Codependance at first glance sounds like a wonderful state for a relationship. You are one with each other. You depend on each other. Doesn’t that sound great? There is a fine line between, “this is good” and “this is necessary for my survival” or “I will let you trample over my boundaries” or “do what you will to me”.
Codependency involves a habitual system of thinking, feeling, and behaving toward ourselves and others that can cause pain. These habits can lead us into, or keep us in, destructive relationships that don’t work. These behaviors can prevent us from finding peace and happiness with the most important person in our lives… ourselves.
Codependency in relationships is when one partner places the needs of the other before their own. It goes beyond being nice all the time. The codependent puts their own needs, feelings and desires in the background. They worry incessantly about their partners needs to the point where there is no room for expression of their own. Codependent people don’t live their lives to make themselves happy. Instead, they live according the needs of their partners without taking any time to figure out what they need and express those needs.
Over time, a codependent person actually FORGETS what her or his needs, desires, feelings about things even are! In one cartoon which captures this dynamic, the husband and wife are looking at each other over their menus in a restaurant. The husband says to the wife, “I forget, which one of us doesn’t like fish?”
If the person one is catering to is a controlling person it can become almost like a form of domestic violence. The more one gives, the more the partner takes to the point that one virtually ceases to be a separate person. Eventually, resentment and unhappiness take root in the relationship. Their partner has no idea there is a problem. To them, everything is going great!
Many codependent people come from homes where their emotional needs were not met. Their parents were not able to provide the attention, warmth and responsiveness which children need in order to feel that their needs count. The children grow up feeling that their needs do NOT matter and are unimportant. The next worst thing about being codependent is we pass it on to our children, and in them, our symptoms are hugely magnified.
As children we try and try to get the response we need from our parents until we give up completely. In turn, we remain drawn to that same sort of familiar person, someone emotionally unavailable whom we can try to get love from and whom we can try to change. The need to re-play that childhood drama and TRY, TRY, TRY to achieve a different ending is so intense, that it determines the type of person the codependent is drawn to!
Codependents are addicted to emotional pain and to unhealthy relationship with partners that reject them, or abuse them physically or psychologically. Their relationships often become unbearable before they are even aware of it. Rather than working through the pain, codependents remain in denial becoming more entrenched with the dream of how the relationship COULD be, rather than what it really is.
The following are characteristics of codependent persons. Not all codependents have all of these symptoms, but there may be symbiotic parallels between partners within a relationship.
Care taking. the codependent individual feels responsible for other people. She feels anxious and even guilty when another has a problem. She feels compelled to help that person solve their problem. At the same time, the codependent feels slighted that others won’t help her out when she needs help. The codependent is her own worst enemy. She may have difficulty knowing and expressing her own feelings – and yet has sensitivity toward others feelings.
Guilt. They blame themselves for everything. Codependents also experience discomfort when they are praised. They feel guilty when they stand up for themselves. They have been victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, abandonment, neglect, and/or alcoholism. They feel like victims, carry lots of guilt and shame.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They lose sleep over the silliest things, they check up on others trying to catch people in the act. They search compulsively for answers they never find and they focus on other’s problems and outside themselves in their own problems. They are often compulsive spenders.
Controlling Behaviors. Codependents try to control events and people through, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving, manipulation, or domination. They are afraid to let people be who they are or let events happen naturally. They have to control everything and get frustrated and angry when they cannot. They feel controlled by others.
Denial. The codependent ignores problems or pretend they do not exist. He pretends things are not as bad as they are; he tells himself it will get better; he stays busy to avoid thinking about things; he gets confused. Many are workaholics. They lie to themselves and others to the point that they believe their own lies. And most of all, codependents will leave a healthy situation (by lying to themselves that it was an unhealthy situation) and get back into an unhealthy situation. Many codependents never leave an unhealthy situation/relationship. They prefer living in a loveless relationship because deep inside (often beneath consciousness) they feel unworthy of love.
Dependency. Codependents do not feel happy or content with themselves. They look to others to supply them their happiness or their needs. They are threatened by the loss of anything or any person that provides them with happiness. They did not feel loved by their parents. They need people more than they want them; their lives revolve around someone else’s life; they tolerate abuse.
Poor Communication Skills. Codependents blame, shame, threaten, coerce, beg, bribe, and advise others. They don’t mean what they say and don’t say what they mean. They say everything or nothing is their fault. They believe their opinions do not matter and have difficulties asserting their rights or expressing honest emotions, openly and appropriately. They apologize for bothering people or asserting their needs.
