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Understanding Codependency Better

Do you define yourself by the relationship you have? Do either you or your partner make excuses for the other's disrespectful/bad behavior, or avoid direct conversations about the state of your relationship? Do you need constant assurance that you’re loved? Do you have difficulty being alone?

Recently, we've discussed the ubiquitous (yet often misunderstood) relationship issue called codependency. According to Ross Rosenberg (M. Ed, CADC, & CEO of Self-Love Recovery Institute), codependency is an individual disorder that's expressed in relationships. It's not a personality type, but is instead characterized by what you do or don't do in a dysfunctional relationship. Codependent individuals hyper-focus on giving love, respect, and care to others –freely and abundantly– while not getting the same. In this Psych Central webinar, Rosenberg defines codependency and the recovery stages.

Pausing to observe, one can realize that a codependent relationship has these symptoms:

§ Difficulty identifying your feelings

§ Difficulty making decisions in the relationship

§ Difficulty having an honest & effective communication

§ Having poor self-esteem and lacking trust in yourself

§ Valuing the approval of others (more than giving value to yourself)

§ Having obsessive need for other's approval or having fear of abandonment

§ Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions/happiness of others

§ Having an unhealthy dependence on relationships –even at your own cost.*

In this video, Dr. Ramani (Licensed Clinical Psychologist) discusses the varied and broad definitions & scenarios of codependency. She explains Dr. Timmen Cermak’s 1986 book, "Codependency: More than a Catchword." In it, Cermak outlined the basic elements of codependency:

⁄ anxiety of separation

⁄ enmeshment (tangled up boundaries & the hesitance to set up boundaries in the relationship)

⁄ putting another's need ahead of the codependent’s own needs

⁄ denial & restricted expression of emotions (in other words, the codependent doesn't feel safe or is not able to express their emotions because it's dangerous & invalidating)

⁄ hyper vigilance (always on edge & always monitoring everything around them for threats)

⁄ codependent pattern usually has a history of sexual or physical abuse

⁄ the codependent does not seek help

The overall picture of a codependent is someone who's in a badly victimized situation, but they're not only NOT trying to get out but also basically clipping their own wings and staying in it. Their self-esteem is completely linked to someone else's behavior which is something they can't control. In a sense, codependents are enablers who participate in the toxic spiral because the narcissist feeds the codependent's vulnerabilities while the codependent keeps providing narcissistic supply.

Viewing codependency only through this lens, however, is risky as it misses some key issues as well. This term originated from the clinical literature that focused on addiction & recovery. In this sense, the family of the addict or alcoholic can actually make things worse by over helping (over giving to) them, essentially enabling the addict's substance abuse by not drawing the painful boundaries.

Today, the definition of codependency has broadened beyond addiction to take on other types of problematic, difficult relationships including those simply difficult family dynamics, family dynamics that center around abuse, and relationships associated with other mental illnesses/personality issues. Codependency is a cycle that can span a person's lifetime. Melody Beattie talks about how the caretaker can start shifting the care to themselves: Codependent No More.

It's not without hope. When you realize you're in a codependent relationship, help is available. JarvisHypnotherapycan help you break away from this unhealthy relationship.


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