The word unhealthy immediately brings to mind something that is not good for you. None of us want to be unhealthy whether it be physically, mentally, emotionally or any other way.
When it comes to matters of the heart, there are many ways that one can sabotage healthy relationships. Today, we’ll talk specifically about codependency.
Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as, “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive. Codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.
Codependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine – and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.
They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Codependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need.
The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the codependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.” When caretaking becomes compulsive, the codependent feels choiceless and helpless in the relationship but is unable to break away from the cycle of behavior that causes it. Codependents view themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in the love and friendship relationships.
Can you identify with the characteristics of a codependent? Are you willing to confront the situation should you find that the information mirrors your life? Being honest with oneself is the first step to resolving any type of addiction including codependency.
Psychcentral.com provides a list of symptoms of codependency and states that you don’t have to have all of these to qualify:
- Low self-esteem. Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others
- People-pleasing. Codependents usually don’t think they have a choice and saying “no” causes them anxiety.
- Poor boundaries. Boundaries are imaginary lines between you and others. It divides what’s yours and somebody else’s including your body, money, belongings, feelings, thoughts, and needs. Codependents usually have blurry and weak boundaries.
- Reactivity. A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. You absorb their words because there’s no boundary.
- Caretaking. Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone has a problem, codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. They may even feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help.
- Control. Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. For codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings.
- Dysfunctional communication. Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings, and needs. You’re afraid to be truthful because you don’t want to upset someone else.
- Obsessions. Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears.
- Dependency. Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own.
- Denial. One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it – meaning they don’t want to face their problem. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person; or go from one relationship to another and never own up to the fact that they have a problem. Codependents also deny their feelings and needs.
- Problems with intimacy. Intimacy in the case does not exclude sex but also includes being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, there is a fear of being judged, rejected or left. On the other hand, there is the fear of being smothered in a relationship or losing your autonomy.
- Painful emotions. Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone.
Finding your new normal in the midst of codependency will take some work. Much of this conditioning has taken place over many years and will require some gentle reprogramming for dealing with relationships going forward. It will require courage and a strong belief for change to evolve. The aforementioned article suggested joining a 12-Step program such as Codependents Anonymous or seek counseling. I personally support spiritual guidance through scripture reading, prayer, and meditation to affect permanent and positive change in my life.
We all have areas where we want to improve and become our best selves. Learning these things while growing and developing within relationships is most important. We have a duty to learn how to coexist with intimate partners in healthy ways. I may sound a little like the “relationship police” here, but it really gets old watching individuals become devastated in relationship after relationship because of distorted views about dating from a unhealthy place.
I totally support the position that relationships should be an extension of who you are and what you do, but not everything your are and do. That is too much of someone else creating your existence. What happens when they walk out of your life or move to another country? When you think about spouses who lose a mate due to death or divorce, there has to be something on the inside of those individuals that keeps them going after the loss. Coping skills must be in existence before such events occur because it would be extremely difficult to acquire such skills in the midst of traumatizing and life-shattering life events.
In closing, I appeal to men and women to consider whether or not they are true to themselves in this season of life. That means avoiding people-pleasing behavior for the purpose of acceptance. How long can you keep up the charade? Do you want to keep up the charade? If you don’t want to be emotionally exhausted for life, reconsider your relationships based on what you’ve just read because the love you save in this instance may be your own.