What is codependency?
Codependency is defined as: an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction. It affects an individual’s capacity to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships.
Who is affected by codependency?
When growing up in a family where one or both parents are unreliable or unavailable due to mental illness or addiction, a child learns to put the parents’ needs first. In dysfunctional families, feelings are suppressed and problems are avoided. The child’s needs are put below those of the parent. Growing up under these conditions means that these behaviours are likely to be repeated in other relationships.
The enabling wife of the alcoholic husband is a classic example of codependency. Today this has been expanded to a parent, spouse, friend, work colleague, sibling or any person who has a relationship with someone with mental illness or a person who suffers from substance use disorder (SDU), .
What do we see in the codependent?
Codependent individuals believe they share in the responsibility of their partners negative behaviour. They often have low self-esteem and find value and purpose in ensuring the well-being of the unhealthy partner. The codependent compulsively plays the martyr role in the relationship.
He or she holds on to the sense of being needed. There is often denial around the actions of the afflicted partner and around their role in the relationship. This is followed by the need to rescue. There is an unhealthy, over-reliance on the relationship and a deep need to hold on to it to avoid feelings of failure or abandonment.
The hallmarks of a codependent relationship include: poor communication, a lack of boundaries, a deep need for approval and validation, persistent anger, dishonesty and a need to control.
What can we do about codependency?
There is hope for the codependent and that hope comes from understanding. By understanding the unhealthy behaviour and its consequences, they are able to make the necessary changes. Addiction extends into relationships and it is important that family members educate themselves and get an understanding of the addiction cycle.
It is vital to investigate childhood issues, the destructive behaviours in relationships past and present as well as to identify emotions and learn to both feel them and express them.
The goals for the codependent in recovery are to have mutually satisfying relationships, avoid the negative behaviour patterns of the past and to learn to identify their own wants and needs. Put boundaries in place and stick to them. Once the process of recovery begins, one will understand that there is no need to hold on to unhealthy/destructive relationships and your happiness is not based on what others think. You are not responsible for the happiness of others.
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