Codependency is sometimes referred to as a “relationship addiction.” The codependent’s relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship that goes beyond normal caretaking and people pleasing. The codependent support or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility or under-achievement. This can be evidenced in romantic relationships as well as friendships, family or work. Codependents often have low self-esteem and are disproportionately preoccupied with other peoples’ needs while placing a low priority on their own. Often at a unconscious level the codependent allows him/herself to be constantly manipulated, undermined and controlled in emotionally destructive and abusive relationships. Codependent persons sometimes have a strong fear of being alone or abandoned, and a controlling desire to be needed. Codependent relationships can keep people from having healthy, mutually satisfying relationships.
Experts say that codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition in which the codependent person is dependent on the approval from someone else for their sense of self-worth and identity. Common symptoms of codependency include:
- Intense and unstable interpersonal relationships
- Inability to tolerate being alone, accompanied by frantic efforts to avoid being alone.
- Chronic feelings of boredom and emptiness
- Subordinating one’s own needs to those of the person with whom one is involved
- Overwhelming desire for acceptance and affection
- External referencing
- Dishonesty and denial
- Low self-worth
Unresolved patterns of codependency can lead to more serious problems such as addictions, eating disorders, psychosomatic illnesses and other self-destructive or self-defeating behaviors, like involvement in abusive relationships, more likely to stay in stressful jobs or relationships, less likely to seek medical attention when needed, social insecurity, and development of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Treatment/recovery is often focused on cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy that encourages patients to refuse to assume the responsibility of others’ behaviors such as addictions, to develop assertiveness skills that promote moving from “victimstance” to healthy boundaries, and to build empowerment to be author of their own life, to forgive and let go. In addition, support groups for codependency, such as Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), Alanon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA), have been found to be very beneficial.
Codependency Resource Books:
- Codependent No More by Melody Beattie (2013)
- The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why we love people who hurt us by Ross Rosenberg (2013)
- Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody (2003)
Regarding other relationship and marriage problems, it is common for partners to occasionally involve themselves in verbal arguments, but when the conflicts in your relationships are threatening your health and well-being, it may be time to seek help. Most relationship problems are caused at least in part by communication difficulties, but generally a deeper issue such as fear of emotional intimacy makes it difficult for many couples to establish and maintain mutually satisfying relationships.
The primary therapeutic approach I rely upon is Gottman Relationship Therapy. This is a research-based method designed to strengthen relationships by focusing on learning how to manage conflict, become better friends, and create ways of supporting each other’s hopes for the future. Whether the issues needing address involve infidelity, sex, money, anger, division of labor, diminished expectations, or demoralizing criticism or contempt, the goals of this therapy emphasize building respect, affection and closeness.
Related books by Gottman:
- Ten Lessons to Transforming Your Marriage (2006)
- The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples (2011)