Codependent behaviors can lead to dysfunctional coping methods such as substance abuse, and other negative behaviors that deplete our self worth. These behaviors can be inherited, learned, or developed.
This article is about codependency and the behaviors of those who are in codependent relationships.
What is Functional Dependency vs Codependency?
As a species, we have always been dependent on our fellow human beings. This need is probably hard wired in our DNA. Obviously, without this dependency on others there would be no society, no food or roads or internet. We need each other. This is called functional dependency, and can also be thought of as interdependency.
Codependency, on the other hand is an adaptive or learned behavior that more than likely began in early childhood. It can be quite destructive when it exists in a relationship and can have a very negative impact, not only on the relationship, but is also damaging to the codependent individual various ways. For example, they may begin to discount their own needs, wants and desires, in order to fit in and not “rock the boat”.
Adults who are able to experience the world in an interdependent way are able to take responsibility to meet their own needs in a relationship. This person usually has a well rounded and developed healthy sense of who they are as an individual.
The clinical psychologist Abraham Maslow put this state of being at the top of his Hierarchy of Needs, which is a pyramid shaped chart that categorizes human needs beginning at the bottom with food, shelter, etc. culminating at the top with what he called Self Actualization.
Own Feelings of confidence and competency
The self actualized person is not only free to express their needs to others, but also to ask for and accept help. Self actualized people are emotionally healthy and consequently are able to generate their own feelings of confidence and competency, with self esteem as the reward!
The codependent relationship is the opposite of a healthy interdependency. Individuals in a codependent relationship find it difficult be themselves around others, and as a result, the codependent partner may attempt to numb their painful feelings through substance abuse leading to drug addiction or alcoholism.
As children growing up in a dysfunctional environment, we may have found that accommodating others was safer. When we became adults we took on the role of caretaker, sacrificing our own needs, wants and ambitions to please everyone else. Everyone except ourselves, of course.
Codependency results in codependent people, who then find themselves in relationships in which they initially have “good intentions” that end with unwanted consequences. At first, they may be sincerely trying to help someone who they believe is experiencing some sort of difficulty. However, continued codependent behavior can quickly turn into compulsive, and self-defeating behavior.
Codependents do make some extreme sacrifices for their loved ones. By covering for an alcoholic spouse, making excuses for an abusive spouse, or using influence to prevent their child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behavior. Frequently, the codependent feels they have been called on to do too much. At this point they can take on the role of martyr.
The martyr is very proud of their selflessness, and in the long suffering approach they show in their relationships, and their identity and self-esteem are derived from their codependency. Martyrs are very proud of how much they do for others, and will talk with pride about how much they sacrifice for the people in their lives. This is an example of an extreme codependent relationship – intensive and deep.
Codependent Behaviors and Caretaking
Like an eternal feedback loop, codependency and caretaking eventually allows the object of the caretaking, such as an addict, to continue in their course of self-destruction and thereafter, to actually become more dependent on the caretaker!
At this stage, the codependent may begin to experience feelings of helplessness and being trapped. They may begin to feel it is all but impossible to escape the cycle of behavior they have created which is causing them to repeatedly try to vainly save the other partner.
Various Forms of Codependent Relationships
There are various forms that codependency takes in a relationship. For instance, a family member might become addicted to drugs, or alcohol and seemingly need to be saved from the consequences of their actions.
Codependency can also form in the presence of either sexual, physical, or emotional abuse perpetrated on the codependent person by someone in active addiction. Another example is a family member that is suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness, and is unable or unwilling to get help on their own, which can also precipitate conditions for codependency to form.
Those who suffer from codependency tend to view themselves as victims in the same way that addicts and alcoholics do. Dependent people are generally attracted to people with the same personality characteristic in their love and friend relationships.
Self care is very important, especially when life presents its challenges or new opportunities. Like many people, the codependent person has difficulty adjusting to change, and can sometimes neglect taking time to care for themselves.
Characteristics of Codependency
Characteristics that are common to the codependent person, and the codependent relationship can cause frustration and resentment on both sides. By trying to be in control of any situation, the codependent person has developed an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the behavior and actions of others.
Another characteristic is that the codependent person exhibits a tendency in relationships to confuse feeling love with pity. They will also do more than their share of everything, all the time. And then, they will become hurt, or offended when their efforts are not recognized or praised.
Unhealthy Dependence on Relationships
An unhealthy dependence on relationships can cause codependent people to stay in a relationship to avoid feeling abandoned. They will do whatever it takes to hold on to a relationship, however unsatisfactory that relationship may be.
Low self esteem, lack of trust in self and others, fear of being abandoned or alone, having difficulty identifying feelings, all these combine to condemn the codependent to remain in a dysfunctional situation.
