Our day-to-day lives create a spider web woven onto those around us to create the life we know. We exist in a few different ways: our internal thoughts and exterior relationships. While we can choose what we think about, at least to a degree, we can’t choose to avoid exterior relationships.
So it stands to reason that we would want to look at how we interact in a more analytical light. It isn’t easy for some people to be in a relationship with someone. In fact, according to a study done by Virginia Satir, roughly 96% of the population struggles with codependency in their relationships. What is codependency? What does it mean to you? If it is so common among people, is it that big of a deal? We’ll attempt to answer those questions while delving into the history of this very serious issue.
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Understanding the Nature of Codependency
When we look at the word ‘codependency’, what exactly do we conjure up in our minds? Of course, our first thoughts probably go straight to some variation of ‘helpless’. We believe that a codependent person must be reliant on someone else in their life.
Whether we think of the girlfriend and her abusive boyfriend or the young child that badly needs its mother, the outcome is the same. These are examples of codependence, but they are not the whole equation; to understand the situation, we first need to define codependent people.
- CODEPENDENT DEFINITION – Merriam-Webster defines a codependent person as suffering from a form of addiction. This person needs the other person in their life. They need to feel cherished by them, they need to feel their approval, and they need it constantly. This is a common psychological problem that is heavily associated with drug users.
Now that we’ve looked at the definition of codependency, we can start to get into the meat of the word. Why do people behave in this way? If it afflicts nearly 96% of people, as noted above by Virginia Satir, how do we know it is a problem?
To answer these questions, we will first examine the public support groups that have sprouted up around this rapidly recognized psychological condition.
Codependents Anonymous & the Rise of Mental Health Awareness
As discussed above, extreme codependence can be identified as a psychological condition. Not only do codependents need to feel approval and love, but they need it all the time. Much like an alcoholic, the need becomes almost consuming.
So to combat this need, support groups began to pop up all over the country, starting in 1986. Ken and Mary Burns are the founders of Codependents Anonymous, and it is their work that has pushed the illness out into the open and the mainstream.
The brand of a support group that Mary and Ken Burns brought to the world for codependency was an almost 1:1 imagining of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Burns use the same 12 steps Alcoholics Anonymous has made so famous with one minor adjustment. At the beginning of their steps, there is a prefaced statement that reads: ‘We admitted we were powerless over others. This line is a substitution that is used to reference alcohol.
Codependents Anonymous experienced an explosion of growth in its early years, culminating in a National Service Conference. The Conference marked a huge moment in Burns’ attempt to bring mental awareness to the forefront of society.
Since that explosion of growth, the group has become a steady source of support for those willing to attack their struggles with relationship development. Thanks to their work, you can find literature in stores everywhere, such as Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. Beattie served as a hand-in-hand source of help for the Burns mission.
Let us now look at the common signs and traits of a person struggling with codependency.
Signs and Traits of Codependency
Were you interested in joining Codependents Anonymous? You would only need to glance at their ‘Foundational Documents’ to assess whether you belong? Rather than trying to define codependency, the group would rather their members self-diagnose. To get a proper self-diagnosis, the group at CoDA creates and updates a charter of symptoms that potential members can always reference. Let’s take a look at what it means to be codependent.
#1. Patterns of Denial: Codependents will often…
- Have difficulty with putting their feelings into exact thoughts
- Mask how they truly feel by minimalizing their true emotions or changing them.
- Consider themselves as completely charitable, gracious, and dedicated.
- Commonly mask their pain with humour, anger, or solitude.
- Commonly act in passive-aggressive ways when upset.
#2. Patterns of Low Self Esteem: Codependents will often…
- Have trouble making simple decisions.
- Second, guess themselves routinely.
- Get embarrassed by any praise, gifts, or common recognition.
- Initiate self-loathing frequently.
- Refuse to admit their own mistakes.
- They feel they have to be right, no matter how small the problem.
- Have difficulty making straightforward requests.
- Have trouble with deadlines, boundaries, and maintaining their priorities.
#3. Patterns of Compliance: Codependents will often…
- Attach almost fierce loyalty to those that harm them.
- Change their values and integrity to fit in with people.
- Give up on their ideas to please the crowd
- Replace love with sexual attention and gratification
- Value approval over what is right.
#4. Patterns of Control: Codependents will often…
- Believe that all people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
- Try to change how people think and feel.
- Offer unrequited advice and direction.
- Become hurt when people snub them, even in minor ways.
- Give inappropriately large gifts, commonly, to those that they admire.
Dealing with Those Struck with Codependency
As you can tell from the list above, codependency tends to take on a broad brush when it begins to get into the nitty-gritty. We can see that many common traits and symptoms allude to codependency while also being the signs of a simply rude person.
So what can you do to identify whether someone you know or love is struggling with codependency? Fortunately, and unfortunately, all you really can do is talk to them. Finding out their thoughts, and comparing them to the symptoms, can be a good way to get a tab on how they are feeling. Codependency afflicts people of all ages, races, creeds, and relationship statuses.
Identifying Where Codependency Comes From
Research has shown that codependency is common in people in varying degrees of severity. So we have to ask ourselves, why? Why does one person seem to suffer from codependent behavior more exaggeratedly than someone else? According to Mental Health America, codependent behavior can find its roots in the history of a person’s experience.
Mental Health America states that they believe that a dysfunctional home life filled with family-related issues can be the source of this behavior in adult life. Problems such as drug, gambling, sex, or work addictions can also impact. According to the same reports, emotional and physical abuse has also been linked.
The biggest problem that a dysfunctional family seems to have is that they lack empathy to reduce the issue. Instead, the energy that Who should focus on fixing problems is thrown at making them worse for one reason or another. Thus the entire family unit slowly starts to grow in different directions while becoming emotionally stunted in their ways.
Treating Codependent Behavior
The first step in treating codependency is by acknowledging that it exists. You are on the path to recovery when you can have that clarity; like all mental illnesses, Who cannot make changes overnight. There is no light switch in your head to make things better. Instead, you have to work at it every single day. Like alcoholism, there is a treatment plan that you can follow, and it starts with finding support.
Joining a support group like the ones we listed above will put you in the right place to fix yourself emotionally. After that, you can start to take therapy sessions with a psychiatrist. These sessions will help you come to terms with your past while deciding how you want to carve out your future.
Codependency is ingrained in our being if we suffer from it. Looking past the problem, there is a tunnel of light ahead. We must know how to get there to reduce or eliminate the unhealthy way we attach ourselves to relationships. Knowledge and a proactive approach to getting things done can go a long way toward remedying codependency in yourself or those you love or wish to take care of.