Poor Boundaries. Codependents say they won’t tolerate something from anyone, and then engage themselves in exactly that. Then they gradually increase their tolerance levels till they can tolerate most anything others do to them. They allow others to hurt them, over and over and over again. They stay in bad relationships for all the wrong reasons: to fix the other; for the kids (like kids need to grow up in a loveless relationship); because things will get better; and worst of all: because they feel they deserve to live in hell.
Lack of Trust. Codependents do not trust themselves, their feelings, their decisions, or other people. And then, right out of the blue, they’ll trust someone who is totally untrustworthy.
Perfectionism. Codependents set inordinate expectations for themselves, thinking that if they succeed they will gain worth. Because what others do is a reflection of themselves, Codependents also expect a lot of others.
From Bad to Worse
If the codependent does not get help, the symptoms above just get worse. The codependent becomes lethargic and withdraws and isolates themselves. They neglect the people who depend on them, mostly, their children.
How do codependents get this way?
All of these behaviors are “learned.” They can be unlearned. The codependent, must DO something to initiate healing. It won’t come from outside. It just doesn’t happen. If nothing changes, nothing changes.
The first and most important thing for a codependent to learn is that happiness comes from within. A good relationship is good, not because of the person we love, but because of the person we are. One person does not a relationship make.
The codependent must sometimes “fire” the people in their lives. If they are not willing to work through their issues, then we have to “fire” them and move on ourselves. But we must keep in mind that this is about us, not them. In order to recover, it means we must learn to take responsibility for our own issues, feelings, actions, behaviors, and our life.
Therapy, talking to fellow codependents, and reading and just plain being aware of feelings and thoughts will ultimately set the codependent free from self-defeating patterns. Letting go of caretaking and all the energy expended in that fulltime effort frees up our energies to more constructive things.
Make recovery a first priority. Like all addictions, co-dependency is insidious; he may recognize himself in the symptoms, but then deny their importance, or deny that they apply to him. He decides to change, and then time after time, find himself doing the same old things. Making recovery a first priority means outlining destructive behaviors, finding alternative behaviors, and then implementing them! It mean challenging himself and then changing!
Practice daily meditation, reflecting on nature, watching the sunrise or sunset, playing music and experiencing its effects on the body, praying to a higher power, working in the garden…any activity which is serene and focuses on a source of nurturance outside of the brain.
Stop managing and controlling others. This is a big challenge, but an important one. She must stop telling the other what to do, how to live, what is wrong – or right! – with him or her. Stop intervening, helping, advising, trying to make things better, trying to fix it, trying to force a solution. She must allow another person to make his or her own decisions, for right or for wrong and then let them live their own life. This includes taking responsibility for their own mistakes, their future, their unhappiness, their issues and their own growth.
Cultivate whatever he needs to develop as an individual. In facing himself, he may see the need to get in touch with anger, grieve what was lost or contact his inner life. He needs to sit still WITH HIMSELF and find out what he needs to do, needs to be, what he need to address to continue with his development.
Become “selfish.” She needs to practice putting herself first. She needs to make sure her basic needs are met before giving away time, energy, money, and other resources. When she is adequately supplied, then and only then will she have the right “stuff” to give to someone else.
Begin to feel that she is worthy to have all of what life has to offer. Most people, will say “of course I think I am worthy!” But if one looks at their lives, one may see a pattern that states otherwise. She is unhappy at work, underemployed, bored or otherwise unhappy. Perhaps she doesn’t take care of her body, and fails to consult doctors when she needs to. Or she overworks, and fails to give herself enough rest. One way to know the areas in one’s life in which we have low self-esteem is to look at the places in one’s life which don’t work! What do we complain about? What needs fixing?
Recovery from co-dependency is based on increased self-esteem which can be gained by increased self-knowledge, strong and weak points, with full acceptance of oneself. There is a basic self-love, which one carefully nurtures and expand. One get in touch with one’s feelings and attitudes about every aspect of one’s personality and begin to cherish every aspect of oneself: personality, appearance, beliefs and values, interests and accomplishments. Validate, rather than search within a relationship to give one a sense of self-worth.
Learn to accept others as they are, without trying to change them. Appreciate that you are safe because your standards are higher; become open and trusting, but only with APPROPRIATE people. Enforce higher criteria and standards in relationships. Instead of hanging on to a relationship for dear life, ask, “Is this relationship good for me? Does it allow me to grow into all I am capable of being?” If the answer is no, then the relationship is destructive. Let go of it without becoming terrified or unduly depressed. Find a supportive circle of friends with healthy interests to help through the crisis.
One must come to realize that for a relationship to work, it must be between partners who share similar values, interests, and goals, and who each have the capacity for intimacy.
One will find that she is worthy of the best that life has to offer, and knows that with help, can find a way to achieve that!
Healing is not only possible, but an exhilarating journey. With each step back there is another day forward. It’s a roller coaster ride, but it is worth it.