What Is a Codependent Relationship? Part 1

Posted by on 05 24 14 in Love Addiction News | Comments Off on What Is a Codependent Relationship? Part 1

This is the first in a two-part series.

Before defining codependent relationships and helping you to discern if your relationship shows signs of unhealthy dependence or codependency, it is necessary to look at codependency as a whole. What is codependency and what are the characteristics of people who might be labeled codependent?

The category is admittedly so broad that it would be possible to classify nearly everyone as manifesting some degree of codependency. This is simply the nature of being in community with other people and bringing our sometimes less-than-healthy personality traits or the dysfunctional patterns that have become grooved as a result of a bad upbringing, life trauma or general mental illness. As a society, we do not always encourage the setting of healthy boundaries nor are we too satisfied when others exercise healthy boundaries with us. Mostly because we want what we want when we want it, healthy boundaries not withstanding.

Most generally, codependent traits develop as a result of one’s upbringing, which typically will have involved an addict or otherwise mentally ill family member. The child does not learn proper parent-child boundaries and is often forced into the role of caretaker or made to be responsible for the needs of one or both parents or other family members at an unnaturally young age. Validation and love, in these situations, come not through simply being a part of the family, but through performance. The child is often deprived of his or her right to an opinion or voice and is forced to conform to the needs, whims or mental state of a parent or guardian in order to receive love, care or validation. Physical and/or sexual abuse may or may not be a part of the equation.

The aftereffects of these dysfunctional family environments play out in adulthood. As a result of this kind of dysfunctional childhood experience, the adult is unable to properly state and pursue his or her own needs or preferences. Self-worth is conceptualized not from one’s own dignity as a human being, but via the approval and validation of others. There is a need to satisfy, rescue, help or carry the burdens of everyone else in order to feel right with oneself, at least that is the assumption the codependent is acting on. Yet despite the endless work of “helping,” the codependent person very rarely finds the satisfaction, validation or personal sense of peace that he or she is seeking.

Being “helpful” and “concerned with the needs of others” need not always be interpreted as codependence. These can be noble and honorable traits. However, there is a level of normal human compassion that drives one to service, and there is a darker, more pathological side in which the individual is unable to self-realize because he or she lives in terror of the abandonment or rejection that might come as a result of letting anyone down. This causes resentment, anger and stress, which are the clear result of codependency whether the individual manifests it outwardly or not.

What Are Codependent Behaviors?

Individuals who tend to exhibit codependent behavior patterns will vary in degree and seriousness of the traits they display. While we all, to some degree, may display some of these characteristics, it is not necessarily a disorder or an illness until it becomes life-controlling. For example, people who are self-protective or who seek normal validation in a primary relationship are not necessarily codependent. When, however, a person exhibits multiple characteristics, and in a way that is disruptive to his or her life or emotional stability, codependency has become a psychological condition that needs addressing for the individual’s mental health and the health of his or her partner.

At the base of codependent behaviors and patterns is a fear that controls the individual’s thoughts, behaviors and interactions with others. It is a deep sense of relational insecurity mixed with fear of rejection, abandonment and loss. This fear manipulates and coerces the codependent into feeling the inescapable need to please, help, rescue and be the indispensable caretaker in the lives of others. Having a weak sense of him or herself, the codependent is a people -pleaser, hoping to be liked, and endlessly seeks the love and validation that will safeguard against abandonment or rejection.

Outwardly, the behavior may appear sacrificial and caring, and the individual may see him or herself as such, but as it issues out of fear, frustration and need, the behaviors end up taking on an aspect of control, manipulation and enabling, tainted by the expectation of emotional payback. When efforts and sacrifices are not adequately praised and appreciated, the codependent is resentful and angry.

Continued in “What Is a Codependent Relationship? Part 2