What is Codepedency?
The term codependency has been around for many years and was initially developed to define the characteristics of the spouse of an alcoholic. Today, it is generally acknowledged that codependency exists in that particular type of relationship but also in many others.
I describe codependency as a pattern of beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that lead to behaviors that significantly impact an individual’s life, allows the individual to focus on other people and other entities, and keeps the individual from developing healthy coping skills and an independent sense of self. This pattern encourages individuals to develop and stay in unhealthy relationships, also sometimes called codependent relationships.
Codependent relationship traits are very common, everyone engages in some of them at some point in their lives. Melody Beatty, in her book “Codependent No More” describes codependency this way:
Codependency is normal behavior, plus. There are times when we do too much, care too much, feel too little, or overly engage. We forget where the other person’s responsibilities begin and our responsibilities stop. Or we get busy and have so much to do that we neglect ourselves.
On occasion, we all do too much, say yes when we should say no, and neglect ourselves. Occasionally, it may be healthy to overly engage with others, care too much, or shut off our own feelings in order to be able to get through the day. The problem comes when those mechanisms become the automatic default in ourselves. When the codependency traits become ingrained and take over an individual’s personality, then the codependence has crossed into unhealthy territory.
What are the symptoms of Codependency?
Codependence can take many forms. Although it all may be similar in different people, beliefs and thoughts will not look exactly the same, feelings will not feel exactly the same, and the behaviors may look slightly different in each individual. The symptoms of codependency fall into several categories; you may recognize some of these in yourself.
You may struggle with your own and other’s feelings, perhaps you are afraid that feelings will destroy the relationship. You may experience:
- Difficulty expressing feelings
The stress of codependent behaviors and codependent relationships, you may have experienced:
- Suppressed immune functioning
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Migraine headaches
- High blood pressure
- Heart arrhythmia
- Sexual dysfunction
Codependent traits are especially visible in the distinctive way that you treat others or the way you allow others to treat you. This can include:
- Excessive caretaking
- Weak boundaries
- Dependent relationships
- Controlling of others through manipulating
Codependent relationships develop and “work” because both of the individuals in the relationship are struggling with some type of onging thoughts and issues in their head. You may be experiencing:
- Low self-esteem
- Dependency on others to meet your own needs and wants
- Repression of one’s own needs
- Lack of trust
How do you treat Codependency?
Change is challenging. It can be difficult to acknowledge the need for change, hard to work through the problems, and overwhelming to keep putting one foot in front of the other every day. But it is clearly possible. Effective treatment for codependency addresses the beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the individual. By making small, incremental changes over time, lasting change occurs. Changes are made by:
- Identifying and working to change the underlying beliefs
- Acknowledging the thoughts and feelings and using cognitive strategies to change the focus
- Learning specific techniques for controlling and shifting negative behaviors
You may need some help to make these changes. You can find help utilizing:
- Individual Psychotherapy
- Psycho-educational groups
- Support Groups