The term “codependent” is used loosely. A quick Google search on the term turns up a Huffington Post article titled “NBC and Brian Williams Put Codependent Relationship on Hold” and BuzzFeed’s “8 Important Facts About Always Giving Too Much Of Yourself In Relationships.” Although these articles are entertaining and certainly fall in line with an underlying cultural obsession to self-diagnose, the reality is that codependency is a complicated, multidimensional behavioral issue.
Codependency is a condition in which individuals attempt to and believe that if they control people, places, and situations, they can derive a sense of self-worth. It resembles an addiction to taking care of the needs and the problems of another person. In fact, many of the people I’ve worked with who are in these types of codependent relationships find themselves feeling, in many cases, what can be described as classic signs of addiction. Some of the experiences they report include:
- Changes in their personality as reported by friends and family
- Negative emotions
- Lifestyle changes
- Lack of motivation or lethargy
- Anxious or paranoid thinking with no obvious reason
After ruling out that a person is abusing substances, such as alcohol or drugs, and determining that his or her symptoms are not signs of other emotional or mental health issues, I find what they are experiencing is, in fact, chronic, progressive, and relapsing addiction. In effect, many who are in codependent relationships simply become dependent on the people with whom they are in a relationship.
As such, many find it difficult to “quit” the relationship, much like a person addicted to alcohol has difficulty quitting drinking. The “relationship addiction” controls a person’s ability to rationalize and make healthy decisions in his or her best interests. Although many agree they need to end the relationship, they find themselves in a pattern of committing to end the relationship and going back. They are hoping that, perhaps the next time, they will be able to control the outcome of the relationship. These dependent relationships often cause people to lose clarity and rationality. They may stop protecting themselves emotionally and sometimes even physically.
Four Key Steps to Codependency Recovery
Finding a therapist who makes you feel comfortable and safe is a great place to begin for any person who wishes to change codependency patterns. In therapy, some of the approaches used to help someone realize and work on the emotional and cognitive aspects of codependent behaviors include:
- Developing knowledge of what a healthy relationship looks like: I never assume that a person Admitting and accepting the addiction component of codependency takes time, and since it is a relapsing condition, encouraging people to continue to work on their recovery one day at a time is critical to their success and eventual healing.experiencing codependency has a good understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. Part of my job is helping people understand what to expect in a healthy relationship.
- Developing a healthy sense of self-identify: Like many people living with addiction, many people who are codependent struggle with who they are and what their purpose is. Rarely are they aware and attuned to their inner self-talk and frequently have no idea what they like or do not like.
- Learning self-validation: People with codependency often have a tenuous definition of self, so guiding a person to learn how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, let go of self-destructive patterns of behavior, and practice self-validation will aid in the process of building self-esteem.
- Boundary building: One of the most important steps to master in the journey of codependency recovery is learning to build appropriate emotional boundaries. Assisting the person with codependency in learning that he or she does not have power over others is a crucial step in developing healthy relationships.
Codependency recovery is a process. Many who experience it have been practicing dysfunctional relationship skills for most of their lives. Admitting and accepting the addiction component of codependency takes time, and since it is a relapsing condition, encouraging people to continue to work on their recovery one day at a time is critical to their success and eventual healing.
- Daire, A. P., Jacobson, L., and Carlson, R. G. (2012). Emotional stocks and bonds: A metaphorical model for conceptualizing and treating codependency and other forms of emotional overinvesting. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 66(3), 259-78. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1285473805?accountid=1229
- Springer, C. A., Britt, T. W., and Schlenker, B. R. (1998). Codependency: Clarifying the construct. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 20(2), 141-158. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/198715631?accountid=1229
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