What is a Codependent Relationships?

By: Shervan K. Shahhian

Liberty Psychological Association

Codependency is mostly used to describe a relationships where one is needy, or dependent upon, another.

The term codependency is more than an everyday clinginess. A codependent relationship is far more extreme than clinginess. A codependent person will plan their entire life around pleasing the other person, or the enable the other person.

A codependent relationship is a relationship where one needs the other person, who in turn, needs to be needed. This codependent circular relationship is the foundation of what many experts refer to when they talk about the “cycle” of codependency.

The codependent person’s self-esteem and self-worth will come only from sacrificing themselves for their significant other who is glad to receive their sacrifices.

Certain Facts About Codependency:

  • A codependent relationships can be between romantic partners, family members, or friends.
  • Often, a codependent relationship includes emotional or physical abuse.
  • Most of the time friends and family members of a codependent person may see that something is wrong.
  • Like any other mental or emotional health problem, the treatment protocol requires time and effort, as well as the help of a professional.

Dependence vs. Codependence

One should know the difference between depending on another, which can be a positive thing and an desirable trait, or codependency, which is harmful.

Examples that can illustrate the differences:

Dependent: 2 people rely on each other for love and support. Both partners can find value in their relationship.

Codependent: The codependent one feels worthless and unless they are needed by the other person and they are making drastic sacrifices for the other. The enabler gets gratification from getting their every need met by the codependent.

The codependent person can only be happy when they are making extreme sacrifices for their partner. The codependent feels they must be needed by the other person to have a purpose in life.

Dependent: Both partners make their relationship a priority, but they can also find joy in outside activities and interests like: other friends, and hobbies.

Codependent: The codependent person has no self identity, interests, or values outside of their destructive codependent relationship.

Dependent: Both partners can express their needs, emotions and find ways to make their relationship work better for both of them.

Codependent: The codependent person feels that their needs, desires are not important and they will not express them. They may have a difficult time to recognizing their own feelings or needs.

One or both sides can be codependent. A codependent individual will let go of other important areas of their life to please their partner. Their sick and extreme dedication to the other person may cause damage to:

  • Their other relationships.
  • Their work, school and career.
  • Their everyday self care responsibilities.

One should know that the enabler’s role is also dysfunctional. An individual who depends on a codependent does not learn how to have an equal, balanced relationship and is often comes to depend on another person’s sacrifices and neediness.

The Symptoms of Codependency:

It sometimes can be hard to notice the difference between a person who is codependent and a person who is just clingy or very enamored with another. But, an individual who is codependent will usually:

  • A codependent person finds no joy or happiness in a life outside of doing things for the other person.
  • A codependent person can stay in the relationship even if they are aware that their partner does hurt them.
  • A codependent person will do anything to please and satisfy their enabler, no matter the damage to themselves.
  • A codependent person feels a constant stress about their codependent relationship due to their desire to always be making the other person happy, at any cost.
  • A codependent person will use all their energy and time to give their partner everything they want.
  • A codependent person feels guilt about thinking of themselves in the relationship and will not show any personal needs or desires.
  • A codependent person will ignore their own conscience and morals to do what the other person wants of them.

Others may try to talk to the codependent person about their concerns. But even if others suggest that the person is too codependent, a dependent person in a codependent relationship will find it difficult to end the relationship.

The codependent individual will feel extreme difficulty about separating themselves from the enabler because their own life, and identity is dependent on sacrificing themselves for the other person.

How does a codependent relationship start?

Codependency is a learned behavior that usually comes from their past behavioral patterns and emotional problems. It was once thought to be a result of growing up with an addict parent.

Professionals now say codependency can result from a range of issues.

Damaging Parental Relationships:

Substance addicted parents at many times prioritize their needs over their children’s. This very serious issue may cause the children to become codependent as adults.

Adults who are codependent may often had problems with their parental relationship as a child or teenager.

These children and teens may have been taught that their own needs were less important than their parents’ needs, or not important at all.

In these types of dysfunctional families, children may have been taught to focus on their parent’s needs and to never think of their own needs.

Very needy parents may teach their children that: if the kids want anything for themselves they are selfish or greedy.

As a result, these children learn to forget their own needs and think only of what they can do for others.

In these horrible situations, one of the parents:

  • Maybe addicted to alcohol or drugs.
  • Very young parents, “Kids having kids”, or just a lack of maturity and emotional development, that has resulted in their own self-centered needs and wants.

These horrible situations may cause gaps in the emotional development of children, leading them to find codependent relationships as adults.

Growing Up With a Mentally or Physically Ill Family Member:

Codependency may be a result of caring for a person who is chronically ill for a long time, or being in the role of caregiver for a long time, especially starting at a young age, this situation may result in Children neglecting their own needs and growing up with a habit of only helping others.

In some situations a person’s self-worth may come form and around being needed by others and getting nothing in return.

Not all people who live with an ill family member develop codependency. But, it can happen, if a parent or a primary caretaker in the family displays the dysfunctional behaviors as listed above.

Abusive Family Dynamics:

Sexual abuse, physical, and emotional abuse will cause psychological problems that can last years or even an entire lifetime. One of the many problems that can arise from past trauma is codependency.

A child or teenager who is abused will learn to hide their pain as a defense mechanism against the abuse. This learned behavior can result in caring only about another’s feelings and not acknowledging their own needs, as an adult.

Sometimes an individual who is abused as a child or teen will look for abusive relationships later in life, because they are only familiar with this type of abusive relationship. This will often result in an codependent relationships.

Treatment of Codependency:

In individual or group therapy could be more helpful than couples therapy, because it can help the codependent person find their own feelings and actions as a separate and outside of the codependent relationship.

These Are Some Things that May Help Toward Having a Positive, Balanced Relationship:

  • Person in a codependent relationships might need to take steps to find some personal time in the relationship. They may need to explore and find a hobby or an activity that they may find enjoyable outside of the codependent relationship.
  • A codependent individual may try to spend more time with supportive friends and family members.
  • The enabler must realize the fact that they are damaging their codependent partner by allowing them to make extreme sacrifices for them.

Both, individual or group therapy can be very helpful for people who are codependent or in a codependent relationships. A professional can help them dig down inside and express their feelings that may have been buried since their childhood.

Persons who are or were victims of abuse will need to accept their past abuse and begin to feel their own needs and emotions again. Self care is what all humans must do for themselves.

Finally, both sides in a codependent relationship must learn to accept specific trends of behavior, such as “the urge of needing to be needed at any cost” and expecting the other person to plan their whole entire life around them.

By: Shervan K. Shahhian

  • Liberty Psychological Association

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