people to an extreme
  • Perfectionism or fear of making mistakes
  • Pleasing others so much so you sacrifice your own needs and wants
  • Poor boundaries, so for example boundaries that are too weak that there’s not enough separateness between you and the other person, or perhaps boundaries that are too rigid that stop you from being close or perhaps boundaries that flit between the two extremes, you may have some difficulty in saying, ‘no’ to people
  • Being very reactive rather than considering others opinions rationally
  • You may be afraid of being alone or even afraid of being in a relationship because you find intimacy uncomfortable.  Perhaps you’re trapped in an abusive relationship and feel unable to leave.
  • Denying your reality is also a symptom of codependency.  For example denying how you feel, what you need, what you want, perhaps even denying a painful reality of a relationship
  • Controlling tendencies, managing and controlling people in your life, telling them what to do or perhaps manipulating others to feel or behave like you want so for example people pleasing can be seen as form or manipulation

People can feel these kinds of feelings issues to a varying degree.  So if you resonate with any of these traits or symptoms there are solutions and I recommend talking to a professional if necessary.