What is codependency?
Do you ever feel like many of your relationships are with troubled, needy, or dependent people? Has your life become unmanageable as a result of living with someone who has a drug dependency or illness, gambling addiction, someone who is mentally or physically abusive, or even someone who has regular mood swings? This person could be an adult, child, romantic partner, spouse, parent or close friend.
Codependency can develop within the context of a difficult relationship, such as with an addict or with a family member living with an untreated mental illness. Codependency means that you have had to adapt your behaviour to be able to “cope” with the problem, rather than actively participating in a more equitable relationship. As a result, you have let another person’s behaviour affect you and may have become preoccupied with controlling that person’s behaviour.
What are the signs of codependency? Expert, Melody Beattie, author of: Codependent No More looks deeply into this condition, how it develops, and how we can break free from these maladaptive patterns of behaviour. The following list includes 7 of the main characteristics of codependency.
You tend to think and feel overly responsible for others including their feelings, thoughts, actions, well-being, and may even feel anxiety when other people have a problem. This leaves you feeling compelled to help them with their problem by giving advice or suggestions. Many times you overcommit yourself and find yourself abandoning your routine to respond to or do something for someone else. When asked what your wants and needs are, you don’t really have an answer. If you do, you tell yourself that those wants and needs are not important. You often wonder why others don’t do the same for you and may feel angry, victimized, unappreciated, and used by others.
You often take things personally. Often, you find yourself wondering why you have such a hard time making decisions and feel afraid of making mistakes. You don’t take compliments or praise very well and feel like you’re not quite good enough. Your family growing up may have been troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional and you learned or were made to feel like you were not good enough. You find yourself feeling guilty about spending money on yourself or doing unnecessary or fun things for yourself. You tell yourself frequently that you can’t get anything right. This is the strongest predictor of codependency.
You have told yourself that you won’t tolerate certain behaviours from others but you have gradually increased your tolerance for these behaviours from others until you can do things you said you never would. You have let others hurt you and perhaps are still letting others hurt you which has caused you to become an angry person. Sometimes you wonder why you are feeling hurt so much.
Lack of trust
You don’t really trust yourself, your feelings, your decisions, and others. You find yourself trying to trust untrustworthy people. If you are religious, you may often feel like you’ve lost faith and trust in God or think that God has abandoned you.
Problems with sexuality
You are a caretaker in the bedroom and have a difficult time asking for what you need in bed. You often have sex when you don’t really want to or when you would rather be held, nurtured, and loved. Your interest in sex is gone or you find yourself making up reasons to abstain from having sex. Sex or your issues in the bedroom are not talked about and have tried to have sex when you are angry or hurt. You may have even felt sexual revulsion towards your partner. You may have had sexual fantasies about others or have considered an extramarital affair.
You feel out of control and therefore find yourself trying to control events and people through helplessness, guilt, coercion, and advice-giving. Events and people seem to have control over you, which often leads you to feel frustrated and angry. You have become afraid to let others be who they are and allow events to happen naturally. Your attempts at controlling things eventually fails and you find yourself provoking people’s anger.
You find that you tolerate abuse to maintain other people’s love. This leaves you feeling trapped in your relationship and worried that others will leave you. You center yourself around other people and look to relationships to provide all of your good feelings. When you love someone you find that you lose interest in your own life . You don’t really take the time to see if other people are good for you and desperately seek love and approval. You find that you often seek love from people incapable of loving.
You feel anxiety about problems and people and tend to worry about minor issues. Often, you spend time thinking and talking about others and even check on people. You have tried to catch people in acts of misbehavior and have let these kinds of behaviours interrupt your daily routine. Tired is a regular feeling for you and you can’t seem to get things done.
You often feel scared, hurt, or angry and may live with someone who feels the same. Other people’s anger scares you so find yourself punishing others for making you feel angry. You have been made to feel shame for feeling angry and feel controlled by other people’s anger.
You catch yourself pretending certain situations are not as bad as they really are or you ignore problems all together. Get confused often, depressed, or sick. You sometimes lie to yourself as you watch problems getting worse or you’ve started believing the lies you are told by others. You may have become over-dedicated to your work which keeps you busy so you don’t have to think or face the problems with others.
This one can be hard to detect in oneself however you may feel afraid to let yourself be who you are. You appear rigid and controlled to others when in actuality, you are not really like this.
These traits are not all-inclusive and not all-encompassing of codependency but they do point to a dependency on other people, their moods, behaviours, sickness or well-being, and on their love. Codependents appear to be controlling to others but are, in actuality, controlled by others. They appear strong on the outside, but often feel helpless internally.
If you feel this describes you, there is hope. With professional help you can work towards freeing yourself from these behavioural patterns by learning how to take care of yourself and to communicate your needs to others, learn to love yourself, learn acceptance, and live your own life.
Written by: Mayte Parada, PhD
Montreal Therapy Centre