Set Healthy Boundaries
When beginning to set boundaries and overcome dependent patterns, it is vital that the codependent partner start to understand themselves by uncovering the root issues that cause trouble. One way this can be achieved is to try to discover the ways in which childhood experiences and environment influenced personality.
The first skill in overcoming codependent patterns and to also improve your other relationships is to understand that the word NO is a complete sentence. The ability to say this word at the proper time is essential, and is the first step in setting boundaries for yourself.
It is important to understand that your own identity is involved in codependent behavior, and at some point you may want to establish a different identity. By doing so, you will find that instead of fretting about the problems of others, your focus will gradually shift to your own well being and meeting your own needs first.
The codependent person has an exaggerated sense that to be their true self around others, especially significant others, is dangerous. Early on we found that avoidance was an effective strategy to elude the ever present possibility of being shamed or guilted by them. We did this to protect ourselves. However, engaging in codependency seemed, by our own actions, to increase our own problems!
Codependent people are loyal, and tend to remain in harmful situations for much too long. Sadly, the codependent person will place a greater worth on other people’s feelings and opinions than on their own. They fear expressing a different viewpoint and will disregard their own interests and desires in order to be agreeable, and “go with the flow”.
Establishing a healthy relationship with someone might mean occasionally being assertive. Being assertive can be the means by which you give yourself some independence. It indicates to others where they, and where you, stand.
Emotional Development and Family Members
Dysfunctional families stunt emotional development. They produce dysfunctional people who will most likely find themselves in a codependent relationship, at some point. There may have been sexual abuse in our past life perpetrated by family members. Our codependent behavior became a way to survive the abuse.
If there was a significant person or caretaker in our childhood that was abusing drugs or alcohol, we found ways to become less visible. We found that if we discounted our own needs and allowed our own friends and family members to tell us how to think, feel and behave, we could avoid their anger or distain. Our inability to set boundaries with parents or significant others forced us to develop and accept an inauthentic version of ourselves.
Cognitive distortions or distorted thought patterns are biases and mental filters we all use occasionally, which can lead to faulty conclusions. Believing we can foretell the future or know what others are thinking, is an example. But this process can also help disguise our true feelings and can allow codependent people to believe any number of false things about themselves.
Codependent people generally have a hard time determining what exactly they are feeling at any given moment, tending instead to minimize, change or deny what it is they truly feel in order to be less “present.”
Low Self Esteem
Many of us grew up in dysfunctional family relationships and may have developed additional maladaptive survival strategies, such as drug abuse, to dull the pain of our low self esteem. We needed to sedate ourselves because our self worth was in the negative, or our sense of self or our self image was non-existent. Some of us turned to alcohol or drugs because we lived with an addicted partner, and instead of leaving, we took the “easy way out,” again.
Other methods codependents use to hide their pain are being negative or indirect, or being passive aggressive. Expressing anger at ourselves, using humor, or isolating are other unhealthy ways we hide our true selves from others.
The Codependent Relationship
Codependent people feel responsible for everyone else. Early on the family dynamics may have installed the belief that it is selfish, or that you should feel guilty, if you take care of your own needs first. Because the codependent individual never learned how to be assertive and control their own lives, they feel responsible to change or fix others.
Another form of codependent relationship is a relationship addiction. This is mainly characterized by relationship codependency. Intensive physical craving on the part of the addicted person, combined with the fear of losing control over the object of their addiction. Emotions can take a toll on a person’s mental and physical health and if you suffer from this addiction, especially due to unresolved trauma, it is important to get help.
Love addicts are people who are addicted to love relationships and are seeking the euphoric relief that comes through emotional manipulation of another person, in order to exert some emotional control over them.
Luckily, there are a variety of treatment options available, where you can spend time healing from codependency and start to examine new possibilities for you and your partner. Couples therapy or group therapy are two very effective options to begin to explore the issues that can occur in a relationship due to codependency.
Additionally, support groups like Codependents Anonymous (CODA) are a very effective way to learn about the origins of your codependency and to begin to find healthy ways to cope.
Be aware that it takes two to tango. There may be more than one partner or several family members that need to participate in the recovery process, if it is to be successful.
Turning Point of Tampa – Treating Addiction and Dysfunctional Families in Codependent Relationships
Turning Point of Tampa has been treating addiction by helping addicts and alcoholics find recovery for over 35 years. We also work with those in codependent relationships.
Veterans and civilians who are seeking a life of recovery from alcoholism, addiction and codependency can find recovery when embarking on the treatment journey.
We instill the promise of recovery, hope, and success within each client. If you or a loved one are seeking treatment or need immediate help please contact us directly.