What You Need to Know about Caring vs. Codependence
Copyright 2014 Roberta Gallagher
Prior to the 1970’s the term co-dependency did not exist. The 70’s was a
groundbreaking time in mental health. The great minds of the time were against labeling human beings. I agreed and still do. And yet, maturity is the ability to hold two views (paradox) and see the truth in each. Judge for yourself.
The benefit of creating diagnoses is in creating a way of seeing a group of symptoms so people can identify when help is needed. In addition, mental health practitioners have a toolbox of treatment for this group.
Who is in the group most likely to produce codependency?
Research suggests that people who have parents that emotionally abused or neglected them are more likely to be drawn to codependent relationships.
If you identify with being in a dysfunctional family than you were taught to set aside your own needs to please a difficult parent.
Often you may find yourself replaying a childhood pattern that has development gaps.
Freud said we seek out a relationship that will allow us to fix whatever was lacking growing up. It is as if we have radar that attracts us unconsciously to this person.
What is codependency?
Your sense of self is diffuse -- no clear boundaries.
You feel guilty about doing for yourself -- martyr syndrome.
You take hostages instead of making friends -- invasive boundaries.
You always take things personally and have a huge need for validation. No ability to self soothe -- poor boundaries.
You organize your behavior and thinking around another person or persons -- no core You.
This is one definition as a beginning step in evaluating if you need help. And even this definition is an over-generalization. As with all conditions that we must self-diagnose, denial is a major obstacle. You are fortunate if a friend has the courage to let you know what they see.
What are specific characteristics of a codependent person?
Low Self-esteem –
Comparing yourself to others or comparing yourself to others.
You feel guilty or fearful to say No. Your good feelings come from
sacrificing yourself for others.
You feel and act defensively to what people say. You are threatened by
disagreements and doubt your own opinions.
Even people-pleasing and care-taking can be a manipulation for control.
It becomes about feeling needed. Not about being truly giving. You may need others to behave in a certain way or you get anxious.
Problems with intimacy –
This may seem like a contradiction but to be open and close
with someone (not necessarily sexual) is a risk to feel rejected, judged and left. On the other hand you might fear being smothered and losing your individuality.
You find yourself spending most of your time thinking about other
people or your significant other. You might obsess when you are afraid you’ve made a “mistake”. You fantasize about how you would like things to be and don’t take action.
Poor communication -
You are anxious about expressing your thoughts, feelings and
needs and might not even know what they are. You may be afraid to be truthful for fear of upsetting someone else. Even if you know your truth you won’t give it up because you prefer to be invisible to giving the other person a peek into who you really are.
What Else Should You Know:
We all want to be loved, valued and treated well. Another way of identifying if you are codependent is if this is your core motivator. Your integrity suffers at the altar of being accepted. This will feel bad not good.
If you put up with consistently bad behavior and save your special person from the consequences of their behavior you are not helping them. Another aspect of codependence is to do what feels difficult and not risk the displeasure of this person to save yourself from their rejection. In this way you come between them learning common and needed life lessons.
Am I suggesting that all sacrifice is codependent?
Not at all. We all may show codependent behavior in certain situations. Being Codependent with a capital C is different that exhibiting this behavior from time to time.
If you come from a codependent family, you are prone to a pattern of practicing non-assertive, or passive / aggressive communication for most of your life.
There is treatment for this. Recovery and change are possible. Do not sell yourself short and suffer in silence. To learn more you can read “Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie”. Reading a self-help book will inform you but to create a deep level of change seek guidance and support. These are deeply ingrained habits and difficult to identify and change on your own.