Have you heard of codependency? Do you or a loved one identify as being codependent? Has it impacted your relationship(s)?
What is Codependency?
Codependency has been defined as an unhealthy relational pattern, where one over-depends on another for their sense of safety or self-worth. For example, you may focus more on 'saving' other people than on your own concerns. Codependency can be seen as an attempt to manage negative beliefs, thoughts, or feelings about oneself.
What is Not Codependency?
Codependency was originally defined through a western lens and does not always take into account other cultures. Cultures, who are more interdependent by relying on mutual support, can be mislabelled as codependent. There are times in life, where being interdependent can be more adaptive, especially if a loved one is sick or going through a difficult time.
Characteristics of Codependency (Whitfield, 1989)
Feeling disconnected with one's sense of self
Loss of sense of self
Difficulty managing emotions
Minimal emotional awareness
Coping with emotions/anxiety by focusing on others
Self-sacrificing or neglectful of one's own needs
Giving one’s power to others
Codependency and Relationships
For people with codependent traits, there’s a sense of feeling “needing to be needed.” They can stay in relationships, where their needs are not met and to the point the relationship becomes harmful. They may over-depend on others thinking someone else is the missing puzzle piece to their happiness. People, who are codependent, also tend to have low self-esteem and gain their self-worth from meeting the needs of others.
In addition, people, who identify as codependent, tend to come from traumatic or dysfunctional family backgrounds, where codependency was modeled to them. This life history contributes to fears of abandonment and shame, leaving them unable to self-advocate, express themselves, set boundaries, and more.
Identifying the signs of codependency is the first step. Awareness is key to any changes we make as humans. Once we are aware of our relationship patterns, we can start to slowly change them. If you see codependency within yourself, part of the journey may be to find a balance of your own identity while maintaining connection with others. One’s identity is made of many parts, including age, culture, gender, to name a few (click here to learn about identities).
If you are interested in learning how to develop healthier relationship patterns and discovering how your identities impact your mental health, feel free to contact us here for our mental health services.
Whitfield, C. L. (1989). Co-dependence: Our most common addiction-some physical, mental, emotional and spiritual perspectives. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 6(1), 19–36.
Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.