Sharing is a fundamental part of any relationship, and healthy relationships will have a balance between giving and taking. We all know that taking too much from someone can leave them depleted – but it can be just as harmful to give too much of yourself too often, especially when it causes you to neglect your own needs. This pattern of behavior is called codependency, and it’s more common than you might think.
Codependency is when a person is overly fixated on their partner to the point that they put the person above everything else, including themselves. Their self-esteem hinges entirely on their partner’s opinion of them, and they begin to lose their own identity.
Most codependent people don’t realize their behavior is harmful, but they sometimes find that all their relationships follow the same pattern of deterioration without understanding why this keeps happening.
Because this type of behavior develops over time, it can be difficult to know how to stop codependency. The good news is that, as a learned behavior, codependency can also be unlearned. Getting to know the signs of codependency can help you recognize codependent behavior in yourself or others.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency comes in many forms. It most often happens in relationships or marriage, but codependency can also occur in friendships and between family members.
Codependency develops when one person in the relationship asserts themselves as the “giver.” This puts the other person in the position of the “taker,” whether this is a position they want to be in or not.
Loss of identity and poor self-esteem can develop in a codependent relationship due to the unequal power balance. The dysfunctional dynamic can’t be sustained for long periods of time, and both partners may end up feeling burnt out, emotionally exhausted, and frustrated.
Sometimes the partner of a codependent person takes advantage of their need for approval. Codependency can be an enabler of poor behavior, as the giver continues to praise their partner even if their partner’s actions cause hurt or harm to themselves or others. Partners with issues such as narcissism are particularly likely to misuse a codependent person in this way. This volatile situation can often result in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Another possible result of codependency is a sense of hopelessness and despair. In some people, this can lead to symptoms of mental illness, including depression and anxiety, or can make existing conditions worse.
How to Know if You Are Codependent?
Codependency manifests in different ways, depending on the person who experiences it and their situation. A common theme, though, is the neglect of oneself for the benefit of the other person.
Signs of codependency include:
- Feeling worthless without your partner’s approval
- Prioritizing the needs of your partner to the point of neglecting your own
- Doing anything your partner wants, even if it makes you uncomfortable
- Having low self-esteem
- Neglecting your own interests and hobbies
- Growing distant from friends and family
- Being afraid of saying or doing anything that might upset your partner
- Not speaking up if you disapprove of or are hurt by your partner’s words or actions
- Making excuses for anything your partner does wrong
How Does Codependency Develop?
Theories about why and how codependency develops vary, but most experts agree that the roots are often in childhood.
Research has found links between family troubles during childhood – like homes where there were problems with addiction, chronic illness, or emotional abuse – and becoming codependent as an adult.
Unstable home environments and the disruption of a healthy parent-child relationship can lead to children developing codependent behavior as a way of coping and reducing anxiety. In some cases, codependent parents inadvertently pass down this trait as children mimic modeled behavior. Traumatic events can cause or worsen codependency.
At the same time, many experts find there to be a more simple, everyday explanation – namely, that codependency, like many unhealthy coping mechanisms, can have many origins. Most often, codependency develops as a result of the combined influence of particular personality traits, relationship histories, and past experiences.
Ultimately, anyone can develop issues with codependency. Realizing the influence codependency has on your quality of life is the first step towards codependency recovery.
How to Overcome Codependency Issues?
There are many methods you can use to overcome codependency. For a start, awareness makes it much easier to recognize and change problematic behavior.
Here are some tips to help you overcome codependency issues.
Spend time alone
When your identity and self-esteem is tied to someone else’s view of you, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes you who you are. Pursuing things of interest to you without taking a partner’s opinion or reaction into account can help you get back in touch with yourself.
This is especially important after a breakup, as codependent people often jump from relationship to relationship to maintain their sense of self-worth. Being single for a while and exploring what gives you joy and contentment will make for a better foundation when the next relationship does come along.
Take care of your body and mind
Even if you don’t feel an increase in self-esteem yet, pretend that you do and take all the actions that someone who values themselves would. It can help to think of a loved one and imagine what things you would encourage them to do to take care of themselves, both physically and psychologically.
Nurture yourself by looking after your body – be sure to eat regularly and get enough sleep. Be gentle with yourself and be fully present in whatever emotions you may feel. Spending time on yourself by practicing meditation or doing yoga are also helpful forms of self-care.
Reconnect with friends and family
Codependency typically thrives on isolation, and reconnecting with friends and family can give some clarity. Notice what your loved ones value about you, and compare it with how you value yourself. Chances are, their love for you is based on who you are and not what you do.
Work on figuring out your own wants and goals for the future
Codependent people are often so wrapped up in living for their partner that they forget about their own dreams and aspirations. It’s common for codependency to motivate people to adopt their partner’s goals rather than their own. Reconsider your long-term goals or plans, and try to figure out if they’re truly what you want and are in your best interest.
Consider seeing a therapist
Working on yourself is by no means a quick and easy process, and having someone on your team backing you up and giving you guidance can help immensely. Technology has made it easier than ever to find a counselor, thanks to online therapy services.
How to Overcome Codependency Using Online Therapy
Talking to a therapist can be immensely helpful in identifying codependent behavior and learning new ways to cope, like setting appropriate boundaries to avoid past pitfalls in relationships.
If your codependency stems from trauma or childhood issues, a therapist can help you unpack those experiences and come to terms with them. Therapists can also teach you to recontextualize the thoughts and feelings of others that previously defined your self-worth.
If your codependent relationship has caused depression or anxiety, online therapy can also be used to treat these conditions, leading to an overall improvement in functioning and quality of life.
How to Find a Good Online Therapist
It’s not always easy to find the right therapist, and the thought of seeing a therapist for the first time can make some people nervous about therapy. Online counseling is ideal for these situations. Many people find that being at home, in a familiar environment, makes the process more comfortable.
Speaking to an online counselor is a concrete step towards becoming yourself again, and just having taken the time and effort to do so is rewarding in and of itself.
Overcoming codependency seems like a daunting task at first, but the result is well worth it. You deserve to have healthier, happier, and more balanced relationships, and with a little time and effort, you can absolutely recover from codependency.