What is Codependency?
In the 1940s psychologists treating alcoholic patients noticed a strange behavioral pattern in many partners and close relatives of the patients. Although they resented the alcoholism, they often made excuses for the patients’ substance abuse and even enabled the habit to some extent. This type of dynamic was termed as Codependent relationship.
Codependency is a term used to describe a pattern of behavior in which an individual becomes emotionally and psychologically enmeshed in a relationship with someone who struggles with addiction, mental illness, or other issues. It's a type of relationship where one person is often focused on taking care of the other person and enabling their unhealthy behaviors while neglecting their own needs and well-being. They constantly have trouble making decisions — where to live, whether to pursue a new career, when to spend time with friends — because of the worry that their choices might conflict with the other’s needs.
Codependent individuals often feel a sense of responsibility for the other person's problems and will go to great lengths to keep the other person from facing the consequences of their actions. This can include making excuses for the other person, covering up their mistakes, or even taking on their responsibilities for them.
Where does it happen?
While codependency can occur in any type of relationship, it's most commonly associated with romantic relationships where one partner is struggling with addiction. For example, imagine a woman whose husband is an alcoholic. She may make excuses for his drinking, cover up his behavior, and even blame herself for his addiction. In this scenario, the wife is enabling her husband's addiction and is suffering from codependency.
Codependency can also occur in parent-child relationships, where a parent may enable their child's unhealthy behaviors such as drug abuse or criminal activity. In this scenario, the parent may feel responsible for their child's behavior and may go to great lengths to protect them from the consequences of their actions.
It’s also possible in sibling relationships. Imagine a man whose sister is struggling with a drug addiction. He may feel responsible for her addiction and may go to great lengths to cover up her behavior, such as lying to her employer, or even providing her with money to buy drugs. He may also feel guilty when she gets in trouble with the law, and may even blame himself for her addiction.
Signs of Codependent Relationships:
Cycles of enabling and disabling behavior: The codependent person enables the other person's unhealthy behavior by not holding them accountable for their actions and instead taking on more responsibility for themselves. The other person, in turn, becomes more dependent on the codependent person and continues to engage in unhealthy behavior.
Poor self-esteem: One of the key characteristics of codependency is low self-esteem. Codependent individuals often have a poor sense of self-worth and feel that they are only valuable if they are taking care of someone else.
Fear of abandonment: These individuals may also have a fear of abandonment and will do anything to keep the other person in the relationship, even if it means sacrificing their own needs and well-being.
Anger and resentment: Codependency can also lead to feelings of resentment and anger towards the other person. The codependent person may feel taken advantage of and resentful towards the other person for their unhealthy behavior but may be unable to express these feelings or set boundaries due to the fear of losing the relationship.
Is recovery possible?
Codependency is a pattern that can be detrimental to both the codependent person and the person they are enmeshed with. It can lead to a loss of self-esteem, feelings of resentment, and even physical and mental health problems.
The good news is that codependency is treatable. It's important for individuals to seek professional help, whether it be through therapy, counseling, or support groups.
A mental health professional can help you:
Identify patterns of codependency
Learn healthy coping mechanisms such as setting boundaries, learning to communicate effectively, and practicing self-care.
Manage people-pleasing tendencies
Deal with associated conditions like depression, anxiety, etc
It's important to understand that codependency is not a onetime fix, it's a process of self-discovery and growth. It's important to be patient with yourself and to understand that change takes time.