In our last blog series, we traveled deep into addiction and learned coping mechanisms to overcome those addictions. Now, we are going to delve into a new multi-part blog series centered around codependency, and the elements within codependent dynamics.
In this series, we will define codependency, examine the roots and patterns in how it emerges, and then discuss how to recognize it, create healthy boundaries, how to work through our initial discomfort, and finally, how to grow into new healthy boundaries.
Let’s start with defining codependency and then go into a conceptual discussion that will serve us as we move through the series.
Photo credit: Irina Leoni
Since everyone defines codependency a little differently, I am going to propose three different definitions: the Oxford dictionaries, Melody Beattie’s definition, and my own.
According to the Oxford Dictionary codependency is defined as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.”
According to Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, a codependent person “is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
My definition of codependency is “a dependent state that relies on the opinions of others, which causes discomfort in vocalizing wants and needs, leading to weak or non-existent boundaries and numerous behaviors of self sacrifice and validation seeking. These behaviors lead to the sacrifice of personal happiness, wellbeing, and/or fulfillment and result in the suffering person feeling emotionally and energetically drained, resentful of, used by, and disconnected from others.”
I provided three definitions because what codependency means to you may be different than what it means to me. In fact, it should be different. Codependency is a broad concept with many nuances and definitions; and like addiction, what you ultimately define it as is up to you.
In her book, Beattie has a comprehensive list of Codependent Characteristics, which are often helpful in assisting us to see which areas of our lives need work. We will not go into extensive detail regarding these categories here, but it's important to know the characteristics are broken into the following categories:
Lack of trust
Problems with sex
Other miscellaneous patterns
I bring these categories up, as they will serve as a helpful framework for you as you begin to identify the patterns that you struggle with. For myself, I struggled with every single one of those categories. My go-to that I struggle with currently is still denial.
Speaking of denial, the first time I heard about codependency was when the physical pain was beginning to become constant, I immediately thought: “Nope! That’s not me.” I then patted myself on the back and dove deeper into my destructive codependent relationship that imploded only a year later.
So hearing about codependency clearly did incredible things to help me realize my own codependent behavior. Nothing like a little denial, am I right?
Codependency is not something that has one clear definition or cause. There are many things that can be seen as codependent. I struggled with this again recently when my mother was experiencing some serious health issues.
Was wanting to help my parents considered codependent? Upon further inspection, I decided the answer was no. Wanting to help my parents was a healthy, interdependent thing to do. I wanted to be there to love and support my parents as they had loved and supported me. This was something I wanted to do, not something I needed to do. For someone else though, the desire to help their parents out of obligation could be considered codependent.
As the blog series progresses, we will discuss wants and needs and how the language we use around our actions has power. Codependency is often a state of self sacrifice for the betterment of others, so we will examine those behaviors more closely and focus on the language we use to talk to ourselves and how that language can reveal codependent traits.
Confused yet? Don’t worry, we will grapple with these ideas as we move through the series. Codependency has many definitions in part because it is difficult to define for everyone and it manifests in those who suffer from it in a variety of ways.
Let’s look at this another way: What can codependency look like?
Let’s return to Beattie’s list of categories to examine some codependency traits in relation to their categories. This is not an exhaustive list.
As you read through, pay close attention to both the categories as well as any behaviors with which you can identify. For the sake of space and repetition, some of the behaviors could fall into multiple categories but are listed under only one. For example, depending on the person, advice-giving could fall under multiple categories, but is listed only under caretaking.
In many cases, we have behaviors from multiple categories. However, it is important to note that you may have more behaviors in one category and none in another. That’s normal. Pay attention to your specific behaviors.
Codependency can look like:
Feeling and believing they are responsible for other people, including the other person’s thoughts, feelings, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being or lack thereof, and ultimately their destiny.
Feeling compelled to help people solve their problems, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings.
Feeling safest when giving.
Feeling insecure and guilty when no one gives to them.
Typically coming from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families and often deny their family was troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional.
Blaming themselves for everything.
Rejecting compliments or praise.
Thinking they’re not good enough.
Feeling different from the rest of the world.
Suppressing thoughts and feelings because of fear and guilt.
