Article by Carissa Stocco
Codependency is not a diagnosable disorder. Rather, it describes an extreme tendency to overinvest and involve oneself in the emotions, needs, affairs, and wellbeing of others at the expense of one’s own to maintain relationships with them. This manifests as the subordination of oneself for others to ensure the stability of their relationships and represents the codependent person’s drive, whether conscious or unconscious, to fulfill their own unmet needs around love, acceptance, validation, and more. Codependency is accordingly important to talk about because despite the codependent person’s intentions to build their own wellbeing, these behaviours unintentionally backfire by emotionally, mentally, and spiritually depleting them. It depletes one so much that they even lose sight of their own independent identity and instead rely on others to inform their sense of self.
Why Are Codependent People Over-Invested in Others?
A heightened awareness of other people’s emotional states makes codependent people highly attuned to their needs. Codependency therefore comes with heightened empathy, but in a self-depleting way. This heightened empathy, paired with past developmental experiences, contributes to the codependent person’s perception that they are responsible for regulating people’s emotions for them. This perceived responsibility is often the result of the codependent person’s desire to ease their own discomfort and anxiety, usually provoked by the other person’s state of emotional dysregulation or ambiguity. Codependent people may therefore unknowingly enable harmful or toxic behaviours in other people to restore their own internal peace.
How Does Codependency Develop?
The development of codependency usually begins in childhood within the context of the family. The family dynamics conducive to codependency development are usually aggressive communication, abuse, unclear boundaries, mental or physical illness, parental addiction, abandonment, neglect, control, excessive criticism or rejection, lack of parental warmth and support, and invalidation. Repeated experiences with these dynamics throughout childhood and adolescence can accordingly give way to low-self-esteem and low self-worth. It can also lead children to grow up faster than what is developmentally expected of their age as they may have learned that accommodating and containing the emotional reactions of others was key to keeping themselves safe. These pacifying behaviours may have also given them added value in the eyes of the family members who they were trying to regulate or accommodate. This may accordingly be one of the reasons codependent people struggle with their authentic identities—because they may have only been viewed as valuable when they subordinated their true selves to accommodate the needs of others.
Signs of Codependency
Here are some signs that you may be struggling with codependency:
- You do not know who you are outside of relationships
- You act or feel different around different people
- Your wellbeing depends on how you think people around you feel
- You spend a lot of time trying to guess the needs of others
- You feel intimidated about setting and maintaining boundaries
- You avoid stating your own preferences and opinions in case others do not like them
- You feel people can easily push you around but do not know how to change it
- You minimize your needs because you feel ashamed of them
- You try to control your emotions and reactions around others to maintain peace
- You avoid conflict and maintain peace by being overly agreeable even when you do not agree
- You feel anxiety, shame, and self-doubt without someone else’s approval
- You feel negative a lot of days
- You are often attracted to people who are unkind to you
- You ignore or do not recognize red flags in relationships
- You are self-critical and have a negative inner-voice
- You desire to “fix” or “rescue” others
How Can Counselling Help?
Counselling may benefit codependent people by helping them build and strengthen the following:
- Communication and assertiveness
- Differentiated sense of self from others
- Acknowledging own needs
- Strengthened convictions
- Confidence and empowerment
- Finding peace and validation in knowing the origins of one’s codependency
- Emotion regulation
Healing from Codependency
Healing codependency is very much a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, albeit lengthy. However, consistency and dedication towards your healing journey may bring many gifts into your life, including getting to know your genuine self and feeling empowered to maintain it and its convictions. An even greater gift that may come about is growing to feel ok with other people not feeling ok—and it may surprise you to realize how freeing this can feel.
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