Codependency is also known as “relationship addiction.” It is where one or both people within a relationship are mentally, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually reliant on their partner or each other. A codependent relationship is imbalanced and dysfunctional, where often one person is the caretaker while the other requires and takes the care given. The extent of care can reach the point of enabling emotionally destructive and abusive behaviors, including addiction.
Being in a codependent relationship can take a toll on someone’s emotional and mental health, and can even result in physical harm. A codependent person may feel like they always need to be of service to the other party. Sometimes, they feel like they cannot function or are worthless without the other person’s presence or approval.
How Does Codependency Start?
Studies showed that codependency is prevalent among young adults, as they are often in the stage where they start to explore and seek long-term interpersonal relationships with family, friends, and even romantic partners. Those who have a dysfunctional interpersonal relationship with their family or parents have a higher chance of developing codependency disorder. This also especially applies to those who witnessed or experienced trauma, including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
Victims of abuse are also at risk of getting into abusive relationships, and sometimes they unconsciously gravitate towards it. They stay often due to ‘trauma bonding,’ where abuse is disguised as intermittent love and needing them too much. It sometimes feels euphoric and is romanticized as “crazy love,” when in reality, it is an unhealthy form of relationship, where the codependent is often gaslighted and manipulated towards becoming codependent.
Moreover, children who witnessed or cared for their parents due to an illness may also develop codependency disorder. This is because, in their formative years, they were given the responsibility to care for another being, taking away their chance to care for themselves.
The same principles apply to those who witnessed their parents suffer substance or alcohol abuse or other addictions, such as food or gambling. Children with parents suffering from addiction learned at a very young age to be sensitive and base their actions and emotions on that of their parents, in an effort to not cause problems or fights. They often carry these habits as they get older, which can unconsciously develop into codependency. In some instances, they adopt the addiction along with it.
Co-dependent relationships are extremely common among people with substance use issues. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, there are facilities like a Miami drug and alcohol rehab center and other institutions across states that can help.
Signs of Codependency
Many co-dependent relationships start as normal relationships. This is because the abuser often masks it to be one. But their true intentions will be revealed gradually. Codependency is learned and developed over time, and it is important to be aware of its earliest indication in order to avoid it. Here are some signs of a codependent relationship:
Lack of Boundaries
For many, it can be difficult to say no and be assertive about what they want. This can be normal, but if it reaches a point where you are bending and breaking your own beliefs or neglecting your own needs just to say yes to people, you might have problems with establishing your boundaries.
Having problems with recognising and respecting boundaries in terms of someone’s feelings and autonomy can be a sign of codependency. When you are developing codependency, you tend to allow others to think for you, believing that what is right for them will be right for you too. You lose a sense of independence in terms of decision-making, and at times, you lose your moral compass.
When you do not have clear boundaries, people can easily pull you anywhere, and call you when they need you. If they do this and you drop everything anytime just to answer them, it can be a sign that you have not established boundaries or have lost them, and are becoming codependent.
Having low self-esteem comes with being in a codependent relationship. This is because you’re always needing and waiting for validation from another person. You find purpose in them rather than your own. A codependent person needs constant approval to not feel lost, otherwise, they feel worthless.
Low self-esteem affects general well-being. Viewing yourself negatively can make you neglect your needs even more. You will not be able to fully realize your worth and potential, and recognize your own needs, goals and aspirations. When you have low self-esteem, you tend to hide away and look at yourself as someone undeserving of attention, care and love. Sometimes, the controlling and manipulative person within a codependent relationship intentionally makes the other party feel this way out of mere insecurity.
It is difficult and almost impossible to have healthy and effective communication in a codependent relationship. This is because it is mainly an imbalanced relationship, hence the communication within it will be partial and is often taken over by one party.
When you sense that you are finding it difficult to communicate about issues and just things in general with your partner, friends or family, it can be a sign of codependency. This is especially when you hold back your own thoughts and feelings because of fear of how they may feel.
A healthy dependent relationship must be a space for open communication, where one party speaks their mind and the other listens and tries to understand and vice versa. This is done to effectively solve problems or even just to share stories and thoughts. If you are in a relationship where speaking your mind scares you, it is important to check if that relationship is still healthy and worth maintaining.
Trouble Being Alone
As a person with codependency issues loses the image of their own self, being alone becomes a terrifying thing. Outsourcing your purpose and happiness from your partner can make you dependent on them. At some point, you fear being separated from them or doing things on your own, like taking vacations and making major decisions.
Not being able to be away from your partner even for a short period of time and overthinking where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with can instill jealousy, which can lead to other negative emotions, like anger and loneliness. Some people in a codependent relationship become over-protective and even possessive of their partners out of fear of being left alone.
Break Free from Codependency
Codependency happens because of various factors, including one’s upbringing and past experiences as well as current relationships. In any case, a codependent relationship is unhealthy, and codependency disorder must be addressed properly. It is important to be aware of your thoughts, emotions and feelings, as well as your boundaries and the intentions of people around you. This way, you can better establish your own identity, identify and attend to your own needs and develop harmonious, dependent relationships with the people you value most.