"As long as we believe that someone else has the power to make us happy then we are setting ourselves up to be victims"Usually associated with relationships with a substance abuser, codependency in relationships broadly refers to the emotional and behavioral pattern that is the result of any dysfunctional relationship. Therefore, a codependent is a person who belongs to a family in which there are members who are involved in self-destructive behavior. Due to various emotional and psychological reasons, the codependent person perpetuates and controls the self-destructive behavior so much so that the other person in the relationship is not able to recover from his/her addiction and continues to rely on the person. Merriam Webster dictionary defines codependency as "a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition such as an addiction."
The common trait of all codependents include a desire to control people around them or a need to be controlled by others. This could be fueled by lack of self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and a compelling need to fulfill the other person's needs by sacrificing your own. To understand the relationships dynamics and issues surrounding it, we need to first look into the common signs of codependency.
Symptoms of Codependent Relationships
Signs of such relationships include distrust, controlling behavior, and a tendency to place your wants and needs over others. This is often accompanied by clinical depression and feelings of being 'trapped' and frustrated.
- Problems with intimacy
- Difficulty in making decisions
- Obsessed with fixing needy people
- Avoiding emotional and other problems
- Not being able to assert themselves or feel a sense of guilt when doing so
- Distrust towards people
- Difficulty in expressing feelings
- Fear of rejection
- Worrying about other people's reactions and feelings
- Seeking constant approval and recognition
- Excessive caretaking and constant vigilance
- Low self-worth and self-esteem
- Stress-related health problems
Causes of Codependency in Relationships
One of the most probable causes of these relationships is a problem in the family during childhood. All of us are born dependent on our parents for meeting our needs. With the developmental process, we move on to the symbiosis phase where the child demands the care and help of his parents and they provide him with the adequate care and look after his needs. This stage then progresses to competence and independence or interdependence in the adult years. In a codependent relationship, the children are not allowed to make the independent choices in life and instead tend to cling on to the codependent parents. This neediness and dependency may mark his or her relationships later on in life as well. These relationships can also be the result of traumatic events such as the death of a parent or divorce in the family, mental health problems such as depression and emotional, physical or sexual abusive relationships. Thus, the fear of emotional abandonment permeates into the adult years as they tend to cling to one person, wanting to please them and fulfill their needs.
How to Overcome Such Relationships
It is important that people in such relationships pull out off it as soon as possible. You can get counseling and help from a psychologist, physician, or mental health worker. Individual and group therapy can work quite well. Based on the twelve-step program model of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are many support groups which can help you recover and work towards a healthy behavior. Psychologists also recommend opting for short-term family therapy. Getting in touch with the childhood issues and reconstructing the family dynamics can help you understand as to how to handle such relationships.
It is important not to confuse codependent relationships with actual care for a person, especially someone who has the problem of substance abuse. Also, parents should encourage children to communicate and express their feelings instead of placing unrealistic demands and expectations on them. Repressed anger and a need to control things during childhood can strain the free and healthy development of the child. It can also hurt the child's self-esteem in their adult life and lead to dysfunctional relationships.