Whenever the term codependency comes up, many people are confused by the meaning or attach their own definition to it. According to Melody Beattie’s book “Codependent No More & Beyond Codependency,” her definition of codependent person is: “one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” Some say it is excessive caregiving, or they simply don’t know how to say ‘no.’
Codependency can often feel like a scary word when first brought up in a therapy session. The first sign for me when working with someone struggling with codependency is being the proverbial “Super Woman/Man.” This person is unable to say no to those around them--often placing themselves last in every way--rushing in to save the day emotionally, mentally, and physically without stopping to look at the consequences of doing so and ignoring their own feelings to prioritize the comfort of others.
Here are five common traits that show up for people struggling with codependency:
Caregiver: “Without me, nothing would get done!”
The caregiver has a deep-rooted belief that they are responsible for the people (or person) in their life, such as partner, kids, parents, etc. These caregivers are emotionally, mentally, and physically responsible for this person’s whole world, and oh wow is that a tremendous amount of responsibility! But don’t worry, the caregiver intends to take it all on, as they over-commit themselves and are unable to say no. Imagine if Super Woman never hung up the cape--that’s what the caregiver part often feels like.
Controlling: “Every time I talk to her, I give her advice, but she doesn’t take it!”
The next tale-tell sign is trying to control someone else. Many codependents fear the loss of control in their own lives, and instead of addressing this fear, they decide to micromanage the state of the kitchen or their kids’ homework. They then get frustrated and angry if their attempts to control a situation doesn’t work out the way they wanted. This ultimately leads to disappointment and even depression.
Dependency: “I just want her to be happy, so I don’t feel so miserable with my life.”
For many codependents, dependency stems from the belief that they are unlovable, and because of this false belief, they must work harder than their partner to prove they are lovable and worthwhile. But that can lead to feelings of unhappiness and loss of self-esteem if they do not get their partner’s approval or validation. They will attach themselves to whomever they believe will make them happy and center their lives around them. Worst of all, the unlovable part of the codependent person may not know if they actually love the person they are sacrificing themselves for.
Poor boundaries: “He keeps texting… I just can’t block him yet.”
Many codependents have few to no boundaries with themselves or others. They will wonder why they are hurting so much and blame others for their state. Yet, it is their own choices for removing or pushing a boundary that can cause the most hurt.
Low self-worth: “It doesn’t matter what I do! I can never make them happy. I’m never good enough!”
Often codependents blame themselves for the emotional state of their partner, believing they are the contributor, if not the cause, of their distress. They have a high expectation of doing everything perfectly and settle for being needed, instead of loved due to their own lack of self-love and self-worth. Many lose sight of themselves entirely in the relationship, becoming invisible to themselves and their partner.
Having codependency, or aspects of it, does NOT mean you are wrong or bad or a failure in any way. It is surprisingly common. If you are struggling with codependency, it is always okay to ask for help, even if the caregiver inside of you is resisting setting down the cape. Small steps can make big changes if done consistency, compassionately, and lovingly.
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Sacramento, CA 95818
If you’re needing help or support in addressing codependency, just reach out!