Finding The Best Way Forward
What’s the hallmark of a healthy relationship? It’s the idea that you and your partner both give one-another emotional support and a sense of fulfilment or belonging. But what happens when one person becomes so dependent on their partner that their own needs and identity fade into the background? This is what we call ‘codependency’ – a term that has become popular amongst the public and mental health providers alike. In this article, we’re going to explore what Codependency looks like, how common it is and when one should seek help. We’ll also explore some available treatment options. Read on to learn more.
What is Codependency?
In a codependent relationship, one person is overly dependent on the other to meet their emotional needs. As a result, codependent relationships tend to be one-sided, dysfunctional and at times even abusive. For example, in codependent relationships, one person typically spends a huge amount of time and energy trying to tend to their partner’s needs. They may become exploited in the process and end up feeling helplessly trapped.
It makes sense, then, that codependent people often struggle with boundary setting, low self-esteem, abandonment issues, an excessive need to help others and a difficulty in asserting their own emotional needs. It is also worth noting that codependent relationships aren’t always romantic or marital in nature; codependency can be experienced within the context of a friendship or family bond as well.
When Is It Unhealthy To Depend On Your Partner?
Hang on – aren’t we encouraged to depend on our partners for emotional sustenance? Of course, in a healthy relationship, there will be a certain amount of emotional dependence: this is normal, and we call it interdependence. So, what’s the differ
ence between (healthy) interdependence and (unhealthy) codependence? The main difference is that in codependent relationships, one person usually represses their true feelings and desires so that they can prioritize their partner’s needs. This is different from interdependent relationships, where one can maintain one’s own sense of self whilst also recognizing that one’s partner is needed and appreciated. Furthermore, a healthy relationship is mutually beneficial, rather than one-sided: it’s balanced to the extent that you both support and rely on each other.
How common is it?
Some studies suggest that as many as one in four people are affected. Having said that, a vast number of signs and symptoms have been linked with codependency, which makes it tricky to get an accurate estimate of its prevalence. It is also not officially recognised as a medical condition due in part to the disorder not being clearly defined, which makes it harder to track the exact statistics. Nevertheless, for people in codependent relationships, the struggle is very real. Read on to find out more about this complex condition and the available treatment options.
Links With Addiction
The idea of codependency started gaining traction back in the 1980s due to action by the Al-Anon– a support group for family members or partners of people struggling with alcoholism. They started using the term because they noticed that the spouses and family of members of alcoholics often suffered greatly due to their loved one’s addictive behaviour – and yet they seemed to engage unintentionally in behaviour that often fuelled their partner’s behaviour. For example, one common behaviour pattern is called enabling: this is where one partner finds ways of protecting the other from the damaging consequences of their addiction in order to fulfil an underlying need to remain needed.
What Causes Codependency?
While researchers have yet to fully understand all of the possible causes, codependency is thought to be linked to the childhood experience of having had a parent (or parents) who demanded that more attention be placed on their own needs, rather than the child’s. Perhaps the parent had a mental illness, excessively difficult life circumstances or an addiction. In these cases, the child’s needs tend to be neglected; and the child develops a pattern of selfless behaviour as well as a deep-seated belief that his/her needs are less important than those of other people.
Who seeks Codependency Counselling?
People in codependent relationships are often wracked with powerful feelings of shame and guilt. In addition to re-experiencing dysfunctional relationship patterns, codependents are frequently affected by a low self-esteem and a powerful fear of abandonment. So, in sum: people who struggle with codependence experience a range of difficult emotional and interpersonal situations – it’s these experiences that usually bring them to therapy in the first place, long before they are aware of the codependent dynamics that underlie their struggles. This means that even though codependency itself isn’t an officially recognized psychiatric disorder, people who struggle with it still stand to benefit from therapy.
What Kinds of Codependency Counselling are Available?
Codependency issues exist in the context of relationships – and often these problems are born in the family. Therefore, family therapy is well-suited to people seeking codependency counselling, especially to the extent that it targets unhealthy patterns of engagement between family members. Your therapist will work with the family to bring about a greater awareness of problematic dynamics, new ways of relating to one-another and different strategies for managing relationship problems when they arise. Through this process, the family has an opportunity to learn healthier ways of interacting and communicating with each other.
This may be indicated in cases where one person struggles with drug use, alcohol use, or behavioural addictions (such as gambling). In these situations, it is important for both partners to attend therapy and work together to reach common goals. The partner presenting with codependency will learn how their behaviours may be enabling the addiction and what they can do to break this cycle.It is important that both issues are addressed at the same time, given that codependency, enabling and addiction all feed powerfully off one-another.
Your therapist may suggest group therapy as an additional way to treat codependency. A therapy group serves as a safe space to explore codependency issues and work towards specific therapeutic outcomes, such as becoming more assertive and self-assured. Less focussed (but also helpful) codependency support groups may also available in your area – these aim to provide you with a greater sense of support and belonging by bringing you closer to people who are in a similar situation.
Common therapy goals include learning to set healthy boundaries and improving your self-esteem. Other forms of individual therapy focus more on understanding the origins of your codependent tendencies by making links with your past experiences. Through all of this, you will be supported and empowered in putting your own needs and ideas first, without the experience of unnecessary shame!
By addressing your codependency concerns through individual therapy, you stand to benefit from a stronger sense of self; and healthier, more balanced relationships with your family, partner and friends. Furthermore, commonly co-occurring mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, can also be managed within individual codependency counselling.
Where To From Here?
As we have learned, codependency is a complex condition that can manifest in various ways. At the end of the day, we’re all individuals – and different support plans should be tailored according to your own specific needs. If you identify with some of the signs of codependency discussed here, you may want to consider speaking with a trained professional who can guide you regarding the best way forward. Remember: there is help available! Through therapy, you can gain a better sense of trust, respect and confidence in yourself as the full person that you are.
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