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Codependency has become a buzzword in our society, stemming from the field of addiction. It remains unclear in the field of Psychology as to what the symptoms of codependent relationships are, how to define it, where it originates from, and what you can do about it.
Read on to learn more about codependency and discover the 10 signs that you are in a codependent relationship and what you can do about it.
Research has attempted to quantify, categorize, and define codependency since it seems to permeate so many different types of relationships and many people worldwide. However, because a clear definition ceases to exist, it is difficult to get a true number of how many people struggle with it.
Organizations such as Codependents Anonymous point to codependency being a “disease” and provide a safe place for those struggling in their relationships. However, they make it clear that they provide no clear definition or diagnostic criteria to identify codependency. The one common denominator appears to be that those self-identifying as “codependents” often come from a dysfunctional family and exhibit “learned helplessness” characteristics.
If there’s no clear definition, how do you know if you are in a codependent relationship? Codependency can be identified by evaluating your own behaviors rather than the behaviors of someone you are in a relationship with. By identifying certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you tend to engage in, you can start to identify any trends that exhibit codependent characteristics.
Here are the 10 signs that you might be in a codependent relationship.
Codependents have a hard time saying “no” in their relationships. They often are afraid of being rejected or abandoned, so they say “yes” to their partners because they don’t have the confidence to say “no.” This can manifest in all areas of the relationship, whether it be financial decisions, co-parenting, delineation of tasks, or sexual intimacy. Codependents will default to being “walked all over” or “bulldozed” by their partner and lack the ability to empower or assert themselves.
Codependents are afraid of abandonment by their partner. They end up doing things they don’t want to do just to keep their partner from leaving. They are in desperate need of validation, attention, and acceptance by their partner and are willing to do anything to avoid jeopardizing their partner leaving them. They lack the ability to self-evaluate. They hold their partner’s opinions and judgments above their own belief about themselves. This can lead to codependents compromising personal morals and values to gain the approval of a controlling partner.
Codependents need to be needed. Their entire self-esteem is dependent on bringing value to their relationship partner. If they can be helpful, then they are valued. Codependents will often give way more than expected and try to be “helpful” and solve their partner’s problems. They end up caring more about their partner’s life than their partner does. This leads to their partner judging them even more because a codependent will try harder if they fall short.
As codependents try to solve their partner’s problems, they take on the responsibility of their partner’s life. This leads to feeling responsible for everything that happens or doesn’t happen to their partner. This over-involvement releases their partner from taking responsibility for their own life and puts the blame solely on the codependent for anything wrong that happens. Taking responsibility for something that you have no power to change perpetuates the cycle of codependency by creating a feeling of “if I could just do more or do it better, my partner will love me.”
Codependents who take responsibility for their partner’s life must be on the alert all the time. They must anticipate their partner’s needs before their partner can ask for anything. This leads to hypervigilance and a hyper response towards their partner. This builds resentment from their partner who is constantly being scrutinized, often leading to withdrawing from the relationship.
Codependents don’t think much about themselves and their own needs. When constantly putting their partner’s needs before their own, their only source of approval comes from pleasing their partner. Oftentimes, a codependent is unaware of what they truly want and feel because so much of their life is focused on someone outside of themselves. Thus, there is no benefit to pleasing themselves. In fact, they feel as though they are being selfish or wasting time that they believe should be spent focusing on their partner.
If a codependent’s partner’s needs are not met, a codependent will often be controlled by their partner using coercion, advice, or manipulation tactics designed to evoke helplessness and guilt feelings in the codependent. In this way, the codependent’s role is kept in check by their partner, and the dependency is reinforced.
The basic needs of connection and approval when not fulfilled as a child continues into adult relationships with the belief that “if my partner gives me love and approval then and only then I am okay”. This false belief creates a situation where a person gives up their power to their partner.
They don’t believe in their own assessment of themselves and their own value. They don’t trust their own feelings and lack the ability to make good choices for themselves. This allows the partner to make decisions but not take any responsibility for the outcome of those decisions.
For example, if their partner tells them to quit their job, end a friendship, or stop doing a hobby, it will not affect the partner’s life, but the codependent person’s life will become smaller and less satisfying. This perpetuates the cycle because now the codependent has less to focus on and gives more attention and energy to their partner who becomes the only thing they have left in their world. This increases the desperation to try even harder to make sure that their partner gives them approval. It also creates a distorted belief that no one else will ever love them.
When a person no longer believes their own feelings and defers to their partner’s opinion,s they can no longer trust their own views and experience. They believe that they are the problem and that if things are bad, they are the reason for it being that way. They minimize reality to avoid having to make changes. If they can pretend things aren’t so bad, then they don’t have to do anything different. After all, if there is no problem then there is no reason to fix it.
The other thing that happens is a codependent will experience time differently. If it is not happening right now, then it never happened. The feeling is “if I am fine now, then I have always been fine and that problem didn’t really happen” or “it must be my imagination or overreaction.”
The codependent will convince themselves that they even agree with the problem to avoid conflict or change. “It must be okay for my partner to stay out all night and not call or quit their job for the 3rd time this year or spend money and not pay the bills.” Again, this perpetuates the cycle and the codependent will work even harder to pay for everything except being treated badly because they believe that is all they deserve.
Ultimately, codependency is learned in childhood. There is a disconnect between what a person feels and what they have been told to think about their feelings. They are told over and over again that their feelings are not to be trusted in very subtle but consistent ways. They have heard things like “you are too sensitive,” “you shouldn’t feel that way,” “your feelings are ridiculous,” or “no one else feels that way.”
They believe that there must be something wrong with how they feel and not that there is something wrong with what they are being told. The core of the issue is that there is no authenticity or truth in these messages, and the main point of getting the message to not trust your feelings is to give up your power and keep you off balance.
If someone doesn’t trust their feelings or their worldview, they must default to someone else who they believe is more capable and more knowledgeable about what is best for them.
If you experience any of these signs or realize that you are in a codependent relationship, there are many things that you can do.
First, try to find areas of your life that have small emotional risks and start becoming very conscious about what you are feeling, and use those feelings to make small decisions. For example, ask yourself what color of shirt you feel like wearing today or whether you prefer an apple or a banana.
Connect with the feeling first—become conscious and curious. Why do I feel like wearing red? Where did that feeling come from? Now that I am wearing red, does it still feel like it fits with the original feeling? Learn to trust your feelings again. Also, notice how often you don’t say what you really feel or simply don’t tell the truth. Codependency and lying are partners. If lying is the problem, then knowing the truth is the solution, and becoming aware of the problem of lying is the beginning of the way out.
You can also try journaling. You will be amazed at how much connection you have to your inner wisdom and truth that you lose as you say words you don’t mean or don’t even say out loud, which you can preserve through writing. Moreover, meditation can also be a powerful tool to help rewire your brain to learn to trust yourself again. Lastly, find someone you can trust or a therapist to get a clearer reflection of any distorted thinking patterns that keep you stuck in codependency.
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