Codependence is a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person with low self-esteem and a strong desire for approval has an unhealthy attachment to another person. They place the needs of the other person before their own. A codependent person tries to satisfy the needs of another, who is often controlling or manipulative and who may have an addictive or emotionally unstable personality. Codependency is about damaged self-esteem, damaged functional boundaries, and an intense focus on pleasing other people while denying one’s own needs and wants.
Codependence can also be excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to substance abuse or mental health issues. Well known self-help author Melody Beattie defines a codependent person as one who has let another person’s behaviour affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behaviour. People who are codependent often have a background of prolonged exposure to oppressive rules and in childhood were not allowed to openly express themselves. This emotional and psychological pattern continues into adulthood, where the codependent will put themselves in situations that mimic past patterning. The rules they had to follow did not allow them to discuss feelings, emotions or perceptions openly.
Codependent people may always be attracted to alcoholics, drug addicts or other similarly needy and emotionally unavailable people. They may feel they must be in a relationship to feel worthwhile and may be unable to end a relationship that is not healthy. They are often people pleasers who do not take time for themselves. They can even forget that they need to take care of themselves. The dynamic in the relationship is one of manipulation, control, enmeshment and giving up aspects of oneself.
Origins of Codependence
Codependent relationships can involve anyone, but is often thought of as only being in marriage or romantic relationship, when in fact, a codependent relationship could be at work with a boss or coworker or with friends and family. It could happen between a parent and child or within family members. Codependent behaviour often originates from growing up in a dysfunctional family environment where one or both of the parents were addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill in some way. In the dysfunctional family the child was often parentified and made to believe that they were responsible for the needs of the adults.
The concept of codependence comes from the study of the alcoholic family and from Alcoholics Anonymous and Alanon. In the 1980s, addiction treatment specialists began to realise that the problems of addiction were not solely that of the addicts, but also issues of the family and friends who were all part of a network of unhealthy dependence. The definition of codependence was later broadened to cover the way in which a codependent person is fixated on the needs of others.
Are you Codependent?
It’s good to connect with people and have interdependence. Interdependence is healthy, codependence is not. The bottom line is that you should not have to give up who you are to be in a relationship. Any relationship could be deemed as having elements of codependency, but problems arise when codependent patterns develop early on in a relationship and the relationship becomes unbalanced, unhealthy, and eventually toxic.
Examples of Enabling Behaviours
- You justify your husband’s (or anyone’s) drinking by saying he has had a stressful day or needs to relax.
- You make excuses when your girlfriend can’t come to social functions because she is under the influence of drugs.
- You quietly take on extra responsibilities around the house or at work.
- You find yourself frequently apologising to others or doing favours to repair relationships damaged by your friend’s mental illness.
- You risk your own financial future by loaning money to your partner to cover debts incurred from substance abuse.
- You help someone who could help themselves.
Symptoms of Codependency
Here are some signs of codependency:
- You are drawn to addicts.
- You often choose people that you feel sorry for and can rescue.
- You feel responsible for the actions of others.
- You do more than your share in the relationship to keep the peace.
- You are afraid of being abandoned or alone.
- You feel responsible for your partner’s happiness.
- You need approval from others to gain your own self-worth.
- You feel that you can change someone’s behaviour.
- Your moods are controlled by the thoughts and feelings of others.
- You feel drained by a person or relationship with that person.
- You expect yourself to be perfect.
- You feel like you will die without the other person.
If you answered yes to two or more of these things then you might be codependent. The good news is that you can heal from codependency.
What is the Best Treatment for Codependency?
Recovery from codependency can include going through an inpatient or outpatient treatment programme for codependency, attending twelve-step meetings, seeing a marriage and family therapist, reading self-help books, self-actualisation techniques and meditation. Self-awareness is a main ingredient in healing from codependency. There are tons of self-help books out there that address codependent relationships.
Group therapy, treatment centres, and 12-step programmes have proven to be helpful in recovering from codependency. Being amongst others who have had similar experiences can be very beneficial. It helps you understand that you are not alone and that recovery is possible. Sometimes just the awareness that you are acting from a particularly old behaviour pattern is helpful, as awareness is the first step to change.
Remember that recovery is a process. It’s similar to learning an instrument or a new sport. It takes time to build these new skills and muscles. Most of all it takes practice. Do not expect perfection. Recovery is possible, but codependency does not occur overnight and it will take time to heal. You will learn to gradually let go of old behaviours, set boundaries, detach from toxic people and learn to enjoy life again.
The best thing about recovery from codependency is that you get to explore what your wants and needs are. You will begin to learn what you like to do and what brings you joy. Recovery is a process of building a new healthy relationship with yourself.
Inpatient Treatment for Codependency
If you or someone you love is struggling with codependence, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness centre can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centres. We treat codependency, addiction, and psychological issues by investigating the dynamics of the addict/codependent relationship using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), although other types of therapy may also be used. We ensure healthy boundary setting is put into practice to prevent relapse after you return home. If needed we will also incorporate a dedicated family programme into each individual’s treatment plan.