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Codependent Relationships

...and the Warning Signs to Look Out For

The term "codependent" frequently gets thrown around. This includes codependent companions, codependent couples, and codependent caretakers. So, what does codependency really mean?

Jonathan Becker, D.O. (associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee), explains that, "Codependency is typically discussed in the context of substance use, where one person is abusing the substance, and he or she depends on the other person to supply money, food, or shelter. But codependency is much broader than that."

Becker adds, "Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore. Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person. In a codependent relationship, there is usually one person who is more passive and can’t make decisions for themselves, and a more dominant personality who gets some reward and satisfaction from controlling the other person and making decisions about how they will live."*

A codependent relationship becomes problematic and dysfunctional when the codependent (who is the caretaker) is taken advantage by the other person, emotionally or financially. Codependent relationships are hugely common among those with substance abuse or addiction issues. One partner would normally take care of the other to the extent that it enables the partner's addictive/unhealthy behavior. Oftentimes, you'd find that the caretaker grew up in a family with an addicted parent and learned to pacify that parent so that life is easier for them and their siblings. Sadly, they may repeat the same pattern in their own relationships as an adult.

9 Warning Signs of Codependent Relationships

1) People pleasing. While it's normal to enjoy it when people like us and we want those we love to be happy, there's a difference between this normal tendency and having to please people at all times. Oftentimes, people pleasers feel like they don't have a choice except to keep others happy and pleased. They feel uncomfortable saying "no" even when it interferes with their own needs and wants.

2) Poor self-esteem. Usually, none of the couple in a codependent relationship has good self-esteem. While one needs the approval of the other or needs to be needed in order to have a purpose in life, the other person also has low self-esteem for having to depend on someone else to get validation and meet their material needs. The dependent person is the controlling one due to their deep sense of anxiety that their partner might leave.

3) Lack of boundaries. Both parties in a codependent relationship tend to have trouble recognizing and respecting boundaries. Boundaries simply means to respect the other person's right to their own feelings and freedoms and to understand that you're not responsible for the other's happiness. Those in codependent relationships have an issue where one doesn't recognize boundaries and the other doesn't insist on boundaries, hence making one manipulative and controlling while the other compliant and not assertive of their will.

4) Caretaking. One major sign of being co-dependent is having that feeling where you have to take care of everyone –always. This stems from a childhood where the caretaker/codependent learns that there may be awful consequences from failing to take care of a [dysfunctional] parent's needs. Hence, they feel compelled to take care of others (especially a partner) and not necessarily out of affection but from fear that something terrible will happen if they don't. While people can get by on their own, having the feeling that things will go horribly wrong if you don't take care of them often indicates codependency.

5) Lack of self-image. Between the two, it's the caretaker who may not have much of a self-image often because they define themselves mainly in relation to the other person and they may be clueless as to who they are without having to play the role of the giver. In this sense, the caretaker is also dependent –being oblivious to the fact that they’re managing day-to-day practical matters and can get along just fine without the other.

6) Poor communication. Codependency makes effective communication near impossible. The caretaker is typically unaware of their own needs and wants; and when they are aware they're reluctant to express them. They may fear that asserting themselves may upset the other or they feel like the most important priority is to take care of the other. On one hand, the dependent of the two may habitually communicate dishonestly and is more interested in keeping the control than in sincerely communicating. In a codependent relationship, both parties need to learn to communicate effectively and honestly.

7) Reactivity. When you feel responsible for everyone else's wellbeing and your identity is based on pleasing them, you might observe yourself reacting to situations instead of acting out of your own volition. You might be too defensive or take criticisms too personally resulting to you losing touch with your own needs and wants, hence, making it more difficult to be proactive. Reactivity is also in part due to your inability to set boundaries as you feel pressed to be responsible for others' feelings.

8) Dependency. Naturally, dependency occupies a huge space in a codependent relationship: each person needs the other –to gain something. The dependent one needs their material needs met because addiction (or other issues) impeded their autonomy, while the co-dependent needs approval and a sense of purpose by being needed. In a sense, it's a tradeoff that limits both persons involved.

9) Relationship Stress. As expected, any of these factors can put tremendous stress on a relationship. You're simply bound to have problems when there's no effective communication or respect for boundaries. The dependent often feels anxious about being abandoned by the caretaker while the caretaker feels burdened about having to do everything right. Both are afraid to be alone, but neither is markedly happy. This is a relationship where there may not be frequent fights as the caretaker is committed to keeping the other appeased, but both are stressed nevertheless.

Codependency is not good for both the dependent and the codependent. It allows one to sink deeper into their unhealthy behavior (e.g. addiction, narcissism, etc.) while forcing the other to completely forsake their own needs and wants in order to accommodate the other.

Are you struggling with codependency or addiction? JarvisHypnotherapy can help. We offer you tools in navigating the issues and building healthy coping skills that will help in your journey towards healing.

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