Let’s talk about Codependency
Alright. Let’s start with a small disclaimer, I am codependent! Something that I must constantly reflect on and manage regularly in my life. Much larger disclaimer, quite a lot of therapists are also codependent. Matter of fact, a lot of individuals identify and relate to a lot of elements of codependency. So, what is this mysterious word that I might have to add to my inventory of issues and problems.
The best way I describe codependency is;
imagine a cold day, your significant other is terribly cold…
Now, instead of perhaps sharing your jacket with them or holding them closer to you…
You decide the best thing to do is TO LIGHT YOURSELF ON FIRE to keep them warm…
This is an extreme example but hopefully it starts to make sense as you read on!
What is Codependency?
There are a few definitions floating around about codependency. Essentially, plain and simply, “I will put you before myself”. Although it can be more complex than this. Codependency is when an individual will forfeit their own needs to attempt to meet the needs of others. All their focus, time, energy, thoughts and actions revolve around other person, relationships or family. A person’s identity or self-worth is dependent on how satisfied or validated the other may be.
WHOAAAA. You might be thinking, hold on, wait a minute, something ain’t right. Life is fundamentally built around relationships, we all lean on our loved ones, friends or others to find some meaning or happiness as they too, do for us. So, what’s the big deal? I like putting others before myself?
You may resonate or be reminded by the person that focusses their entire world around the happiness of their significant other. Going to extremes to help balance the sometimes unbalanced or unhealthy reality of that relationship. A life dependent on helping or saving the other leads to turmoil and chaos within the realms of the self.
What does Codependency it look like?
To make more sense of this concept I want to put my experience within this blog. I have been in some challenging relationships and at the end of the day what it all comes down to is looking at myself to find out what the hell was going on. In the past I had little insight and self-awareness, trying my best to balance my fragile insecurities that I brought to each relationship. Essentially, I was “lighting myself on fire”, fixated on saving the other person in the relationship, when really I needed to save myself. All my energy was used up in my desperate attempt to stay with the person. I have come to realise I was dependent on helping, in the hope that the other “feeling helped” would fuel my self-worth. What was going on for me was the intensity of needing to be needed. The cost of this, at times was detrimental, leading to anxiety and depression that could spiral out of control. The first time I went to see a therapist, I walked in there and said, “I want better skills to help my partner”. Yikes… If only I knew how much I had been denying my own reality, needs and emotions. I sacrificed myself and all my focus was invested externally. Recently I was given some powerful insights that reaffirmed that my codependency was about self-validation, as for others for example, it might be the desire for stability in where feeling safe might have been in question. All those that identify as codependent have their own underlying drive or reason to meet those unmet needs, fill a unknown void or satisfy the part of self that feels missing. This manifests itself mostly from a young age, where something was lacking in childhood, where we may have had a less than nurturing experience in some way shape or form. Where this can spill out sideways is we find solutions to this experience externally, hence codependent relationships. So lets break this down.
Pia Mellody, author of the book Facing Codependency talks about the core symptoms;
Facing Codependence What it is, Where it Comes from, How it Sabotages Our Lives
Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem.
- Not being able to see their own value and defining their worth based on others views.
- The sense of feeling needed which creates the dysfunctional internal gratification
Difficulty setting functional boundaries.
- Avoiding how one truly feels or thinks to avoid distressing or upsetting the other.
- Not knowing how to put themselves first
- Saying no is challenging
Difficulty owning our own reality.
- Not knowing who they are
- Making up their identity
Difficulty acknowledging and meeting our own needs and wants and being interdependent with others
- Not knowing what their needs are
- Expect others to meet their needs
- Creates control issues to get needs met
Difficulty experiencing and expressing our reality moderately.
- Can not contain oneself
- Extreme habits or no habits at all
Putting someone before yourself after a while becomes draining and exhausting sometimes leading to resentment, emptiness and loneliness. Esteeming yourself from others creates a pattern of repeated unhealthy and at times toxic relationships. Understanding you have codependency can be very empowering as a new journey starts to be able to reflect and correct yourself. Increasing self-awareness and understanding codependency allows for healthier relationships, an increase in self-esteem and decrease in mental health symptoms. In therapy, a person can start to uncover where their codependency patterns emerge from and now manifest in each new relationship. Therapy in this area means a look in the mirror to start to identify who they are, through looking at self-esteem, boundaries and how to meet their own needs.
If you or someone you know resonates with this, I support people with theses patterns in their life through therapy both in an individual and group setting. If you would like to find out more about codependency, please get in touch.