In my last blog post, I discussed what boundaries are and how to set them. Boundaries and codependency often go hand-in-hand (or so you would think), so I thought it was appropriate to write about codependency next. Codependency is one of the issues I see most with my clients. You may think codependency is just "spending a lot of time together." Although that may be a trait of it, that is not necessarily the case. Codependency is an excessive reliance on a relationship --emotionally, physically and psychologically.
I often see codependency in relationships where one or both partners (family members, friend, etc.) struggle with alcohol or substance abuse (or other mental health disorder). Codependency often (but not always) derives from unhealthy parent-child relationships, and what we observe and experience growing up. I have listed some of the significant ways in which a relationship can be categorized as codependent:
1. A tendency to engage in helping behaviors that may be well-intentioned, yet are unhealthy and unproductive. For example, enabling. We may feel that financially supporting our loved one, or allowing him/her to stay in our home is helping, yet it can actually keep our loved one from seeking the help that he/she may really need (and experience consequences of his/her actions).
2. A tendency to "rescue" others. We may exhibit a pattern of assuming responsibility for other people. The need to "save" is a common trait of codependency. This is actually unhelpful, rather than helpful.
3. Thus, we exhibit a pattern of attracting or seeking out people who we feel need "saving." We (often subconsciously) look for people to take care of. We may think we are helping that them, yet we are keeping them from experiencing them own consequences of behavior and assuming responsibility for their own lives.
4. Despite what it may cost us and those around us, we enter and remain in relationships that result in us being the caretaker - whether that is physically, emotionally, financially or all of the aforementioned. Rescuing and caring for our loved one becomes the main priority, and we sacrifice our own needs or responsibilities in order to assume our loved one's.
5. We build our self-esteem off of the sacrifices we make in order to help and satisfy the needs of our loved one(s). How we feel is based off of how they feel. What we do is based off of what they do. And we derive our self-worth and self-esteem off of our helping them.
Some questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you unable to find satisfaction in your life outside of your loved one?
2. Do you recognize unhealthy behaviors in your loved one, yet stay in the relationship in spite of them?
3. Are you giving support to your loved one at the cost of your own mental, emotional, and physical health?
The good news is: there is a way out. And that does not mean you are abandoning your loved one. By setting boundaries and breaking the cycle of enmeshment, you are actually HELPING him/her AND yourself.
One of the books I recommend most to my clients is Melody Beattie's Codependent No More. I highly recommend it. You can purchase it off of my "Book List" page under the Resources tab of my website.