Our day to day lives create a spider web woven onto those around us in order to create the life that we know. We exist in a few different ways: our internal thoughts and our exterior relationships. While we can choose what we think about, at least to a degree, we can’t really choose to avoid exterior relationships. So it stands to reason that we would want to look at the way we interact in a more analytical light. For some people, it isn’t easy to simply be in a relationship with someone. In fact according to a study done by Virginia Satir roughly, 96% of the population struggles in with codependency in their relationships. What is codependency? What does it mean to you? If it is so common among people, is it really that big of a deal? We’ll attempt to answer those questions while delving into the history of this very serious issue.
Understanding the Nature of Codependency
When we look at the word ‘codependency,’ what exactly do we conjure up in our minds? Of course, our first thoughts probably go straight to some variation of ‘helpless.’ We believe that a codependent person must be reliant on someone else in their life. Whether we think of the girlfriend and her abusive boyfriend or the young child that badly needs its mother, the outcome is the same. These are examples of codependency but they are not the whole of the equation. In order to really understand the situation we first need to define codependent people.
- CODEPENDENT DEFINITION – Merriam Webster defines a codependent person as someone who is suffering from a form of addiction. This person needs the other person in their life. They need to feel cherished by them, they need to feel their approval, and they need it constantly. This is a common psychological problem that is heavily associated with drug users.
Now that we’ve looked at the definition of codependency we can start to get into the meat of the word. Why do people behave in this way? If it afflicts nearly 96% of people, as noted above by Virginia Satir, how do we know it is a problem?
In order to answer these questions we will first look at the public support groups that have sprouted up around this rapidly recognized psychological condition.
Codependents Anonymous & the Rise of Mental Health Awareness
As we have discussed above, extreme codependency can be identified as a psychological condition. Not only do codependents need to feel approval and love, but they need it all the time. Much like an alcoholic, the need becomes almost consuming. So in order to combat this need support groups began to pop up all over the country, starting back in 1986. Ken and Mary Burns are the original founders of Codependents Anonymous and it is their work that has pushed the illness out into the open and into the mainstream.
The brand of support group that Mary and Ken Burns brought to the world for codependency was an almost 1:1 imagining of Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, the Burns’ use the exact same 12 steps that Alcoholics Anonymous has made so famous with one minor adjustment. At the beginning of their steps there is a prefaced statement that reads: ‘We admitted we were powerless over others.’ This line is a substitution that used to reference alcohol.
Codependents Anonymous experienced an explosion of growth in their early years which culminated in a National Service Conference. The Conference marked a huge moment in the Burns’ attempt to bring mental awareness to the forefront of society. Since that explosion of growth the group has become a steady source of support for those that are willing to attack their struggles with relationship development. Thanks to their work you can also find literature, such as Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, in stores everywhere. Beattie served as a hand-in-hand source of help for the Burns mission.
Let us now take a look at the common signs and traits of a person struggling with codependency.
Signs and Traits of Codependency
Were you interested in joining Codependents Anonymous you would only need to glance at their ‘Foundational Documents’ in order to assess whether you belong? Rather than trying to define codependency, the group would rather their members self-diagnose. In order to get a proper self-diagnosis the group at CoDA creates and updates a charter of symptoms that potential members can always reference. Let’s take a look at what it means to be codependent.
- Patterns of Denial: Codependents will often…
- Have difficulty with putting their feelings into exact thoughts
- Mask the way that they truly feel by minimalizing their true emotions, or changing them.
- Consider themselves as completely charitable, gracious, and dedicated.
- Commonly mask their pain with humor, anger, or solitude.
- Commonly act in passive aggressive ways when upset.
- Patterns of Low Self Esteem: Codependents will often…
- Have trouble making simple decisions.
- Second guess themselves routinely.
- Get embarrassed by any sort of praise, gifts, or common recognition.
- Initiate self-loathing frequently.
- Refuse to admit their own mistakes.
- Feel like they have to be right, no matter how little the problem is.
- Have difficulty making straightforward requests.
- Have trouble with deadlines, boundaries, and maintaining their own priorities.
- Patterns of Compliance: Codependents will often…
- Attach almost vicious loyalty to those that harm them.
- Change their own values and integrity in order to fit in with people.
- Give up on their own ideas to please the crowd
- Replace love with sexual attention and gratification
- Value approval over what is right.
- Patterns of Control: Codependents will often…
- Believe that all people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
- Try to change how people think and feel.
- Offer unrequited advice and direction.
- Become hurt when people snub them, even in minor ways.
- Give inappropriately large gifts, commonly, to those that they admire.
Dealing with Those Struck with Codependency
As you can tell from the list above, codependency tends to take on a pretty broad brush when it begins to get into the nitty gritty. We can see that there are many common traits and symptoms that allude to codependency while also being the signs of a simply rude person. So what can you do to identify whether someone you know or love is struggling with codependency? Fortunately, and unfortunately, all you really can do is talk to them. Finding out their thoughts, and comparing them to the symptoms, can be a good way to get a tab on how they are feeling. Codependency afflicts people of all ages, race, creed, and relationship status.
Identifying Where Codependency Comes From
Research has shown that codependency is common in people in varying degrees of severity. So we have to ask ourselves, why? Why does one person seem to suffer from codependent behavior in a much more exaggerated fashion than someone else? According to Mental Health America, codependent behavior can find its roots in the history of a person’s experience. Mental Health America states that they believe that a dysfunctional home life, filled with family related issues, can be the source of this behavior in adult life. Problems such as drug, gambling, sex, or work addictions can also make an impact. Emotional and physical abuse has also been linked, according to the same reports.
The biggest problem that a dysfunctional family seems to have is that they lack empathy in order to reduce the issue. Energy that should be focused on fixing problems is instead thrown at making them worse, for one reason or another. Thus the entire family unit slowly starts to grow in different directions while becoming emotionally stunted in their own ways.
Treating Codependent Behavior
The first step of treating codependency is by acknowledging that it exists. The moment that you can have that clarity, you are on the path to recovery. Like all mental illnesses, changes cannot be made overnight. There is no light switch in your head to make things better. Instead you have to work at it every single day. Like alcoholism, there is a treatment plan that you can follow and it starts with finding support. Joining a support group, like the ones we listed above, will put you in the right place in order to fix yourself emotionally. After you do that you can start to take therapy sessions with a psychiatrist. These sessions will help you come to terms with your own past while you decide how you want to carve out your future.
Codependency is something that is ingrained upon our being, if we suffer from it. Looking past the problem there is a tunnel of light ahead. We must simply know how to get there in order to reduce, or eliminate, the unhealthy way that we attach ourselves in relationships. Knowledge and a proactive approach to getting things done can go a long way toward remedying codependency in yourself or in those that you love or just wish to take care of.