Being afraid to let themselves be who they are.
Appearing rigid and controlled.
Often focused on other people to a level where they lose themselves.
Losing sleep over problems and other people’s behaviors.
Wondering why they can’t get things done.
Trying to catch people in the acts of misbehaving.
Checking in with others at an unhealthy level.
Trying to control another’s words, actions, or relationships in order to try to retain feelings of safety.
Being afraid to let people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally.
Getting frustrated and angry when the attempts to control inevitably fail.
Feeling controlled by events or people.
Ignoring problems or pretending the problems don’t exist.
Lying to themselves.
Equating love with pain.
Seeking love from people incapable of loving.
Looking for happiness outside themselves.
Latching on to whoever or whatever they think can provide happiness.
Not taking themselves seriously.
Finding it difficult to get to the point.
Constantly choosing their words carefully to achieve a desired effect.
Talking too much.
Eliminating the word “no” from their vocabulary.
Apologizing for bothering people and for their existence.
Saying they won’t tolerate certain behaviors from others, but allowing the behaviors in ever increasing amounts.
Letting others continually hurt them without speaking up.
Wondering why they feel so badly.
Feeling angry, resentful, or disrespected by others.
Lack of trust
Feeling scared, hurt or angry
Fearing their own anger
Are frightened by the anger of others
Repressing their anger
Feeling safer in their anger than other feelings, such as hurt, disappointment, or sadness
Problems with sex
Caretaking in the bedroom.
Having sex when they don’t want to.
Are afraid to lose control.
Having sex when they are angry or hurt.
Having difficulty asking for what they need in bed.
Other miscellaneous patterns
Any self destructive behavior that does not fit into the categories above, such as:
Remaining loyal to their compulsions and people even when it hurts.
For a detailed description of each category, see Characteristics of Codependent People.
I believe now is a good time to say that the development of codependency is not necessarily bad. It does not mean that you are flawed, broken, unlovable, or anything of the sort. It means you created these codependent behaviors as a coping and protection mechanism, and in many of us, were tools that helped us survive a turbulent childhood and continue to keep us safe in the world. In a word, it means you are normal. You have the ability to now empower yourself to change the behaviors you’ve collected.
Now, we have the opportunity to heal and release behaviors that no longer serve us. The first step to addressing any issue is awareness. The second step is acceptance of the issues.
If this blog post has resonated with you or if you feel resistant and defiant to the ideas presented, I implore you to keep reading. We come to things at the right time and perhaps it is time for you to heal.
I admit that I have had many codependent traits and can claim at least one thing in every category. Facing that I was caring for others above myself took great courage and humility to not just admit, but to start on the path to recovery.
Anyone who decides that they are ready to break the chains of codependency for themselves will most likely find discomfort with the path to recovery and putting themselves first.
Examining your patterns without judgment will make this a lot easier to tackle.
Are you ready to embark on the journey to understand, overcome, heal, and move out of codependency?
So, what do you say? Are you ready to bring awareness to yourself and, slowly over the course of the Codependency series, begin to accept those behaviors?
Well then, dear reader, let us go together on this journey and start to understand codependency at a deeper level.
Return to the Characteristics of Codependent People. That’s right. This time, I’m asking you to do some external reading and review to identify your patterns.
Review this list. Really read it.
What stands out to you?
What makes you feel uncomfortable, ashamed, or uneasy?
Do you see any of these characteristics within yourself?
Take some time and reflect on the way these characteristics manifest in your life and relationships.
For my writers out there, grab a journal and take some notes. For my thinkers, reflect on these ideas, and then grab a journal and write them down once you’ve riddled them out in your head.
How has codependency impacted your life?
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We will examine and start to look at the patterns of codependency, and examine how these patterns kept us safe and the functions that they served. After all, we tend to keep things around because they worked for us. Understanding why we developed these patterns will help change our relationships to ourselves and make it easier to release those patterns. A huge part of overcoming codependency is first understanding how the symptoms or signs manifest in our lives and then work to undo those patterns in the form of new habits, rituals, routines, and behaviors. The patterns were planted and now they began to grow deep under the framework of our lives.